submitted by Gaye Hegeman on 06.03.2007
In August 2005 when we travelled to Kythera to attend the "Discover your Roots" event at Hora, we stayed in the village of Fratsia. It was our habit most evenings to wander down to the main square to buy a cool drink or have a light meal. There was always someone new to meet. "Come and meet Harry" someone said, "he is from Brisbane too!"
Every year in April Harry flies to Kythera to spend the summer in the house where he was born. The rest of the year he resides in Brisbane with his family. At seventy six he does not consider himself retired and still works daily in his drycleaning business.
Harry was born on the 25th December 1931 with the help of his paternal grandmother who acted as midwife. His parents were Emmanuel Minas Leondarakis (Londy), nicknamed Lafazanis, and Grigoria Kypriotis. There were seven children, three boys and four girls. Harry came fifth. As a child Harry remembers sharing a large bed with three other siblings. Their mother made up a bed for them each night with a soft matress filled with hay. But most of all he remembers those years as a time of hardship and poverty. Families had to be self-sufficient to survive. His family grew wheat, vegetables, fruit and kept sheep and goats for milk and cheese. All of the children had to work from a young age to help out. There was little time to visit relatives as they were always working. Their maternal grandmother Rigesa Souris, lived in the village of Kipriotianika. From the time he was six years old, Harry was responsible for taking the animals out to graze each morning before he went to school, and then bringing them in again later in the day. Harry attended primary school in Fratsia.
Fratsia is notable for its very large square, a wonderful place for children to play and for people to gather for dances and special festivals. Harry remembers the enjoyment he experienced playing soccer in the square as a child. During the summer months he and his friends spent their days trapping birds which supplemented the family's diet. Many of these friendships have endured over the years and Harry counts among his best friends, Jim Pavlakis, George Cassimatis and the Marendy children. When he was growing up his favourite time of the year was Easter and Christmas because this was the only time they ate meat.
It was inevitable that Harry would leave Kythera as he saw no future there for himself. Many years before Harry was born his father Emmanuel migrated to America, but returned, then left again to try his luck in Australia. After five years in Ipswich where he had a fruit shop, he sold up returning to Fratsia. He married, had a family and never left again.
There were already family members established in businesses in Queensland when Harry made the decision to leave. His aunt Irene Londy from Ipswich sponsored him. In 1948 when he was sixteen he left Greece with a group of about forty young people around his age, and some children. Their journey required them to fly from Athens to Alexandria, then travel overland to Cairo and on to Port Said. The ship they boarded at Port Said was a Yugoslav vessel, the "Potazunga" which brought them to Sydney via Columbo and Freemantle. When he arrived in Brisbane at Archerfield Airport, one of his cousins Mick Londy met him, then another cousin George Londy brought him to Toowoomba.
In those early years after his arrival, Harry moved around a lot doing all kinds of work. He worked on farms and in cafes. When he worked for his aunt, Irene Londy at "Londys Cafe" Ipswich, he did all of the cooking and was on duty seven days a week. His only social life was the regular Saturday night dance at the Ipswich Town Hall.
In 1952 Harry married Mary Chatzantonakis in a double wedding ceremony with her twin sister Chrissa, and Les (Lambros) Conomos. Their wedding picture made the front page of the Courier Mail. Thirty seven years later the same newspaper did a follow up story on both couples. Harry and Mary had three children, twin girls Julia and Grigoria and a son Emmanuel.
They bought their first business in 1953 at Clayfield: a milk bar and fruit shop. Their first home was purchased at Taringa in 1956. Other businesses followed: a fish and chip shop at the Mt. Gravatt tram terminus, then the Atlas Cafe in Adelaide Street Brisbane. Harry sold the Atlas Cafe to hair stylist Stefan who refurbished it into a hair salon. Harry then bought a shoe repair shop next door. It was through his business association with Stefan that Harry became a hair model for Stefan's toupes, appearing in advertisements in both of Brisbanes' daily newspapers and on afternoon television for many years. In 1954 Harry brought out his sister Rigesa (Rita), and in 1960 his brother Vretos (Victor). Rita married Jim Cassimatis. Vretos (Victor) takes his name from his maternal grandfather.
For the past thirty eight years Harry has been in the drycleaning business in Brisbane. He owns Mayfair Drycleaners which has two shops in the city, one at Central Station, the other at Post Office Square in Queen Street and a factory at Hawthorn. Before her illness Mary worked alongside her husband, but sadly she passed away in 1993 after a twenty year battle with cancer.
Harry and his family have resided at Holland Park since 1965. Over the years he has taken an active interest in local politics and was a member of the committee of the Kytherian Association in Adelaide Street for fifteen years.
One of the most important events in Harry's life he said, was the birth of his children. He feels strongly about establishing a pattern of good communication within the family from the time children are small. He believes this is the foundation for a good family.
Harry remarked that one of the characteristics he remembers most about the people of his village is their friendliness, a quality which Harry shares. It was this same friendliness that made us feel so welcome in August 2005.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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