Café stories you won’t believe

A century ago a series of remarkable events haunted one café proprietor. Here are just three of the stories – and they’re all true! I shared a version live on West Bremer Radio.

Freddy Klopsch was a big man, he weighed around sixteen stone. He was typical of what people imagined a Hamburg German to look like, with fair hair, blue eyes and fresh complexion. He used to peddle ice cream around Ipswich, Queensland, in a horse and cart.

From back before the First World War, Freddy had cafés and premises in Bell Street, Limestone Street, and East Street next to the old Wintergarden theatre (pictured above) when it was new.

In 1914, James McDonald, better known in Ipswich as “Slim Jim,”‘ was pursued by Freddy and dozens of other people while he was breaking into Freddy’s place. In the court case that followed, Slim Jim defended himself and pleaded not guilty. He called twenty witnesses, but only three turned up and they were all policeman who actually testified against him.

Slim Jim’s own testimony didn’t help either when he said, “The house was completely surrounded by an army armed with sticks, stones, tomahawks, axes, revolvers, and God knows what.” When he’d finished, the jury retired for just five minutes and brought in a verdict of guilty. He got two years with hard labour.

Just a few months later in 1915, one night Freddy was at his cafe in Bell Street when he saw two men go into his out-house together. Freddy asked who was in there, and told them it wasn’t for public use. After a couple of minutes the men came out, walked past him, and back onto Bell Street – but as soon as they got there, they ran as hard as they could. That’s because there was crowd of people led by two policemen running around the corner after them.

What had happened was that the men had refused to pay for meals at a café on Brisbane Street. When the owner followed them onto the footpath, one offered to fight him, and the other raised a revolver and shot him in the side. The men made their escape up Brisbane Street to Bell Street where they hid together in Freddy’s out-house. They were eventually caught and tried, one got six months hard labour, the other just fourteen days.

Come 1924 there was still excitement at Freddy’s cafes. That’s when the Wintergarden theatre was being built next to his premises on East Street. One of the theatre employees was George Anderson who later unfortunately caught his wife in the backseat of a car with a guy from the Royal Australian Air Force.

Then there was Frank Griffiths who ended up working for twenty-seven years as the Ipswich City Council engineer. He was responsible for virtually every major construction of roads, bridges, reservoirs, beautification projects, water supply systems, and sewerage systems that Ipswich has. The ground works that you see today at Limestone Hill, Raymond’s Hill, and Queens Park were all built by him.

Francis Alexander Griffiths

One day in 1924, Griffiths went to Freddy’s café (seen on the left of the main picture) on East Street to inspect the drainage from the new theatre next door. It was obvious that water run-off from the theatre was flooding Freddy’s shop, but Griffiths blamed one of Freddy’s own sheds.

Freddy didn’t like this of course and accused Griffiths of trying to get free tickets from the theatre.

Griffiths replied, “Same to you” – and then said under his breath, “You’re nothing but a dirty mongrel.”

Freddy took offence and so punched him. Griffiths’s glasses got broken and went flying, the engineer staggered back, and then ran.

“I sort of didn’t know what I was doing when he called me that,” Freddy said. “So I just landed out and gave him one.”

Freddy’s fifteen-year-old daughter Sylvia was in the doorway, and cried, “Oh, daddy, why did you do that?” She later corroborated her father’s story.

Sylvia Klopsch

In the inevitable assault charge in the Ipswich Courthouse, quite a stir erupted when Freddy called the theatre’s employee Anderson “a liar”.

Anderson, who was seated behind the solicitor’s table, jumped the seats and tables and rushed at Freddy in the witness stand.

Eventually Anderson resumed his seat, and Freddy was convicted and fined £1 with costs.

Next time you’re at your favourite café, just think of all the unbelievable stories that have been told there – and be polite when you get your coffee, because, like Freddy Klopsch, the café owner just might take offence.


Photo credits:
Wintergarden Theatre on East Street, Ipswich, c1927 – Picture Ipswich
Francis Alexander Griffiths, City Engineer, Ipswich City Council – Picture Ipswich
Sylvia Ethel Klopsch wedding 1934 – Lesley Coolwell


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