In the 1930s, country towns across Australia underwent a transformation as American styled cafes began to pop up, all owned and operated by Greek migrants.
Mudgee had the Royal Café, The Hollywood Café and the Mudgee Café, and these places were integral to the town's character.
They offered people the chance to enjoy the modern convenience of a cooked lunch. More importantly, they provided Mudgee with a meeting place, where people enjoyed the newest fads like milkshakes and discussed the news, and gossip of the day.
Their décor was distinctly American, a theme which had been modelled after the diners that Greek migrants saw before finally arriving in Australia. The food was simple and plentiful with mixed grills, chips, vegetables, freshly cut sandwiches, ice cream and milkshakes always on offer.
Mudgee Café owner, Nick Matis designed and built an elaborate and modern café that emulated the glamour of Hollywood. Chrome curves, etched glass and comfortable booth seating brought cutting-edge American style to Mudgee.
Ann Cowan (née Matis) remembers her grandfather's design fondly, and as a child she felt it was like a "playground".
"Our shop was very pretty, we had frosted mirrors which were etched with scenes, and people would spend a lot of time looking at themselves. Lollies were sold by the weight, so the lolly counter always looked lovely and we had a silver cash register, which was on the lolly counter," she said.
On Fridays, farmers began to fill the streets of the Mudgee town, where they would stay to have lunch and stock up on weekly supplies after a big day at the Saleyards.
The men swatted flies away from their faces as they headed into the Royal Café for some relief from the sun. Some were happier than others as they recounted their high prices on prime Herefords.
Waitress Patricia Leslie was always there to greet and sit them in a booth for afternoon tea. Ms Leslie, now 90 years old, spoke with pride as she recounted the high quality customer service.
"It was fantastic, when people came in and ordered we immediately put their cutlery down, a side plate with two pieces of bread with butter and either a teapot or coffee pot." she said.
"The owners, John and Peter, were the most terrific people to work for, it was a great job."
Peter Bockos' son, Philip, said the menu was fantastic and the meals were always filling.
"They used to make everything themselves, the oranges, pineapple crush... They used to hand cut their own potato chips. The menu was fantastic, there was mixed grill, T-bone steaks and freshly cut sandwiches," he said.
It was normal for the children of the owners to help out at the cafés, which were always pumping.
"During lunchtime at school, we'd either go home or go to the shop on Friday, and we would help out at the cash register just before we had to go back to school because it was very busy. They were the days when there were bulk sweets and lollies, so we would help bag them up for sale. We certainly had to learn our maths, we had to count the money backwards to whatever denomination they gave us... It was crowns, pennies and shillings in those days," Mr Bockos said.
"Our greatest thrill was when the shop closed one day a year on Christmas Day and the kids were allowed to open it and whatever we sold, we kept. So there were five kids opening the shop and selling till lunchtime when we went back for Christmas lunch."
Ann Cowan had a similar experience growing up at the Mudgee Café, where she helped her parents behind the counter.
"In general, it was my job to look after the sandwich counter because it was empty. Nobody was buying sandwiches, but that was where the cigarettes were, so I could sell cigarettes and tobacco on my side of the shop," she said.
David Nelson was a regular at the Mudgee Café, and as a child he would race there with his friends after school to order a "bodgie's blood".
"They were drinks made out of Coca Cola with ice cream and raspberry syrup, and we drank them thinking we were pretty tough... I don't know about that now," Mr Nelson said.
On a Friday night, the air felt was crackling with electricity and excitement. Throngs of young kids rushed out of the Regent Theatre and families piled off towards the cafés on Church Street. Ms Cowan remembers the first "grown-up" film she saw was 'The Decks Ran Red' .
"The whole family would go and there was no sort of policing of ages or anything. They'd come and race to the shop for the interval and then race back, because we always had a cartoon or something."
The cafés were tough work, and owners typically opened at 8am and finished at 11pm from Monday through to Saturday.
"They didn't close till 11 at night, and then they had to clean up, so the days were very long. Cooks were very hard to get... The kitchen had fuel stoves, so in summer in Mudgee that was unbearable. At the same time though, this is where my father grew up and he was a very affable, happy person. So the atmosphere in the café was always fun. You know, we knew everybody in town," Ms Cowan said.
"On Sundays, we did things like polish the floors, empty the grease trap, cleaning the stove... And then in the afternoon, we would take off on the road to Gulgong, boil a billy, and maybe do some target practice."
The Mudgee community warmly welcomed the Greek migrants who established the cafés in the 1930s, Greek Orthodox christenings and Greek cultural days were not uncommon. These owners who came to Mudgee without a cent to their name, and no English skills became well-integrated members of the community.
Philip Bockos said his father, Peter Bockos was a respected community member and great father.
"He was a gentleman to boot, and he fitted into the population of Mudgee. He played bowls and he travelled extensively with the bowls team around country towns. He was Australian through and through but also proud of his Greek heritage."
"What killed the cafés was the clubs, they got poker machines and they had very cheap meals. People followed fashion, so rather than come to the shop for lunch which was their busiest time, they went to this new club with a new invention, new style, cheap meals and played poker machines. That had a massive effect on the café. Massive," Ms Cowan said.
The cafés changed hands and soon were sold off, but their legacy has endured.
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