‘Disrespect’: Frustration grows over plaque for world’s first modern milk bar in Sydney

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What started as a way to commemorate the site of the world’s first modern milk bar at Sydney’s Martin Place has turned into a five year fiasco with the City of Sydney council.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Black & White Milk Bar created by Mick Adams (Joachim Tavlaridis) in 1932, and Greek Australian historians and descendants of Mr Adams are calling on the Council to finally provide a solution for where to place a historical plaque marking the site at 24 Martin Place, Sydney.

Macquarie University historian and co-author of Greek Cafes and Milk Bars in Australia, Leonard Janiszewski, along with photographer, Effy Alexakis, first applied to the City of Sydney’s historical ‘green plaques’ program in 2017 to have the site officially recognised.

Black & White 4d. Milk Bar interior, Martin Place, Sydney, NSW, 1934. Note the Hamilton Beach milkshake makers on the back bar. Photo courtesy L. Keldoulis, from the In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, National Project Archives.

At the time, the Council’s historical office reviewed the application and approved the recommendation for a plaque to be produced.

But, according to Mr Janiszewski, the next step of placing the plaque at the exact site of Mr Adams’ milk bar, which is now the ANZ tower, has been thwarted by the overseas corporate owner of the building who would not agree to the plaque being placed on the structure.

In an email response seen by The Greek Herald, the Council’s Public Art Collections and Cultural Heritage has proposed a number of alternatives for the placement of the plaque. This includes several doors east of the site – where a competing milk bar was established a few years after the Black & White – or on a low wall away from the site and next to a water drain.

A suggested possible location for the plaque. Photo supplied.

Mr Janiszewski said these options have been rejected by himself and Mr Adams’ descendants as “disrespectful, too low down to be read vertically, and not on the original site.”

He said the Council did not fully address potential problems that could have arisen around the plaque during the planning of the roll out. For example: what would happen if building owners did not agree (as the plaques are designed only for placement on walls not within the pavement which Council has jurisdiction over), and if the building material itself was inappropriate for plaque placement.

“As a historian… I pointed out that if the plaque is placed a distance away from the original site of the Black & White Milk Bar, its placement becomes a historical deception. The plaque clearly states: ‘Site of’,” Mr Janiszewski told The Greek Herald.

The plaque. Photo supplied.

“I don’t think the family should be put through all of this and I actually think it’s showing a sense of disrespect to the Greek community at large.”

It has been five years since the plaque was first produced and Mr Janiszewski and Mr Adams’ descendants continue to write to the Council to push for other appropriate options for the plaque’s placement.

In that time, Mr Adams’ daughter, Lilian Keldoulis, passed away and his other daughter, Helen Gerondis, is currently unwell.

Now Mr Adams’ granddaughter, Janet France – the daughter of the late Ms Keldoulis, is fighting for a solution.

“We’re really devastated because… it just seems like a bit of a slap in the face,” Ms France told The Greek Herald, expressing her disappointment.

Mr Adams’ modern milk bar revolutionised the provision of a cold refreshment beverage – the milkshake – across the nation and later in Great Britain, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, South Pacific Islands and even Japan.

Black & White 4d. Milk Bar exterior, Martin Place, Sydney, NSW, 1934. Mick Adams (back row, centre) with children from the Dalwood Children’s Health Home. Photo courtesy L. Keldoulis, from the In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, National Project Archives.

With such a strong history and connection to the community, Ms France said she’d love to see this fiasco with the Council solved by the 90th anniversary of the milk bar this year on November 4.

“It’s 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,” Ms France said.

In a statement to The Greek Herald, a spokesperson for the City of Sydney Council said “despite numerous meetings with building management, negotiations with the building owners, and suggestions to install the plaque in several locations that would not impact the glass façade, the City has not been able to obtain consent.”

“The City recently suggested an alternative location for the plaque, closer to the original milk bar site, and consulted with stakeholders,” the spokesperson added.   

“The City is seeking consent from building owners’ at the new location and currently awaiting a response.”

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