submitted by Kytherian Cultural Exchange on 16.01.2011
Author:Tamis, Anastasios Myrodis, and Tsolakis, Demetrios A.
When Published: 2000
Publisher: Greek Orthodox Community and Church of Canberra and Districts ; National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, La Trobe University, Melbourne.
Description: Large illustrated publication, 490 pages, 500 illustrations, bibliography, index, appendix
* Contact The Greek Orthodox Community and Church of Canberra and Districts for details of purchase.
GPO Box 208
City ACT 2601
Telephone: +61 2 6295 1891
Subjects: Greeks - Australian Capital Territory - Canberra. | Greeks - Australian Capital Territory - Canberra - Social conditions.
The book is now It is now available from the Kytherian World Heritage Fund and the Kytherian Association of Australia.
Kalie Zervos, 02 9699 6998, Kytherian Association of Australia
Angelo Notaras: 02 9810 0194, Angelo Notaras
George C. Poulos: 02 93888320, George C Poulos
Order more of the 30+ books from the KWHF catalogue by downloading the Order Form, here:
The following is adapted from an article in the Canberra Times, 19th September 1999.
Greek Settlers of Canberra and Districts have their own History book
When Gikas Voulgaris, a Greek-born adventurer, found his way into the south-eastern part of NSW more than 160 years ago, he probably did not think of himself as a trailblazer, much less the founder of a rich and vibrant tradition destined to reach down the highways of history.
He was more intent on survival - and praising his luck that he was still alive. The British had arrested him as a pirate, and had sentenced him and six fellows to death on the Sydney gallows. Amazingly for the time, the Greek Government had seen fit to intervene on their behalf and they had been pardoned and set loose in this strange, wide land.
Our knowledge of him is sketchy. What we do know is he was almost certainly the first Greek to set foot in this part of the world; he had two daughters and a son who lived respectively in Bombala, Cooma and Queanbeyan, and eventually they died there.
These facts are contained in a book which was launched in Canberra on the 19 September 1999, by then Federal Member for Kooyong Petro Georgiou, and ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell - History of the Greeks of Canberra and District.
An extensive work of scholarship, it was produced over three years (1996-1999) by Anastasios Tamis, then director of the National Centre for Hellenic Studies at La Trobe University, and his colleague, Dimitri Tsolakis. The work was commissioned by the Greek Orthodox Community of Canberra and District.
Professor Tamis said it had been a difficult but exciting task. “There was no bibliography, no former works to which we could refer”, he says. We had to deal entirely with primary sources - diaries, newspaper articles, people's personal recollections.
For instance, we wrote to about 2000 families who had lived in the region. Of course, some no longer lived there. They were scattered all over the country, some had returned to Greece. We were communicating with people from Sydney to the Aegean Islands."
The research turned up unexpected information and trends. For instance, we knew that as Melbourne was the industrial centre of Australia, most of the early Greeks who came there were employed as labourers. Sydney had a commercial and perhaps a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, and that was reflected in the Greeks who settled there.
What we found was that the Canberra area was different again. Most of the immigrants were cafe proprietors or the owners of other small businesses - and the majority originally came to the country areas, and then began a movement into Canberra which began in the late 1960s."
“There was a time in the 1920s when there was hardly a settlement of any size throughout NSW which did not have a Greek cafe proprietor” - Professor Tamis says.
It was a first step for them - later we begin to find them in the hotel and supermarket industries - they dominated the ownership of Canberra's supermarkets until the early 1990s when the big chains began to take a hold."
Growing prosperity brought a further progression into construction, commerce and industrial development.
The Greek community of Canberra and Queanbeyan may be small (Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 4500 to 5000) but it tends to be influential and reasonably well off probably the most affluent and consolidated in Australia”, he says.
The history of the Greek community in Canberra itself begins with Harry Notaras.
He came to Australia in 1903 and lived for a while in Albany, Western Australia, but by 1927 he was in Canberra, running the Highgate Cafe in Kingston. He opened his business about six months before the opening of the Australian Parliament, and made a bit of a killing at the big ceremonies surrounding its opening”, Professor Tamis says.
Notaras realised there would be a lot of people there, and they would get hungry, so he ran three kiosks at the site and sold the equivalent of today's fast food."
He describes this pioneer as lacking a formal education, but nevertheless highly intellectual . . . he was the first person of Greek background to join the then Chamber of Commerce and Industry; he supported rugby league and earned the respect of the diplomats, Ministers and Members of Parliament.
His cafe was a meeting place for the prominent people of Canberra. In the early days it was just about the only place where you could get a good meal."
The influx of postwar migrants washed over Canberra without leaving the same mark as in other centres.
For some time there were ships arriving in Melbourne, carrying perhaps 3000 Greeks, virtually every second he says. There was nothing like this influx here. Most of the work available in the ACT was in the service industries, so unless you were prepared to be a gardener, or work in a restaurant, you didn't come.
It was only much later, when the first generation had become established in the rural areas, and had children at school or university, that they began to move into Canberra, mostly for the education."
Then leader of Canberra's Greek community, businessman Con Tsoulias, lived with the Greeks in Canberra history project from 1996-1999.
“It was put to me that Canberra's Italian and Polish communities had already done it, and I thought it was an excellent idea”, he says.
The problem was cost. From the very beginning it was decided this would not be the work of enthusiastic amateurs. We wanted a publication which would not only be a definitive work but also a book we would all be proud to have in our own homes”. Our initial plan was for 230 pages at a total cost of $70,000." This was later expanded.
A grant was obtained from ACT Heritage, and numerous associations and clubs, notably the Hellenic Club of Canberra, made contributions, but much of the total was raised by a knocking on doors".
With the engagement of Professor Tamis, an historian of international reputation, as the author, the long process of research began. “I learnt a great deal”, Tsoulias says. “For instance, I had no idea the Greeks were so prominent in the oyster industry in Batemans Bay. They virtually ran it."
Other people also made some startling discoveries. A woman wrote that while she did not believe she had any connection with the Greek community, a newspaper article advertising the project had prompted her to delve into her family history. She was astonished to find she had a Greek great-grandfather who arrived in the area in 1840, married an Irish girl and decided it would be better for him if he changed his name. The family became large scale farmers in the Braidwood district."
“There were moments of humour. I loved the story of the man who ran the Niagara Cafe at Gundagai during World War”, he says. “Prime Minister Curtin and members of his War Cabinet were on the road one dark and wet night, and they felt like breaking their journey for tea, so they knocked up the proprietor. Luckily the man recognised Curtin, and made them welcome. If you go to the cafe today you will still see a display of the tea pot, cups and saucers they used."
The book pulls no punches - it includes the hardships, the discrimination, the casual racism that many of the pioneers experienced.
Professor Tamis says World War II was a watershed. It was an event which changed drastically and positively the attitude of the overall Australian community towards the he says.
For a start, Australian soldiers fought in Greece - it became something more than a name on a map to them. Then there was an amazing enthusiasm among Greeks to serve in the Australian armed forces. Almost every family we surveyed provided at least one member."
Tsoulias says the book sticks to the facts . . . it resists the attempts of some individuals to gloss over the early mistakes which might have been made but it does reflect our achievements, our culture."
Gikas Voulgaris had no idea what he was starting...................
The History of the Greeks of Canberra and District contains biographical sketches and photographs of many Kytherians, like Harry Notaras, mentioned above. Many Kytherians living in various parts of Australia will recognise their relatives, friends and associates in the books pages. See in particular, the group photograph, on the inside back cover, taken of the Comino Reunion, held on the 21st March 1981, containing no less than 118 participants. The History of the Greeks of Canberra and District is a “must have” book for all Kytherians around the world.
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