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Culture > Kytherian Identity > Chapter 8: Achievement through Integration, or Assimilation? Part B: Wives, Their Contribution.

Culture > Kytherian Identity

submitted by Kevin Cork on 23.01.2006

Chapter 8: Achievement through Integration, or Assimilation? Part B: Wives, Their Contribution.

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.

Part B, of Chapter 8, concentrates on the contribution of Cinema proprietors WIVES in the history of Cinema in New South Wales, with an extended study of Anastasia Sotiros.

The second one-third of chapter 8 - Part B - (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?

In this case from a woman's perpective.

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.


[Part B: Continued from previous entry.]

Wives: Their contribution

Although this chapter has discussed the Greek men who became cinema exhibitors, there is another aspect in the lives of many of them that deserves to be recognised, ie their wives. It is known that 15 of the men concerned were not married at the time of their cinema involvement and the history of others is such that it is impossible to ascertain their wives' involvement. However, it is known that at least 19 wives did assist their husbands in various ways with regards to their cinema enterprises and, for some, this often meant assisting in the refreshment rooms as well. While the assistance they gave to their husbands can never be measured, it was certainly valuable. Besides the physical assistance, the wife provided companionship and was able to step-in to help at short notice when others might not have been available. In some instances, wives and children later moved to Sydney (for the sake of their children's education), leaving their husbands to continue with the family business/es. The following paragraphs provide a record of the involvement of the wives of the men in the subject group.

Georgia Tzortzopoulos was married to Andrew Comino in 1935, after arriving in Australia the year before. Helen Comino married Andrew Megalokonomos (aka Conomos) in 1937. Both women were born on Kythera. The two women assisted at their husbands' cafe and picture show in Wee Waa. When the latter's husband passed away and Georgina moved to Sydney in 1959, Helen and Andrew Comino continued to run the businesses. The cinema business was sold around 1962 and the cafe was sold in 1966.

While on Kythera in 1938, endeavouring to persuade his brother Jim to return to Australia, Emmanuel Conomos met and married Elly Kyriakoula Haros. (The two families were old friends.) Returning to Walgett that same year, Elly worked at the refreshment room and at the brothers' Luxury Theatre. When obtaining staff became difficult during World War II, Elly found that she was more in demand than before. Living in a town that experienced dust storms, Elly recalled that it was not uncommon to have to wipe all the seats prior to a screening so as to rid them of dust. Seeking better educational opportunities for their three children, she moved to Sydney in 1961. Her husband's business interests kept him in Walgett until 1973, although the family used to return during school holidays.

Vasilike Giannotis came to Australia with her family from Kythera in 1928, at the age of 7. From 1942, after her marriage to Theo Conomos, she worked at her husband's refreshment room and at their Megalo Theatre where she either sold tickets or ushered. Between times, she looked after the family's house, helped to raise their four children and managed to find time to belong to the local branch of the CWA.

Born c1915 in Karavas, Kythera, Anastasia Diacopoulos migrated to Australia at the age of 11. She was working for her brothers at their Tourist Cafe in Gosford when Alex Coroneo met her and they married in 1935. The only business that the family operated at the time was the Civic Theatre at Scone. Although she preferred to be, as her son described her, "a homebody", she worked at the cinema when needed. The family moved to Sydney in 1947 after selling the theatre business to Theo Coroneo (Alex's nephew).

Born in Pitsiniathes, Kythera, Anna Mavromati had only been in Australia for a few years when Theo Coroneo was introduced to her at a dance in Sydney. They married in 1953. Anna assisted at Theo's Scone theatre and, when her husband had a stroke in the mid-1960s, she took over the complete running of it until his condition allowed him to return to work. One of the fond memories of those days was the flowers that adorned the vestibules of the theatre, many coming from Anna's own gardens. In 1970 the family moved to Sydney, seeking better educational opportunities for the family.

When a friend suggested that he go to Melbourne to meet a "nice girl", George Hatsatouris did so and, in October 1941, he married Anna Paltoglou. Both families had known each other on Kastellorizo. (Anna's brother, Bill managed Hatsatouris Bros' West Kempsey Roxy Theatre in the mid-late 1940s.) Settling in Taree, Anna helped George at his Civic Theatre, usually as ticket seller, until the theatre was leased-out in 1971. Typical of many country cinemas, the theatre telephone could be switched through to the manager's residence for phone bookings (an important part of pre-television cinema days). Angelo Hatsatouris (eldest of their four children) recalled that, as children growing-up, they were never allowed to make long telephone calls as the phone had to be kept free for patrons wishing to make bookings.

Peter Hlentzos' wife, Theodora, was in charge of the kitchen at their White Rose Cafe in Cooma. It is believed that she helped her husband at either the Victor or, later, the Capitol theatre, but this has not been confirmed.

Born in Sydney, the only daughter of George Angelides (of Puritan Chocolates' fame), Anastasia, met Chris James at a picnic. Chris had come to Sydney to be best man at a wedding. In October 1937, the two were married and Chris took his new bride back to Cobar where he and his brother ran the Occidental Cafe. Anastasia worked in the cafe and recalled that, during those late 1930s and early 1940s, they had a staff of 18 and seating for over 100 diners. Chris' brother left the partnership around 1939 and this placed extra pressure on Chris and Anastasia. The first of their two children arrived in 1940, the second in 1946. That same year, tired of the hard work and with no relatives to assist, Chris moved into the cinema business and sold the cafe. Anastasia worked as cashier at the Regent and helped out in other capacities. At one time, she and Chris, with the aid of a hand-mixer, concreted the floor of the open air cinema situated behind the Regent. Busy only at nights at the Regent, she opened a children's wear shop, saying that there was nowhere else in the town to buy such things. The venture succeeded and she expanded the business to include frocks. Daughter Maria helped with ushering at the Regent, then in the ticket box. In 1962, Anastasia moved to Sydney with her children. From about 1963 to 1966, Maria returned to Cobar where she managed the Regent so that her father could supervise his Palais Theatre at Nyngan.

Sophia Laurantus arrived in Australia from Karvounades, Kythera in 1931. With no English skills, she was shunted between her brothers and sisters: Nicholas and Clare Laurantus at Narrandera, Mary and Paul Cato at Wallendbeen, Con and Despina Bylos at West Wyalong, and George and Vera Laurantus at Junee. In July 1932 she married Jim Johnson (Demetrios Ioannides) and moved to Gundagai where Nicholas Laurantus had secured a lease on the relatively new Gundagai Theatre. Jim and Sophia ran it for the next 33 years. With only the cinema for income, the Johnsons found things very difficult financially. Although a projectionist was employed, Sophia sold tickets, Jim acted as usher upstairs, glued posters around town, and oversaw the running of the business. They both did the cleaning.
'We had to watch every penny,' Sophia said later. 'I used to garden so we wouldn't have to buy vegetables. We had plenty of fruit trees, so fruit was no problem either. I knitted and sewed my own clothes...' Sometimes a small boy would appear at Sophia's back door, two skinned rabbits dangling from his finger. 'How about some rabbits, Mrs Johnson? Only sixpence the pair.' It was cheap enough and Sophia handed over the money. More often than not, the boy would reappear at the ticket box that night, pushing across to her the sixpence she had given him to pay for a seat in the cinema.
It was not until 1955 that they purchased a car. Prior to that they could not afford one. Their only child, Arthur, came to Sydney for high school and, later, university but he helped out when he was home on holidays. In 1965 the business was sold and the family moved to Sydney.

Con Kalligeris knew the girl that he would later marry from the days when they both lived on Kythera. In 1948, Helen Andronikos flew out to Australia (the trip taking 9 days from Athens) and stayed with her sister at Corowa. In 1951 she met up with Con and they were married the following year. Boggabri was a thriving town in the early 1950s. In 1952 the two brothers and Anthony Hassab purchased the town's two cinemas (one enclosed, the other open air). Helen and Anthony's wife and daughters worked at the theatres from time to time as usherettes, helping to keep costs to a minimum. The theatre business was sold in 1968 and Con and Helen moved to Sydney that same year.

Jack Kouvelis was one who married an Australian girl. He met Emily Blanche Cummins at Junee where he had a baker's shop and they married on 18 February 1914. In 1918, they moved to Young where Jack had a bakery. When Jack moved into film exhibition, it was not unusual for his wife to help out, especially at their Strand Theatre (opened 1923). As Jack become more prominent in cinema circles, and acquired more cinemas, Blanche was able to give up her involvement completely and concentrate on her family. Her assistance in those early years was valuable as it helped her husband to start what became J K Capitol Theatres Pty Ltd.

Coming to Sydney from Athens in 1950, Thalia Fatseas worked in her uncle's shop in Park Street. In 1957 she married Peter Louran and moved to his home in far north-west Goodooga. According to Thalia, the place was either very hot (with hordes of mosquitos) or very cold and the dust storms were legendary. The town was very small, the only entertainment being the occasional dance at the local hall or pictures at her husband's De-Luxe Open Air Theatre. In time, she took over the cashier's job at the theatre and worked there for a number of years. Around 1961, Thalia moved to Sydney just prior to the birth of her second child. A few years later, her husband retired to Sydney.

When the Hatsatouris family started the Empire Theatre in Port Macquarie, their daughter Helen used to play the piano for the silent pictures. As well, she worked as a cashier at their Monterey Cafe. In July 1938 she married Philip Lucas who had been working for the family and who had been learning about picture theatres. When George and Peter Hatsatouris acquired the Civic Theatre at Walcha, Philip and Helen moved there in order to run the theatre for them. Eventually, they acquired it themselves. Both worked hard to make it a success and their five children helped in various ways. By the early 1970s, it was uneconomical to continue. In 1972, after 32 years of service to the town, they closed their theatre and moved to Sydney to be with their family.

In 1925, Bretos Margetis married Theodora Lianos. A year earlier, he had acquired two cinemas in the outer Sydney suburb of Fairfield. While Bretos looked after his restaurant in George Street, Sydney, Theodora used to travel to Fairfield to supervise the running of the cinemas. This lasted until 1928 when Margetis left cinema exhibition.

At the time of their cinema involvement (ie the early 1930s), only two of Kempsey's Mottee brothers had wives - Jim and Peter. With the other two brothers, they were all involved in the operation of their two cafes and theatre interests. With the relinquishing of their cinema interests in 1935, the families concentrated on the cafes and the confectionery concessions at the Mayfair Theatre. Peter's wife, Irini (nee Simos) had to take on extra responsibility after her husband passed away in 1942. However, besides raising five children, she found time to join the CWA, Rotary and the Quota Club. In the late 1940s, she moved to Sydney where her son, Con, was working.

At the Warialda Memorial Hall, Alex Poulos' wife and two teenage sons helped run the pictures. During those years (1939 to 1945), his son, Jim, learnt how to use the projectors and his other son helped with ordering films and managing the theatre.

Marika Coroneo married Peter Sourry in Greece in 1913 and came to Australia in 1914. Her lack of English did not prevent her from helping in her husband's Armidale refreshment room. Then, in 1921, when he and Alex Coroneo took over the Arcadia Theatre at Armidale, Marika worked in the ticket office until Peter went into semi-retirement at Glen Innes in the mid-1930s. When the family moved to Tenterfield in 1939, where Peter took over the Lyric Theatre, Marika went back into the ticket box. At that same venue, their eldest son, Charles, became involved, projecting, sign writing and helping with cleaning. In 1946 the Sourrys joined Alex Coroneo to take over the Kings Theatre at Rose Bay North (Sydney suburb), which they operated until its closure in 1958. Charles Sourry worked there as the projectionist until he sought a career change in 1948.

In 1921, at the Holy Trinity Church in Sydney's Surry Hills, Peter Stathis married Stamatina Hlenzos (aka Bylos) who was born in Potamos, Kythera. She was 28 and he was 30. They moved to Canowindra where they worked together in The Garden of Roses Cafe, and where their four children were born. When Nicholas Laurantus managed to obtain the lease of the newly-built Montreal Theatre at Tumut, he asked Peter and Stamatina (his sister-in-law) to run it for him. Although Stamatina did not work at the theatre, their two sons (Peter and George) became involved. After they married, both of their wives worked at the theatre, selling tickets and ushering. In 1952 the sons purchased their father's share of the business and operated the theatre until 1965.
For many of the Greek exhibitors, their wives and, in some cases, their children, were important helpers in their business enterprises and this kept costs to a minimum. Besides the physical assistance offered, these women supported their husbands in situations far-removed from the lifestyles most Australian women experience in the 1990s. What made it all the more difficult for them was the isolation (physical and linguistic). Only a few Greek cinema exhibitors married Australian women , the majority married Greek-born women. The latter had always to be mindful of the fact that they were seen as foreigners, and they had to be conscious of the image they projected and watch their behaviour. One person, commenting on the work of his Greek-born mother and father, said that they reflected the Australian stereotype of the "little battlers", struggling to survive in a difficult situation.

In order to ensure that their children were given the educational advantages that many country towns could not offer, a number of wives moved to Sydney, (eg Mrs E Conomos, Walgett, Mrs T Louran, Goodooga, Mrs A James, Cobar, Mrs A Coroneo, Scone) leaving their husbands behind to carry-on with their businesses. This could be compared to their emigration from Greece many years earlier when they left their families (their main support), only now it was their husbands. The contribution made by these women in support of their husbands is no less important than that made by the many British-Australian women throughout the years. It has been recorded here to show that these women were no different.

Case Study: Anastasia Sotiros.

Anastasia Demopoulous was born in Bergoubitsa in the Peloponnese in 1905. She was the second of four children and, when her mother became ill, Anastasia left primary school and stayed at home to help the family. Tradition had it that when a girl married, the bride's father provided a dowry, furniture and land. This happened for the eldest of the three Demopoulous sisters when she married in the late 1920s, but there was no money left for the two younger ones and the economic situation was worsening with the onset of the Great Depression. Anastasia thought about becoming a nun. Then a cousin in the United States of America showed a marital interest but Anastasia was unable to enter that country owing to its prevailing immigration restrictions. In 1929, Theo Sotiros (who had a cafe in Narrandera) returned to Greece to attend to his deceased father's estate. While there, a marriage was arranged between Anastasia and Theo's younger brother, Andrew (whom Anastasia had met some years before at a wedding). Andrew was in Narrandera, working with his two brothers, Theo and Angelo, in their White Rose and Majestic Cafes. Theo put Anastasia on board the Orient liner Orama and she travelled to Australia alone. At the time, she was unable to speak English.

Although it was planned for her to be met in Sydney, Andrew and his Best Man (Angelo Roufogalis) and Angelo Sotiros and his wife met the ship in Melbourne when it arrived on 26 August 1929. Three days later, Anastasia was married to Andrew in a Greek Orthodox Church. The honeymoon was the overland trip Narrandera. Prior to Theo's return to Greece, he had arranged a sale of the Majestic Cafe to Andrew, which he and Anastasia now ran. Things did not work out satisfactorily between the three brothers and, following an unpleasant law suit between the brothers, Andrew left Narrandera and went to Melbourne for a time. Anastasia remained in Narrandera, where her first child was born in 1932. During her stay at Narrandera, Anastasia met Nicholas Laurantus' wife, Clare, who befriended her.

When the opportunity arose for Andrew to assist Leo Spellson with the Star Theatre at Lake Cargelligo in 1933, he and Anastasia moved there and a lease was taken on the property in Anastasia's name. The Star was a semi-open air, dirt-floored, galvanised iron building which possessed no creature comforts. It was situated in Foster Street, near Reef Street. Times were tough. "And one night, we had two children and two adults. You know, 1933." At first, the lived in a small rented house close to the cemetery. Rent was ten shillings per week. Leo, having boarded at a local hotel, shared the house with them to help minimise costs. "Mr Nielson, we used to let him free in the pictures, and he was coming down bringing me a full box of vegetables. And I was doing the vegetables with onions, no meat, no fish." The galvanised shed cinema was the beginning of the Sotiros' association with the town's entertainment for the next 31 years.

Under the partnership, Andrew ran the Star on Saturdays while Leo Spellson drove Anastasia to Ungarie (119km south-east of Lake Cargelligo) where she supervised the pictures in a hall there (a projectionist was employed) and Leo returned to Tullibigeal (c40km from the Lake) where he ran pictures. This arrangement continued until sometime prior to Leo's marriage in early 1937, after which he moved away to run a refreshment room in Quandialla with his wife.

In 1937 the Star burnt down. "And somebody come and said 'Look!' he said. 'Something happened to the theatre.'...And we went there and we saw the smoke...My husband said, 'We're destroyed. What are we going to do?'" Anastasia went back to stay with relatives in Narrandera while Andrew stayed at Lake Cargelligo where, according to Anastasia, he persuaded a friend, local Greek cafe proprietor, Theo Cassim (Cassimatis), to built a new cinema closer to the main shopping part of the town. This was done and Andrew rented it from him for the next 27 years. With its flat stalls floor, the Civic Theatre was not only home to motion pictures, it was also the scene of many balls and dances. Anastasia worked in the ticket box, ushered when necessary and helped supervise the audience. When Andrew went to Sydney for film buying and other associated business, Anastasia managed the theatre. In time, her daughters (second one born in 1940) helped with ushering, selling tickets and cleaning. Such was the importance of going to the pictures in pre-television days that, Anastasia recalled how people used to book their tickets in advance rather than run the risk of missing out. Farmers from further out of town would telephone, but locals would call in at the theatre, or
They come to me one night. Mrs Fyfe. And I was planning to garden, to plant something. And I was dig [sic] the garden and...she found me there and she said, 'Mrs Sotiros, you, always I see you in the ticket box. Look what you're doing now. I want seven seats in [row] number C.'
They all had their favourite seats and knew their numbers and rows.

The business was doing well and, with her home and garden in nearby Canada Street and her two daughters to look after, it seemed that she had everything she could need. Yet, there was something missing which she mentioned during the course of the interview with her in 1996. It related to her thirst for knowledge, but old customs were hard to break.
He [Andrew] was an old-fashioned man...So, when he died, believe it or not, I never knew except to write my name. It was interesting to learn the English language, but he said 'What do you want? You look after the house, and your family, cooking, washing, and garden, everything...'
But, after Andrew passed away in 1978, Anastasia (then aged 73) went to Brookvale Technical College and learnt to read and write English. This opened up new realms for her and she became an avid reader, which she remains.

In 1962, Anastasia and Andrew took their first trip back to Greece and stayed for about six months. By this time, however, their two daughters had settled in Sydney and, in 1964, feeling the need to be closer to them, Andrew and Anastasia reluctantly sold the cinema business and their nearby house and moved to Sydney.

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