submitted by Hugh Gilchrist on 17.01.2005
First section of Chapter XI
Australians and Greeks
1 The Early Years
If there is a single word which summarises the lives of most Greeks in Australia early in the 20th century it is shop-keeping.
How many Greeks owned shops or restaurants at any time, as distinct from those who rented or managed them—let alone those who served as waiters, shop assistants, fish-cleaners or cooks—is not easily estimated. At the turn of the century they probably numbered a few dozen, and by 1914 several hundred. Nor is it possible to say with certainty who was the first Greek shop-keeper; as many as ten might claim that title, going back to the first years of the goldflelds.
Shop-keeping provided the pull for the second wave of Greek immigration. In the decade from 1891 to 1901 Australia’s Greek population rose from about 750 to nearly a thousand. In the next decade, according to the census, the number “born in Greece” doubled from 878 to 1,798 (Dr Price has more accurately estimated the rise as from 977 to 1,883) and “Greek Church” or “Greek Catholic” membership rose from 1,314 to 2,814, of whom 1,464 specifically recorded themselves as “Greek Orthodox Church” (including 413 born in Australia). By 1914 the number of Australia’s Greeks, on any count, easily surpassed 2,000.
Between 1902 and 1914, 4,775 Greeks arrived in Australia—never less than 120 in any year, and in 1914 reaching a peak of 772 arrivals. Against these, however, must be set about 2,000 departures—an indication of the mobility of the Greek migrants.
No administrative barrier was raised against this influx. Only one Greek was refused entry (he was excluded in 1913 because he had been convicted of a crime and sentenced to a year or more in prison). Notable was the diversity of ports from which the migrants had embarked for Australia; although the greatest number had taken ship from Egypt, many had embarked elsewhere (in 1913, for example, 333 had departed from Egypt, 50 from Italy, 21 from France, 19 from Ceylon, 13 from New Zealand, ten from the United States and smaller numbers from Britain, India, Honolulu, Papua, South Africa, Japan, China and other places).
Notable also in this intake was the increasing number of Kythirans, Ithacans and Kastellorizans. Though still overwhelmingly male, the proportion was slightly less so than in earlier years: in the decade to 1911 Australia’s females “born in Greece” increased from 63 to 105, and thereafter a little faster, when some Greeks emigrated from Asia Minor as family groups instead of waiting for a male pioneer to become established in the new country. Many of Australia’s Greeks also acquired British nationality—789 in the period 1904 to 1914—usually for commercial reasons, and thus held dual nationality, since under Greek law their Greek nationality was preserved.
Inadequate knowledge of English excluded most of this generation of Greek immigrants from clerical, professional and highly skilled occupations, and, especially among the trade unions, a degree of antipathy to foreigners tended to reinforce the exclusion. A long-held tradition of individual enterprise, coupled with strong family ties, also moved the Greek immigrant towards occupations in which he could exert his skills and all his energy for his financial betterment. Abandoning seafaring and gold-digging, he followed the example of those Greeks who found economic opportunity in the food trades in cities and country towns.
When the pioneer had established his shop or cafe there would often be a place for a brother, cousin or nephew as kitchen-hand or general cleaner, working long hours for low wages but assured of basic food and accommodation and a degree of family guidance and protection. If in some cases the junior employee was exploited through his vulnerability as a newly arrived unskilled alien, the shop as least provided a microcosm of the Greek environment and helped to reduce his feelings of social and cultural isolation. Later, usually after an arduous apprenticeship, he could aspire to a partnership, or launch into business on his own account.
Unless, however, the new arrival was a relative of an established shop-keeper, landing in Australia was a gamble, for the number of shop-keepers was limited, and their ability to take on Greek staff, even at a bare-subsistence wage, also had limits. These were clearly articulated by the Kominos brothers in 1898 in a letter from Sydney to a Kythiran newspaper:
We beg you to make it known in your esteemed journal that those of our fellow-countrymen who come here must have some knowledge of English; otherwise, they must have their return fare, because there are no jobs here. So, because it is impossible to get a job in an Australian shop if one has no English, it would be better if they stopped coming here, where they can expect to encounter unemployment and adversity—for which we are not responsible.
Economic, familial and linguistic factors favoured partnerships between Greek shop-owners in Australia, although~not all such arrangements lasted for long. Many began as (or soon became) family concerns involving brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins or relatives by marriage. Others were between unrelated Greeks, often from the same island or town; seldom were non-Greeks involved. Greeks needing capital tended to borrow from better-established Greeks as their main source of credit. A handful of Greek women took part in shop ownership, but female employees in Greek shops were rare.
Sir Nicholas Laurantus once wrote: “Up-country a sort of unwritten law prevailed, allowing only one Greek shop in the town, and this law was observed until the First World War.” But this observation is open to question. George Kentavros, for example, writing in Sydney in 1915, remarked: “Quite often, simply for reasons of competition, some establish shops beside or opposite the shop of a fellow-Greek. This frequently leads to various kinds of rivalry at the expense of both, and brings about their downfall.” It would seem that a Greek’s choice of location was largely influenced by his perception of market opportunities, and that this often led him to choose a town where no Greek shop existed; but clearly there were many exceptions.
The Greek cafe proprietor did not attempt to serve his nation’s traditional dishes. He gave his Australian customers what they wanted and expected: fish and chips, oysters on shell, grilled steak and eggs, plain boiled vegetables, bread and butter, tea or coffee, fruit salad, and—as innovations from the United States-soda drinks and ice-cream. And, unlike some Australian shop-keepers, he provided such fare at almost any hour until well into the night.
Remarkable, by today’s standards, was the youth of these Greek venturers. Some were managers in their teens; many were proprietors in their early twenties. Also striking was their propensity to save income and, after meeting any familial obligations in Greece, to accumulate capital and invest it in further enterprises. Not all succeeded, as the registers of bankruptcy show, but in general those who stayed in shop-keeping prospered in the longer term.
New South Wales
Not until 1877 does an identifiable Greek name appear as a shop-keeper in a Sydney business directory, when “John Capatchos, fishmonger and oyster-saloon keeper” is listed at 75 King Street. Presumably he was the “John Kapazzo” who, in 1858, was a witness at the wedding of the Greek gold-miner Ioakheim Zanms at Ballarat; but after 1877 he is not again listed in Sydney. Almost certainly he was not the first Greek to set up shop in New South Wales.
If there is doubt on that score, there is also doubt about the colony’s first Greek coffee-house. Oral tradition has it that Sydney’s first kafeneion was conducted by a Corfiot named Spinelli, reputed to be an ex-convict who had moved from Tasmania to Victoria and then Sydney. His coffee-house, advertised by a sign-board bearing a painting of a camel, was at the back of Grace Brothers’ department store in the inner suburb of Glebe, in a lane which since 1871 has borne the name Greek Street.
Spinelli was known to his customers as “Dottoro”, possibly because of his pretence to some medical qualifications and his selling of quack remedies for venereal disease. He is said to have had a daughter who worked as a waitress in Ioannis Raptakis’s shop near St Andrew’s Cathedral in the early 1900s. A Christina Spinella, or Spinilla, lived in Glebe in the 1870s and was possibly connected with the Lalekhos family, who had moved to Glebe from the Tambaroora diggings (two Lalekhos children were named Marina Christina and Frank Paul Spinella); but how much of the Spinelli story is true and how much fable is hard to say.
By 1878 Angelos Pholeros of Smyrna had established a general store in Parkes; Prokopios Konstantinidis, from Mitylini, was listed as a pharmacist; and Athanasios Kominos had set up as an oyster-saloon keeper in Sydney. In 1883 John Sotiriou was a tobacconist; in 1884 and 1889 John and Antonio Alexander were respectively recorded as fishmongers; and in 1886 Nikolaos Sevastos, from Poros, was listed as an “engineer”. Of these the most significant was Athanasios Kominos, whose success in the oyster industry stimulated a wave of immigration from Kythira. Indeed, the expansion of Greek shop-keeping in New South Wales is largely a Kythiran story.
The island of Kythira, strategically located between Crete and the Peloponnisos, has a long and troubled history. Colonised early by the Phoenicians, who brought with them the worship of Ishtar and thus founded the cult of Aphrodite—the foam-borne goddess on the island’s shore—Kythira was later colonised from Crete, and in classical times was an object of contention between Athens and Sparta as a naval base in their Peloponnisian War. Under Roman rule it enjoyed peace, but later suffered, like the Peloponnisos, from Slav invasion, and acquired the name Cerigo. Under the Byzantines it prospered, but in 1207 it was seized by a Venetian marquis of the Venier family, which continued to dominate the island after it became a Venetian colony in 1363.
Although the Venetians succeeded in Italianising Kythira’s leading families, its peasants remained faithful to the Orthodox Church and the Greek language. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, plundering and slave-hunting raids by corsairs from Morocco, Algeria and other parts of the Barbary coast—occasionally assisted by “Christian” pirates —devastated and depopulated the island. Later it was slowly repopulated by Greeks from elsewhere, and after Venice’s collapse in 1797 it enjoyed a brief interval of autonomy between spells of French military occupation. The British occupied it in 1809 and built roads with forced labour and introduced an education system. Their rule, however, was no more popular than that of their predecessors, and in 1864, along with the rest of the British Protectorate of the Ionian Islands, Kythira passed to Greece and became part of the nomarchy of Lakonia.
Roughly oval in shape and about a hundred square miles in area, Kythira rises steeply from the sea, girt for the most part by precipitous cliffs. A ruined Venetian fortress looks down on Kythira Town and its small south-facing port. Inland the island’s somewhat arid soil sustains a static population of some 3,000 people. Towards the end of the 19th century there were more than 13,000 of them, farming their windswept terraced fields and tending their sheep and goats in upland valleys, but pressure of population had begun to move some of them to seek a living elsewhere.
Prominent among these were the Kominos families, from the village of Perleyianika near Potamos. The first Kominos to reach Australia, Athanasios, landed in Sydney in 1873, probably as a seaman on a sailing ship from New Zealand, when he was 29. One of six children of a farmer, Dimitrios Kominos, and his wife Agapi, née Menega, Athanasios had lived in Smyrna for several years before his further migration. For a time he worked in a colliery in Balmain, but within five years he had saved enough to set up in business. The serendipitous “origin” of Greek fish-shop proprietorship is now enshrined in an anecdote about him, related to Dr Charles Price by John Raftopoulos:
Joined by John Theodore of Psara, the two found work in the old Balmain colliery. Some time later Comino fell sick, and the doctors told him that he had been affected by colliery work and should find himself some light occupation.
One day, while still without work, he was walking down Oxford Street, Sydney, and saw~ a fish-shop owned by a Welshman. He remembered that the doctors said he could eat fish, so he went in for a meal. While there, he saw that the Welshman did no more than drop fish into boiling fat, fork it out after a few minutes, slap it on a plate or some paper, and hand it to the customer. After some time watching this, Comino began to think that here was an occupation requiring little experience or hard labour—just the solution for his own problem. At all events, he and Theodore decided to try it, rented some premises and opened a small fish-shop at 36 Oxford Street, some time in 1878.
At first they met certain difficulties arising from their ignorance of the language and of the finer points of frying fish. For instance, one day a man came in and asked for fried oysters, and they had not the remotest idea whether such a fish should be fried in or out of the shell; on this occasion they put the complete shell into the fat. Despite these early difficulties, however, they kept at it, began to sell coffee as well as fish, and later became interested in the actual supplies of oysters and fish.
Four years after opening his shop Athanasios acquired the lease of an oyster-bed at Onions Point at the mouth of the Lane Cove River, where he sustained oysters imported from New Zealand. The enterprise did not succeed, but in 1884 he leased 2,000 yards of foreshore for oyster-growing on the Evans River estuary on the north coast, and in that year he was joined by a younger brother, Ioannis Dimitrios Kominos, then aged 30.
John D. Comino, as he became known, was an almost illiterate labourer in the port of Peiraieus. He had nearly completed his Greek army service when he received a letter and some money from Athanasios, of whose circumstances in Australia he had for some years been unaware. Moved by this letter, he left Kythira soon afterwards and arrived at Sydney in the Potosi.
At first as a clerk, later as a partner, John Comino helped to expand his brother’s business. In 1885 he acquired oyster leases on the Bermagui River estuary on the south coast. Other brothers then came out: Dimitrios in 1888, Nikolaos in 1891, Kosmas in 1892. Their early efforts to develop the oyster industry encountered difficulties; in 1892 John (officially described as a “mechanic”) was declared bankrupt, but was discharged from bankruptcy three years later.
Athanasios died, unmarried, in Sydney in 1897, of a hernia at the age of 53, leaving a modest estate to John and nephews and nieces. John developed an extensive and complex business supplying oysters to restaurants, fish shops and oyster-saloons in New South Wales, inheriting from Athanasios the popular title of “Oyster King”. Naturalised in 1898, he acquired several more oyster leases on the New South Wales coast, and in 1906 joined with three other oyster-merchants to found the firm of Woodward, Gibbons and Comino, which dominated oyster marketing in the state. Ultimately he owned five shops in Sydney, and seems to have had a financial interest in others in country towns, some of them trading under the name Comino, which became almost synonymous with Greek oyster-saloon proprietorship.
More than anyone else, John Comino encouraged the emigration of Kythirans to Australia. Elected honorary life president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Sydney in recognition of his help in founding Sydney’s first Greek church, he was respected not only for his commercial success, but also for his contributions to Greek national causes and to the welfare of his compatriots in New South Wales. Among other deeds, he sponsored the first modern Greek book published in Australia, I Zoi en Afstralia (Life in Australia).
In 1901, when he was living at Randwick, John Comino married Anna, eldest daughter of the Reverend Serafeim Phocas, in a ceremony conducted by her father in the Greek Orthodox Church in Surry Hills. John and Anna had four sons: John Demetrius, Athanasios, Nikolaos and Constantine, of whom John Demetrius was the most notable; after graduating in engineering in London in 1922 he founded the firm of Dexion-Comino International, manufacturers of structural steel components; and as Sir John Comino he was honoured by the British and Greek governments for his contributions to science and industry. Equally distinguished was John Comino’s nephew, Akhillefs Kominos, Governor of the National Bank of Greece, a representative of Greece on numerous international bodies and the recipient of high honours from the Greek government.
John Comino senior died at Randwick in 1919, a victim of the influenza epidemic, leaving an estate valued at £31,872. Anna returned to her birthplace, Rhodes, and later settled in London, where she died in 1970 at the age of 87. Of John’s brothers and sisters only Emini, who married Ioanms Frylingos, remained in Australia; Antonios and Kalliopi returned to Kythira and Zakharias settled in Athens. Of their many descendants some stayed in Sydney, others went to Greece; still others migrated to London, Canada or the United States.
The fish shop and the oyster-saloon soon became the preferred sphere of occupation of New South Wales Greeks. Among the earlier and more successful of them were Sophocles Servetopoulos, from Zagora in Thessaly, Ioannis K. Mavrokefalos, from Ithaca, and Nikolaos Voyatzis, from Siteia in Crete.
Servetopoulos, who arrived in 1883, had a fish shop in Pitt Street. When it prospered he returned to Zagora and married Eleni Zafiriadou and, rather than join his brothers in the cotton exchange in Egypt, brought her in 1890 to Sydney, where he built up a substantial providoring business until his death in 1916. Strong supporters of the Greek church in Sydney, he and Eleni had four children: Alexandra, Cleopatra (a talented water-colour painter), Calliope and Constantine, who, under the name C. Don Service, would become the first Greek Australian to enter the legal profession.
Mavrokefalos, who later changed his name to John Black, was 13 when he went to work in Patras. Later he worked for an English firm in Braila in Romania, but ill-health obliged him to return to Ithaca, where a repatriate’s glowing account of Australia induced him to emigrate. In Sydney his knowledge of English enabled him to work in several businesses, and after a few years he opened a fish shop in King Street, before moving to Brisbane.
Voyatzis, who arrived in 1888, had had a good education in Crete, where his mariner father had been a delegate of Siteia in missions to the Turkish government. At first a schoolteacher, Nikolaos later served as a seaman on several voyages to Sydney, where he worked in various businesses, including the Comino brothers’ Oxford Street fish shop, and possibly also in the public service. He then moved to northern New South Wales, where his launch Ariadne provided a ferry service at Boonock on the Manning River.
Other shop-keepers at this time included Mikhail Tsingos, who arrived in 1891 and became established in Sydney’s George Street; the Ithacans Efstathios Stamelatos and Dionysios Kouvaras, who came in 1892 and had oyster-saloons in King Street; Nikolaos Raftopoulos, from Ithaca in 1896, who, like Kouvaras, had come overland from Victoria and worked in a Pitt Street restaurant before acquiring his own. In 1892 Vitoratos Panaretos arrived from Kythira and became a shop-keeper in Oxford Street, where he was joined in 1895 by his brother Spyridon, who later became a fruiterer in Inverell. Five Kordatos brothers became established in Armidale.
If the Greek proprietors worked hard, the lot of their young employees was harder still, involving inmost cases prolonged toil, scant leisure, social isolation, a degree of family separation and initial financial debt. An exemplary case is that of Georgios Lianos, a Kythiran farmer from the village of Lialianika, who reached Sydney in 1898.
George at 24 had married Agapi Kominou from his own village, and in the following year she had borne a daughter, Stavroula. Seeing only a limited future in farming the island’s unrewarding soil, he decided (with his wife’s agreement) to join her relatives in Sydney, leaving her and Stavroula on the farm until he could either return to Greece or bring them to Australia. He borrowed £25 for his passage, boarded an Egyptian steamer at Peiraieus and a German liner at Port Said, and at Circular Quay was met by his brothers-in-law Nikolaos and Mm Kominos
He spent his first night in a blanket on the bug-ridden floor above the Kominos restaurant, but next day was given a room in the family house. He began work immediately, cleaning fish and opening oysters. He would rise at 3am, walk to the markets and clean fish until 7, and then return to the shop to scrub floors and tables and clean chairs and cutlery, working in the cellar-kitchen until 10.30, when he would have breakfast. From 11am to 2pm he would be opening oysters and would then have a two-hour lunch break. From 4 until 6.30 he would again open oysters and then snatch a nap for half an hour. From 7pm until midnight he would be in the pantry, cleaning cutlery or cutting bread, orin the restaurant, clearing plates from the tables. At 3am he would rise again and trudge to the markets.
On Sunday the shop would be closed, but he would still be cleaning the premises or washing clothes until 2pm, when he would have lunch. He would then put on his best clothes and walk with his relatives as far as the lawns of the Domain, returning not later than 5pm. As a relative of the family he was paid £1 a week, well above the more usual wage of 7/6d or 10 shillings.
After four months he moved to a small and dilapidated shop which his brother-in-law Dimitrios had taken over from Gerasimos Kefalonaios (who owed £80 for fish and oysters but could not pay). There George worked for a time under a manager, Girdilis, and later, at his own request, in brother-in-law Nicholas’s shop in Oxford Street. Dimitrios then went to Greece, and another brother-in-law, Minas Kominos, took over the shop and raised George’s wage to 25 shillings.
Within 20 months George Lianos had saved £60 from his wages and from customers’ tips, had repaid the £25 borrowed for his steamer fare, and had sent his wife £20 for support. He then borrowed £60 from John D. Comino and formed a partnership with Nikolaos Andronikos, who obtained a similar loan from Comino. When the partners rented a shop at 661 George Street he wrote:
On 3rd September 1900 I became my own master (blessed hour!). The shop was very large, and we paid £3 a week rent, but it had been neglected and not run systematically; it did no business and was broken-down. But in our first week we had sales of~15. We worked very well, with every care for the customers, and our sales began to increase. I worked very hard, because my partner was very lazy, but the thought of my wife and child, and how to be close to them, gave me strength and I felt no fatigue.
The partners disagreed, however, and George bought his partner’s share for £140, borrowing a further £60 from John Comino and paying the rest from the shop’s profits, and within weeks he became its sole owner. Difficulties remained, however: he still had little knowledge of English, and vandals sometimes attacked the shop. “Haymarket was the terror of Sydney”, he recalled, “because all the dregs of Sydney berthed there, and very often I had quarrels with them, but I used to bash them up and send them to the police station.”
By April 1902 he had paid off his debts, had cleared an additional £250 and was sending money to his wife and parents in Kythira every month. In November brother-in-law Dimitrios returned from Kythira, bringing Agapi and Stavroula with him. “I gathered strength”, wrote George, “because I now had next to me my wife and child. This had been my whole desire. I felt that I was at last fortunate, and my business progressed rightly.”
George, Agapi and Stavroula were accommodated in Dimitrios’s house, but when Agapi’s sister Mango and her husband Emmanouil Panayiotopoulos arrived and Agapi gave birth to a son, George and his family moved to rooms over the shop, where two more daughters, Theodora and Aspasia, were born. John Comino’s wife Anna became Aspasia’s godmother.
Dimitrios then went back to Greece to marry a ship-owner’s daughter and urged George to accompany him. Impelled by a desire to visit his ageing father in Kythira, George sacrificed an opportunity to buy the shop’s freehold title on favourable terms, and instead packed the family’s possessions into seven trunks and three suitcases, and left brother-in-law Minas to manage the shop, allowing him half the profits, the other half to be sent to Kythira.
On the Orient liner their youngest daughter fell gravely ill with scarlet fever, but at Colombo a doctor bathed her in iced water to reduce her temperature, and she survived. They caught the next Orient ship, and after a week in Athens reached Kythira in June 1907, welcomed by their relatives, who placed them on donkeys which bore them and their baggage to Lialianika. The whole village turned out to greet them and showed them the greatest hospitality.
George Lianos and his family spent nearly four pleasant years on Kythira, where he built a new house and also renovated and furnished his father’s house and stables, which in all cost him more than £1,000. In 1909 another son was born, and George decided to return to Sydney. After waiting a month at Peiraieus for a ship to Port Said the family embarked on a French steamer, and early in 1911 he resumed charge of his George Street business.
The Kythirans who landed in Sydney near the turn of the century included Efstratios Aronis, one of five sons of Anastasios Aronis of the village of Aromanika. He was the first Aronis to reach Sydney, where he opened a fish shop in Erskine Street in 1895. Four years later he was joined by his brother Antonios, who had been working in Smyrna, and in 1900 by brothers Panayiotis and Minas. As Aroney Brothers they opened a fish restaurant in George Street near the Central Railway Station. Within a few years they had leased five more shops and opened a restaurant in Pitt Street, a fish shop in North Sydney and an oyster-saloon in Mosman, after
which they set up as wholesale fish suppliers, selling to suburban and country shops and eventually employing a staff of nearly a hundred.
Panayiotis, the most notable of the Aronis brothers, had left Kythira largely because of a schoolmaster’s advice: “Avoid the teaching profession—I’m still a poor teacher on 240 drachmas a month, while some of my old schoolmates are rich.” Resisting parental pressure to continue his studies, he persuaded his father to pay his fare on a German ship to Melbourne, and thence on a coaster to Sydney, where he landed, a boy of 15 fresh from school, with three gold sovereigns, no work experience and not a word of English.
He began work in his brothers’ fish shop in Walker Street, North Sydney, with a cousin and two other Greeks. He worked from 7am to midnight, six days a week; and on Sundays, when the shop was closed, he would scrub the floors and clean the furniture until 3pm, when he would take his lunch and fall into bed, too weary for recreation; at the outset, he was paid 2/6d a week. “We were slaves”, he declared, and by the end of the year he had saved very little from his wages. In the evenings all would be peaceful until 11 o’clock, when the hotels closed and the drunks came in; some louts would put salt in the sugar, or refuse to pay for meals, and there would be angry arguments and sometimes damage to the shop, which could exceed the week’s profit. Sometimes on Sundays he would be allowed to go to Surry Hills to attend the liturgy in the new Greek church and afterwards to meet other Greeks in their city shops, but of Greek clubs or social functions he was unaware.
He was bitterly disappointed with Australia at first, but after a year his fortunes improved. “I began to forget my troubled past”, he later wrote, “and took Australia to my heart, determined to make it my own country and that of my descendants.” In 1905, however, after reading reports of war in Macedonia, and of Bulgarian murders of Greeks and the destruction of their homes, he returned to serve in the Greek army. It was a grim voyage home on the liner Scharnhorst; a stewardess and two passengers died of yellow fever, and Panayiotis went down with the disease. For a week he lay in an Athens hospital close to death, but he recovered and reached Kythira, where family care and the sounds and scents of a Kythiran spring restored his strength.
A year later he left Greece a second time for Sydney, and soon afterwards was naturalised, under his family’s alternative name, Koumesopoulos. (Although all the Aronis families of Kythira took their name from the village of Aronianika, each family took a second name to distinguish it from the others.) Forty-five years later he formally changed it to the name by which he had long been known: Peter Aroney. In 1910 he moved to Brisbane and, after serving in the Greek army in several wars, emigrated a third time. He died in Brisbane, a pillar of the Greek community, aged 102.
Another early Aroney was Nicholas M., a former schoolteacher and the son of a priest. A bachelor, much respected for his aid to fellow Greeks, he had worked in Smyrna and in 1902 arrived in Sydney, where he established a large restaurant in Alfred Street near Circular Quay. Yet another Aroney, Nicholas P. (alias Liapis), after sojourns in London and Port Said, had a shop in Goulburn and shops in Moree and Inverell; by 1914, trading as Peters & Co., he had five shops. Other Aroneys included the brothers Ioannis and Dimitrios Aronis (alias Theodoropoulos), whose two shops in Murwillumbah were destroyed in a town fire in 1907 but which they rebuilt; Athanasios Argyros Aronis, who had a shop in Cowra; and Georgios Aronis, whose oyster-saloon was in Young.
From the Kythiran village of Mylopotamos came seven Andronikos brothers, of whom four built up a tea, coffee and chocolate business which, eighty years later, is still eminent in the beverage and confectionery field. Their interest in tea and coffee and in emigration is said to have been aroused by an uncle, Dr Karydis, a medical officer of the Suez Canal Company. Nikolaos, the first to arrive (in 1897), acquired a shop in Tamworth, and in 1908 married Antigoni, a daughter of the Reverend Serafeim Phocas. He was followed by brothers Minas (Mick), who opened a cafe in West Maitland, Kosmas (Charles) and Emmanouil, who opened a shop in Tamworth.
In 1907 Charles and Emmanuel Andronicus opened a small shop at 127 York Street in Sydney. Charles visited Calcutta and Colombo and brought back chests of tea and coffee, and fish-frying oil and crockery and fancy goods. Emmanuel, armed with samples, travelled by train around New South Wales, seeking orders from Greek and other shop-keepers for tea, coffee, olive oil, sauces, crockery, cutlery and other items, advancing credit where appropriate. As their business grew, Charles became a kind of unofficial arbitrator in disputes between up-country Greeks, and a mouth-piece for their grievances.
Ioannis, the youngest brother, after a month at Port Said with his uncle Dr Karydis, arrived in Sydney when he was 13 and lived with his brother Mick in West Maitland, where, for lack of English, he had difficulty in studying at school. When
Mick sold his cafe and moved to Sydney, Ioannis went to brother Nicholas in Tamworth, where he had a happy year at the local convent school. Nicholas meanwhile had taken in as partner another brother, George, who had landed in Sydney in 1907.
In 1910 Charles, Mick and Emmanuel, joined by John, moved Andronicus Brothers from York Street to 197 George Street, where three of them lived in rooms over the shop. Young John was instructed in the techniques of tea and coffee blending and of packing goods for dispatch. Mick returned to Greece and in 1912 Nicholas and Antigoni settled in Sydney, where Nicholas managed the Marathon Cafe at 72 Oxford Street. George Andronicus then joined forces with a cousin, Georgios Potiris (who had come to Australia in 1902 and had worked at Barraba), and bought the large Apsley Hotel in Walcha, which they managed until 1919.
Now 19, John Andronicus helped Emmanuel with up-country sales, working the towns near the Queensland border. With his friends John and Antony Notaras he went fishing and shooting at weekends, and on one such excursion his rifle accidentally discharged. The bullet passed close to his heart but John Notaras got him onto a horse-cart and into Grafton, where Dr Page (later Sir Earle Page of the Country Party) operated on him and saved his life; and after three more operations in Sydney he recovered.
After early difficulties, and by prodigious efforts, Andronicus Brothers prospered and its partners played important parts in the Greek community. Other Andronicus relatives also arrived in Australia before 1915, including Stylianos, who partnered his brother-in-law Panayiotis Kominos in shops in Lismore and Muswellbrook and in a cattle property, and Kharalambos, who had the Club Cafe in Toowoomba.
Another cousin, Mikhail Potiris, who, like his brother George had been persuaded by an Andronicus to leave Mylopotamos for Australia, worked with George Potiris in Barraba and later had a shop in Queanbeyan, but sold it in 1914 and eventually became the second Australian Greek to graduate in medicine.
Also among the early Kythirans were the Kalopaidis and Samios families. Antonios Kalopaidis, who came in 1899, and his brother Georgios, who followed in 1903, opened a shop in West Maitland in 1910. Pavlos Kalopaidis, aged 16 when he
landed in Sydney in 1904, worked in a Pitt Street cafe, saved enough to buy his own cafe in Goulburn in partnership with a relative, and later had a cafe in Sydney’s George Street North. Minas Kalopaidis in 1911 acquired shops in Wyalong and Temora.
Ioannis Samios, aged 50 and without a word of English when he reached Sydney in 1901, acquired three shops-the largest of them in Boggabri—and in 1914 opened one in Coolac, partnered with the Melitas brothers and managed by his 20-year-old son. Another Samios, Athanasios, opened a shop in Coffs Harbour in 1910 and later acquired several more. Two other Samios brothers, Kharalambos and Ioannis, with their cousin Konstantinos Kasimatis, acquired two large properties in central Sydney—one of them a five-storey building incorporating a large restaurant and a lodging-house with 100 rooms.
The first Notaras to reach Sydney was Lambrinos, who landed with some 40 other Kythirans in 1902, having left his wife with six young children at Frylingianika to work the family farm. For seven years he worked for an Austrian restaurant-keeper in George Street near Circular Quay, cleaning fish at the markets and sending money to his family. In 1905 he brought out his eldest son, Ioannis, and in 1908 his second son, Antonios. In Kythira a repatriate had told Antonios that in Australia the children rode horses to school, but at Fort Street School, which Antonios attended for a year, he saw not a single horse. There, having no English, he learned little and endured cultural prejudice, including the taunt of “Dago”. His father, who had almost no English and could not read or write, could give him little help.
In 1909 Lambrinos Notaras decided that only by acquiring his own shop and employing his sons in it could he support his family. He found an old fruit shop in Grafton, and with his sons’ help turned it into a thriving business, the Marble Bar Cafe. Illiteracy and poor English handicapped him, but each morning, still learning the language, Antonios would translate newspaper items for him with the aid of a dictionary. Two years later he opened another cafe in Grafton and put 16-year-old Antonios in charge of it. They prospered and in 1913 Lambrinos, after a 13-year absence, returned to his wife and other children in Frylingianika, leaving John, now 22, and Antonios, now 20, to manage the shops. The outbreak of war in 1914 prevented his return to Australia but the two young men battled on, and later, joined by their brother Theodore, they became major property owners in Grafton.
Other early Kythirans included Vasilios Makris (Vasili Macree) who arrived in 1886, Panayiotis Fatseas in 1889, and Emmanouil Stratigos in 1890 (all of whom became fishmongers in Sydney); Theodoros Minoukhos in 1900 (a shop-keeper in partnership with his sister in Kyogle); Minas Koumbis, who in 1904 acquired a shop in Cootamundra; and the brothers Ioannis and Nikolaos Protopsaltis, from the village of Mitata, who arrived soon after 1900 and established the Cosmopolitan Cafe and the King’s Cross Cafe in Darlinghurst. Psaltis Brothers, as they were known, were among Sydney’s first motor-car owners, and Ioannis, the firm’s director, became a councillor of the Greek Orthodox Community. Kosmas, another Protopsaltis, acquired two shops in Parramatta, in partnership with his cousin Ioannis Frylingos; and another Protopsaltis, Dimitrios, opened a shop in Bowral, partnered by Emmanouil Khaniotis.
Panayiotis Souris, the eldest of five children from the Kythiran village of Ayia Anastasia, reached Sydney in 1897. After working in the cafe of his uncle Spyridon Panaretos in Inverell, he bought the business. On his return to Kythira in 1912 he was drafted to serve in the Greek army in the Balkan War. After his discharge he married a Potamos girl, Maria Koronaiou, and brought her to Australia. In 1913, he established the Red Rose Cafe in Walcha, partnered by his brother-in-law Emmanouil Megalokonomos, who had come to Sydney in 1900, and whose brother Diinitrios became a shop-keeper in Wee Wan. Panayiotis Souris’s younger brothers Antonios and Dimitrios, who landed in Sydney in 1907, acquired three shops in Orange. Later in Uralla, Dimitrios opened the White Rose Cafe, planted an apple and cherry orchard and established an apple pulp factory, all successfully.
[Cont'd next entry - as Part B].
submitted by National Archives, Australia on 29.04.2006
The strength of many Greek businesses in Australia was often due to family involvement. The Andronicus Brothers began trading in New South Wales in the early 1900s selling coffee and chocolates, and over the years the six siblings, and later two of their sons, built up a very successful business, which certainly lived up to their 1920 trademark ‘AB – Always Best‘.
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