submitted by The Daily Examiner, Grafton on 29.05.2006
A stroll in Athens with his uncle, before Chris Hatgis leaves for Greece
Our Yesterdays. Grafton's Greek connection.
The Daily Examiner, Tuesday October 7, 2003, page 11.
By, Lauretta Godbee
Chris Hatgis was 13 years old, when he travelled alone half-way round the world to meet up with the father he had not seen since Chris was a toddler.
Christos Hatgis was born in 1935, the Greek village of Yanohori, second child and eldest son of Louis and Ourania Hatgis.
The village 'then about the size at Ulmarra, but now there’s only three of four houses left’, according to Chris, was all but destroyed by German and Italian forces during World War II.
But before that, in 1937, Louis Hatgis had migrated to Australia. His family was to follow, as soon as he had found work and settled in their new land.
The outbreak of war put paid to that plan, and instead Ourania Hatgis and her children, Stella, Chris, and the youngest, Angelo. struggled through the war years in Greece while Louis spent the long years working with other Greek migrant men in vital war time occupations in Australia.
He worked as a timber cutter in Western Australia, Victoria and finally at Lowanna, near Dorrigo, where he cut sleepers with a broad axe.
On a weekend excursion to Grafton he met up with Nick Andronicus, who ran the Waratah Cafe, in Prince Street. “The cafe had been there for years, it was owned by the McGowan and Johnson families before Mr Andronicus bought it,” says Chris.
‘My father started working part-time with him, then became a partner, and finally bought out the business in the 1950s.”
The elder Hatgis had experience in the restaurant business. In Greece before the war he had run a restaurant, but it specialised in the making of yoghurt and sweets — a far cry from the milk shakes and mixed grills of the Australian country town cafe.
With her husband unable to send her money, and three children to care for, the war years, and those immediately after were hard for Ourania Hatgis.
“She worked on the farms. Food was scarce, it was the same for everyone,” recalls Chris.
“We woulld use rock lime to ‘dynamite’ the fish in the river, and I can remember gladly eating left-over army rations out of an Italian soldier’s Dixie.
“When the Italians and the Germans would come into the village we would all go into the hills and hide in the caves where they couldnt find us.”
Even at the end of the war the fighting did not stop, with Greek communist and government troops engaged in guerrilla warfare that raged particularly hot around Yanohori, close to the Albanian border. Youngsters in the area were pressed to work for whichever force was in control at the time.
“One day we would be leading horses and mules up the mnountam for the communists, then a few days later, the same thing for the government forces,” he says. “The people who hadn’t been driven out by the Gem-mans and Italians were ordered out by the guerrillas and fled from the civil war, some over the border into communist Albania and othes to other countries,” says Chris.
Eventually the Hatgis family left Yanohori, moving to live with an uncle in southern Greece, then to Castoria, a good-sized centre north of Salonika. where they lived for several years.
Then in 1949, Dad decided to bring me to Australia,” says Chris. From Castoria the 13-year-old travelled to Athens, where he stayed with an uncle. Then it was by air to Cairo, where he joined the passenger limier to Australia. It was a migm-ant ship and there were a number of other youngsters of various nationalities travelling to be reunited with family members in Australia. “I wasn’t scared at all,” says Chris. “There were a lot of kids like me. There was an older chap from Crete who would look after us.”
Extended family members were waiting on the wharf at Perth and Melbourne, and Chris spent some time with them before journey’s end in Sydney, where he was reunited with his father. “It was the first time I had seen him since he left Greece, when I was two years old,” says Chris. “I turned 14 just after I got to Grafton.”
He did six months schooling Grafton Primary school, miiainl to improve his English — ‘But learned more English working alongside the girls in the shop’ - then quit school to go into the business.
One of the long-ago studlent who shared his first Australiam lessons was Ian Hamilton, still good friend and companion more than 50 years later.
Chris’ mother and the rest of the Hatgis family finally reached Australia in the early 1950's, and they too, worked in the Waratah, then in its original site on the eastem side of Prince street, near the St George corner.
Later Chris’ widowed grandmother Manoucia, migrated from Greece, and came to live with the family for some years before her death.
“At that time nearly all the cafes in Grafton were owned by Greek families,” recalls Chris. “It was quite a close community.” The cafes were Langleys, the Waratah, Peter Theodores, Bernard’s Popular Cafe, Notaras’s Marble Bar and Moulos’s fish shop. Then there was the Simple Simon delicatessen and Harrison’s cake shop, which also did meals. They were all busy from nine in the morning, until late at night.
His father taught him to cook. “I couldn’t boil water when I arrived.” says Chris. Chris loved his years working in and later running the Waratah. “You met a lot of people, the farmers would come in for lunch in the old days and they liked a bit of a chat,” he says. “You found out everything that was going on.”
Chris met his wife Joan (nee Morrissey) at a dance in the Grafton Barn in 1956, and they married in 1960. Joan, formerly a Telecom telephonist, and Chris have three sons, John, Michael and Paul, all living in the Clarence Valley.
The Waratah moved to new premises on the western side of Prince Street in the early 1960s, then further towards the clock tower in 1987. Chris and Joan finally closed the business and retired in early 2002.
Louis Hatgis died in 1973, still actively working in the cafe, and his widow died earlier this year (2003).
Chris was to learn a different kind of cooking when he did national service and trained as an army cook - the only career he might have been willing to swap
for running a restaurant.
Today he golfs regularly, likes to go shooting and still loves fishing, notwithstanding the occasional tangle with a whale in the anchor chain, or a curious shark that nearly leaped into the five-metre boat with Chris and two mates. “Its head, when it came up out of the water, was bigger than the boat’s motor,” Chris recalls.
Over the years family members have returned to Greece for visits. but Chris is happiest in Australia. "I’m pleased not to be in Greece.” he says emphatically. “People ask me would I go back. There’s nothing for me there. It was no good when I left. Why would I want to go back now?”
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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