Blue Bird Café, Innisfail

At 5:00am on 11 February 1929, the Blue Bird Café was saved from a devastating fire by the quick-thinking actions of the Greek owners who had climbed on the roof forming a bucket brigade to extinguish the external flames. Apart from some broken glass inside and charring on the walls, the damage was negligible.

Blue Bird Café, Rankin Street, Innisfail, 1986. Innisfail Heritage Collection, Cassowary Coast Libraries. Identifier 1100-0872

In the late 1920s Jack Vamvakaris and the Kipriotis (Kypriotis) brothers (Peter, Nicholas and John) bought the Blue Bird Café from George Kallinicos. According to The Greeks in Queensland: a history from 1859-1945, Pg. 477, they later bought the freehold for the premises and in 1936 replaced the wooden structure with a new concrete construction, adding a reception hall and dance floor upstairs.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported they were also operating a bakehouse in September 1936 at the time of the renovations.

Newspaper reports in February 1937 indicate though that Council would not approve a license for the dance hall.

View of Rankin Street, Innisfail, [no date]. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 129713.

In September 1938, the Innisfail Notes quoted the Greek proprietors of the Blue Bird Café had been fined £4 for working their female employees after the prescribed hours of 11:30pm. They had been warned several months previously, but with seven female staff, the Inspector responsible for bringing the charges forward classed them as good employers.

Café owner Peter Kipriotis pointed out ‘on this particular night in question, the pictures were out late, and they had well over 100 customers to attend to.’ The Cairns Post reported their legal representation requested leniency, pointing out that when the female employees worked overtime, they received extra pay and taxis were provided to take them home.

Like many cafes across Queensland during the war years, The Blue Bird Café was reported in The Evening Advocate as suffering from staff shortages, having to close on a Sunday as a result. Management told the reporter that “unless additional waitresses could be obtained, it would probably be necessary for the Blue Bird Café to close on Sundays in future.”

By 1948 the changes brought about by World War II and the presence of American soldiers in north Queensland, the Innisfail community was keen to launch a swing club. Local musician Mr. Syd Stannard was reported as saying if the club was successful it would run several dances a week above the Blue Bird Café.

Thank you to Cassowary Coast Regional Council Library and Librarian Natasha Lavell we have included photos of the Blue Bird Café. One shows the café in Rankin Street in 1986 and the next (below), a contemporary image taken in 2018 when it was no longer operating as a café. The art deco façade of the building is still retained as part of Innisfail’s built heritage and community landscape.

Blue Bird Café, Rankin Street, Innisfail, 2018. Photo in copyright. Courtesy of Cassowary Coast Regional Council Library.

The art deco façade of the building and the upper story / dance hall are a permanent reminder of the period when Jack Vamvakaris and the Kypriotis brothers contributed to the 1930s development of Innisfail.

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.

Anne Scheu – Engagement Officer, State Library of Queensland