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Bondi Road: Always A Multicultural Smorgasbord

By Kimberly O'Sullivan on January 11, 2012 in Other

Bondi Road has always been an important Waverley thoroughfare. One of the area’s earliest roads, it was constructed in a straight line from Old South Head Road to what was quaintly described as ‘the seashore’.

Originally it curved around behind the beach and went all the way to Military Road, North Bondi. In 1920-1921 the part of the road that fronted Bondi Beach was renamed Campbell Parade, after Waverley Mayor John Campbell. Today Campbell Parade is home to many great eateries, including the Gelato Bar, which is a Hungarian landmark.

The retailers along Bondi Road are known for their small individual businesses, creating a unique shopping strip full of character and a world away from the glamorous, glitzy (and gigantic) Westfield mall in Bondi Junction.

Bondi Road’s eateries are like a culinary trip through Europe; from Russki’s Deli with its traditional Russian, Ukrainian and Polish home style cuisine to the Paris Patisserie Francaise, run by a traditional French pastry chef and operating as an authentic patisserie since the 1960s.

A history of Oxford Street, Clive Faro and Garry Wotherspoon’s Street Seen, refers to a noticeable ‘non-Anglo’ presence and the cultural pluralism that it brought, not just to Oxford Street itself, but the communities who lived in the surrounding neighbourhoods. To walk the street, or ride past in the tram, many Waverley businesses were clearly identifiable as Greek, Italian, Chinese or Jewish.

From 1890 onwards a local directory records a steady increase along Waverley’s stretch of Oxford Street and Bondi Road of Italian fruiterers and Greek fishmongers with names like Loschiavo, Saradopolous, Russo and Karipas. Many Jewish businesses also opened along these two main retail strips.

Local author John Kingsmill grew up in Bondi and has written about his experience of Australia’s migration heritage at a local level, in the days when established Anglo-Celtic residents met Bondi’s newest arrivals via the corner shop and the milk bar. Connection came through food.

In the 1920s-1930s he remembers:

“You saw Chinese working in market gardens and on vegetable runs in the suburbs, one-man horse-and-cart businesses whose daily round you could set your clock to. Our local greengrocer was a Chinese lady with a broad Australian accent and an un-Chinese name, Elsie… you expected to find Italians in every fruit shop in Bondi, Elsie notwithstanding.

“And Greeks in every fish shop, every milk bar and in almost every steak-and-eggs café. ‘Going to the Greeks’, men would say, and you didn’t even notice that they always put a ‘the’ in before ‘Greeks’. There might have been, must have been, some French, Germans, Poles living in Sydney in the 1920s but we never knew of them. And [we] would never have met them, since they were unlikely to run milk bars, fruit shops and cafes.”

In 2005, photo artist Gerald Diel set out to document the faces behind the counters of the many businesses along Bondi Road. He said, “We all see these people, use their services and buy their good everyday. This is to celebrate them.”

Diel’s photographs are a social document, proving there is more to Bondi than just the beach, sun and sand. He sees Bondi Road as full of colour, characters and a place that is socially diverse and rich in culture. It’s also a great place to eat.