submitted by Gaye Hegeman on 07.03.2011
The picturesque village of Karavas, at the northern end of the Island of Kythera, was home to the Crethar family until 1933 when they migrated to Australia. George, who was a boy of seven when they left, still has memories of their home in the village, his grandparents, their church and the school he attended. However his formative growing years were spent in the bush at Stanthorpe, a town south west of Brisbane, Queensland, where the family finally settled.
George loves to yarn, with a thousand and one, and more tales to tell! After many successful and some not so successful business ventures, George is enjoying a well earned retirement on the Gold Coast where he has lived with his wife Maria for the past twenty years. Fit and bronzed, George is a walking advertisement for the benefits of Gold Coast living. He works out at a gym three mornings a week, daily walks on the beach and swims in the surf. Their home, on the 16th floor of an apartment building, overlooks the Pacific Ocean which provides an ever changing scene, rich in light and colour.
George's parents, Minas, born in 1903 and Maria Coroneos born 1905, both from well known Karavas families, were married in 1923, soon after Minas came out of the army. Intent on establishing a more secure source of income to support his growing family, Minas set off for Australia towards the end of 1925 leaving behind his young wife, who was expecting George, and a baby, Dimitrios. In the beginning Minas worked around New South Wales and Queensland and eventually with the support of relatives established a cafe at Lowood.
George, born on the 28th July 1926, was six month old when his brother Dimitrios tragically passed away from a condition that could have been treated had there been a doctor nearby. Young Dimitrios, a happy, bubbly toddler developed a blood infection when a skin lesion was subjected to home remedies. What else could they do, there were no doctors where they lived? A pall of sadness settled like a mantle over the daily life of Crethar family.
Seven years after he had left, Minas returned to the Island, his plan being to resettle his wife and young son in Australia. At first they lived with the Comino family at the back of their cafe at Laidley, a town west of Brisbane while Minas went in search of a suitable business to purchase. Arthur Comino a fellow Kytherian whose wife Marigoula (Maria) was first cousin to Minas, sponsored the Kritharis family.
George was enrolled at the local primary school and recalls the indignity of being placed in a prep class with children several years his junior. When George's mother learned that her sister Chris and husband Peter Katsoulis, needed help in their cafe, 'Peter's Cafe' at Wyong in New South Wales until their baby arrived, they went to live with them for six months.
In the meantime Minas travelled to Stanthorpe, a prosperous farming district, to visit his brother-in-law Nicholas Coroneos, whom he discovered wanted to sell his business, the 'Empire Cafe', and return to Greece. A deal was made and Minas became the new owner of the 'Empire Cafe'. He could see that the cafe was run down and in need of renovations and subsequently entered into extensive consultation and negotiations with the landlord a process which continued for the next four years.
The owner eventually decided to demolish the building and build a new cafe which included a second floor residence. Minas engaged the services of professional shop fitters, Christies and Walker of Brisbane to set up the new cafe with modern equipment and furnishings which proved to be a very wise decision as the cafe's success could be attributed to its new, fresh, modern looking interior. These same entrepreneurial qualities and ethic of hard work set the example for George to emulate in later years with his own business ventures, earning his father's admiration and respect.
From the outset of the Second World War it became increasingly difficult to find staff for their busy cafe. Most of the local young men had joined the armed forces, and many of the women in the district had enlisted in the land army. The 'Empire Cafe', located on the New England Highway had become a popular refreshment and toilet stop for travellers, including three Pioneer buses daily which stopped on their run between Sydney and Brisbane. The family had to work long hours and there were few opportunities to relax and enjoy time together. Minas became increasingly concerned about their son's academic progress.
A Presbyterian minister, who was a regular customer at their cafe, was influential in getting George into Scots College Warwick as a boarder. Because of the war there was a long waiting list and it was three years before a vacancy arose. In 1942, the college was taken over by the Australian Army for a hospital and students were relocated to a grand old homestead, 'Toolburra,' about eight miles outside of Warwick. At the age of seventeen George entered grade 10 as a boarder at 'Toolburra'. He loved the college environment and with the generous time and help given by the teaching staff, he forged ahead with his education. Twelve months later, still unable to find staff, Minas had no option but to withdraw George from school to assist with the running of the cafe. However, as it turned out it was a case of 'one door closes and another opens'!
A 25 acre chicken farm at Applethorpe, owned by the family of one of George's school mates, came up for sale prompting Minas to buy it for his son. Australian primary production had been severely affected by the war and it became increasingly difficult to obtain fresh produce for the cafe. George accepted this new challenge with a glad heart and went to live out at Applethorpe. With the assistance of a draft horse named 'Woolly' he cultivated a section of the land and planted tomatoes, beans, cabbages, cauliflower, peas and potatoes. His mother also planted some of her own favourite Greek vegetables. It was their good fortune that a large well on the property had a plentiful supply of water.
The farm carried about 2000 chickens and 500 pullets and overtime George built up his stock of poultry to about 5000 birds. In those days the chickens were free range and because of the risk of foxes had to be locked up at night. Besides 'Woolly' there was 'Stumpy,' a cat with no tail, 'Skipper' the dog and a cow named 'Strawberry' who were often his only companions. Once he had completed his daily tasks, George hopped on his push bike and pedalled three miles into Stanthorpe to the cafe to help his parents, the exception being Sunday when it was closed, giving him some respite. George had a permit to sell farm produce to the nearby town with his surplus going to the markets in Brisbane.
George remarked that it was a resourceful person who succeeded in whatever endeavours they undertook during the war years because of the scarcity of transport, materials and equipment. Working alone most of the time, he had to invent ways of shifting heavy items around his farm and came up with an idea of building a sled to move them between sheds. A horse and dray were his only means of taking goods to town, that is, until he bought his first motorised vehicle, an old 1924 Morris which he cut down to make a utility. Petrol was scarce and many vehicle owners resorted to a gas based fuel using a system called “gas producers”. During the war years everyone in business helped one another out and it was quite common to exchange goods for services. An old chap from town who was very knowledgeable about the land sometimes helped George on the farm. He washed and packed eggs, did general handy man work and taught George how to fence and use different types of tools.
Around 1947, when George decided to sell his stock of chickens, he had to figure out a way to transport them to Roma Street markets in Brisbane. After finding a truck driver who was willing to carry the chickens and then backfill with furniture on the return journey, George designed and built crates with hinged parts that folded down and stacked without taking up too much space. It took about three trips to Brisbane to clear the poultry, but not without drama when some of the birds escaped at the markets, causing mayhem.
An event which brought about major changes to their life occurred the following year. Minas became a father for the third time when his wife Maria gave birth to a healthy girl at the Stanthorpe hospital on May 9th 1948. They named their new daughter Ioanna. It was a great relief to Minas that there had been no complications, allaying his fears and concerns about his wife's age. George remembers how radiant his mother looked when he visited them in hospital. When Ioanna was nine months old his parents decided it was time to sell the cafe so they could devote more time to raising their young daughter while George, who was twenty-two, saw this as a chance to spread his wings, travel and experience life away from the family.
At first he tried his luck in Sydney, working for a cafe owner mate of his father's, Leo Coombs, then after meeting up with his cousin Theo they decided to travel out to Gunnedah where he made the acquaintance of Peter Venardos, owner of two cafes, the 'White Rose' and 'The Acropolis.' When Peter offered George employment they decided to stay for a while. They were all young, single men and with an open air picture theatre in town, they had a great life. George discovered that Theo, his cousin, was a gambler whose fortunes came and went and realised that he would never make a good business partner.
When they heard about work, cutting cane in North Queensland, they set off for Innisfail. George fell in with a gang of cutters, Maltese, Greeks, Italians, Cypriots and Spaniards and because he was the only one who spoke fluent English, became the interpreter for the gang leader. When Theo had a serious accident during a weekend fishing trip their time in the north was cut short.
Returning along a bush track from their fishing site, Theo carried a heavy sack of fish over his shoulder (the result of fishing with dynamite), tripped and fell, impaling himself under the arm with a wooden stake. He was treated in hospital but the wound became infected and fearing that he might lose his cousin, George called his father who recommended they leave for Brisbane immediately. This proved to be sound advice and ultimately led to Theo's recovery. As hard as he tried to mend his ways Theo never did give up gambling.
By now, Minas, Maria and their young daughter Ioanna were settled in Brisbane. In 1950 Minas found a men's wear business for sale in the heart of the city, bought it and went into partnership with George. For the next two and a half years they traded under the name of M. & M. Crethar High Class Mercers, thoroughly enjoying this line of work, a refreshing change from the long hours required to run a cafe however when they applied to renew the lease, they were disappointed to learn that the owners planned to sell the building. George searched and searched but could not find another suitable location for a men's wear store.
He entered into their next business with some misgivings, a mixed business on the tram line at Hawthorne, called 'Ryan's Service Store'. They retained the original name and Minas went in as a silent partner. Three years later they sold to three Greek Cypriot partners. Not one to be idle, George then managed Peter's Cafe at Wyong for his uncle and aunt while they took a year's break.
After returning to Brisbane he tried his hand at bar work for six months which came to an end when he found a run down snack bar with potential, for sale in Creek Street, the city. Realising the cost of renovating and refitting the snack bar would be quite high, George took on the job himself and with the help of a carpenter brightened it up and completed the renovations without much cost. He retained the name of 'Hasty Tasty' then broadened its scope by establishing the Athenian Catering company.
The 'Hasty Tasty Snack Bar' which was located in a building owned by the Masonic Club, proved to be a very successful business. He retained it until 1962, during which time he purchased land out in the suburbs at Everton Park and Oxley, building shops which he let. The three shops at Everton Park were eventually expanded and developed into a 'Price Right Hardware' complex.
An invitation to a party in 1959 was to bring about another major change in George's life. It was a casual invitation to a family get together at the home of a friend where George first met Maria Argery. The attraction was mutual and eventually led to their official engagement in September 1960 at Princes Night Club in Adelaide Street. To everyones surprise, George took the microphone and accompanied by the band, while dancing with Maria, dedicated a song to her in Greek, “You belong to my Heart.” His parents and friends were amazed as they had no idea he could sing!
One year later to the day, George, who by now was thirty-five, and Maria were married. Overjoyed at the prospect of his only son's marriage, Minas wanted to throw a lavish reception with a guest list of 350. The reception took place at Cloudland Ballroom at Bowen Hills. George organised the bands and catering. Early in the evening, as he walked across the dance floor, Minas fell on the slippery surface and broke his wrist and had to be taken to hospital but returned in time to enjoy the final stages of the evening's celebrations. The couple honeymooned at the Great Barrier Reef on islands off the coast of Proserpine then visited family and friends in Sydney and Canberra. Towards the end of '62, after George sold the Creek Street snack bar, they made plans to travel abroad on an extended holiday and accompanied by George's parents and younger sister Ioanna, the family voyaged on a Greek passenger ship, the 'Bretagne,' spending Christmas and New Year on board.
On arrival in Greece they leased a house for a year, in a suburb of Athens, where Ioanna attended an English speaking American school. Distracted by the usual worries and concerns of expectant parents, George found the hospital system in Athens too casual for his liking but much to his delight, Maria safely gave birth, in 1963, to a healthy daughter whom they named Maree. With his parents and sister, George, Maria and their new baby travelled to Kythera where they stayed for several months. When George discovered that his presence in Greece, for any more than twelve months would qualify him to be drafted into the Greek army, he made plans to return to Australia, cutting their stay short by a few weeks.
Following their return to Brisbane, George began searching for a new business. He found a run-down luncheonette in Elizabeth Street which he purchased at a bargain basement price. When his sister Ioanna seemed keen to leave school her father suggested that George take her on as an employee. George agreed and over the next few years Minas regularly dropped by for a coffee and a chat. A second daughter, Kris was born in 1965, much to their delight and a perfect playmate for Maree.
1966 brought two unexpected deaths in the family. When Maria's father, Anthony Argery passed away, George stepped in to lend a hand for a few days at the family's butcher shop in Greenslopes. He got on very well with both his brother-in-law John, and mother-in-law and remained for four years, learning about the butchering trade, at the same time attending to his own business interests.
The second death in 1966 was Minas, George's father who passed away at the age of sixty-three from heart related problems. He had been a smoker most of his life. It was a sad and difficult time for everyone. George dearly missed his father and because he no longer had his heart in running the Elizabeth Street luncheonette, decided to sell.
In the 1990's, George, and John Argery went into partnership with John's son Tony, running three 'Fun House' family entertainment centres, then opened several more centres but cut back, concentrating their efforts in Brisbane. When George reached eighty he decided it was time to retire and sold out his interests to Tony.
In the early part of their marriage George and Maria lived in a flat behind his parent's property at Clayfield, until 1966, when they purchased their first home at Mansfield. In 1971 a two and a half acre property with a run down war-service house at Tanah Merah came up for sale. George had a vision of how the property could be improved and developed into something special. They renovated, eventually employing an architect to design an extension. A swimming pool and landscaped grounds completed the picture. Their daughters, Maree and Kris, happily settled into their new home, attended local schools at Beenleigh. George spent a lot of time with his girls because of his experience when he was growing up. He taught them both to drive around the paddocks in his mini-moke, they had bikes and a dam with ducks. George recalled the enjoyable life they had there. They stayed on at Tanah Merah until around 1992.
Second daughter Kris married Charles Caris on the 29th January 1984. They have been blessed with two girls, Kelly-Maree and Maryanne. After she left school their eldest daughter Maree did a course as a travel consultant, worked for a while then married Theo Katsoulis in 1986. Their children are David and Cassandra. George's mother, who bought an apartment at Broadbeach for family holidays, passed away in 2000 at the age of 95.
In general, life has been kind to George although there have been several health scares along the way. He contracted Ross River Fever in the early '90s and had to be hospitalised. Through sheer determination he applied himself to getting better by eating well, exercising and taking adequate rest. It was eight months before he fully recovered. More recently, he has had two knee replacement operations.
George recalled times of illness during his childhood, before they migrated, when his grandmother treated him with her home remedies. Vacuum cupping seemed to be the preferred method of the day. One illness left him unable to walk and his grandmother applied suction cups to his back. Sometimes the skin on his back was nicked with a sharp razor blade to draw blood, before the cups were applied. To this day he still bears the scars from this treatment.
According to the stories of relatives, when George was a baby his mother used to place him in a cradle which hung from a tree while she worked with her family in the fields. Memories from his childhood include simple playthings, such as a battered but treasured Arnotts biscuit tin where he kept marbles that came from glass drinking bottles, and a rag doll made by his grandmother. A naval cap and a toy watch were his favourite things to wear. He recalls the long daily walk to the spring to fetch drinking water which was kept in a container on a cool part of the porch and attending church with his mother and grandmother at Agios Haralambos. Next door to them lived a priest, Papa Vagelis Kritharis, a cousin of his fathers.
Over the years, as well as maintaining of his own home and business interests, George also looked after his father's properties and assisted his mother sort out her affairs including the purchase of her unit on the Gold Coast. Hard work and an uncanny knack of finding a good investment has characterised George's life.
Among the most wonderful experiences of his life, George considers was his holiday in Greece in 1963 accompanied by his wife, parents and sister which included the birth of their first daughter Maree, visiting family on the Island, and then the birth of their second daughter Kris in 1965.
Looking back on his life George believes that the opportunity he had as a young man to run his own farm taught him to be independent and responsible and because of the universal shortage in supplies and rationing experienced during the war, he learned to be resourceful.
He believes it is important to persevere in whatever endeavours we begin in life, to have enough willpower and initiative to work through challenges that occur along the way and considers that each of us has the power within us to make things happen. George chose to remain independent in business throughout his working life except on two occasions when he went into partnership with his father and later with others. He had seen how partnerships could create friction between friends and relatives.
To sum up his life, George feels he has been greatly blessed to have led such an interesting life, been happily married to Maria for almost fifty years and continues to enjoy life. He would like to be remembered for his ability to be a friend, for his respect for the elderly and his love for his family.
George's paternal grandparents are: Dimitri George Kritharis (Katharos) and Ioanna Comino (Panayiotellis).
Maternal grandparents: Theodosios Coroneos (Bellos) and Stamatiko Kyprios (Planias).
Dimitrios M. Kritharis the toddler who died in 1926 was born on the 4th May 1925.
Emmanuel Kritharis, his grandfather's brother, who came to Australia in 1854 and lived in Sydney is credited to be the first Kytherian to settle on our shores. (Kythera-family.net)
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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