Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Kookaburra Tea Rooms

The ‘Kookaburra Tea Rooms’

The most common climax of a social day’s or weekend’s jam-packed itinerary was a dance at the renowned ‘Kookaburra Tea Rooms’, located at 230 Great Western Highway, Warrimoo. The manager was Mrs Mary Ellen Griffiths, who along with her bricklayer husband Edward, bought the property in 1928 and immediately set up a commercial ‘Tea Rooms’ for weary travellers..

The business must have been ideally placed for drivers making the arduous journey from Sydney to the Mountains in those inter-war years—ascending the Lapstone escarpment often entailed an overheated radiator stop, and motorists usually carried a tyre repair kit in the boot for the all-too frequent flats that blew out on rugged Mountains’ roads. Overall, it could take the good part of half a day to arrive at Warrimoo, at least, such were the expectations of the day.

Mrs Mary Ellen Griffiths serving up a delicious cup of tea on the verandah of the Kookaburra Tea Rooms. Not only were the Tea Rooms an iconic stopover for motor tourists visiting the 'Mountains, but a hub of social activities from Warrimoo and Blaxland alike.

So the site of clear off-road parking, a refreshing cuppa and delicious scones with jam and cream would surely have been a welcome one. The ‘Tearooms’ was said to be quite a successful enterprise, with notable identities such as Ben Chifley regularly dropping in on his frequent trips from Sydney adding to the lustre of the place. Of course Chifley was the local Federal Member of Parliament, and would later become Prime Minister of Australia.

Then there were the ‘dances’. By all accounts—and there are a lot of local ‘paper references—they were a pretty regular occurrence, complete with live band from Ryde, ‘Clayton’s Orchestra’ mostly, later transforming into ‘Clayton’s Victory Orchestra’ during the war years, and generally well attended. Warrimoo Historians assumes that the verandah of the Tea Rooms opened into a larger, ‘small-hall’ sized area to accommodate dance-goers of between 50 and 100 people.

Ben Chifley as Prime Minister and Member for Macquarie. Chifley was a familiar sight around Warrimoo in the '30's and '40's, being a frequent visitor to the Kookaburra Tea Rooms and a good friend of the Labor supporter who lived next to the Patmans in Florabella Street.

Like Blaxland Public School, the ‘Kookaburra’ was ideally placed near the ‘border’ between Blaxland and Warrimoo to service both communities so that social interaction between the two small townships was frequent, inexpensive and cordial. Feasibly it may well have been the only social outlet for many battling residents in those clouded years. There is a touching reference to the ‘Kookaburra’ in a brief interchange between Lawrence Way and his mother, Ellen…

…a hall was built on the highway half way to Blaxland where mum would take us once a week. It was called “Kookaburra Hall”…I had to foot slog it home after 11.00pm on those occasions. My mother was 33 years old, so I know now she had to have some outlet. Dad would be away… [1]

 As the Depression wore on Lawrence’s parents drifted further apart, and they ultimately separated.

Mrs Griffiths died in 1939, yet it seems that the business continued to operate for some years after that.  Newspaper articles from the Nepean Times in 1940 and 1941 detail fundraising dances held at the Tea Rooms to raise money for the Springwood branch of the Red Cross and for the war effort generally.[2] Possibly her aging husband, Edward Griffiths, who did not die till 1956, may have continued to manage or lease the Tea Rooms into the war years, but in September of 1941 the following ad appeared in the ‘Classifieds’ section of the Sydney Morning Herald

Kookaburra Tea Rooms, main Western Highway Warrimoo, sell or let, reasonable terms—licenced dining hall 3 bedrooms, lounge verandahs etc[3]

The 'Tea Rooms' as they appear today, at 230 Great Western Highway, Warrimoo. It is wondrous to think this humble rental accommodation was once the vibrant hub of social life for local residents.
Presumably the Kookaburra property was sold and converted into rented accommodation from that time onwards. The building still stands today at the same address, partitioned into 3 flats. It is hard to imagine how this humble timber and fibro abode occupied such an exalted role in the social life of Warrimooians in that age gone by, but it did. 

[1] WAY, L. W., My Story, Cliff Lewis Printing, Caringbah, 2011, p 14
[2] TROVE, ‘Nepean Times’, Thurs 13th November 1941 p.1
[3] Ibid, SMH Classifieds, Sept. 7, 1941

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