- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories
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- None noted.
- March 2019 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Ray Vidler
The story of ‘Harry’s Café de Wheels’ goes back to the Great Depression years of the 1930s. With the world on the brink of a devastating war, an enterprising Sydneysider named Harry Edwards used a small converted caravan to open a mobile café near the front gates of the naval dockyard at Woolloomooloo. In those days the caravan was towed by an ex-Army ambulance. Word quickly spread with Harry’s pie ‘n’ peas and crumbed snags soon becoming a popular part of the city’s nightlife – keenly sought after by sailors, soldiers, cabbies, starlets and coppers alike.
Harry operated the caravan until 1938 when it closed, due to his enlistment into the AIF. During Harry’s time in the Middle East he was nicknamed ‘Tiger’ owing to his boxing prowess and the name stuck. Upon his return and demobilization in 1945, Harry realised that Sydney hadn’t changed much and it was still almost impossible to get a good late-night feed, so he reopened and the caravan has been operating continuously ever since. His signature dish, a meat pie topped with mushy peas, mashed potato and gravy, became known as a ‘Tiger’.
The café was originally simply known as ‘Harry’s’ but the city council came up with a ruling that mobile food caravans must move a minimum of 12 inches a day. Hence the new name ‘Harry’s Café de Wheels’. Harry (Tiger) Edwards operated the business for a further 30 years before selling out to Alex Koronya in 1975.
With Alex getting on in years, in 1988 he sold out to Michael Hannah. Michael’s father, a Sydney cabbie, would take his children down to the ‘Loo for a pie at Harry’s. Michael recalls returning from a tour of duty in Viet Nam in 1970 with his first stop on disembarking from HMAS Sydneybeing of course Harry’s. It would be another 17 years before he purchased the business.
With redevelopment of Cooper Wharf and the construction of the Fleet Base East in the early 1980s the original caravan, which was showing its age, was forced to relocate to a new position near the Finger Wharf, close to where it now stands. A high point of the enterprise came in 1985 when the old caravan was donated to the Powerhouse Museum and, over a pie and a glass of champagne, Rear Admiral David Martin (later Governor of New South Wales – Sir David Martin) commissioned the new caravan as ‘HMAS Harry’s’.
As the years have passed Harry’s has become a must for visiting celebrities and sporting stars having served the likes of Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Marlene Dietrich, Kevin Costner, Brook Shields, Olivia Newton-John, Jerry Lewis, Elton John, Kerry Packer, Sir Richard Branson and Russell Crowe.
The chicken king, the late Colonel Sanders, stopped at Harry’s and enjoyed the food so much that he ate three ‘pies and peas’. Rupert Murdoch had pies flown from Harry’s for an Australian-themed Oscar party held in Los Angeles.
In 2004 the National Trust of Australia (NSW) classified ‘Harry’s Café de Wheels’ on its register as a quintessential Sydney icon.
In recent times Michael Hannah franchised the business and extended it to 13 stores in New South Wales and one in Shenzhen, China. In May 2018 Tino Dees was having a pie at Harry’s in Woolloomooloo when he heard Michael was thinking of retiring and putting the business on the market. Tino jumped in and made an offer which was accepted, becoming the fourth proud owner of this business which has been closely associated with the RAN in its over 80 years of operation.
Tino Dees moved to Australia from his native Germany in 2008 where he worked in the meat industry. He opened his own German Butchery in 2012 which won numerous awards for sausages, hams and bacon. Under his ownership he now intends to expand the business to more than 100 locations. Patrons can expect a change in the menu with all types of hotdogs in addition of course to its famous meat pies which remain faithful to their traditional recipe.
So go to it and have a taste of authentic Aussie tucker while taking a trip back through memory lane.