Australia's oldest milk bar, founded by Greek immigrant Mick Adams in Martin Place, Sydney, in 1932, has yet to be acknowledged with the placement of a plaque by Sydney City Council some five years after the issue was raised.
The 4th of November this year marks the 90th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first modern milk bar: The Black & White 4d. Milk Bar in Sydney’s Martin Place.
The concept of selling a rapid turnover of milkshakes at a bar, without food or table service, revolutionised the provision of the cold refreshment beverage across the nation and then internationally –it was quickly adopted in Great Britain, continental Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, South Pacific island nations, Japan and attempts were made to establish it in the United States. The Australian milk bar became a global export and an iconic popular cultural symbol of 20th-century Australia. Yet, no recognition of it or its creator, a Greek migrant-settler, Joachim Tavlaridis, who acquired the name Mick Adams, is currently found at 24 Martin Place, where the milk bar was located.
The Sydney City Council fiasco
For documentary photographer Effy Alexakis and socio-cultural historian Leonard Janiszewski, both based at Sydney’s Macquarie University, and authors of Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia, this oversight had to be rectified. In 2017 they approached the City of Sydney Council to establish a commemorative place on the site as part of Council’s ‘Green Plaques’ program – based upon a similar program in Great Britain. The City of Sydney Council’s historical office reviewed their evidence and approved the recommendation for a plaque to be produced under the auspices of the Council’s Public Art Collections and Cultural Heritage Manager, Eva Rodriguez Riesta.
In 2020 Mick Adams’ daughters, Helen Gerondis and Lilian Keldoulis, and other family members, came to see the suggested location on the milk bar’s original site after the plaque had been cast, awaiting placement. Unfortunately, the next step was thwarted by the corporate owner of the building (ANZ tower) who would not agree to the plaque being placed upon the structure – Council had failed to approach the building’s owner prior to casting.
For Alexakis and Janiszewski, together with Mick Adams’ descendants, this raised a number of questions. What were the potential alternatives for plaque placement if building owners did not agree? If the building material itself was inappropriate for plaque placement? If the heritage of the building or its aesthetic was such that plaque placement would be damaging? If Council’s town planners could not offer appropriate placement solutions? Should plaques possibly have been designed to be accommodated on not only on walls, but also street pavements and furniture or appropriately placed plinths; Why hadn’t Council approached the building owner before casting? The Council’s process of implementation suggested that assumptions had been made and potential problems had not been fully addressed during the planning of the rollout of the Green Plaque program.
Emails ensued from Alexakis, Janiszewski and Mick Adams’ descendants to the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Council’s Public Art Collections and Cultural Heritage Manager, Eva Rodriguez Riesta, Council’s Chief Executive Officer Monica Barone, and former Councillor Angela Vithoulkas.
Councillor Vithoulkas took up action to assist and is still doing so, even though she has recently retired from public office. Council’s initial suggestion was that the plaque should now be placed on a low wall near a drain, a distance away from the site – this was rejected by Alexakis, Janiszewski and Adams’ descendants as disrespectful, too low down to be read, and not on the original site (the plaque clearly states ‘Site of the world’s first modern milk bar…). After lengthy time delays and intermittent communication, Council further suggested that the plaque be placed a number of doors east of the site (again, inaccurate and furthermore, the new site suggestion was where a competing milk bar – the Renown Milk Bar – had been established a year or two after the Black & White). In late 2020 Mick Adams’ youngest daughter, Lilian Keldoulis passed away. Her sister, Helen Gerondis is currently unwell, but still clinging to the hope of one day seeing the plaque placed at the correct site.
Alexakis, Janiszewski and Adams’ descendants consider that the best ‘on site’ option would be an in-ground pavement plaque at what was the front entrance to the milk bar – Council does have jurisdiction over the pavement in Martin Place. It appears that Council is not in favour of this option as they are currently seeking permission from other owners of surrounding buildings, which would see the plaque not placed on the milk bar’s site. For Alexakis, Janiszewski and company, Council is not listening, and frustration is growing.
It appears that the 90th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first modern milk bar will remain a closed family affair rather than a public celebration of an Australian popular cultural icon and recognition of its creator.
The plaque is cast, but after five years, its odyssey to reach its proper home is far from over...