Monday, 30 September 2013

Why so many Blue Bird Cafes?

Over the years Queensland appears to have had more than a few cafés that were called the ‘Blue Bird’.  I’ve found mention of at least seven Blue Bird Cafés in north Queensland, including Townsville, Cairns, Innisfail, Tully, Richmond, Julia Creek and Winton.  I’d be interested to know why that particular name was so popular, so if any readers have any thoughts on that, I’d be keen to read your comments.

Blue Bird Cafe, Julia Creek, Queensland, c.1948.

The image above is of the Blue Bird Café in Julia Creek, around 1948.  It was built in 1934 by my Grandfather’s eldest brother – Herb Wilder.  The café was built for Bert Burrows, who operated the Blue Bird until he sold it to Mrs Flo Watson, in 1943.  Although it was the era of the Great Depression, there appears to have been plenty of construction work going on out in Julia Creek at the time, as this article from the North Queensland Register, dated 22 December 1934, shows:

Despite the fact that the seasonal outlook is bad, the town still continues to go ahead in the building line.  Building contractor Herb Wilder is now putting the finishing touches on Mr Bert Burrows’ new café in Burke St next to the Post Office.  Mr Burrows hopes to be well established in the Blue Bird by Christmas.  Mr Wilder will then go on to a new residence for Mr George Peut at the western end of Goldring Street and when completed this building will greatly improve the appearance of the town. 

Ownership of the Blue Bird changed hands a number of times, and in 1950, Julia Creek’s Blue Bird Café was destroyed by a fire in the early hours of the 19th August.  The cause of the fire was unknown but it was a great loss to the town, as it was the only café in town at the time.
 
Innisfail’s Blue Bird Café appears to have been perhaps the most ornate of all the Blue Bird Cafés in north Queensland. The beautiful Art Deco façade is still much admired to this day.  The café was built in 1936 to replace an earlier timber café of the same name. 
 
Blue Bird Cafe, Innisfail, Queensland.
It was run by a Greek family until the 1970s and consisted of a bakery (in the basement), a café at street level (where staff wore bluebird brooches on their uniforms) and a dance hall/function room was located on the upper floor.


The following memory of Townsville’s Blue Bird Café was written by Barbara Mathiesen.  Thanks for sharing this wonderful memory with us Barbara!

My Blue Bird Café

In the 1950s a trip to town was always a great delight to me, especially if it ended with a trip to the Blue Bird Café. 

Flinders Street had a great variety of shops, a few hotels, some banks and offices and plenty of cafes.  Shopping took time, each transaction taking place across a counter where the assistant brought out a variety of sizes and styles of the item being sought after, long discussions about the virtues of different brands, materials, sizes etc. were entered into and by the end of the morning most people were ready for a cold drink or a cup of tea, at the very least. 

The Bluebird Café, owned and run by the Marendy family, was perhaps the biggest and best of the cafés in Townsville – it certainly stands out in my mind. 

The Blue Bird was next to the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac Bank), and right at the front, on the right, was the long, high counter of a milk bar. Customers perched on high stools to enjoy the great variety of cold drinks and ice-creams, sandwiches and cups of tea or coffee that were served here. 

Opposite the milk bar was a similar counter where cakes and pastries could be purchased to take away.  Behind that was the kitchen, a large enclosed space from which emanated an incredible amount of clattering and jangling as the cooks and kitchen hands pushed a huge amount of food and all the accompanying pots and pans, plates and cutlery through the preparation and clearing up processes. After a visit to the Blue Bird my sister and I played cafes as we washed up – and were soon in trouble because our mother didn’t like the rather splendid crashing and jangling sound effects we made with her plates and silver. 

The wide passage between the milk bar and cake counter led to the café, which occupied the full width of the premises. Several rows of fixed tables ran from front to back – a low divider to give privacy running between each pair of tables. 

Waitresses took orders and placed a jug of water and glasses on the table.  We usually had a sandwich, or sometimes pie and vegetables.  Of course the menu stretched to much more than that, but they were our family favourites.  A ham sandwich eaten in a café beat a home-made one hands down. On special occasions we would be allowed an ice-cream sundae, and I’m sure it was at the Blue Bird that I first had a parfait - a tall glass filled with layers of fruit, ice cream and jelly and eaten with a long handled spoon.  Very special. 

My favourite memory of the Blue Bird was when we’d had a long walk, perhaps after visiting our Dad in the General Hospital in Eyre Street.  Before catching the bus home, Mum would sometimes take us to the Blue Bird for an orange drink – and on special occasions, an orange drink with ice cream in it.
 
Like all the cafes the Blue Bird was a great social hub and a great place for people watching, albeit very discreetly.  How I’d love to go there again.

Barbara Mathiesen.

Blue Bird Cafe, Townsville, Queensland, 1946.  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Unfortunately the above picture was the only image I could find of Townsville’s Blue Bird Café.  If you have a better photo in your possession, I’d love to see it – Trisha Fielding.

Milk jug from the Blue Bird Cafe, Cairns, recently sold on eBay.

7 comments:

  1. We own The Blue Bird Cafe in Lockhart, New South Wales. It was renamed in 1930 by the Greek family who owned it for the next 70 years. Prior to that it was an oyster bar called The Marathon (also owned by Greeks). It has been suggested to me that the name was from "Blue Bird of Happiness" but it is a bit of a mystery given the other names of Greek cafes. We have done a bit of research into our cafe and you can read it on our blog www.bluebirdlockhart.blogspot.com.au.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Louise. I checked out your blog, it's great! Sounds like you've done an amazing job of restoring the place. It's wonderful that you were able to have so much contact with the previous owners, and to get a sense of the history of the place. I'm sure your cafe will be all the richer for having had that contact with them. It also sounds as if they appreciated being involved in the cafe's re-birth too.

    It's funny to think that the name 'Blue Bird' seems to have been used all for cafes all over Australia.

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  4. I have read that the first milkbar was opened in Sydney in 1934 and within 5 years a further 4,000 were opened, with most run by Greek families. The first was based on the American soda parlours and when the other milkbars and Greek cafes (which didn't serve Greek food) opened they looked to America and adopted American names. Blue Bird confectionery was an American product,

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! Thanks for the info.

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  5. If you go to westpac bank in flinders st . On the wall framed is a large photo of the bank of New South Wales which includes blue bell cafe next door. In the looking back series some years ago TDB published a beautiful photo of interior of blue bird townsville with all staff lined up in uniform.

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    1. Hi, thanks for the tip! I'll take a look.

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