For 102 years a marble plaque has adorned the arch of the old Queen Victoria Bridge in South Brisbane. Executed by Daphne Mayo, best known for her work on the Brisbane City Hall tympanum (1927-30), the plaque commemorates the tragic death of 11-year-old Hector Vasyli on 9 June 1918. Hector was near the southern end of the bridge, throwing gifts to soldiers returning from The Great War, when he was hit by a vehicle that was travelling in the convoy.
Hector’s parents owned an oyster saloon, situated nearby at 13 Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. Mr D.G. Vasyli from Cyprus had the Queensland Oyster Palace from 1915 to 1920 at least, although it appears the business relocated to 18 Melbourne Street the year Hector died. According to Brisbane historian Denis Conomos, Mr Vasyli (also known as George Basile) was the first Cypriot cafe proprietor in Brisbane. He traded at 158 Leichhardt Street from 1909 to around 1912. In August 1919, Mr and Mrs Vasyli welcomed another baby boy, Hercules.
Numerous Greek migrants owned oyster saloons in Brisbane at the time, including members of the Patty and Freeleagus families. Like many of these shops, the Queensland Oyster Palace sold fresh fish, prawns and oysters, smoked fish, and poultry (fowls, ducks and turkeys) dressed or alive. Popular meals included a plate of oysters, steak and oysters, and steak and eggs, any of which could be had for one shilling.
Little else is known about the Queensland Oyster Palace or the family who owned it. Like the stories of dozens of other Greek-run shops, they may never have been documented. Get in touch if you can add to this aspect of Brisbane’s history and the stories of the extensive community of Greek Australians who call Brisbane home.
Erected by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, the Hellenic Association, and the citizens of Brisbane, the plaque was dedicated 8 December 1918. At that time, Greek Consul Christy Freeleagus addressed a crowd of a thousand people, and this was possibly the first address delivered by a Greek in Queensland. On it you will find these words: In his veins ran the heroic blood of Greece and in the breast of a child he carried the heart of a man.
Denis Conomos, Greeks in Queensland: A History from 1869-1945 (2002) pages 100-101, 182-185