submitted by Gaye Hegeman on 13.08.2009
A visit with Matina at her home in April 2009 encompassed all that is traditional about Greek hospitality, beginning with greetings and pleasantries followed by offers of coffee and Greek shortbread. At the conclusion of the visit there was a tour of her garden, which nowadays consists of a collection of carefully tended exotic plants in pots tailor-made to Matina’s decreased mobility. Beneath her front steps in a sunny position facing north grows a magnificent basil bush as tall as a man, brimming with life. The bush, a mass of leaves and flowers attracts many bees that busily dart from flower to flower, so dense that it has to be tied back with pieces of stocking to keep it from blocking the side path. From a nearby bucket of water Matina took a handful of basil cuttings that had already sent out tiny white roots and offered them to me for my garden as a gesture of friendship. Gestures like this come from a long tradition of sharing with friends and neighbours and in a small way perpetuate some of the customs of village life.
Located along the main road half way between Chora and Agia Pelagia is Dokana a small village comprising of about 25 houses. This is where Matina was born on the 19th July 1920 with the assistance of her maternal grandmother Matina Glitsos. Her father Vasily, was also present that day. Matina was the third child with an older sister Alexandra, a brother Anarios (Erny) and two younger sisters Dorothy and Eleni. Throughout her childhood Matina was blessed with good health. Although Matina’s mother and father both had the same surname prior to their marriage they were not related. She said that everyone in their village had the same name, ‘Glitsos.’ Her maternal grandparents were Mina and Matina Glitsos and her fathers’ parents were Anarios and Alexandra Glitsos.
The home in which Matina was raised was built in the traditional style with a domed ceiling. There were three rooms which provided enough space for each child to have their own bed. A table and chairs where they sat to eat meals furnished their kitchen and to ensure they had good table manners her parents taught their children to eat with knives and forks. As there was no electricity, kerosene lamps provided light and wood fires were used for cooking and heating.
Out of necessity their lifestyle followed a pattern of hard work and self-sufficiency. Provident living ensured there was enough to eat but it took a lot of work to produce everything and their comfort came at a price which was their father’s absence. He went to America four times always putting away money for his daughters’ dowries. The only one to benefit was the eldest daughter as all of the family’s savings was lost during the Great Depression. Whenever her father returned to the Island, the money he brought went towards the upkeep of their small farm and family essentials - there were never presents or luxuries.
Maintaining a garden meant there was always plenty of work and each child was expected to contribute. Their garden was planted with a wide variety of vegetables the main crops being potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, radishes and lettuce. The water supply for their household came from a well on their land with additional wells supplying water for cultivation in other fields. One good crop of potatoes and onions lasted the family all year and after the harvest these vegetables were stored in a cool, dry place under their house away from the light. When they returned home from school each day they had jobs to do. The animals had to be fetched and brought home for the night. There were three sheep, several calves, two donkeys, goats and chickens. Winter on Kythera was very cold and if you left a dish of water outside during the night it would turn to ice.
In addition to bread, their daily diet comprised of cheese, meat and vegetables. A large dome shaped brick oven, built separate from the house baked seven large round loaves of bread at a time which was enough to last their family for a whole week. Matina remarked that the bread was not like today’s bread. If there was any left after a week it was still fresh enough to eat. She thinks the bread’s freshness was due to the type of yeast that was used. Her mother also baked delicious biscuits called Paximadi. The old oven is still there though the shed that housed it has long since fallen down. Her family owned fields here and there with lots of olive trees, fig, apple and pear trees, grape vines and they also cultivated wheat. After harvest, the wheat was taken to the mill at Mylopotamos to be ground into flour.
Sometimes they ate lamb and once a year they had pork. Matina’s father used to buy a young piglet from the market at Potamos which they raised until it was large enough to slaughter. The meat lasted two to three months. Portions of it were given to the grandparents, and what was left over was preserved in a mixture of olive oil and herbs or made into delicious sausages. Every part of the pig was used.
‘My mother was a lovely woman she did everything,’ recalled Matina. ‘At night she used to cook meals and milk the goats - she never stopped. She was always very tired. My poor mother worked so hard.’ The milk was used to make a beautiful soft cheese. To make the cheese hard it was hung outside in a basket to dry. It was similar in taste and texture to ‘fetta’ cheese. To entertain her children she used to tell them stories. She was very popular in the villages. Her mother was skilled with the loom and used to make fabric from cotton and from wool fibre which she spun from the fleece gathered from their sheep. With the aid of a loom that was kept in the house she made beautiful clothes, blankets, jumpers and shawls for her family. Matina still treasures the bedspread her mother gave her seventy years ago when she left the Island. This colourful bedspread patterned in yellow, brown, pink, red, purple, and aqua is made with home spun wool and finished with an unusual decorative fringe. Matina’s mother never went to school and could neither read nor write. She once came to visit the family in Australia, but then returned to the Island. Her mother passed away when she was in her eighties. Their family house is still there and one of Matina’s nephews lives in it now.
The nearest villages, Mylopotamos to the east and Fratsia to the south west were important both economically and socially. Matina remembers her godmother Katina Stratigos from Mylopotamos with deep affection and also her sons Anagrio and Pavlos. She thought the village of Mylopotamos was something special and declared that it was her favourite village on the Island.
Matina enjoyed going to school and most of all loved reading and would read anything she could find. She attended Fratsia elementary school until the age of twelve. Each day Matina walked to school in the company of other children from her village. They had no shoes and went barefoot summer and winter. It was a one-teacher school attended by about 120 pupils. A class mate of Matina’s, Betty Comino also resides in Brisbane. (Oral History story Betty Comino). Several times a year, their teacher Constantine Pavlakis took the whole school on a nature ramble. On these occasions they examined the natural surroundings, collected flowers and objects of interest, enjoyed a picnic lunch and played games.
Matina’s teen years were spent helping her mother in the garden, with cooking, making bread, general housework and washing. The procedure on washing days was to place the clothes in a large round cane basket and cover it with a clean cloth on which a quantity of grey ashes was sprinkled. Boiling water was then poured over the top of the basket and left to stand. The final stage of the washing was done in a long tub made out of wood which sat on a garden bench. Finally the clothes were hung out to dry on a line that was strung between the olive trees. Matina still remembers how clean the clothes became using this method of washing. No one on the Island uses this method anymore as these days most people have washing machines.
Her family attended Saint Lefteri church in their village. A priest came once a month. The whole community took care of the general maintenance of the church and saw that it was cleaned, painted and kept in good order. Matina does not have any special memories of Easter or Christmas other than the lack of a priest, but recalls there was always plenty to eat. New Years day was her father’s name day - St. Basilis. All of the children and grandchildren gathered together that day to celebrate. This was a family tradition. Alexandra her older sister who was married to Panayiotis Cassimatis lived in another village and used to come with her family.
At the outset of the second World War Anarios (Erny) Glitsos, Matina’s older brother who resided at Tamworth in country New South Wales offered to sponsor his younger sister’s migration. He sent Matina forty pounds to cover her expenses which included enough money for her return fare to Greece in case she changed her mind when she got here. Matina was eighteen years old when she left in 1938. She sailed on the English passenger liner “Otranto” with six other girls from the Island. She remembers Port Said and passing through the Suez Canal and enjoyed the voyage very much especially the entertainment, games during the day and dancing at night. Of the six girls who travelled together from the Island, Matina and Stella Cassimatis (Manolessos) from Logothetianika are the only ones still alive. Her brother Anarios (Erny) whom she remembers fondly as a very good brother married Silvia Georgiades in Sydney. He passed away in 1977.
One of her uncles, Vasily (Bill) Glitsos her mother’s brother, was waiting for her when the ship docked in Sydney. They spent the following week shopping and enjoying the sights before they departed for Tamworth which was a full day’s journey north by steam train. Although it was September, the beginning of spring in Australia, Matina was surprised at how cold it was when they reached their destination. Bill Glitsos owned the “Canberra Café” (which is still there) at Manilla, a small but wealthy town surrounded by farms that supported sheep and wheat growing, a distance of about twenty-three miles from Tamworth.
Another uncle, Bill Kalokerinos who was married to her mother’s sister, Doris lived in Tamworth where they owned a very good business called the “Golden Bell Café.” Bill Kalokerinos anglicized his name changing it to Summers and was known locally as Mr. Bill Summers. He and his wife Doris had a four month old baby girl called Mary. Matina went to live with them and for the next few years helped out wherever she was needed. In the beginning she looked after the baby, took the baby for a walks, did the ironing, helped in the home and in the café. When she first arrived in Australia Matina did not speak any English. Her uncle she remembers was a very nice man and she liked Tamworth very much. The baby she used to look after all those years ago is Mary Notaros married to Angelo Notaros. They live at Belle Vue Hill, Sydney.
Peter Theo Aroney originally from the village of Aroniathika came to Austalia when he was twelve years old in 1927. Coming from a large family of eight boys and two girls he established hard working habits from an early age. When Matina first became acquainted with Peter he and his uncle Jim Aroney were partners in a business in Tamworth. His uncle left the business in 1950 and one of Peter’s brothers Jim Aroney entered into the partnership. Jim’s wife was Helen and they had two sons, Theo and Jack. In 1952 they brought out another brother Tony who worked in the shop for several years before he moved on to Wallsend at Newcastle in New South Wales where he married Polixeni (Xeni) and had two daughters Vickie and Chrissie.
Matina and Peter were married at the Church of England, Tamworth by a Greek priest in February 1941. Because there were so few Greek families living in Tamworth at the time they did not have their own church. However over the years the number of Greek families increased to about thirty. Following their marriage Peter’s brothers joined them and helped run the restaurant which was known as Aroney Bros. Fish Shop. Matina said that Tamworth was a rich town, and remembers there were at least fifteen cafes trading during her time, most of which were Greek owned.
Long hours and hard work dominated their life style during the years they were in business. They never went to bed before 1 am, rising again at 7am. The only time they had for relaxation was on Sunday which they usually spent with friends. When they had a family holiday they went to Sydney. Matina said that Tamworth was a good town and considered they were very lucky to have such nice neighbours. Their only child, a daughter Chrisanthe (Chris) developed a close friendship with the daughter of an Australian family who lived next door. Chris married Con Gleeson in Brisbane, Queensland in 1962. At first they lived in Kyogle before establishing their home in Brisbane where they raised their four children Katina, Stanley, Peter and Maria. Matina and Peter remained in Tamworth for 32 years relocating to Brisbane when Peter retired in 1970. Peter had heart trouble and sadly passed away on the 28th November 1981.
Most of Matina’s immediate family lives nearby. They are all very close and provide emotional and social support for one another. Matina’s one surviving sibling her younger sister Eleni Cassimatis lives across town at Toowong. Eleni has three children, Irini, Mina and Maria. Matina’s daughter Chris and her family live at Coorparoo, while her nieces, sisters Chris Comino and Anna Comino (formerly Aroney) and their families live at Wishart. Chris and Anna Comino are the daughters of George Aroney, another brother of Peter Aroney. (Oral History story Chris Comino).
Still independent and self-sufficient Matina maintains an interest in gardening, needlecraft and enjoys social activities with her friends and family. She loves to crochet, embroider and knit and has made countless items including doilies, table runners as well as a cotton bedspread for each of her grandchildren. She began to crochet after she came to Australia explaining that she could not afford to buy cotton thread when she lived in Greece. When her house was broken into one Christmas while she was holidaying with her family, Matina’s large collection of craft work which was stored in a wooden trunk, as well as other valuables, were stolen. Matina was inconsolable as these items represented a lifetime of work. This year in June 2009, some of Matina’s embroidered tablecloths were showcased in an exhibition exploring Greek embroidery in Queensland, at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane titled ‘Stitches of the Heart.’ Never idle, her latest project is to knit matinee jackets for new born babies.
A broken hip last year set her back for a while but has not dampened her spirit and with the aid of a walker she is still able to accomplish most of the things she did before her accident. Twice a week she meets friends and enjoys a variety of social activities, games and outings.
The best time in her life she said was when she had her husband and daughter together as a family. Her greatest sadness was to have lost her husband in 1981 – he was 78 years old. She said he was a very good husband. He sent a lot of money to his mother. Finally, Matina expressed that her husband worked too hard and she would like to remind others that it is important to take time to relax and not always be working. Matina recently celebrated her 89th birthday at a special breakfast in the company of her ever expanding family.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
‘Andrew’ Anargyros Vretos Fatseas
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