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Kytherian Identity

Culture > Kytherian Identity > Preserving and recording our Kytherian History, Heritage & Culture.

Culture > Kytherian Identity

submitted by Angelo L Notaras on 11.10.2007

Preserving and recording our Kytherian History, Heritage & Culture.

SPEECH, presented to an audience of over 500 Kytherians who attended a Kythera-Family Website function held at THE CYPRUS CLUB in Brisbane on 15/5/07.

The function was conducted to officially launch the website in Queensland, and to launch Katsehamos and the Great Idea, a book authored by Peter Prineas.

Mr Angelo Notaras of Sydney was the key-NOTE speaker and a copy of his speech which proved to be of great interest TO the KYTHERIAN community follows —

Fellow Kytherians…

Before I start my speech I would like to thank the Kytherian Association of Queensland Inc., together with Mr George Poulos of the Kytherian website team for organising today’s events. We did not expect such large numbers and regret any inconvenience, but it does prove there is great interest and support for what we are doing, and we thank you for coming.

Today I have been asked to speak about the Kytherian website, about my experiences as a Kytherian born in Australia, and my present role in preserving Kytherian history and associated activities.

My first connection with Queensland was in 1934, when I made my first trip to Brisbane as a one year old to be baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church with Charles and Maria Freeleagus as my Godparents. Charles was a brother to Christie Freeleagus and uncle to our late consul Alec Freeleagus, all well known and outstanding Queensland Kytherians.

My next visit to Queensland was as a junior member of the surf club movement in the 1950’s where we competed at Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads and Surfers Paradise, when the area consisted of a few old weekenders, sand hills, sand flies and mosquitoes. It sure has changed, and is now a mega city.

In 1953 I spent 3 months at Wacol Army Camp near Brisbane for my national service training and met a few Kytherian troopers. Peter Patty was one and is here today. Hello Peter.

In early 1960 my brother and I set up an import business selling farm machinery with a distribution network throughout Australia. Queensland was to become a very important market, but its such a large state. How could we set up and organise a distribution chain for our products? This was a major hurdle for us. This is where the Kytherian connection and network proved of great value. In all the major towns we would seek out the local Kytherian restaurant proprietor, explain our situation, and they quickly took us, and introduced us to the best prospective agent in the town. In just a few months we had set up a good distribution.

Now during this period I began to realise the true significance of my Kytherian heritage. I met many who told me stories of how they came to this country, most with only a small suitcase of possessions, no money, no job, severe discrimination, no social welfare to fall back on, but they had the will to work, save, and eventually prospered, and became very well respected members of the community.

I heard stories of their wives, sisters and mothers coming to this big country, being isolated, suffered many hardships, lack of the English language and fellowship with their own kind, but they stood by their husbands and family. What was amazing was the success of these immigrants from Kythera. Very few ever returned. They chose Australia as their new permanent home, assimilated their families into Australian culture, became Australian citizens and how fortunate it was for all of us here today. We, and our children, are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice and hard work.

In just a few years most became respected members and leaders of their communities, and some helped establish great business enterprises.

Harry Corones of Charleville was one such person. Most of you know something about this unique Kytherian, and his great enterprise and civic achievements in the South Western Queensland towns of Charleville and Quilpie. Some of you might also know that he was one of the first to invest in a small airline to help carry passengers, mail and the sick in outback Queensland.

Perhaps at that time, some 80 years ago, only a few thousand dollars was all that was required to buy this fledgling airlines first aeroplane for the new Company called Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. Today called Qantas, the world’s oldest airline and at present subject to an 11 bilion dollar takeover bid.

There are many more stories both grand and sad. Many Kytherians had great dreams that were never fulfilled but they always had a smile on their face and were prepared to "have a go".

We should always respect our parents and never forget them for their courage against much adversity, and whether they were successful or not they laid the foundations for us to have a better life.
We never fogot those early years of travel throughout NSW and Queensland, meeting so many Kytherians, and the stories they told us.

In 1991 my father passed away at the grand age of 97. I then realised many stories of our Kytherian history in Australia were now being lost, as our families aged and individuals passed on.

Something had to be done to collect this history; but "how", was the big question that needed to be answered?

I would now like to go back about 100 to 130 years and explain to you why so many Kytherians came to this wonderful country.
My grandfather arrived in Sydney about 1899 and my father in 1908 as a 14 year old. How could my grandfather leave his wife and five children, one only a few months old, and travel all the way to Australia, a strange land with different customs, and unable to speak one word of the English language. The only means of communication were letters that took up to 6 months for delivery. Kythera at that time had a population of about 12,000 – 15,000. There was not enough food, jobs or any form of economic activity. You had to live off what you produced from your small blocks of farmland known to all of us as a "horaffi", and in the small gardens or “perovoli”.

A few early Kytherians arrived in the mid 1850’s. In the mid 1880’s Arthur Comino arrived and later brought out his brother John. Together they became very successful business men owning a number off restaurants. They wanted more help as Australia was experiencing a boom in employment. They wrote to their relatives in Kythera and said they would find a job and accommodation for any Kytherian who came to Sydney to work for them. This letter was handed around and became a chain letter, with the result that about 44 Kytherians took up the offer, including my grandfather.

The Comino brothers could not cope with such a large influx, but to their credit they did find them jobs and accommodation. It wasn’t long before Kytherians started to spread out into the Sydney suburbs and country towns, always inviting brothers and relatives to come to Australia to work with them, or for them.

They started to move to Queensland and soon by the 1910-1920 period were in most towns. They even ventured to Tasmania where the Cassimatty family became established. Incidentally, during the terrible depression of the 1930’s this Kytherian family in Tasmania, for some years, paid for and ensured every child in their state received a free glass of milk each day through the school system, as they recognised the malnutrition that existed with many poverty stricken families. What a wonderful gesture of generosity, and that was nearly 80 years ago.

At the beginning of the last century, Kytherian Greeks had difficulty in securing employment. No good jobs were available, but through their network of Kytherian friends, they worked for each other, and with this experience, opened up their own businesses in neighbouring towns.
Incidentally, the banks always accepted the Kytherian as a good risk, so loans were available, and more so, as they proved themselves.

By the late 1930’s Kytherians were well entrenched in all kinds of businesses including restaurants, hotels, farming, sheep and cattle stations, etc. You name it and the Kytherians were involved.
Many cinemas were owned by Greeks, particularly by Kytherians.

In 1992 I met Hugh Gilchrist and his publisher. Hugh Gilchrist was a former Ambassador to Greece. He retired from the diplomatic service in 1981, and spent the following 20 years writing about the relationship between Australians and Greeks. The publisher, Halstead Press, could not raise the funds from the Australian Greek community to have this work published. Of over 74 letters sent to important Greeks in Australia Halstead received only two replies; and one of those was from the late Alec Freeleagus, offering to assist.

My brother and I were fortunate, as we had the opportunity to read the drafts. We recognised that this was a great and important work in the making and that it had to be published. We agreed to meet all the costs of publication and distribution of Book 1. Australian & Greeks Books 2 & 3 followed.

We all had great joy when we heard that the Prime Minister of Australia had given as a gift from the Australian people a box set of volumes 1, 2 & 3 of Hugh Gilchrist’s work to the Prime Minister of Greece when he visited Greece last year.
All Australian Greeks are indebted to Hugh Gilchrist for devoting 30 years of his life to research and write these three volumes. The books are universally acclaimed and have won many distinguished awards.

Our dream of seeing the capturing and recording of some of our early Kytherian history was partly realised. I spoke to Hugh this week and he is well, now going on 91 years of age, and sends his best wishes to all of us.

About 4 years ago we were requested to help a James Prineas, a young Kytherian, living in Berlin running a software and employment consultancy business, who had developed a website programme aimed at the Kytherian community. James had the same vision as we had, to record our Kytherian heritage. James lacked the funds, and despite frequent visits to Australia, he was not successful in gaining any financial assistance from Australian Kytherians.

After examining James’ proposals, we decided to fund the initial stages of the project, but more funds were required to ensure the software could cope with the diversity of the programme we wished to introduce. We raised further funds totalling $60,000, including a grant from the Nicholas Aroney Trust. A further $50,000 has since been spent on software design and content. Incidentally, James spent thousands of hours of his own time on enhancing the software programme, which he never charged for.

The website is now just over 3 years old, initially we had only a few hundred entries. Today we are approaching 11,000 entries of information covering a multitude of subjects, stories, photographs, history, tourism, the list goes on and on.

The Kytherian website is now a world leader in its diversity and quality of content, its relationship with its users and its uniqueness in being able to gather the history of a particular Island group and its diaspora spread worldwide. Remember there are 50 times more Kytherians living worldwide, than live on Kythera.

Our users cover the globe. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the website is open to all of us to use, and add content.

The cost is free to all, and we welcome you all present here to take an active role in the website. Mr George Poulos will explain details later in a short presentation.

We know on a daily basis, even to the second, how many users are on the site. We have had at times up to 170 persons worldwide using the site simultaneously.

The management of the Kytherian website is as follows:
James Prineas is Team Leader responsible for Europe including all software, improvements and some content.
My job is Team Leader for Australia, responsible for overall management and ensuring funds are always available to cover website costs.
George Poulos is chief editor for the website. He is responsible for web content and promotion.Vikki Fraioli is both an Administrator and Team leader for the USA, and her cousin Terry Keramaris is Co-Team Leader in the USA.

I would like to point out that both James, George, Vikki & Terry, have done a wonderful job in their areas of responsibility and a great deal of credit for the success of the website should go to them. Credit also goes to the many Kytherians who have contributed so much material.

The present outstanding success of the website has fulfilled my vision to record our Kytherian history, heritage and culture.

Today we are honoured with a visit by Angeliki Pentsi a student of one of the Free University in Berlin, who has been given a University grant to fly all the way from Berlin to Brisbane for today’s website meeting, to study what we are doing, and to carry out research on this successful social Kytherian phenomenon, that the website team has developed.
Angelika you are most welcome.

Angelika will be carrying out surveys and may wish to interview you during today’s meeting, so please assist her with her research. Angelika please stand up. Please give her a round of applause as a welcome.

Although our website is very successful this does not stop us from taking on more projects which are very significant and will add further content to the site. The following will be eventually posted for all to see:

No. 1 Project (Hold book up).
Angelika Pentsi looks on approvingly as one of the bibles of Kytherian heritage and culture is held aloft for display
The translation from Greek to English of the 800 plus page book Kytherian surnames. Published about 15 years ago and written by Emmanual Kallegeros and funded by the Nicholas Aroney Trust. The translation, with the history of over 800 Kytherian family names, will be of immense value in years to come in tracing family history etc. This is a big job requiring Greece’s No. 1 translator to prepare. An expensive project but one which we believe is very worthwhile.

No. 2 Project
In Athens we have the Society of Kytherian Studies with many notable professors and professional people on the committee. Through the Nicholas Aroney Trust they have published much excellent material about Kythera, but all in Greek. We have intentions to translate a select number of their published work. Incidentally the membership of the Association of Kytherian University Professors numbers 27. An extraordinary number for such a small
island to produce.

No. 3 Project
Eighteen months ago I was in Kythera and I had a meeting with John Stathatos, a non Kytherian, who lives in Hora. He is a journalist who has had over 30 years experience working in London. John is one of the principals of the Kytherian Cultural Association, a small group, but does quality work, that helps to retain and protect the cultural heritage of Kythera.

The Kytherian Cultural Association had a major problem. They had found a collection of over 2000 photographic glass slides, taken between 1920 and 1960 by Panayote Fatseas and his son. They had been carefully stored in a building, but over many years the building had partially collapsed, and the collection was in a state of ruin and decay. The entire collection would have been lost in a few years time. The Association had no money to restore and archive the plate glass negatives. Pleas for funding in Kythera and Greece came to nothing. The collection was going to be lost unless something was done quickly, and when I say quickly, I mean within a matter of months.

John showed me a selection of the glass images, and I recognised that we had a significant historical artefact. I asked John what was required to save the collection. He gave me a list of equipment which included a high quality computer, scanners, papers, inks, restoration supplies, security steel cabinets, and funds to cover labour costs, etc.
John Stathatos is an expert photographer who has restoration expertise, he offered to manage the project in Kythera if he could secure the equipment and funds. We acted immediately, and John soon had his requirements met, and over the last 12 months the restoration of the remainder of the collection has been completed.

John Stathatos and the Kythera Photographic Archive

Glass Plate Negatives. What are they? How do you clean, preserve, and archive them?

An Explanation of the new ISO standards for long term storage of photographic materials

Work begins on curating the Panayotis Fatseas Archive. 11th July 2006

The Benaki Museum in Athens has declared the photographic collection the most important in Greece, and will hold an international exhibition of some of the collection in January 2008 in Athens. This is great news for all Kytherians, and a great tribute to this fine Kytherian photographer of the early 20th century.
Recently the status of the collection has been upgraded. The collection is now recognised as one of the most important photographic portrait collections in all of Europe in the past century. It is unique, and would have been lost if no action had been taken by all those involved. Success was due to the team work of dedicated people, who are interested in the preservation of our Kytherian past.

No. 4 Project (Show blue book and contents)
I remember dad telling me there is nothing of interest in Kythera, as most of it had been destroyed. He left as a young boy of 14 years of age with limited education. I can tell you now that we could employ 4 full time staff for the next 5-7 years collating and recording information that we already know exists, We do not know what other treasures and information remains to be discovered. For example, in the Castle at Hora, and in the archives of Venice, and the Colonial Office in London, there are thousands of historical documents just waiting to be examined and recorded in the English language.

No. 5 Project
Publication of the English Translation of “Life in Australia” printed 1916.

Gilchrist's background history of the book

Title page of Life in Australia

Pages 1-10, in English translation

Pages 1-10, in the original Greek

Life in Australia on display at Cafe Society exhibition at Inverell, April, 2004

Full length panel about the book, at the Inverell exhibition

A typical biographical entry. Nicholas P Aroney (i Liapos), and his son Peter Aroney

“Life in Australia” is the most important Greek book written in Australia in the early part of last century. This book covers the history of the arrival of many Greeks to Australia, many of them Kytherians, during those early years. There are other projects already in the planning stage.

I have mentioned the name Nicholas Aroney Trust and will now give you the background of this wonderful Trust and gift to all Kytherians. Nicholas Aroney arrived in Australia as a young boy in the early part of last century and immediately went to Warren in NSW where he worked for a number of years. He then moved to Nowra and with family had an enterprising business. Gradually he had built up a substantial property portfolio.

Later in life, in 1962, he married Natasha. They had no children and as he had very little education, if any, he wanted others to have the opportunity to attain a better education and a better life. A Trust was formed and is capably run by four very qualified Trustees, Professor Emmanual Aroney (ex Mackay Qld) who is here today, lawyer Mr Angelo Crones (ex Lismore) and accountant brothers Mr Peter & Leo Comino (ex Armidale). Need I add that the properties that formed part of his bequest to the Trust are very valuable, and the income stream is passed on to many worthy Kytherian causes, from subsidising Greek dancing lessons, encouraging the writing and printing of books on or about Kytherians or Kythera, annual achievement awards, grants to various organisations, churches, etc. The Nicholas Anthony Aroney Trust was one of the original supporters of the website and they continue to support us.

The late Mr Nicholas Aroney is not with us today, but I can assure you his generosity is without equal. His bequest has has a very deep impact in the years since his demise, which has benefited all Kytherians greatly.

I have been as brief as possible in my talk, but I wanted to give you an overview of what we are doing, the reasons why we do the things we do, and the plans we have to make our Kytherian website not only bigger and the best, but also technically a world leader in its ease of operation.

If any of you wish to assist us financially please contact George Poulos or myself later, or contact us through your local Kytherian Association. Every amount, no matter how small helps us with our work. We now have the impetus and team members to do a great job for our Kytherian descendants, who at the click of a mouse button, will be able to go back in time and discover the History of their ancestors.

We have a range of books for sale and we welcome you to inspect and buy. All profits of our book sales go to our Kytherian World Heritage Fund to finance further publications and support future Kytherian activities.

Thank you.

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