The popular Bamboo Café in Conadilly Street started life as Gunnedah’s first Chinese restaurant established by an enterprising Chinese business woman Gladys O’Young who was affectionately known to everyone as “aunty”.
When Greek immigrant Peter Psimaris and his brother Chris took over the restaurant in 1964, they changed the name to the Tourist Café, which became a popular meeting place for everyone, especially for teenagers needing a place to hang out.
Peter was only 14 when he came to Australia to join his father who was living in Yass where his wife’s brother had the Greek Roxy Café. He had arrived in Australia in the late 1940s, planning to send for his family when he became established. Sadly, his stay was short lived as he died soon after from injuries sustained in a railway accident. Just before he died, he told Peter’s uncle that he hoped his son would still come to Australia.
And that is how Peter came to be stranded on a wharf at Pyrmont at the age of 14, isolated and unable to speak any English. Peter grew up on the Greek island of Lemnos and when he arrived in Australia, he had a tag attached to his shirt with his uncle’s name and address but he couldn’t understand why no-one was at the wharf to meet him.
Unable to speak English, he had no way of knowing that the ship had arrived several days early so he sat on the wharf for two days and nights waiting for someone to come.
Eventually he saw a Greek couple with their two children playing at the water’s edge and he was finally able to tell someone what had happened. The couple took him home, gave him a meal and then contacted his uncle who was not aware that the ship had arrived early.
Peter worked in his uncle’s café for more than two years and then after a short stint in Greek cafes in West Wyalong and Tamworth, he came to Gunnedah, joining Peter Vernados and Theo Souris in the Acropolis, where he stayed 12 years. His brother Chris arrived soon after but returned to Greece in 1966.
Running a cafe isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but nobody did it better than the hard-working Greeks. Peter and his wife Despina completed 20 years of long hours and hard work at the Tourist Café and sold up in 1984 to a Sydney couple. They raised their only child Harry in Gunnedah and when he finished school the family moved to Sydney closing the door on yet another slice of Gunnedah’s Greek heritage.
Peter always said that he could not have done it without his wife Despina who he called “a tower of strength”.
In 2003, Peter spent six months in the country of his birth and was privileged to present an Australian Army uniform to the historical museum at Mouthra on the island of Lemnos on behalf of the Australian government. Many Australians fought on Lemnos during the war and Australian servicemen are buried in the cemetery.
Peter and Harry Psimaris enjoyed a nostalgic trip to Gunnedah in 2006, where they quickly settled in a for a few ‘coldies’ at the Court House Hotel and reminisced with old friends. After 38 years in Gunnedah, they still called it their home town and expressed regret that they had sold up and moved to Sydney. Those regrets were often echoed by their many customers who recalled countless happy times and great friendships at the Tourist Café.
Another treasured Greek Café in Gunnedah was the Busy Bee owned by the Zantiotis family. It was a sad day for the family and the Gunnedah community in 2006 when Loula Zantiotis slipped a new padlock on the door of the Busy Bee saying “Yassou” and thanks for the memories. Peter Zantiotis died in 1996 and Loula died on Remembrance Day 2016.
The Busy Bee Café was profiled on the history page of the Gunnedah Times on May 27, 2021.To order photos from this page click here