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Neos Kosmos, Melbourne

Busy Bee given second chance

Original furnishings and fixtures from the Greek cafe Busy Bee will feature in a new five year exhibition

Neos Kosmos, Melbourne, 23 Sep 2013

Busy Bee given second chance - Busy Bee Loula

Loula Zantiotis (nee Cassimatis) at the Busy Bee Cafe in 2002.
Photos: Effy Alexakis, from the 'In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians' National Project Archives

In a special five year commitment, the National Museum of Australia will permanently house a Greek Café collection, with original furnishings and fixtures. Based on photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski work to identify remaining Greek cafés and café memorabilia of national significance around the country in 2007-8, the museum has taken the next step and invested in a permanent collection.

Now, after its highly popular Selling an American Dream: Australia's Greek Café, the museum has sourced genuine interior furnishings, signage and cafe ware surviving from the Greek cafe heyday in the 1950s and '60s.

One in particular, the Busy Bee Cafe owned by the Zantiotis family, will be the main attraction. Only closing in 2012, the cafe will live on in the exhibition, entitled Lambros Zantiotis's Men.

Joanne Bach, the National Museum curator overseeing the display, is excited to have seen the project through to its realisation. "The exhibit will feature objects acquired from the Busy Bee Café in Gunnedah," she says. "It will be displayed in our 'Journeys: Australia's connections with the World' gallery. Personally, it's been very satisfying to develop the exhibit, having done the work on acquiring the collection. It's not often that we [curators] get to see a collection through in that way."

The Busy Bee at Gunnedah was one of a limited number of classic Greek cafés that survived almost intact, and is a fine example of early, angular Art Deco design.

It appears to have been the first café outfitted by renowned Greek shop-fitter, Stephen C. Varvaressos.

Members of the Zantiotis family operated the Busy Bee from the mid-1910s through to 2007 when Loula (Theodora) Zantiotis (nee Cassimatis) finally retired and the business was briefly sold to the Faint family.
In 2002, when Alexakis and Janiszewski interviewed Loula Zantiotis, she believed the Busy Bee's days were numbered.

"About 30 to 40 Greeks were here [in Gunnedah] in 1955. Most of them had cafés. The White Rose, one block down from the Busy Bee. The Monterey, across from the White Rose. The Acropolis, further down the block," she remembers.

"Now, only three to four Greek families live here... All the kids [my children] have gone. I'm the only person from my family here - I'm lonely at times... I don't know really what to do... I'm not staying here for business... it [the café] is more my home."

The exhibition is set to open in early October, and will run for five years. Call (02) 6208 5000 for more information.

[The collection of fixtures and fittings is from the Busy Bee Café, Gunnedah, New South Wales, which was operated by the Zantiotis family from the 1920s until its closure in 2004. The material was acquired by the National Museum of Australia on 10 May 2012.]

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