Sydney Council fails to honour world's first Milk Bar founded by Greek immigrant

milk bar

Sydney City Council has failed a unique Greek immigrant story, after it was discovered that it has still not installed a plaque to celebrate and remember the world's first milk bar founded by Greek immigrant Mick Adams.

The milk bar was an embodiment of the great Australian Dream of the twentieth century – it seemed for many to be a place at the heart of their communities, a place where life was potentially fuller, better, richer, and optimism flourished. A beguiling place, a place that we would like to go back to.

November 4th marks the 91st year since Greek migrant-settler Mick Adams (Joachim Tavlaridis) opened the Black & White Milk Bar at 24 Martin Place, Sydney – acknowledged as the first modern milk bar, both nationally and globally; the milkshake was revolutionised by Adams’ modern milk bar and his milk bar concept spread rapidly throughout the nation (by 1937 there were 4,000 registered) and it was then swiftly exported to Great Britain, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, South Pacific Islands and Japan.

Regrettably, the date also marks the 6th year of the City of Sydney’s inability to find a suitable solution for the installation of a historical plaque to recognised and celebrate such a significant achievement. Ever year whilst Adams operated his Black & White Milk Bar (1932 to late 1950s), he would hold celebrations/events to mark the anniversary. Now, it appears, the City of Sydney Council is resisting even clapping.

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Black & White 4D Milk Bar, Martin Place, Sydney, 1934. Mick Adams (Joachim Tavlaridis) is standing in th centre of the photo behind children from the Dalwood Health Home. Photo courtesy L. Keldoulis, from the 'In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians' National Project Archive

Researchers Leonard Janiszewski and Effy Alexakis from Macquarie University first applied to the City of Sydney’s historical ‘green plaques’ program in 2017 to have the site officially recognised for its cultural and historical significance. The Council’s historical office reviewed the application and approved the recommendation for a plaque to be produced. However, the new owners of the site would not agree to the plaque being placed on their building .

For 6 years, the historians and descendants of Mick Adams have been calling on the Council to finally provide a solution for where to place the historical plaque. Over that time, Mick Adams’ daughter, Lilian Keldoulis, passed away and his other daughter, Helen Gerondis, is unwell.

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Mick Adams' daughters, Lilian Keldoulis (left) and Helen Gerondis holding the Black and White Milk Bar plaque. (Photo by Effy Alexakis)

Alternative sites such as several doors east of the site, a low wall away from the site or next to a water drain have been proposed by the Council’s Public Art Collections and Cultural Heritage team – all of which undermine the significance of the site, purport historical inaccuracy and have been justifiably rejected by Janiszewski and Alexakis and Adams’ descendants. One of Mick Adams’ granddaughters, Janet France has stated: “It [the plaque] is something that would attract more tourists. It would be celebrating multicultural heritage. For the family it would be a celebration and recognition of all the hard work my grandfather did and everything he gave to the country… The council [City of Sydney] got the knockback from the owners [of the site] and there was no plan B”.

Council has rejected calls for placing the plaque in the pavement outside the milk bar’s site, or on a plinth. So the impasse continues....


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