The impressive façade of the once grand Acropolis Café still sits proudly above the shopfront that once boasted a busy café, which seated 140 people with a staircase to the upstairs section that could seat as many as 230 people in a licensed restaurant.
Under the Acropolis Café sign, Mellita Bros gives a small clue that Gunnedah once had a thriving Greek community much loved by those who grew up in the 1950s and 60s, with fond memories of an era when Greek cafes were part of the social scene and a meeting place for out-of-towners.
The majority of Gunnedah’s early Greeks originated from the island of Kythera in the Ionian Sea, with many of the settlers migrating to Australia before the outbreak of World War I – by 1949, there were 90 Kytherians living and working in Gunnedah.
The first Greeks to move to Gunnedah were two men by the name of Comino and Panareto, who arrived in the early 1900s and operated a cafe known as Cominos, which later became the Acropolis Cafe.
The three Mellita Brothers arrived in Gunnedah around 1910 and in 1913 built three shops at 162, 164 and 168 Conadilly Street. They were double-storeyed with residences above each shop – the shop at 168 Conadilly Street became the Acropolis Cafe. It was used for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other celebrations. Theo Kepreotes was just 10 years old when he came to Australia in 1937 but he said that Australia “was not ready for migrants” and he did not go to school. In 1923, Theo’s uncle Emmanuel Kepreotes and his business partner, Peter Veneris, bought the Acropolis from the Mellita Brothers and it was in the late 1920s when they purchased the whole building. They ran the business until 1945.
The Greeks would work 18 hours a day, seven days a week, supplying fruit, groceries and smallgoods and they would also cash cheques for farmers out of banking hours. The Acropolis would turn over 1000 pounds a week, with rump steak, two eggs and chips and mashed pumpkin or salad for sixpence and milkshakes for two pennies.
Emmanuel Kepreotes had a big shed in the yard behind the Acropolis where he kept fodder to sell to farmers and it was here that local footballers would work out with improvised punching bags. Kepreotes and Veneris sold the business in 1945 to Peter Venardos and his brother-in-law Theo Souris. Theo Souris came to Australia in 1937 leaving his wife Kanela (Venardos) and two children in Greece.
Just when he was preparing to make arrangements for them to join him in Australia, the war intervened and Greece was over-run. Theo enlisted in the 113th Heavy Aircraft Mobile Workshop Unit in 1942 and served until the end of the war. The long-awaited re-union with his wife and family finally took place in 1947 after he and his brother Con had joined Peter Venardos in the Acropolis Cafe. Peter Venardos and Theo Souris worked the Acropolis in partnership until 1957 when Peter Venardos converted the White Rose Cafe he had acquired from the Zantos Brothers in 1954, to Gunnedah’s first supermarket – Thriftway. Theo and Kanela raised four children – Peter, Anastasia, George, and Stavros. George Souris was the first Greek-Australian politician to ever lead a party in Australia, He was a leader of the Nationals in NSW from 1999 to 2003. He served as an MP for 27 years and as minister in the Coalition government. He received the AM award in the 2016 Queen’s birthday honours.
Theo Souris was joined in 1954 by his elder son Peter, better known as Charlie. Over the years many fellow countrymen and other immigrants were given a start at the Acropolis while they learned to speak English.
Emmanuel Kepreotes had three other brothers in Australia, including Jim Kepreotis, who bought a farm with one of the brothers north of the river, just before Gunnible. The partners split their investments in 1963 and Veneris took the building with the Acropolis Cafe. Emmanuel Kepreotes died in 1973 and his brother Jim in 1991. Theo Kepreotes inherited the remaining buildings and although he left Gunnedah in 1949 to start his own business, he retained a great love of the town.
The Acropolis, meanwhile, continued to flourish, with Theo Souris gaining a reputation as a kind and gentle man who was also very involved in the community.
Theo Souris was a member of the Rotary Club of Gunnedah and a keen supporter of local sporting activities, including soccer where he and Peter Venardos put the Acropolis Cup into play many years ago. He died suddenly in 1980 at the age of 64 and his son Charlie ran the Acropolis Cafe until December 1992 when it was taken over by the Chip Inn’s Nick Aliferis.
The Acropolis Cafe closed its doors forever in the mid-1990s, ending a proud chapter in Gunnedah’s Greek heritage. Several carparks carry the names of Greek families in Gunnedah.To order photos from this page click here