Parakeet Café, Katoomba

Story by Milli Thornton. Photo Copyright © Milli Thornton.

KATOOMBA IS a two-hour train ride from Sydney airport. You don’t have to go by train, but that’s my favorite way—and that’s how I got to Katoomba last time I was there, in 2002, when I did a writer’s retreat at Varuna Writer’s Center.

Several years before that, in 1995, I lived for a glorious year in Leura, the smaller sister town to Katoomba. I would go to Katoomba for groceries and banking. Two magical towns in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales . . . my special, most longed-for place on the planet.

When I flew to Australia from New Mexico for my writing retreat, I visited as many of my old Leura and Katoomba haunts as possible (while still leaving time to write). High on the list was Parakeet Café, my favorite coffeehouse at the very bottom of Katoomba’s steep main street. Parakeet Café embodies everything I love in a good coffeehouse: good eats, great coffee, creative atmosphere, and the murmur and bustle of locals coming in for a cuppa.

Here’s an entry from the journal I kept during my retreat.

Saturday, Feb 16, 2002
I walked up town this morning to have breakfast at the Parakeet Cafe. The menu featured British, American, and Australian breakfasts. I had the Aussie breakfast of fried eggs (googs) on toast with grilled tomato and chunky chips, washed down with a cappuccino made the Aussie way (my old favorite) while I listened to Crowded House on the cafe stereo. I cried in the middle of my fried eggs with homesickness for Australia. I want to live here again!

Parakeet Café is also special to me because it’s in my book, Fear of Writing. It’s the setting for the opening scene in a story called “Worm Medicine,” about a writer with terrible self-esteem who finds healing from an unlikely source.

The Parakeet Café is thriving. The air smells of potato and leek soup and warm focaccia bread.

Narelle stops to admire the solo exhibition by a local Aboriginal artist on display in the alfresco section. The vivid dot paintings evoke primordial images of survival rooted in beauty and desolation. Tribal women foraging for witchetty grubs amid the roots of ancient trees. Early morning kangaroo hunts in the mist. The stark black and red of the bush fire tragedy. The startling, out-of-season yellow and red of wattle and waratah blossoming in the Blue Mountains snow.

Her silent vote for #1 uses precision yellow, black and white dots against an undulating, whorled series of olive and silver mosaic grids. Entitled Cockatoo Dreaming, the painting produces the effect of cockatoos flying through eucalyptus leaves blowing in a breeze.

Excerpted from Fear of Writing
Copyright © 1999 Milli Thornton

I Googled Parakeet Café and found out they don’t have a website. But I did find a photo on Flickr taken from the opposite direction in 2009. The shopfront has been repainted a dark shade of mauve. I couldn’t see the sign but chances are they’ve changed that too.

I prefer to remember it the way it looks in my photo from 2002.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Write More Words.

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  1. Sounds and looks amazing. When can I leave? 🙂

    • Julia, my thoughts exactly. As I was putting this post together, I thought of that old Monkey’s song, “What am I doing hanging ’round? I should be on that train (plane) and gone . . .”

      Only I would change the destination in the song from “San Antone” to the Blue Mountains. 😉

  2. Gee, it looks really different in the 2009 photo!

    I like the sounds of a train ride out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I’ve always loved trains – we live close to the Caltrain and somehow the noise of the trains never bothers me.

    And this is so charming, “Parakeet Café embodies everything I love in a good coffeehouse: good eats, great coffee, creative atmosphere, and the murmur and bustle of locals coming in for a cuppa.” I have to agree with your feelings…

    Looks like a wonderful trip down memory lane through your picture and journal. Even though the Flickr picture looks nice, old memories are usually treasured as the best. I read Worm Medicine. I will have to go back and reread about the coffeehouse, now with a new picture in mind.

    Hope you make it back there!


    • I actually thought of you while I was writing that part about a good coffeehouse. 🙂

      I’d be interested to hear the effect of reading that section of Worm Medicine again after having seen the picture. Sometimes the effects of the reader’s imagination in a story are better than the real thing.

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  4. I just wanted to let you know how great it was to read this, and to find others with fond memories of the Parakeet Cafe as well. During the week I spent in Katoomba in 1994, my friend Julee and I ended up eating there every single night!

    I went there via train from Sydney and definitely wouldn’t want to travel there any other way. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to Katoomba, but if I did, the Parakeet Cafe would be my first destination–thanks for confirming my memories of just how great it was! 🙂

    • Lilly,

      I’m so glad you got that much value from my article and your comment is much appreciated. It’s great having a reader who has experienced the same feelings I did, right down to the certainty that the train is the best way to get there.

      When I was there visiting in 2002, I remember sitting in front of my plate of typical Aussie breakfast, hearing Crowded House on the cafe speakers and having tears fill my eyes from sheer nostalgia.

      ~ Milli

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