Cominos Arcade Building Redcliffe

Comino’s Arcade

Athanasi (Arthur) Comino and his wife Marigoula (Mary) were married in Kythera Greece in 1919, you’ll find their names in blue right on the front of Comino’s Arcade.

While I’ve been reading all about the building, (and man has it taken ages) I’ve discovered the story of Comino’s Arcade doesn’t exactly begin with Athanasi and Marigoula…they are part of the phenomenon that was- “The Greek Cafe”, and to get the whole picture we have to start at the beginning. 

 During the late 19th and early 20th centuries many Greek migrants came to Australia seeking new opportunities and to flee political unrest in Greece. Most were single men and they started out working in market gardens and cutting sugar cane, but it didn’t take long till two brothers began changing Australia…

In 1878 “The Greek Cafe” was born.

The first was opened in Sydney by brothers Arthur (Athanassio) D and John Comino (not the same Arthur - this one passed in 1916) it was actually an Oyster Bar to start with.  They soon owned 5 in Sydney and as it grew it evolved and became “The Greek Cafe” they soon started spreading their business model all over Australia. The Cafe’s were becoming so successful John published a 310 page book called I Zoi in Afstralia (Life in Australia) which was distributed throughout Greece to encourage families to move to Australia and take the opportunity to work in or run their own Greek Cafe.

The cafe’s were found in nearly every town in Australia, out west, inner city, everywhere in between, interestingly though, they didn’t serve Greek food. They catered for the English/Australian style of eating and what was on offer changed over the decades as refrigeration and different types of cooking equipment became available.  

Greek Cafe’s in the 50’s were known to serve up lamb, steak, chops, chicken, fried eggs, chips, salad, vegetables, bread and butter, meat pies and toasted sandwiches.  There were milkshakes, coffee, sodas, juices, lots of things, you could even (eventually) get a banana split!  But you wouldn’t necessarily find dolmades or moussaka.  

They have been referred to as the McDonalds of their time, and it’s easy to see why.  Cafe’s were open 7 days a week till late, offering all you could want and they were consistent.  The menu’s were the same (or at least similar) from one side of the country to the other, and everywhere in between.

Exterior of the Café Royal, 86 Bourbong Street. Bundaberg. From 31387 Lathouras Brothers Elite Cafe and Cafe Royal Bundaberg Photographs, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 31387-0001-0006

 

Now we can get back to the Arthur we know, he moved to Australia in 1903 to work in his brother’s  cafe in Bundaberg. Confusingly his brother was named John Comino and to be completely honest with you, it’s taken me far too long to work out if brother John Comino was the same John Comino as the John Comino above…see? Confusing. They’re not, two seperate Arthur and John Comino’s.

   Was this Arthur and John related to the original John and Arthur? I have no idea, probably, they’re from the same tiny island so you could think so.  But I also discovered an article saying that all Greeks were affectionately called Comino in Sydney back then…and an article about a number of Greek men out near Toowoomba who just adopted the surname…so….moving along…

This Arthur was called back to Greece in 1912 to fight in the First Balkan War and returned in 1921 with his new wife Mary.  They lived in Laidley and ran their own cafe “The Central” for 25 years, raising 4 children along the way.  

Arthur fell in love with the seaside after visiting Redcliffe in 1922 and finally had the opportunity to purchase the land where Comino’s Arcade now sits in 1938.  Back then it was home to the Moreton Vista Boarding House, but Arthur had big plans for a grand three storey spectacle and  after the boarding house burnt down in 1941- he was ready to get building.

 Although it was going to be more difficult than he anticipated. In fact, it was quite incredible that it even started at all considering the time.

 During World War 2 construction was heavily restricted, government buildings and private homes were essentially all stopped and permits would only be granted if it was deemed to assist the war effort.   But it wasn’t going to stop Arthur, he arranged for a letter to be delivered to Prime Minister Arthur Fadden, during his fleetingly short stint as Prime Minister (just over a month) while he was campaigning in the Darling Downs area. He stated his case and requested he be allowed to build Comino’s Arcade. The request was approved, and building could commence. 

 

Comino’s Arcade circa 1950’s - Image courtesy of Moreton Bay Regional Council, reference number RLPC-002\002345

 

The front half of Comino’s Arcade is the original, the back section (from What’s in the Pot back) was added in the late 60’s.  So for the benefit of this little story, I’d love if you could pretend that back half doesn’t exist.

Upon completion the building housed a big beautiful cafe on the bottom floor (possibly called the Acropolis?), a hairdresser, a dress shop, a casket agency and a photographer.

The second floor contained a few serviced rooms and the family's flat, which they moved into sometime during 1946 after they sold their cafe in Laidley.  I love this space and I’d love to have seen it when it was first built, the view out the french doors over the balcony to the sea is beautiful.  It would be such a gorgeous dining space or, as it was intended, accommodation.

During the WW2, lots of businesses and cafes that weren’t in areas with military personnel slowly went out of business due to lack of patrons, losing staff to the armed forces and, of course, rationing. Redcliffe however, became quite the booming little seaside town, many Australian and American troops were stationed in Redcliffe during World War 2. That made for a whole lot of servicemen wanting something to do, somewhere to spend their recreation time, and their money. Comino’s Arcade  was extremely popular.

Not only was there the cafe for troops to patron, but the third level was home to a huge ballroom with a gorgeous terrazzo floor.  It was common for Greek Cafe’s to have a ballroom or large reception room to hold functions such as weddings and other parties.  The ballroom was even home to Redcliffe’s first nightclub The Ace of Clubs run by Bob and May Borradale. Interestingly surrounding the ballroom were some serviced rooms.  Now, there are many rumours as to what exactly went on in all those bedrooms surrounding the ballroom, and I’m sure you can use your imagination…lonely soldiers…the privacy of a bedroom IN a nightspot…

BUT… I’ve never had the privilege of speaking to someone who was about at the time…so we really couldn’t say and anything I know would just be third or fourth hand information, and we know how unreliable that can be…

 

 

Back of the original Cominos building, post extension, circa 2007 Queensland Heritage Register- Heritage Branch staff 

 Sadly in December 1949 poor Arthur fell from a ladder while working on the arcade and passed away a few days later.  

There’s a rumour that the building is haunted…now I’ve never seen anything myself…and I suppose things like this really depend on what you believe. 

But the rumour is Arthur is still hanging about.

A few people have claimed to see what looks like a man up in the ballroom and there’s been reports of strange hammering noises in the bathrooms on the second floor.

I’d like to imagine if Arthur IS still about, it’s because he’s so proud of the building he gave the Peninsula, the building he didn’t really get to enjoy for all that long.  Perhaps he knows its value, and it’s worth, perhaps HE knows that our present is our future’s history and we really need to take care of it. 

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