submitted by Kevin Cork on 23.01.2006
During the 1990's KEVIN CORK undertook extensive research into cinema's in Australia.
Tragically, he died before completing his work, but most of the chapters of his Ph.D Thesis, were completed.
His wife and children have kindly given permission for his work to be reproduced.
His work appears here under his own name.
Most Australian's would be unaware of the degree to which Greeks, and particularly Kytherian Greeks dominated cinema ownership in Australia - especially in New South Wales.
The first part of Chapter 8 brings together the themes of his study - focusing on a number of Kytherian families.
The importance of the Hellenic and Kytherian contribution to Australian cinema ownership and history is clearly demonstrated in Chapt 8, as in all other chapters.
It is difficult to know how to pass on to Kytherians the results of Kevin Cork's important research's.
In the end, we felt that the results should be passed on in the most extensive way - i.e. in full re-publication of Chapter's.
All chapters now appear on the kythera-family web-site.
Other entries can be sourced by searching under "Cork" on the internal search engine.
See also, Kevin Cork, under People, subsection, High Achievers.
The first one-third of chapter 8 - Part A - (reproduced here) goes to the heart of the philosophical question:
what is the basis of the Hellenic and Kytherian sense of identity? and,
How do you maintain the Hellenic and Kytherian sense of identity in a "foreign" Anglo-Saxon country?
Chapter 8: ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH INTEGRATION, OR ASSIMILATION?
"What appears to be part of the more general process of social and economic assimilation is really part of the more general process whereby both Britishers and Europeans have, willy nilly, moved closer to each other under the compulsion of a novel but common environment. This aspect of assimilation frequently receives less attention than it deserves."
Achievement and assimilation are two different things. Achievement suggests the completion or accomplishment of something, such as the opening of a new building or the point in one's life where one is able to live adequately without having to be employed full time. Assimilation means the absorption of something (or someone) into a system where the new thing becomes like that into which it is being absorbed, such as a stream joins a river and becomes indistinguishable from it. Price, in Southern Europeans in Australia discusses the process of assimilation, explaining that social scientists prefer to use the words "absorption", "accommodation", "integration", "acculturation" and "amalgamation" to denote the various stages of incorporation of immigrants into the economic life of a country, toleration by the host country, adaptation to the host country, intermixing of languages, dress, diet, sport and other cultural characteristics, and, lastly, intermarrying with the host population. He further explained,
The term 'assimilation' may, however, be used to cover not only all these processes - from the immigrant's very first attempt to adjust himself to his new land onwards - but also a stage beyond any of them: a final stage when the immigrant stock not only becomes indistinguishable from native stock in terms of culture and physique but feels itself, and is felt by others, to be quite indistinguishable.
Price's thought about a migrant becoming "indistinguishable in terms of culture and physique" as the culmination of the process of assimilation is open to debate if one thinks in terms of first generation migrants, for example the subject group of this thesis. Can migrants of this generation assimilate? While they may be able to adopt much of the prevailing culture of the host country, old cultural habits cannot be easily removed. Nor can they change their physique.
Tsounis, writing about Greek communities in Australia, claims that being absorbed economically does not mean that a migrant has been absorbed/assimilated socially, politically or culturally if he is measured against such things as participation in social and cultural institutions in the host society, and the acquisition of positions or influence, privilege and power within those institutions. Tsounis suggests that
The steps and stages of assimilation Greeks attained were those necessary for their livelihood and general interests in a new society and nation: the adoption of new social behaviour modes and life styles and new working, food and drinking habits; learning new skills, learning English and forgetting some of their own language; accepting and obeying their new nation's laws and acquiring citizenship rights; recognising and accepting the function of the various institutions; even marrying into British-Australian families...But these rather outward forms of behaviour...were not reliable signs or true indications of assimilation. Apart from varying individuals, time and place, the adoption of Australian ways of life did not mean that Greeks were also abandoning much of their essential 'Greekness', their Hellenicity. The tendency, given the dual social and cultural situations in which they lived and had to contend with, was to adopt and often practice dual social behaviour patterns and cultural mores.
Prior to the push for multiculturalism in 1970s, the Australian attitude towards immigrants was that they should become assimilated, shedding their previous cultures as a snake sheds its skin. The culture acquired by the immigrant in his/her home land cannot disappear at will, and the background of each influences the type of settlement achieved by the migrant in his/her new country. The subject group's peasant background encouraged them to seek economic independence through hard work. It also saw them seek a higher level of education for their children so that the second generation might live better. In years gone by, many British-Australians believed that immigrants came from a cultural vacuum and it was seen as desirable to fill this void as quickly as possible. Even the government took this view. One example is a 1948 Immigration Department brochure for new arrivals which advised that "the day when Australians stop looking at you because your manners and speech are different, you will know you have been accepted as one of the community." Little, of course, was done to effect a smooth transition and it was left up to the immigrants themselves to assimilate. The oft-prodding of locals with racist quips and slurs was seen as a friendly way of reminding the immigrants to hurry up about the matter. The writer's father recalled an Australian-run fruit shop in Leichhardt many years before World War II which sported a painted sign on its window "Shop Here Before The Day Goes". A friendly reminder to chasten tardy housewives before night fell? Not really. There was a fruit shop nearby operated by a southern European.
Michaelides, in her biography of Sir Nicholas Laurantus, possibly Australia's most celebrated Greek immigrant, quoted Laurantus who said that there were only two ways to achieve success in Australia. "...first, by mixing with the British-Australians and learning to speak English at the same level, and second, by acquiring property, moving up out of the 'yes-sir, no-sir' of the restaurant-shop world into activities with more status..." Laurantus does not speak of assimilation, but achievement. When one reads the biography, it is clear that he practised what he preached. He became involved in civic affairs because it was "in keeping with his philosophy of taking part in town life". When it came to naturalisation, he waited only three years and became an Australian citizen in 1911. Whether or not it was a calculated act or not, both Nicholas and George married Australian-born women rather than find Greek-born women. This, in itself, was the ultimate act of "mixing with the British-Australians". Laurantus' whole idea of how to succeed was, basically, a matter of common sense: mix and do well; don't mix and fail. It has already been shown that the men who are the subject of this thesis had little or no English language when they arrived in Australia, and had little or no money. Laurantus' thoughts about mixing and learning to speak English are cogent, especially if the newcomers were to make a success of their lives in this country. Through mixing with Australians and working hard in their businesses, they managed to improve their status and break the cycle that they and their forebears had endured in Greece.
The purpose of this chapter is to show how the members of the subject group endeavoured to become involved in the Australian way-of-life. They never reached the point where they became "indistinguishable", as Price says. It is more likely that, deep down, they adopted the "dual" behavioural pattern propounded by Tsounis. This is borne out, to some extent, by the answers given by members of the subject group (or their children) to the interview question "How do you see yourself/did he see himself: Greek?, Australian? or Greek-Australian?". While it was not possible to ascertain the feelings of 10 of the men, out of the 56 remaining, 52 of them saw or had seen themselves as Greek-Australians. Only two stated that they felt themselves more Australian than Greek. While they presented themselves as Australians to the communities in which they lived, they retained their Greek language (in part or in whole), certain Greek customs and traditions, and an affinity with their place of birth. They embodied the best of both identities - to take and use what Australia had to offer, and to retain desirable pieces from their Greek past. Perhaps some or all of these pieces had their origins in their peasant background but, as the years passed by and they became more economically independent (which they probably would not have been able to achieve if they had stayed in Greece), they were able to adapt those pieces to suit their new status in Australia and "wear" them as pseudo symbols of their ethnicity. Certainly those of the second generation seem, from speaking with them at interviews, easier with their Greek heritage since the move in the 1970s to multiculturalism within Australia. It is less of a stigma for them now to have Greek-born parents than it was for them growing up in country areas in the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps it is also a sign that Australians in general are growing up.
One positive way to show that migrants meant to adopt Australia as their home was through naturalisation. This conferred on them all the rights of a British citizen which included property ownership advantages and voting in government elections, especially local ones that might have a bearing on their business interests. Information about naturalisation of members of the subject group is not easy to obtain from family members owing to the passing of time and loss of knowledge. The official repository for naturalisation, the Australian Archives, has certain access restrictions. It was possible to gather naturalisation information for 29 of the Greek exhibitors which covered the period from 1905 to 1959. The earliest of the Greek exhibitors to become naturalised was Peter Sourry (24 October 1905), just six years after his arrival in Australia. The next was Nicholas Laurantus (8 August 1911), only three years after his arrival.
Table 1: Naturalisation Information
1905 Sourry, Peter Cosmas - 24.10.1905
1911 Lourantos / Laurantos, Nicholas - 8.8.1911
1914 Calligeros, Peter - 1914
1919 Katsoolis, James - 19.8.1919
1920 Lymberides, Panayiotis - 23.3.1920
1921 Bylos, Constantine - 8.1.1921
1921 Kouvelis, Peter - 8.1.1921 - (revoked 12.7.1933)
1921 Coroneo, Alexander Andrew - 3.9.1921
1921 Paspalas, Archie - 13.6.1921
1923 Kouvelis, Jack - 15.8.1923
1924 Conomos, Lambros George - 26.5.1924
1926 Conomos, Emmanuel George - 27.7.1926
1926 Mottee, Dimitrios (Demearius?) - 12.10.1926
1926 Notaras, Ioannis Lambrinos - 14.1.1926
1926 Mottee, George Constantine - 12.8.1926
1927 Feros, Panayiotis John - 9.7.1927
1929 Mottee, Emanuel Constantine - 13.3.1929
1930 Comino, Theo - 12.2.1930
1930 Fatseas, Emanuel - 23.10.1930
1930 Andronicos, Janis - 28.7.1930
1931 Lourantos / Laurantus, George - 9.1.1931
1931 Hatsatouris, Peter Evangelos - 27.6.1931
1931 Hatsatouris, George Evangelos - 27.6.1931
1933 Coroneos, Theodore Mena - 14.2.1933
1942 Roufogalis, Angelo - 21.2.1942
1943 Lucas, Philip - 7.10.1943
1947 Kalligeris, Con - 10.2.1947
1959 Koovousis, Bill - 18.8.1959
1959 Koovousis, Arthur - 18.8.1959
Total in Group: 29.
The 29 can be considered to form a representative sample and certain conclusions may be drawn from the material. The ages when they were naturalised ranged from 21 to 58 years. The average age was 27.5 years. If Janis Andronicos (58), who was the exception rather than the norm because he was 40 years old when he arrived, were omitted from the tabulation, then the average age at for naturalisation was 27. When one considers the number of years they had been in Australia prior to naturalisation (the number of years being between 3 and 21, the average being 11.6), the result shows a positive regard towards becoming citizens. Using information that is available on 52 of our subjects (see Appendix 1), the average age at the time of arrival in Australia was 18 years. Thus, our "average" young Greek arrived at 18 and was naturalised at the age of 27. Allowing for an establishment period, time to gain enough finance to start a business, and time to consolidate, then the time seems reasonable. It may well indicate that many of these men quickly lost their desire to make their money and return to Greece, preferring to make Australia their home where many had spent their childhood and/or teenage years. Where naturalisation records are unavailable, Electoral Rolls provide another source of information. While they list those who are eligible to vote, they show that naturalised Greek-Australians were widely scattered in the days before World War II.
Having acquired sufficient finance, either from guarantors or from saving, and enough English to get them started, our subjects moved into their own businesses in various parts of the state. As has been noted in an earlier chapter, all but four of the men were known to have had some sort of refreshment room background before moving into motion picture exhibition. Even after they had become cinema exhibitors, over half of them continued (for varying lengths of time) to operate refreshment rooms concurrently with their cinema interests. Success depended on how they dealt with their customers and got along in the town. As one former exhibitor remarked, "In life, you've got to mix..." Although they may have been looked upon as foreigners by many (even after they were naturalised), they endeavoured to "learn their part". Working in refreshment rooms and cinemas brought them into close contact with many people, thereby facilitating the process of integration. Their desire to achieve was the driving force that kept them going.
Using material supplied from the interviews with members of the subject group and/or family members, it has been possible to formulate a list of activities in which Greek cinema exhibitors engaged within their towns. The list, by no means definitive, is diverse and is indicative of a desire to participate in the communities in which they lived. Six categories were identified: lodges and service clubs; sport; utilisation of cinemas for other purposes; war service, effort and recognition; religious bi-partisanship; miscellaneous. (See Appendix 6 for specific names.)
In the first category identified, 12 men mentioned that they were members of lodges or service clubs. P Calligeros, L Conomos, P Louran, G Mottee and A Pizimolas/Peters were members of Masonic Lodges in their respective towns. E Conomos belonged to the Independent Order of Oddfellows, and proudly stated in his 94th year that he was still a member. A Pizimolas/Peters, J Johnson, G Laurantus, P Hatsatouris, J Conomos and A Sotiros were members of Rotary, the last five being foundation members of their local groups. In the days before World War II, being a Mason meant that immigrants mixed with locals from a variety of backgrounds and gave them a certain acceptance within their community. It also meant that, should they move or holiday, they had a way of being recognised as part of, and being accepted within, a world-wide organisation. As members of the Rotary Club, the six men listed above were accepted within their communities by a wide variety of business people. Belonging to such organisations was one way that an immigrant could assimilate and gain acceptance.
With regards to the second category, 18 men mentioned Sport. Nine played lawn bowls, an activity that, for some, they joined as they became older and better-established. The wife of a non-bowler stated that her husband presented a perpetual trophy in the form of a shield to his town's bowling club. She also said that when her husband had a refreshment room, he always sent a box or two of oranges to the local football ground on match days as a gesture of goodwill. Two engaged in shooting for pleasure; one of the two was a keen boxer as well. Billiards and snooker featured strongly in the life of another. Serving as honorary secretary for the town's football club for a number of years preceding World War II was how one man endeavoured to become involved in his town's sporting life. Another was the patron of his local football club. The final contribution to the category of Sport was made by one man who became a licensed bookmaker and worked at two country race tracks. This, undoubtedly, would have brought him into contact with many people. The writer has been sworn to secrecy on naming the men involved in the following adjunct to sport, but it can be stated that three of the cinema exhibitors were reputed to be 'SP bookies'. It was said of one that he used his cinema office on Saturday afternoons to handle the bets. Such was country life forty-plus years ago!
Quite a number of country theatres were multi-purpose buildings and were used for dances. This was an important adjunct to the social life of various towns. In this third category, a number of exhibitors leased local halls on a regular basis and they had to make allowance for other bookings (eg concerts, dances) that occurred on non-picture nights. However, a number of purpose-built cinemas were constructed with flat floors (either part or whole). These included Bingara Roxy, Boggabri Royal, Carinda Megalo, Cobar Regent, Condobolin Central, Cowra Centennial Hall, Gundagai Theatre, Junee Atheneum, Lake Cargelligo Civic, Lockhart Rio, Merriwa Astros, Narrandera Globe (2nd)/Plaza, Nyngan Palais, Port Macquarie Civic and Empire, Wagga Wagga Plaza, Walcha Civic, Walgett Luxury. In many of these towns, there were no large venues suitable for dances until more recent years (eg Cobar, Lake Cargelligo, Walcha, Walgett).
Not all interviewees stated that cinemas associated with them were used for dances. However, if the following is an indication, it is reasonable to assume that more were similarly used. J and N Andronicos of East Moree, P and C Kalligeris at Boggabri, Conomos Bros of Walgett, T and B Conomos of Carinda, Hatsatouris Bros of Port Macquarie; P Lucas of Walcha, G Psaltis et al at Bingara, and A Sotiros of Lake Cargelligo regularly opened their cinemas to public functions including balls and dances. In country towns of yesteryear, balls were held during the cooler months as fund-raisers for local hospitals, local major churches (those that permitted dancing), sporting bodies and other worthwhile organisations. The chairs would be moved from the flat-floored stalls and the auditorium decorated. Often, there was a supper room with a separate kitchen attached to the rear of the building. In this area, tables were set for refreshments. In some cases, such as the Luxury Theatre at Walgett, dancers made their way up the street to the School of Arts for supper.
In 1935, on the occasion of the celebratory ball for the "Back to Narrandera Week", in which Nicholas Laurantus was involved, it was reported that 400 people danced at his Plaza Theatre
...to the music of two orchestras while supper was served in two separate sittings at the adjacent Criterion Hall. Tall bunches of palm leaves decorated the hall which was set with tables and chairs for 350 guests. The first supper menu was a lavish selection of savouries, cold meats, salads, trifles, jellies, charlotte russe, fruit, cakes and nuts, while the second supper which was served at 1.30a.m. consisted of hot sausage rolls, tea and coffee.
Recalling the days when their theatre was used for balls, Anastasia Sotiros, the wife of the exhibitor at the Lake Cargelligo Civic, said, "If you could see the supper room in the back. The beautiful cooking. Cakes. Chickens. The most delicious meals you could have there. And trifles with plenty of brandy..."
At Bingara's Roxy theatre, G Psaltis, E Aroney and P Feros (the exhibitors) held a Grand Movie Ball in May 1936. For the residents of this small, north-western town, entertainment such as this added interest to their lives. On an earlier occasion, the Roxy's exhibitors decided not to screen on their regular Wednesday night because of a ball at a local hall and they did not want to be seen to be taking people away from such a worthy cause. It should be noted that the opposition exhibitor in town screened on the night of the Movie Ball, although he claimed it was a "Soldiers' Benefit" night.
In the early years of the war, Philip Lucas leased the Walcha Theatre which was used for dances.
In the late 1940s, Hatsatouris Bros renovated and converted the Empire and the Oxley Theatres into comfortable dance halls, available to the Port Macquarie community for social events.
It was when several of the towns built new community halls that the cinemas lost their place as dancing venues. (For example, Lucas' Civic Theatre at Walcha had been the venue for balls from the time of its construction. When a new Memorial Hall was erected, the balls were transferred there, "...which was a financial blow to the theatre.") Someone else commented that it was not only new halls that ended the era: "The balls stopped in the 1960s - too expensive."
It is worth mentioning at this point that three of the exhibitors were musicians. Two played for dances, the third played in his local brass band. At Walgett, Emmanuel Conomos learnt the saxophone in the 1920s and joined a small dance band. A photograph in his possession shows Conomos Bros' projectionist playing piano, a drummer, Emmanuel on sax, and a Chinese man playing banjo. Multiculturalism in the early 1930s in Walgett! George Laurantus was a talented violinist and played for silent films and dances, and in an orchestra that accompanied Dame Nellie Melba when she appeared at Cootamundra during one of her many farewell tours. The third, George Mottee played the cornet in the Kempsey Silver Band for a number of years. Each of these musicians would have given pleasure to many people when they shared their musical talents, thereby assisting acceptance into the communities in which they lived.
By donating their cinemas gratis to local schools for speech nights and concerts, many exhibitors forged closer ties with their communities. At Walgett, this was a regular occurrence until the 1950s when the local School of Arts was extensively rebuilt and this latter venue was used instead of the theatre. In Scone, exhibitor Theo Coroneo provided the Dux awards for both primary and secondary departments of the local state schools for many years. It was not unusual for exhibitors to donate the proceeds from the opening night of their theatres to local charities, quite often the hospital. Examples of this included Archie Paspalas at Walgett in 1919, Sam Coroneo at Tamworth in 1928, Conomos Bros at Walgett in 1937, T and B Conomos at Carinda in 1937. In the case of J Kouvelis at Tamworth in 1927, a large donation was made to both the hospital and local ambulance. Mottee Bros, when they opened their new cafe in Kempsey in 1925, donated the opening night's takings to the hospital. When they opened their Rendezvous Theatre in 1928, the money went towards the erection of an iron railing around the War Memorial in East Kempsey. In 1941, T and B Conomos donated the proceeds of a special screening to the local Country Women's Association.
The fourth category involved exhibitors in war service, effort and recognition. In World War II John Tzannes (of Boorowa) enlisted in the RAAF, Jack Kouvelis' son John enlisted in the AIF, as did George Stathis. His father, Peter held special fund-raising rallies in his Tumut cinema and helped the war effort in other ways. A Certificate of Appreciation was awarded to him after the war by the Commonwealth Government and it hung in the theatre foyer for many years. At Carinda, Theo and Bill Conomos assisted with the organisation of a special fund-raising day for the Greek Red Cross Society on 28 February 1941 and raised £198 ($396). At Walgett, Conomos Bros' theatre was the scene of a number of fund-raising functions, including one on 1 March 1941 to raise money for Greece. Hatsatouris Bros gave gratis the regular use of their Oxley Theatre at Port Macquarie to the Voluntary Defence Corp. At Gundagai, because he had served with the Greek Army in World War I, Jim Johnson was able to join the local RSL and, for a time, was its Honorary Secretary. Many towns did not have large community venues and cinemas were donated for ANZAC Day ceremonies. Three interviewees specifically mentioned this (in relation to Wee Waa, Scone and Tumut), and it is probable that there were others who did the same. During World War II there were large military establishments at Wagga Wagga and, according to family members, Jack Kouvelis allowed free tickets to enlisted personnel.
The fifth category could be considered to be an extension of the third. In the years before the 1960s, it would be a rare country town not to have a convent whose nuns taught at local Catholic schools. Although other country exhibitors offered private screenings of selected films for the nuns whose social lives, in those days, were very restricted, several interviewees made special mention of occasional private screenings for them. Bylos at West Wyalong, Calligeris at Temora, Conomos Bros at Walgett, Sotiros at Lake Cargelligo and Tzannes at Boorowa were specifically mentioned. The screenings were private, as the nuns were not allowed to attend public screenings. Films tended to be of a pseudo-religious nature, such as "Song of Bernadette" and "Going My Way". At one cinema, a box of chocolates was placed on each of the seats to be occupied before the nuns arrived. The interviewee mentioned that the screenings took place "...when Dad was at bowls and nobody knew about it." "Dad", of course, would have arranged it all but, so as not to compromise the sisters in any way, the only person present was the projectionist in his projection box. At Lake Cargelligo, one of the exhibitor's daughters sat in the auditorium in order to monitor the picture's sound levels. It should be recorded that the exhibitors mentioned were not adherents of the Catholic faith. One cafe owner, prior to becoming a cinema exhibitor, supplied (gratis) fish and chips each Friday to the local convent. These special treats must have endeared these men to the nuns.
The final category is one containing a number of miscellaneous activities in which some of the Greek exhibitors participated. These, nonetheless, were twofold in motive: to assist others, and to foster acceptance into the community. The first was the running of charity screenings. The idea behind these was not new to picture theatres. In "live" theatre history, benefit performances were not unknown. Cinema exhibitors merely carried on the tradition. When a local charity needed assistance, the local exhibitor would be approached. Benefit screenings were noted in relation to P Calligeros at Temora, G Laurantus at Liverpool, A Pizimolas/Peters at Mullumbimby, and N Spellson at Bogan Gate. The latter provided these special screenings for charities such as the Yarrabandai Popular Girl candidate for the District Popular Girl Competition (1927). At Bingara, the Greek exhibitors at the Roxy were competing against racist advertisements from the opposition exhibitor but still managed to offer a Euchre and Dance Party to "wind-up the Football Season", a dance in aid of the local Boy Scouts and a special benefit programme for the Hospital.
In his retirement, Jack Kouvelis (having left cinema exhibition in 1946) worked hard for the Hellenic Club in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, serving as President from 1955 to 1959. During that time, he was prominent in instigating the purchase of larger premises in Elizabeth Street, into which the club moved in 1959. In the area of civic service, two exhibitors were involved. As a Councillor, Theo Conomos worked with the local Progress Association to gain a small airport for his town of Carinda in 1952-53 and represented Carinda on Walgett Shire Council 1954 - 1955. In 1948, Peter Hatsatouris was successful in arranging for a Cinesound Newsreel to include a section on Port Macquarie. While dealing primarily with the history of the town, its sole purpose was to promote holidays to the area. The same man served on the Port Macquarie Municipal Council for 18 years, including one term as Deputy Mayor, undertaking many of the onerous duties associated with local government.
Because a substantial part of "The Shiralee" had been made in the Scone area during 1957, the town's Civic Theatre was chosen for its premiere. So successful was it that exhibitor Theo Coroneo was able to hand-over £3000 ($6000) (the night's takings) to the local swimming pool fund. Anthony Pizimolas/Peters at Mullumbimby applied for and became a Justice of the Peace. In 1952 he received a certificate from the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of NSW for rescuing a child in the Brunswick River at Mullumbimby. Finally in this category, Mrs E Conomos (of Walgett) recalled that they were forever donating to some cause or another but, she noted, "They used to come and collect from the theatre, from the cafe and the wine saloon." (Conomos Bros owned the three businesses which were adjacent to each other in Fox Street.) In 1970, the last screening at Conomos Bros' Luxury Theatre was a special one with the proceeds being donated to the local hospital. "Of course they had a big house," recalled Mrs Conomos.
One man tried to lessen the burden of home-sickness for fellow migrants by showing Greek-dialogue films in the early-mid 1950s. Theo Coroneo at Scone screened them on Sunday nights for the many Greek-born workers at the nearby Glenbawn Dam construction site. It ceased when film supplies became unprocurable.
It would be pointless to suggest that the men mentioned in the preceding paragraphs were exceptional or rare. Exhibitors in general gave a lot of themselves when it came to the towns in which they lived and operated. Because the cinema was a focal point of a town, it would have been very difficult for the cinema manager to ignore, too often, requests for assistance. The involvement at a personal level of these Greek men is recorded above to show that they wanted to be part of their communities and to be accepted by them. Unfortunately, too many of them have long since passed away and family members have trouble trying to recall those "extra miles" that their fathers traversed. In other cases, there are no relatives or close friends to recall what these men did.
Besides personal involvement within their towns, some of the Greek exhibitors became important businessmen. As they became more successful in the food trade, they looked around for other business opportunities. Because of their other business interests, a number of them assisted with the commercial development of the towns in which they lived. In some cases, there is more to write about than for others, but that does not mean the contributions of the latter were less than those of the former.
Of the Greek exhibitors, 62 of them gained refreshment room experience sometime after their arrival in Australia. From the time they took on cinema exhibition, at least 26 left cafes behind. Many of the others remained with refreshment rooms as an adjunct to their cinemas, providing food before, during and after the pictures. A number of the subject group members were desirous of moving commercially beyond their cafe, or cafe/cinema ventures. One of the questions asked at interviews with these men or their family members was in relation to other business activities within the towns in which their cinemas were situated.
At East Moree, father and son Andronicos utilised their cinema on non-picture nights for roller skating. On their large block of land in Alice Street, they had their East Moree Cafe and picture theatres (enclosed and open air). The remainder of their block of land allowed them to build a butcher's shop and a post office, as well as leaving a substantial vacant allotment which, in later years, was used for extra shops. Remembering that Mr J Andronicos had started with a leasehold shop across the road in Alice Street around 1912, at the time of his death in 1936, he and his son had made a worthwhile contribution to the commercial development of East Moree.
At Temora, Peter Calligeros left cafes behind when he became a cinema exhibitor. In the early 1920s, he leased the Crown cinema before building his substantial, 1000+ seat Strand Theatre in the main street in 1927. As well as his Strand, he acquired several shops in the same street.
At Wee Waa, Andrew Comino and Andrew Megalokonomos (fondly referred to in town as "Little Andy" and "Big Andy" but trading as Comino Bros) had the White Rose Cafe (and petrol pump facilities). They rebuilt the cafe as the Olympia Cafe after a fire in the 1930s. As well, they operated a cordial factory for a time and had a large woodyard. From 1911 when "Little Andy" arrived in Wee Waa to work in his Uncle's refreshment room, to the time he closed the cinema in the early 1960s ("Big Andy" had passed away in 1959), the two families had served the town in excess of 55 years.
Lambros Conomos commenced refreshment room work at Walgett in December 1917 and, for the next 55 years, the Conomos family was an important part of the town's commercial life. The refreshment room moved to larger premises on the opposite side of the street and petrol facilities were installed outside. The adjacent building was acquired to become a wine saloon. During the 1930s, Conomos Bros' cordial factory was opened, although variety was limited to lemonade and soda water. An earlier factory in the town had closed during the 1920s and left a niche which Conomos Bros filled until World War II. In the years before World War II, ice was the main means of keeping things cool (besides the 'hanging safe'). Lambros started making ice in the late 1920s for Walgett in the cordial making building in Wareena Street. The ice-making facility was disposed of around the same time that the Barwon Cafe business was sold in 1949. They still ran the wine saloon and the cinema until the 1970s.
During their time in the small village of Carinda, Theo and Bill Conomos became an integral part of its business community. They established a refreshment room in the mid-1930s, then converted the public hall into a cinema. Between the shop and hall was vacant land on which they built a service station and ice works. Later, the brothers provided electricity to a number of buildings in the village until rural power became available in the late 1960s. Close to the power station, they built some hard-sand tennis courts that were illuminated for night tennis. Brother Bill returned to Greece around 1950, leaving Theo to continue at Carinda. The latter's other commercial interests included operating a cordial factory and an ice works (for a time), the construction and leasing-out of a butcher's shop and adjacent Central Service Station, establishing a petrol depot, taking over a former billiard room-cum-hairdresser and converting it into a drapery and hardware business, and setting up a separate general store.
In Merriwa, the Nicholas brothers not only operated a cafe and the cinema, but built and ran a garage adjacent to the cafe, operated a bakery for a time, and had the ice works "down by the river".
At Goodooga, Peter Louran established his refreshment room (with its meals, fruit, vegetables, groceries, confectionery, books, magazines, smallgoods and selected agencies) in the late 1930s, then added a petrol and battery changing station. In 1941 he built his cinema and, by the late 1940s, owned the only hotel in town. Food, petrol, entertainment and beer - there was little else in the town for him to buy. Yet, he stayed until he retired in 1964, giving the people of Goodooga the benefit of his hard work. As Mrs Louran recalled, in the 1950s (just after she arrived in the town) there were, besides her husband's businesses, a post office, a school, the police station, a store owned by Chinese, and a community hall. Her husband was probably the town's largest employer, with about 10 people. He had a family looking after the 16-bedroom Telegraph Hotel, a couple of bar maids, a cook in the cafe, two young men to work in the cafe (to serve, chop wood for the stoves, clean), a cashier at the cinema and someone to help in the projection box. George Rosso helped Louran install an electric generator (purchased from Theo Conomos of Carinda) and wire-up the cinema, cafe and hotel. He recalled that, "...the day the power was turned on at the hotel and the locals had ice cold beer [prior to that it had always been lukewarm], they hoisted me up onto their shoulders in appreciation."
There were others who assisted the business life of their towns in their own small way. According to Theo Coroneo's wife, the streets of Scone and the road to Glenbawn Dam were enhanced with tree-planting through the efforts of her husband. She also recalled that he was one of the prime supporters of proposed sewerage facilities for the town. After 1954, Con Kalligeris found that his cinema operation only required part of his time so he built a shop and returned to his old trade of shoe making that he had learnt in Athens. He had been trained to make surgical shoes as well and, such was the success, that orders came from as far afield as Tamworth and Narrabri. Nicholas Laurantus built flats and houses in Narrandera, and assisted others financially, either by going guarantor or providing money. The Notaras family opened a second refreshment room in Grafton, as the town grew and business improved. The Mottee Bros in Kempsey had done likewise, but prior to the opening of their cinema in 1930. At Bingara, George Psaltis, Emanuel Aroney and Peter Feros also operated an ice works as well as their cafe and cinema. Angelo Roufogalis installed a generator for his cinema at Barellan and supplied power to his cafe and other local businesses including a general store, a hairdresser, a newsagent and a garage.
Several of the exhibitors purchased country properties outside the towns in which they lived for investment purposes. Among these were Andrew Comino (Wee Waa), Lambros Conomos (Walgett), Jim Conomos (Walgett), and Nicholas Laurantus (various places). They not only supported town businesses through provisioning, but provided both permanent and itinerant jobs for agricultural workers.
The contributions made by the Greek cinema exhibitors to the towns in which they lived and worked vary from one to another. In some places, opportunities arose that may not have been present in other places. While interviewing past exhibitors, two mentioned that "Many made the mistake of coming to Australia with the idea of making a few pounds and going back to Greece. The smart ones stayed, brought out their family, bought land, etc." Very few of the Cinema Greeks did seek to return to Greece permanently. Many took trips back to Greece, with a number of them seeking brides from there. Regardless of these trips, the majority made Australia their home which suggests that they had successfully integrated into the Australian way-of-life.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
‘Andrew’ Anargyros Vretos Fatseas
Andrew Victor Fatseas (Andy)
1907 – 1998
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