Greek migrants significantly helped shape Melbourne into Australia’s cultural hub.
Between Swanston and Russell streets in the CBD, there is a concentration of Greek restaurants and shops. This is known as Melbourne’s Greek Precinct.
The precinct is reflective of Melbourne having the largest population of Greeks outside of Greece.
The precinct originally came to life through the post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way in the new land. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language, newspapers and company and thus this hub for Greek-Australians manifested in the central part of the city of Melbourne.
It has since blossomed and changed in form but still sits as a representation of the Greeks of Melbourne, as well as an entertainment, arts and culture hub.
History of the Greek Quarter
Greek culture has a long history of being represented in Melbourne. Melbourne is home to one of the largest Greek populations in the world outside Athens. The story of the Greek Quarter in Lonsdale St is amplified by the broader history of Greek presence within the inner city, a history that can trace its beginnings to the gold rushes when a handful of Greek immigrants joined the rush for overnight riches.
It was after World War II that the Lonsdale St precinct evolved as an enclave of cafes, restaurants and businesses set up for, and by immigrants, for whom Greek culture was a way of life. The culture found many expressions, from the orthodox faith through to political movements, clubs and brotherhoods, and by gathering with friends in cafes and restaurants.
It is an old story, a pattern repeated in immigrant communities worldwide. The post-war immigrants – many of whom came as single men, or men who had left behind their families to pave the way to the new land – were in search of the familiar ambience of the homeland, and a place to feel at home as they established themselves in the new country. They were in search of familiar food and music, for Greek language newspapers and company.
Many newly-arrived immigrants lived in city boarding houses, and in the rooms of the Continental Hotel that stood on the corner of Russell and Lonsdale streets. Responding to their needs, there emerged clubs above the restaurants and cafes of Lonsdale St.
The quarter reached its peak in the 1960s through to the 1980s, with a mini revival at the end of the 1990s when many Greek bars and nightclubs sprang up on Russell and Lonsdale streets like mushrooms after autumn rain. There was a second mini revival, coinciding with the winning of the Euro Cup, when the precinct became a centre of celebration, the natural place to party late into the night.
Being the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world after Athens and Thessaloniki, Melbourne’s Greek sister city, the Greeks have based their community in Lonsdale St since the early 1900s.
For more than 100 years people have been playing tavli on the al fresco tables drinking coffee or “Kok” and it continues attracting locals and tourists who enjoy the food, cakes and culture our precinct has to offer •
Explore restaurants, cafes and shops in the Greek Precinct by visiting: