submitted by Peter Makarthis on 25.10.2013
Greek Meets Greek 1890
This report in the Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners Advocate of Saturday 20 December 1890 gives a glimpse of the working conditions in some oyster saloons, facing immigrant Greeks before any thought of work place laws in Australia. The expectation, at this time, of Greek employers who could exploit their own country man to this end would not be tolerated today (2013) much less being held in favour of the employer in current workplace relations either by unions or the court system. This critique is not intended to embarrass the central characters in this report but to highlight the conditions, expectations and attitudes of the time. -
Greek meets Greek.
P. Sarandeli, a Greek oyster saloon-keeper, was summoned by a Grecian cook, named Elias Sakellarui, for the sum of 16 shillings, alleged to be due for work and labour done in his cooking.
Mr. Gorrick appeared for the defendant, who pleaded not indebted.
The plaintiff, who gave his evidence through an interpreter, averred that defendant engaged him at 25 shillings per week as cook, three or four weeks ago. He was paid all his wages, except for the last four days he worked, for which he claimed 16 shillings. Defendant put him to clean fish and open oysters, which was not a cook’s work. He worked 22 hours a day, and one Sunday, feeling ill from overwork, refused to work anymore, and left defendant’s service without giving notice. He usually got up between 4 and 5 am, and went to bed between 1 and 2 am.
A witness named Antonio gave evidence to the effect that he and complainant were allowed three hours to sleep in the daytime. Complainant never complained of being sick, but left because he was ordered to get ham and eggs ready on Sunday.
Defendant stated, on oath, that complainant was no cook, and did not do his work properly. Witness had told complainant, when he engaged him, that if he wanted to leave he must give a week’s notice, or he would he would not pay for any part of a broken week. His sudden leaving put defendant to great inconvenience.
During the hearing there were a few comic scenes between the interpreter, Mr. Gorrick and the witness. It was the old maxim of “When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.”
Mr. Gorrick addressed the Bench, who dismissed the case.
Continued – Sixteen shillings may seem a paltry sum by the standards of today, however this was a considerable proportion of the twenty five shillings paid for the week’s work ,not withstanding the hours worked. No doubt the decision of the Bench to dismiss the case must have left the Greek cook bitterly disappointed. Elias Sakellarios is later removed to Mareeba in Queensland where he was naturalized 2nd May 1902 - occupation Oyster-saloon keeper.
One is left wondering the fee paid to the proctor by the defendant to avoid paying sixteen shiilings, perhaps in oyster suppers!
Imagine the line up of proctors who would turn out today to prosecute the case – Greek no doubt!
Written and researched
Peter McCarthy (Makarthis)
©S.Peter & Co 25 October 2013
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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