The first Fair that involved the closure of Glebe Point Rd took place on Saturday, September 22 in 1984. The participants were almost entirely from the Glebe community, including many businesses. There was music, dancing and activities for children.

Glebe Street Fair in 2012 (image: Richard Milnes)
Glebe Street Fair in 2012 (image: Richard Milnes)

In 1984 Glebe Point Rd was the centre of multicultural eating in Sydney. Ethnic restaurants had replaced the empty shops and declining businesses in Glebe Point Rd, long before this phenomenon spread to other areas. The greatest Victorian shopping strip in Sydney, King St, Newtown, still consisted of traditional shops and Greek businesses representing the predominant migrant population. Glebe Point Rd was ‘Eat Street’.

After I became President in January, 1984 three Glebe restaurateurs, Lorrishka and Michael Fischer and Peter Torok, approached me for Glebe Society support for a Glebe Food Fair. They had already approached the Carnivale Committee, the umbrella organisation for multicultural events, who had agreed to include such an event in their calendar.

The restaurateurs had a problem. At that stage, and for many years after, there was no local chamber of commerce, so they had no contact either with the Council (then Leichhardt) or with the community. However Glebe Society members, then as now, were inveterate diners-out, so they were aware of the Society and some businesses had already joined. The idea for a Food Fair seemed like a worthwhile initiative, so I asked two members, Maureen Colman and Penny Priest, to attend the first meeting of what was to become the Glebe Food Fair Association and report back. Their report was favourable, but they clearly needed assistance (Bulletins 7&8, 1984).

I was able to approach Leichhardt Council directly and secure the closure of Glebe Point Rd, the diversion of buses, and all the necessary Council services including electrical connections. Alan Hunt, a Glebe Estate member of the Glebe Society Committee, was also curator of the museum at Tooth’s Brewery on Broadway, and through his contacts with the Licensing Police we obtained permission for a few liquor stalls to be set up in the street to complement those of the Glebe businesses. These were the only stalls to include some businesses from outside Glebe.

Given the circumstances of the time the Fair was a great success. Five thousand people thronged the street on a fine spring day, and there was not a single instance of drunkenness or unseemly behaviour.

It was a lot of work. The restaurants and cafés worked through the night and morning preparing special dishes to display on stalls outside their premises, and many brought in extra staff in expectation of the crowd. The community stalls and activities were also well attended. The high point was the waiters’ race, where waiters bearing aloft a tray carrying a bottle and wineglasses ran the length of the commercial stretch.

Despite the effort, and the involvement of so many Glebe Society members, I believe it was the very best kind of advertisement for Glebe. It was an event very distinctive and characteristic of Glebe at that time, and involved both businesses and residents. It was neither too crowded nor too commercial. It set the model for cooperation between these two groups and Council that led to the Glebe Point Rd Project in 1989, and the Chamber in the nineties. And of course, the food was marvellous!