submitted by George Poulos on 03.12.2004
Immigrants in the Bush.
Cafes and Cafe Owners.
Armidale College of Advanced Education.
81 x A4 pages.
Peter Tsicalas (see, Culture, subsection, Bibliography), desribes this book in the following way:
"...mainly compiled from taped interviews she did with four Greeks on the New England Tablelands in 1983. She’s put together a great story accompanied by many old photos of the Greeks of Armidale, Uralla and Tenterfield, their cafés, and family tree charts. Plus photos of Kythera landscapes and people.
The audio tape includes the voices of Eleni Dedes (nee Sourry) and Nick Mentis".
Janis Wilton's career since 1989
Janis Wilton. From the UNE, staff web-site:
Since 1987 Janis Wilton has pursued an academic career culminating in an appointment as Associate Professor, School of Classics, History and Religion, the University of New England.
She was President of the International Oral History Association:
for 2002-2004 - and is now Immediate Past President. Also a Trustee of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.
She coordinates the local, family and applied history awards at UNE - visit:
She has remained vitally interested in the oral history of various ethnic groups. In November 2004, she was involved in editing and promoting, Golden Threads, an oral history book, focused on the experiences of Chinese-Australians.
This project was initiated by the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts Museums Commission.
For numerous other references to Janis Wilton, simply type Janis Wilton into any one of the many research engines for the world wide web.
For an overview history of immigration per se, see, Janis Wilton & Richard Bosworth, Old Worlds and New Australia: The post war migrant experience, Penguin, Ringwood. 1984.
Funding and open copyright for Immigrants in the Bush
The 1989 publication, Immigrants in the Bush - is a spiral bound, self-published work, which is no longer in production.
Janis Wilton's research was sponsored by Multicultural Education Coordinating Committee, NSW. (M.E.C.C.).
This material was "...financially supported through the M.E.C.C., although the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Committee, the various bodies it represents, or the NSW Minister for Education. Copies may be made of these materials without prior reference to M.E.C.C. provided only that:
1. they are used for educational purposes
2. the source is acknowledged".
With this open copyright, which I recommend that all oral historians utilise, I can take the liberty of publishing excerpts here. The data is educational, and intrinsically Kytherian - and a perfect example of what can be revealed by analysis of good oral history.
Janis Wilton has also given us personal and written permission to re-publish excerpts of her work - for which we thank her immensely.
Janis Wilton's Conclusions in Immigrants in the Bush
Many early Greek settlers in Australia worked in cafes and became cafe owners in rural areas. Some later arrivals followed this example. But to stereotype all Greek-Australians as cafe owners is to deny the complexity of the history and experiences of Greeks in Australia.
The statistics show that before 1939 in Australia a majority of Greeks lived in country areas and the majority worked in small businesses, usually cafes. After the Second World War the pattern changed. The majority of Greek immigrants remained in the metropolitan areas and laboured in industry.
Individual oral histories join the statistics in challenging the simplicity of labelling Greek-Australians as cafe owners. The stories of Eleni Dedes, Nick Mentis, Harris and Maroula Pavlou, and Spiro Giovas, reveal the hidden pressures and patterns which led Greeks into small businesses. They highlight the nature of the cafes and the people who worked there: the importance of chain migration, the difficulties and humour of adjusting to different foods and to different working conditions, and the changing nature of the goods sold and the facilities available.
The oral histories also point to the social life which developed around cafes: the participation in local affairs so that Greek-Australians could become part of their new local community. The recollections also constantly return to the shaping influences of family and community, and to the frustrations and pleasures of living between two worlds.
The experiences described by Eleni Dedes, Nick Mentis, Harris and Maroula Pavlou and Spiro Giovas are the stories of individuals. They can be used to reflect on the nature of the Greek experience in Australia. Yet what is needed are more accounts and more oral histories so that details and complexities of the history of Greeks - and other ethnic groups - in Australia can be documented more fully and simple stereotypes rejected.
[Janis Wilton weaves the themes of her social history with the 4 threads of the migrants she has interviewed.
What appears here bears no correlation to the way that Immigrants in the Bush. Cafes and Cafe Owners, unfolds.
Here, I have "teased out" the Mentis thread and collected it into one ball.
My interest in Nick Mentis stems from the fact that my mother's mother was a Mentis - Georgia - from Karavas - cousin to Nick.
On my father's side, we also have a "makro-sigenis" through the Tzortzopoulos's - Nicks mother was a Tzortzopoulos - also from Karavas.]
Nick Mentis was born in 1916 in Baltimore, USA. His parents had left Kythera for the United States in 1911. In Baltimore they owned a candy store. In 1929 the family returned to the home village of Karava, Kythera, where Nick Mentis's father opened a coffee shop. For ten years Nick Mentis worked in his father's business, then, in 1939, he migrated to Australia.
"We came back from America and I finished school.
[I went to Greek school (in Kythera) for two years. I started at thirteen years of age when you (usually) start at seven. In two years I had done six classes...and my father wanted me to continue, but I thought I couldn't because I was much older than the other pupils...in the same class.]
Then I helped my father in the coffee shop in Kythera.
[Nick Mentis described his father's kafenion as a long shop with a about a dozen tables and chairs. We served coffee, wine and appetisers. The men would come to play cards.]
We'd get tourists from America and Australia and to me it appeared that the ones that came from Australia all had more money than what the Americans did...[As well] a lot would come home...[from Australia] and their English wasn't real good, and I thought, gee, if they can make money in Australia, I was born in America, surely I could make a living ...I wanted right or wrong to leave. My father wanted me to stay there and look after the business but I said look, even if we make a success of the business, the Greeks would say, oh, it wasn't Nick's ability, it was his father's money that made him succeed. I said, no, I want to go and make my own money. I want to be independent. So I came out to my uncle who had a cafe in Tenterfield."
Nick Mentis went to work for his uncle, Theodore Georgeopoulos (Greek spelling, Tzortzopoulos - Tζωρτζοπουλος), who owned the Paragon Cafe in Tenterfield.
[This was Nick's maternal uncle who had been in Australia for some time and had owned the Niagara Cafe in Crookwell. In 1930 he had returned with his family to Karava, only to return to Australia 6 years later. This time he went to Tenterfield where he bought the Paragon Cafe. In Australia Georgeopoulos was shortened to "Poulos".]
During the Second World War, Nick Mentis was called up to serve in the Second Empployment Company of the Australian Army. When the war ended, he went back to the cafe in Tenterfield.
In 1947 he married a Greek-Australian, Mary Kepreotes, whose parents owned the Strand Cafe in Werris Creek. Eventually the couple became the owners of the Paragon Cafe and they managed the business until 1977 when they leased out the premises. Nick and Mary Mentis, often accompanied by some or all of their five children, had paid several long visits to Kythera. In 1985, Nick and Mary left Tenterfield, and moved to Sydney, to be close to their children, most of whom live in Sydney.
Mentis Family Tree
1911 MARRIED: Constantinos Mentis & Georgia Georgeopoulos
1910: to USA
1911: to Kythera
1912: to USA
1930: to Kythera
1952: d. Karava, Kythera
1890: b. Karavas,Kythera
1912: to USA
1930: to Kythera
1956: to Australia
1967: to Greece
1967: d. Athens
Constantinos Mentis & Georgia Georgeopoulos, had four children, two of whom died young.
1912: b. Buffalo, USA
1930: to Kythera
1956: to Australia
1967: to Greece
Married: Jimmy Coroneo
1900: b. Karava, Kythera
1912: to Australia
1933: to Greece
1955: to Australia
1956: d. Ballina
1916: b. Baltimore, USA
1930: to Kythera
1939: to Australia
1922: b. WErris Creek
1920: b. Baltimore, USA
1921: d. Baltimore, USA
1923: b. Baltimore, USA
1924: d. Baltimore, USA
Paragon Cafe, Tenterfield, 1939-1977
Nick Mentis came to work for his uncle in the Paragon Cafe in 1939.
"My uncle and my aunty were just like my own parents...the pay was very small but I was well-treated. I worked long hours but that was the routine. I mean, there was no such thing as a forty hours a week in our days. Forty eight hours I think it was in those days...but anyone who was working in the Greek shops in those days used to work anything between ninety and a hundred hours, and they would only get - well, when I came out I got two quid (£'s) a week for the first year, and the second year I got three quid a week, and keep, of course.
See when I was working for the uncle we'd open the shop at seven in the morning; so you were on deck at seven. You were supposed to knock off at two, and come back at six, but you'd... never get away at two. If you were lucky you would get away at half past two, but it would be more like three or a bit after, but you had to be back at six...and then, from six to twelve, you were working again. So, I mean, it was long hours. Sunday was the only break. It was compulsory close, ten o'çlock. Sunday was yen o'clock closing, compulsory."
In 1942, Nick Mentis was called to serve in the Second Employment Company. [The Australian Army was not willing to enlist Australians from non-British backgrounds into the regular ranks. But as the Japanese approached in 1942, the army was willing to call people to join a labour corps to work in Australia laying railway lines, shunting trains, carrying supplies and doing other menial tasks. It was called the Second Employment Company.]
When he returned to Tenterfield after the war he went into partnership in the cafe with his cousin. The partnership lasted for a year. Nick Mentis then bought the business. By this time he was married, and he and his wife, Mary, owned and ran the business until they leased the premises out in 1977.
"We changed the cafe a little bit, but not much. We put in an extra fridge. Well I mean your old fridge breaks down and you have to get a new one...it lasted for quite a while. I mean, you don't change the looks every few years. The only thing is now they change them because they put in takeaway food and they change the setup. Some might do the cooking in the shop, let the public see what they are doing, see what they are getting, how it's cooked, how it's prepared, whereas in the old days everything was done in the kitchen.
At first it was all seven days a week, and then, gradually, we made it six days a week. We'd close the shop on Wednesday's. Give the staff a day off, and we'd have a day off. And we also stuck to eight o'clock closing time at night."
Sense of Community
For many Greek-Australians, the family is central to the way they live. The trust and solidarity between family members means that they have a responsibility to support and help each other.
To Greek-Australians, family is not just the immediate family of parents, brothers and sisters. Family extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and koumbari. It can also extend to members of the local community.
In the Greek villages that so many early immigrants came from, community and family were strongly linked. For the village to function effectively, tasks had to be shared, so every member of the community played a part.
In Australia, Greeks have tended to remain closely linked to family and community. The tradition gained extra strength from the difficulties of being labelled as foreigners "who stick together and don't mix with Australians". It is easier and less damaging to self esteem to seek support from those with similar backgrounnds, and it is easier to remain in a group where you know the rules and feel comfortable.
The community which Greek-Australians keep alive is not just based on Greekness. It has a regional foundation. The island or town of birth has special significance. Chain migration - a Kytherian bringing out a fellow Kytherian - is common in the history of Greek migration, and the regional loyalty extends to life in Australia. Often social functions are held with people who have come from the same part of the Greek-speaking world. When Greeks from the same locality are not available, or when a rural town has no or few people from Greek-speaking backgrounds, some Greek Australians establish networks and contacts outside their town.
"When I was growing up in Baltimore, in the U.S.A., the Greeks were very close because there weren't many of them and they'd get together as often as they could, on namesake days - they don't have birthdays, they celebrate namesake days - there's St. Nick's day, St. John's day, and Saint this and Saint that, and that's the days they would celebrate and they go out and visit each other.
In Tenterfield there are very few Greeks. When I first came, there were three Greek cafes and one Australian cafe, and the Greeks, it happened were all from Kythera. As a matter of fact the one that was the Cameo, he was from the same village as my people.
On 28th October, is a Greek day. This year  I got a phone call inviting me to Brisbane. They are celebrating on 30th October and this friend of mine - he used to own the middle cafe in Tenterfield - he said come up and we'll go to the party."
Back in those days, when I first came to Australia, we had an inferiority complex, well, I did, because well, I had black hair, black moustache, curly hair...The Australians weren't as broadminded as they are today...if you'd speak in those days, oh, they'd abuse you. They'd try to do something to stir you up."
"I got involved in bowls back in 1951....they asked me to join. I think it was the best thing I ever done but, at the time, if they would have asked me to join the golf club I suppose I would have been a golfer.
I was in the ambulance. I'vé got a ten year certificate for that. And I was in Rotary for quite a while. I was even Secretary there a couple of times. But I thought that Rotary was a bit hard for me. Once a week was too often. My wife was in Quota."
When people leave one country for another they do no know what to expect. They do not know whether they will ever see parents and close friends again, or indeed whether they will ever return.
"When I said goodbye to my parents in Greece in 1939, I said to myself, I'll see my father but I'll never see my mother again because she was also sick...Anyway, in about 1951/2, I booked to go back. But the Korean War was on and they cancelled the booking. Dad wrote and said don't worry Nick I'm pleased that you are coming because it would cost you a fortune and you wait until the right time. Then, he got a stroke and died."
Memories of one's birthplace and childhood home often become coloured by myths and notalgia. These memories of much loved people and places can make it difficult to feel settled in the adopted country.
"You can't find a better country than Australia. I tell you that, but you always miss the place you were born, places you went as a child, you know, you miss those places.....
We've got our old house there. We could go and live there, I would live in the village. I mean you love to live in the place you were born. We'd love to go and just live in the village with the people we knew - well the ones that are still there anyway...It's a special feeling when you are getting close to the village, it's unbelievable, some special feeling. I mean, I love this house here, and the country, but it's different. We may be Australians now but we'll never be real Australians. The back of our minds is still Greek."
For many migrants whose children have been born in Australia, the decision about where to live after they have stopped working and their children have left home, is a difficult one.
"Even now when I'm on a pension, if I was to go to Kythera with my wife, we could live really well because we've got a home, we've got a little bit of property there to grow things. But, I've got five children. So, what, am I going to go over there to live with my chidren over here? We'll go for holiday, but not to live there."
For all the interviewees, children and their families provide the main reasons shaping where they live and what they do. It is also children and families who offer sources of pride and justification for the migrant experience, and it is often the children and thye children's children who have the time, interest and resources to explore and confront their identities as Greek-Australians.
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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