Spencer’s Home Cookery
In the 1940s and 50s, entertainment in Gladstone was found by going to the movies (or the pictures as they were then known) at the Embassy, Regent or Civic Theatres, attending dances at the Trocadero or the Empire Hall, or by going to a local café. Many of the most popular local cafés were owned and operated by Greek families, such as the Orion, Niagara, Paramount, Sydney and Welcome Cafes.
King’s café in Goondoon Street was run by May King, a local girl of the Kirkwood family at Beecher. In 1948, the café building was leased by Herbert Spencer, a local returned serviceman.
After returning from the Second World War, Herbert Paul Spencer travelled to New Zealand where he worked for a while in forestry. On his return to Australia, he set up a farm at Monto, but later returned to New Zealand. While working there he met his future wife, a New Zealand girl, Evelyn, who had been picking apples in the South Island. He returned in 1948 to Australia, and took up a lease of the café in Goondoon Street.
Herbert Spencer set up his café with home baked goods, in the café previously owned by May King. This café had been known as King’s Café, and later in the 1950s, it was to become the California Grill Bar.
Herbert’s café operated in half the building, with the other half occupied by JM Hamilton who sold sails, tents and tarpaulins. Opposite the café in Goondoon Street was Schneiders’ store, which sold an array of products including electrical goods, spare parts, mowers and hardware. Next to Schneider’s was the Paramount Café, operated by Peter Feros.
While Herbert was setting up his café business in Gladstone, he corresponded with Evelyn, back in New Zealand. In late 1948, she decided to move to Australia to take up employment and, not knowing the distances involved, got a job at an Aboriginal Mission at Ceduna in South Australia. Herbert met her off the ship from New Zealand in Sydney, and proposed marriage to her. She accepted, and then went to work for a short while in South Australia.
The couple was married in Gladstone in August 1949. The Presbyterian Church where they were to have tied the knot had been destroyed during the cyclone in March 1949, so they were married at the Watt Memorial Hall, next to the church. Evelyn, who had no family in Australia, was given away by Mr Kieseker who owned a haberdashery store in Goondoon Street, up the road from the café. With bridal material in short supply, Evelyn’s beautifully embroidered wedding dress was made from parachute silk.
If you fancied buying a light sponge cake or a rainbow cake, Spencer’s café was the place to go. Dora Lowe (nee Spencer), Herbert’s sister, worked in the café, cooking six double sponges at a time in the large oven, and huge slabs of rainbow cake. Meat and apple pies and home-baked scones topped with jam and fresh cream were also a specialty.
Wedding breakfasts were held in the café, with the wedding cakes being cooked on the premises and iced by Evelyn Spencer. Evelyn became adept at icing three and four tiered cakes, and over the years, iced a great many wedding cakes for local couples tying the knot.
In 1950, Evelyn was missing her family, so the Spencers left the café and returned to New Zealand, where they subsequently had two children, Denise and Gary. They returned with their family to live in Australia in 1969. The couple lived in Gladstone for the rest of their lives. Both are buried in Port Curtis Garden Cemetery.
(Thanks to Denise Chapman, daughter of Herbert and Evelyn Spencer)