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University Of Queensland

Toni Risson

Toni Risson - Risson Toni

Kytherian Researcher & Philokytherian.

Doctor of Philosophy.

Bachelor of Contemporary Studies

Children's author and UQ Ipswich graduate Toni Risson will soon publish a book based on studies of migrants in Ipswich called Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill.

She recently won a scholarship to start her PhD and a University Medal due to her high grades during her undergraduate studies.

"Study at UQ honed my writing skills and gave me new tools in research and analysis," Toni said.

"I am confident that I can now conduct research into any aspect of Australian culture and then shape that research into the appropriate form."

While undertaking her PhD, which focuses on the cultural history of confectionery in Australia, Toni is busy tutoring at the Ipswich Campus and writing children's books.

Her first, Licking Lizards, was published by UQ Press in 2004. Its sequel, Batty Business, was published by UQ Press in May, 2007.

And if all that work isn't enough to keep her busy, Toni has also recently concluded an oral history project about the Greek Café. She used cafes in Ipswich from 1900 to present day to understand what brought immigrants from villages in the Greek Islands to the region and the impact of their contribution on local communities.

The work has resulted in the publication of Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill, which is now available.

The book was supported by an exhibition in the Ipswich Art Gallery in September, 2007.

Ipswich Art Gallery function

Purchase Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill, here

Toni Risson obtains her Ph.D. Dec, 2011. It is entitled: A Magic Bag: The Power of Confectionery in the Lives of Australian Children.

University of Queensland reports.

Lollies and Ekka go together

Let's be honest, when it comes to Brisbane's Ekka what do we remember? Lollies and sample bags!

So says Dr Toni Johnson-Woods, a University of Queensland academic and the president of PopCAANZ, the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Johnson-Woods said PopCAANZ had appointed as Food Area chair, confectionery historian and UQ PhD student Toni Risson.

"For the past few years Toni has been working on Australia's unique confectionery heritage, in particular, 20th Century children's consumption of lollies," she said.

"Fantales, Red Frogs, Choo Choo Bars, Bobbies, and Minties are the invention of Australian firms like Allen's, Hoadley, Sweetacres, Mastercraft, and MacRobertson's.

"They provide new information about children's sophistication as consumers, while some — like the Jaffa — define an era.

"Although the stories surrounding children's consumption reveal important differences between the children of the Great Depression and war years, the Baby-Boomers, and the children of generations X and Y, one thing is constant: lollies have contributed to the magic of Australian childhood.

The eldest of four children, Toni Risson graduated from the Queensland College of Art and then Kelvin Grove Teachers College, spending the next 10 years teaching Art and English to Queensland secondary school students.

As a foundation year student in a degree in Contemporary Studies at the Ipswich campus of The University of Queensland, Toni became interested in writing fiction.

Her books include Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill: Greek Cafes in Twentieth-Century Australia (2007) and two books for children, Licking Lizards (2005) and Batty Business (2008).

She was featured on ABC television in a recent 7.30 program http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2011/s3261916.htm

Food is one of the fastest growing areas of research interest, and Risson expects the number of food papers to double at the next PopCAANZ conference, which will be held in Melbourne in 2012.

PhD graduation is sugar on top

Cultural historian Toni Risson experienced the sweet rewards of hard work when she received her UQ doctorate recently.

Dr Risson's PhD thesis, conducted within the School of English, Media Studies and Art History, was entitled A Magic Bag: The Power of Confectionery in the Lives of Australian Children.

Her project is the first of its kind to investigate lollies as a significant cultural artefact in Australian society.

Through investigating the manufacture, distribution and consumption of lollies, Dr Risson's work explores the cultural roles they have played in Australian childhood.

“By examining the topic of lollies, my thesis is also a history of Australian childhood and the shifts that occurred in children's lives throughout the twentieth century,” she said.

“I drew information from all kind of sources, and from all over the country, but the real-life stories were the highlight: when Australians reminisce about their childhoods, often eating lollies has a significant place in their childhood memories.”

Completing her research involved gathering the stories of nearly 300 people, many of whom shared their experiences of feeling enchanted by the opulence and colour of the lolly counter.

“Until now academic research hasn't recognised the importance lollies and their significance in children's lives. It's also a tragedy that so much information about our manufacturing history is already lost,” Dr Risson said.

“Around 20 books have been written in the last 15 years about confectionery in England and America (often company histories), but Australian confectionery is all but absent from any kind of research. Only one biography has been conducted: Jill Robertson documented the life of Australian confectioner Macpherson Robertson in 2004.”

The Confectionery Manufacturers Association and confectionery giant Nestle gave Dr Risson access to their archives during the project.
“My first task was to sort out the Australian brands and Australian products. I also found priceless artefacts that might otherwise never have seen the light of day,” she said.

Dr Risson's research focus turned to lollies while she was writing a history of Greek cafés in Ipswich for her honours thesis and many participants spoke of large confectionery counters.

“Courses offered during my undergraduate degree at UQ Ipswich gave me the opportunity to conduct self-directed research and I feel lucky to have had the freedom to explore my own research topics,” she said.

“My work does not examine health issues. We are responsible for the health of our children, but without understanding that lollies are part of the magic of childhood we have little hope of decreasing the amount of sugar children consume.

“We tend to imagine lollies as mere junk food. They cannot be so easily dismissed. One of the results of my research is that it unlocks the power of lollies in children's lives.”

Much of Dr Risson's research has already been published in cultural studies journals. Next year she will work on a completing a coffee table-style book that makes her work accessible to a wide readership.

The Bribie Island Seaside Museum is curating an exhibition based on Dr Risson's current research. The exhibition runs from December 17 to late February, 2012.

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1 Comment

George Poulos
on 22.02.2008

Aphrodite & the Mixed Grill By, Toni Risson A Review Toni Risson's interest in Greek cafes began out of her friendship with three Ipswich ladies "...who were part of our cafe history: Maureen was my first boyfriend's mum (early 70s) and she worked at Londy's in the 40's and had kept a photo album that had fascinated me for years; Jo (nee, Kentrotes) had her first child start school in the same class as my first child (late 80's); Maria had made me delicious milkshakes at the Central for decades and we became friends. The enchanting Paragon was of course always part of my life because my dad comes from Katoomba". Aphrodite and The Mixed Grill started out as an 8000-word dissertation for a one-semester subject Risson took in 2005. She began by recording the stories of three older Greek ladies whose husbands had cafés in Ipswich in the 1950s. "I became so passionate about the story of the Greek café, and had such an enthusiastic response from other Greek people associated with cafés, that Aphrodite grew into a 240 A4-page book jam-packed with sepia photographs of cafés and their proprietors". When you first pick up the book, you realise that it is a high quality production. Of course many Australians & Greek-Australians have been waiting for the publication of a book exclusively devoted to the subject of the Greek cafes for many decades. Risson claims correctly that.... "The Greek café is an Aussie icon and I believe that mine is the first book dedicated solely to this wonderful story." The work draws heavily on previous important research on the Greek and Kytherian cafe, including that of Maria Hill, Hugh Gilchrist, Denis A Conomos, Craig Turnbull & Chris Valiotis, and Leonard Janiszewski & Effie Alexakis. All are acknowledged in the Bibliography. Perhaps one of the few failings of the book is that it lacks an extensive Index, through which the reader can cross-reference the persons and the places in the book. Do not mis-read Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill as a Academic Work. If you want to explore more extensively the rationale of chain migration, or the "shop-keeping phenomenon", or "weddings and proxenia" in Hellenic and Kytherian society, or the "Americanisation of Australian food habits via Greek cafe ownership", then you are best advised to read the work of the other author's mentioned above. Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill, is a snapshot of Greek Cafes in 20th Century Australia, using 11 cafes in the Brisbane suburb of Ipswich as a template. These Greek Cafes and their respective owners are listed clearly on page 48 of the book. Most of the Ipswich Greeks, we learn, came from the small Kytherian village of Fratsia. The lives, and cafe-ownership of George & Jim Kentrotis, Maria & Bill Kentrotis, Tony & Doris Veneris, Jim Pavlakis, George Kallinicos, amongst others, is recounted in some detail. Yes, Risson does extrapolate from the experiences she has chronicled in Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill. Risson's key achievement however, is to lay out, clearly and precisely, the key factors in the lives of the mostly Kytherian-Australians who form the subject of her book. In doing this with extraordinary empathy she has immortalised and validated their lives. Coming from an Anglo-Saxon background, as she does, Risson displays an extraordinary ability to "get inside the lives" of the various Greek-Australians she has chosen to explore. Risson covers the background of the Art Deco movement in shop design, and the history of migration from Kythera to Greece, and the impact of chain migration. Risson then explores the rise of cafe culture, the introduction of coffee to Australia, using the Kafeneion as a "Greek Social Model", the importation of American food catering technology, the rise of Soda Fountains and Milk Bars, and the introduction of Ice Cream and Sundaes. Also covered is the introduction of confectionery, the rise of hamburgers and takeaways, ice cold fresh fruit juice, the introduction of the Mixed Grill and of Fish 'n' Chips. The introduction of various species of fish to the Australian diet was also largely a Greek achievement. The strange anomoly of possessing one of the best diets in the world, the "Mediterranean Diet" - and not offering it for sale in the cafes, is also explored. The story of "cafe brides" is told by Risson, through the life histories of 5 Greek women. "Proxenia", arranged marriages, the choosing of husbands and wives by a trusted friend of the family, is outlined in Chapter 5. [See Vasiliki's Story excerpt.] Growing up as a Cafe Kid, a child worker in the cafes and fruitshops is explored. Being a cafe kid myself, I can identify deeply with this chapter. Also some of the interesting and fun times in the cafes, fraternising with fellow Greeks, gambling, being entrusted with holding Australians property when they travelled outside the town. Some of the hard times and tough times are also chronicled, relationships with the Health Inspectors, accidents and family tragedies, and the impact of floods. The impact of WWII included the impost of rationing, and the role of the American GI in Australia, fights between the Aussies and the Yanks, and the boom time conditions that prevailed, making work in the cafes doubly hard. The relationships between the waitresses and the Greek proprietors is outlined, as is the racial abuse endured by Greek Australians. "Speak English ya bloody dago," is one of the sub-chapter headings that Risson employs. On the other side of the world, on Kythera, Risson explores the reverse side of the Greek-Australian relationship. The Kytherian population declined from 15,000 in the 1920's to a little over 3,000 in 2007. Empty houses, falling into ruin. Devastated communities with limited resources. Toni followed one Ipswich respondent, Jim Pavlakis to Kythera, staying with him in his and his wife Lumbrini's home. Jim has since renovated their home on Kythera. "On the concrete wall beside the front door, seven letters are written in gold and framed with marble - Ipswich". These form a perfect counterpoint to the seven letters welded into the front gate of Jim's Queensland home - Fratsia." Chapter thirteen is devoted to the end of an era - the demise of the Greek cafes. Factors influencing their demise include the emergence of fast-food chains, Hotels, Clubs and Restaurants, the advent of television, and the decline of picture theatres, the growth of pre-packaged goods and supermarkets, the professionalisation of the 2nd generation, and finally the rise of coffee and cafe culture. Risson concludes her chapter on "tracking the signs" with the following paragraph. "Historical research, official documents, and newspaper articles are useful sources, which, when used in conjunction with the knowledge of older residents, can build up a history of a town or city's Greek cafes. Field work and old photographs provide perhaps the most thrilling aspect of this kind of research because following a trail of clues is like solving a mystery, and when an existing facade matches that of an image from the 1920's another piece of the puzzle fits into place. Talking to older people about their lives and the way Australians live was, for me, the most enjoyable part of the research. But since many of the people who established or worked in Greek cafes are now in their 70's and 80's, don't leave it too long to make time to talk to them." Whats refreshing about Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill is the simple and easy way in which Toni Risson leads us to understand the lives of so many Kytherian-Australians in the twentieth century. Having lived the experience I can testify that her exposition of the experience rings very true. This book will prove particularly valuable to those who have not lived the experience, giving them a clear insight into the Greek-Australian and Kytherian-Australian way of life, as lived in Australian cafes. Toni Risson asserts that “It's just been a privilege for me to meet these people and be trusted with their stories.” Speaking on behalf of Kytherian-Australians it is we who are privileged to have entrusted these stories to her. I know through my editorship of www.kythera-family.net, how many of these stories have already been lost. By her devotion and diligence Toni has managed to preserve and to bring to life many Kytherian and Hellenic stories that would otherwise have been lost. Lets all heed her warning - don't leave it too long to make time to talk to Greek & Kytherian-Australians, who are still alive. Their stories need to be told. Their stories need to be recorded for posterity. I await eagerly, the inevitable publication of 3 or 4 more books on Greek Cafes in 20th century Australia, over the next decade.