submitted by Adrianne Katmadas on 07.01.2008
Plaque to Honour Original Greek Property Developer.
Three generations of descendants of Demetrios Katmadas, the ‘original Greek property developer’ of the Silkwood and surrounding north Queensland region will be attending the installation of a plaque at the site of Delta Café in Old Silkwood on Friday 11 January 2008, arranged by Graham Webb, Administrator of the Johnstone Shire Council.
Amongst the family in attendance will be the grandson of Demetrios Katmadas, also named Demetrios Katmadas and four great-grandchildren of Demetrios Katmadas who live in Brisbane. “This will be a significant milestone in the recording of our family history” said Michael Katmadas, son of Demetrios Katmadas (Senior) who has been liaising with members of the Johnstone Shire Council about an appropriate commemoration of Demetrios Katmadas’ contribution to Silkwood and together with his sister, Lilly Kelaidis has fond memories of growing up in the local area.
Demetrios Katmadas, known locally as Jim, was involved in the development and growth of the Johnstone Shire Region between 1920 and 1938, having faith and confidence in the future of the area and used his pioneering spirit and tradesmanship to enhance the local amenities.
Demetrios Katmadas was born in 1892 in Constantinople and came to Australia in 1912, aged 18. He arrived in Australia on board the ship called the Roon. He bought a cane farm in Daradgee – a community near Gurradunga and Eubenangee which he had for several years until he had to leave it because of the cane beetle devastation. In 1924, Garradunga was the scene of a banquet celebrating the completion and opening of the North Johnstone River Rail Bridge, making a through connection from Cairns to Brisbane.
It was a tough life during those early years and on many occasions, Demetrios had to walk long distances, for example from Babinda to Innisfail to find work with only bread and water as sustenance. Later he had a 99 year perpetual lease from the Government – this area is now called Paranella Park. There again, 18 months of solid rain forced him to give it back to the Government. He went into partnership with Mr Percy Syrmis at Ayr and opened a café called the Delta Café. He married Erene Katahanas on August 5 1926. Erene had arrived in Australia in 1924 and stayed with her brother John Michael Katahanas who had a cane farm at No. 4 Branch in Silkwood. John’s son is Michael Katahanas, well known chemist trading in Tully presently. John’s daughter, Jeannie Vallianos, is a well respected local retailer and awarded charity worker with the Red Cross.
Demetrios and Erene went to live in Ayr and in 1928 had their first child, a daughter named Evangelia.
Demetrios was a bricklayer when he came to Australia and after going through the many hardships he faced, he decided to use his old trade. He was in demand by locals from Cairns to Bowen to build and repair Bakershop ovens which at that time burnt wood. He built the first café in old Silkwood which he called the Delta Café. The farmers around ridiculed him for building the café in such a remote area. After a week of no trade, he finally got his first threepence, which he nailed above the entrance to his café.
Later this café was converted to a Bakery shop. He then built a second café which he also named the Delta Café (named so because of the delta of the Burdekin River).
He purchased the cinema (better known as the picture show in those days), next door to the Delta Café and renovated it, replacing all the tin walls with brick walls and extending the building.
In 1935 Demetrios laid the foundation stone of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Innisfail. At that time, there was only one other Greek Orthodox Church in Queensland – St. George at South Brisbane. The local Greeks were thrilled at the thought of their church being the second to be built in the State.
After the laying of the stone in 1935, he travelled overseas to join his family.
In 1937, the whole family returned to live in Silkwood.
On October 2 1938 their second child, a son named Michael Constantine was born.
In 1940 the Bakery shop burnt down and he suffered a stroke which left him paralysed and battling poor health for 3 years in The Innisfail Hospital.
Demetrios died on April 4 1943, one week before turning 51 and is buried in the Innisfail Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, Erene and his two children, his daughter Evangelia (Lilly) Katmadas (now Mrs Kelaidis), and his son, Michael Constantine Katmadas.
In 1950 his wife Erene sold all their property in Silkwood and together with her children went to live in Brisbane. Erene passed away on June 18, 1966 in Brisbane and is buried at Toowong Cemetry. His son, Michael Katmadas and daughter Lilly Kelaidis said “He was a wonderful father and respected citizen. The people of the area lost a good friend.”
Further details may be found in a book, The Greeks in Queensland. The History of The Early Greeks, 1859-1945, by Dennis Conomos
Teacher, journalist, poet and author, Sydney NSW Australia
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