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As a café owner, it’s not often that you hear a knock on the door just before midnight, after you have closed for the night, and upon opening the door you find the Prime Minister of Australia standing there begging to be fed and complaining of the cold.

This is exactly what happened in 1942 when Niagara café owner, Jack Castrission, opened his door late one night. Standing in front of him was Australia’s war time Prime Minister, John Curtin.

Having convinced Castrission to feed him, Curtin announced that he had some mates in the car and asked if they could come in and eat too. So in came Arthur Fadden, former Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, Treasurer and later Prime Minister and Senator O’Sullivan, a senior minister.

Steak and eggs were duly cooked up and served in the warm kitchen while the politicians discussed Australia’s role in WWII. The enterprising Castrission, realising that he had an important part of the war cabinet in his kitchen lamented that his war time rations of 12.7kg of tea per month was inadequate to keep his customers happy. O’Sullivan made a note and for the rest of the war the Niagara’s tea ration was raised to 45 kg per month.

Curtin, apparently a good tipper, frequented the café numerous times after this and, according to Castrission, later Prime Ministers, Menzies and Whitlam also ate in the café.

The art deco sytle café, fitted out not unlike an American diner, was opened in the early 1900s by Greek immigrants, Jack and Vic Castrission, who ran the business until 1983 when they sold it to another Greek immigrant, Nick Loukassis who, with his family, continues to run the café to this day.

While the café was damaged in a fire in 1975, many original features remain, including the Art Deco door, the diner style booths and mirrors, the shop front bow windows and the vintage neon sign. Vying for space on the walls with Curtin and other VIP visitors are pictures of the Acropolis and other mementos of Greece. A large banner on the back wall reminds customers that the café celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Curtin’s steak and eggs in 1992. Pictures 2 (Wikimedia Commons – Bidgee) and 3 show how little things have changed here since the 1930s. A visit really is a nostalgic trip back in time.

The café started out as the Gundagai Oyster Saloon, fish featuring highly on its menu then as it does now. By the early 1920s it became very fashionable for cafes to have glamorous American names and so it was that the Oyster Saloon became the Niagara Café.

I am often more attracted to cafés and restaurants on hearing stories like this as opposed to good food recommendations. Often the food in such places is a let down and such places trade on their history or some other factor. Not so here – albeit that this view is based on a very hurried light lunch.

As I was in a hurry I ordered a ham and cheese toastie (toasted sandwich) and a milkshake which arrived in a retro stainless steel cup – the milkshake that is! My toastie (on a plate!) was delicious – with real cheese dripping and lots of it. The milkshake was perfect.

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Next time I’ll try some steak and eggs as Prime Minister Curtin did all those years ago.

Opening hours
Daily: 8am-8pm, 7 days

Address: 42 Sheridan Street


For my next GUNDAGAI review click HERE.
To start reading at the beginning of my GUNDAGAI reviews click HERE.


3 thoughts on “Niagara Cafe: “Food for Prime Ministers”

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