The Balonne Central Café opened on The Terrace in St. George on the 3 April 1912. T.C. Andrews was the first proprietor. Paspalas & Co. took over the café from 1924 to 1953, employing Ioanis Thanasis Tzonakas (Tsonakas) to assist them. Ioannis (alias Jack) was paid £3 a week and full-time accommodation above the café. By the early 1930s Jack was a co-owner of the café until 1953.
Ioanis Thanasis Tzonakas (Tsonakas), also known as John Jonacas, was born in Vounichora, Fokida, Greece, (βουνιχώρα, Φωκίδα, Ελλάδα) in 1901. He migrated to Australia in October 1924 and chose to settle in St George, taking up the café employment offered to him. Within two years he had sponsored his half-brother Nick (Nicholas) to Australia and half-sister Yannitsa Skoufa (nee Jonacas) in 1950. Yannitsa’s twin brother Andreas followed.
From the early 1930s to 1953 Jack was the co-owner of the Balonne Café, a typical ‘Greek’ style cafe of its time. He was a keen huntsman and fisherman and enjoyed the lifestyle of the area.
Cementing his position in the town Jack was a generous man donating to charities, including the St. George & District Patriotic Fund and the Greek Relief fund during the 1940s. At the time he also supported the Communist effort, signing a Petition against the Council who in his opinion were attempting to control the opinions of employees.
In 1945 he applied to Council to show ‘moving pictures’ in the town hall, however it is not known if permission was granted. He was a good singer and played the fiddle, singing songs in his first language, Greek. In 1950 he was made Vice-Patron of the St. George football club.
In 1953 Jack started a general hardware/building supplies store in Grey St, naming it Jonacas & Co. His business partners were George Andrews, a sign writer and John Goldman, an engraver. The business catered to all tradesmen, stocking modern home appliances, furnishings, tools, paint, ‘Naco’ steel sheds and was an agent for ‘Victor Pianos’. Jack also painted homes in ‘Spanish style’.
He died at the age of 69 in 1970 and is buried in St. George General Cemetery.
The personal details describing Jack’s life are contributed by his niece Efstathia (Effie) Skoufa-Klesnik.
Jack’s family album collection features his brother Nick Jonacas and other locals from St. George during the period of the 1920s to 1950 and includes photographs of the café.
When Nicholas Lucas was named the proprietor, the Balonne Central Cafe was renamed The Balonne Inn Café and Milk Bar.
Collection: 31188, John Thanasis Tsonakas (Ιωάννης Θανάσης Τσονάκας) photograph album, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Exhibition – Meet me at the Paragon
State Library’s latest exhibition, Meet me at the Paragon explores how the creation of American-style cafes enabled Greek migrants of the early to mid-1900s to carve out a new life in a foreign land. The exhibition runs from 27 September 2019 until 15 March 2020.