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General History

History > General History > The only place 'xeni' could find work...

11338: History > General History

submitted by Neos Kosmos, Melbourne on 18.09.2006

The only place 'xeni' could find work...

The only place 'xeni' could find work... - Alexakis Port Pirie

Greek community gathering outside St George Greek Orthodox Church, Port Pirie, SA, c. 1935.

Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski, have traced the first hazy steps by some of Port Pirie's first Greek settlers. Their presence in this South Australian town emphasises that the Hellenic impact upon Australia is not simply limited to the post-World War II era, and further that the image of the Greek cafe proprietor cannot be accepted as a blanket characterisation of Greek work preferences in this country.


Port Pirie, South Australia, 1890's - 2000.
DURING 1842, just over two decades after the arrival of seven Greek convicts in Sydney "marked the beginning of Greek settlement in Australia," George North (Georgios Tramountanas) is reported to have disembarked in Port Adelaide, allegedly with his brother Theodore. Whilst Theodore is said to have journeyed to Western Australia (and, if so, possibly became the earliest Hellene to settle in that colony), George (born in Athens in 1822) remained in South Australia, married and eventually became a well respected grazier on the Eyre Peninsula. From George's arrival and settlement, the Greek presence in South Australia can presently be acknowledged as having commenced.
Fifty years would pass however, before a documented Greek presence appeared in Port Pirie, South Australia - a port and emerging industrial town located at the foot of the Flinders Ranges, overlooking Germein Bay on the eastern shore of Spencer Gulf.
According to available South Australian naturalisation papers, the earliest recorded Greek in Port Pirie was Peter Warrick (name anglicised), who in 1892, was working as a carpenter in the town. Born in Kalamata (in the Peloponnese of southern Greece) in 1855, Warrick arrived in Australia twenty years later. Unfortunately, his whereabouts in the country before his naturalisation in Port Pirie - on the 8th of November, 1892 - remain unknown.
Another early Greek settler in Port Pirie appears to have been "Uncle" George Karas, to whom many Greek newcomers looked for advice and assistance during the 1910's and early 1920's. Born on the island of Poros in 1833, he is reported to have arrived in Australia as a seaman in 1880. Engaging work in other Australian towns and cities prior to finally settling in Port Pirie, it has been suggested that he must have taken up residency in the town during the final decade of the last Century, or the first decade of this Century. Blessed with longevity, Karas died in 1943.
Like the initial isolated Greek arrivals in Port Pirie, little is also known about the first stages of the "collective" Greek presence in the town.
Collective Greek settlement in Port Pirie commenced at some time between the 1890's and the 1910's. Between the 1850's and 1870's, individual Greeks had been seductively induced to Australia's shores by gold's magnetic glisten, laying the foundations for further and increased arrivals, primarily in the form of "chain migration." From the 1890's, most Greeks arriving in Australia were mainly from coastal Greece and the Greek islands, with three islands predominating - Kythera, Ithaca, and Kastellorizo. The Kastellorizians initially established themselves in Perth, burgeoning after 1912, with the continuing problems of sovereignty over their island. Small numbers of Kastellorizians appear to have steadily moved to Port Pirie, and they, together with other Greeks, formed the basis of a community. By 1916, a Greek community was well established, as evidenced by a census which was taken of all "enemy aliens" residing within Australia that year.
The 1916 "Secret Census," as it has generally been referred to, was undertaken by the local police on behalf of Australia's military intelligence authorities during the second half of the year, and launched on a national scale. The Census was deemed necessary as an internal security measure during war time, the Greeks being included because of King Constantine's uneasy indecision on his country's allegiance. Fortunately, the Census provides an interesting insight into the composition of Port Pirie's Greek population of 1916.
The Census records no less than 109 Greeks residing in Port Pirie and its immediate environs.
This number was far greater than that recorded as the combined total of Adelaide and the south eastern section of the state (total being 55).
Of Port Pirie's Greeks, the overwhelming majority were occupationally classified as a "smelter" - just over 87%; the smelting of lead had commenced in the town in 1889 and the Broken Hill Associated Smelters Propriety Limited (B.H.A.S.) took over the lead and zinc Smelting Plant on the 2nd of June, 1915, with an aim towards expansion and modernisation.
Those Greeks not employed as smelters were predominantly restaurant keepers (total 8), with one wharf labourer, one "fireman," three fishermen and one "old age pensioner." George Angelos, aged 75 years, was by far the oldest member of the town's Greek community. With Spero Emmanouil at 52 being the second oldest, the average age of Port Pirie's Greeks in 1916 was approximately 30.
Surprisingly, no market gardeners are mentioned by the document, although it was thought that Greeks had ventured into this occupation even at this early stage of settlement, recognising the advantages of the frost free agricultural land surrounding the town, particularly at Nelshaby and Napperby (the main crops grown were tomatoes and peas); a number of Greek smelters may have supplemented their income by cultivating small market gardens in their leisure hours rather than taking it on as a full-time occupation.
Significantly, the collective settlement of Greeks at Port Pirie was not dependent for its existence upon the catering trade (a major source of employment for early Greek migrants in Australia), but on the job opportunities offered by the town's Smelting Plant.
Although no Greek women are recorded as living in Port Pirie by the Census, it seems likely that they were overlooked - their absence is conspicuously inconsistent with the listing of female Greek residents provided by most other towns investigated by the Census.
It has been indicated that Annie Higenis, and probably her two sisters Effie and Alicia, resided in the town during 1916, Annie having arrived with her mother from Broken Hill around 1902.
However, their surname had been anglicised to Higgins and this would probably explain the failure of the Census to mention their presence. Despite the apparently large size of Port Pirie's Greek community, the number of women present is likely to have been small - essentially, Greek men would have initially arrived in order to establish a firm material base, which could then support the bringing out of other family members at a later date.
Interestingly, the fact that a number of apparent father and son groups are registered on the Census, seems to suggest that some Greek "families" had indeed already become established in the town, and this may support the presence of a number of Greek women.
With the exchange of minorities after the Graeco-Turkish War of the early 1920's, and the immigration restrictions imposed by the U.S.A. in 1924 on southern and eastern Europeans, the number of Greek immigrants to Australia swelled. In 1921-28, arrivals exceeded departures by 5,444, whereas in 1919-20, departures exceeded arrivals. Port Pirie benefited from this influx.
Many of these new arrivals, unlike the earlier Greek migrants, did not have established relatives or friends to whom they could look for assured support, but they quickly settled in with the help of the existing Greek population. Individuals and small clusters of Greeks from other areas of Greek migrant concentration from around the country also succeeded in augmenting the size of the Hellenic community.
With the prospect of a job, Greeks arrived from Adelaide, Broken Hill, Darwin and Perth. For many Greeks, as pointed out by Michael Kambouris, whose brother Dimitri worked at Port Pirie in the 1920's, Port Pirie was "the only place that xeni could find work." Similarly, for Stavros Kakulas, whose father Evangelos laboured in the Smelters during the mid 1920's, foreigners at the time did "not have much choice for work."
In 1923, there were approximately 50 single Greek men, together with 15 Greek families in Port Pirie itself, and two or three Greek families on the market farms at Napperby. According to Phillip Argiropoulos, who had arrived in the town in 1923, a smelter's wage was 12 shillings and 2 pence for eight hours labour, and whilst the majority of Greeks were employed in the Smelting works, there were those who maintained shops - two Greek clubs existed, one fish shop, a delicatessen, a bakery, two tailoring establishments, two dining rooms and a shoe shop. On the market gardens, Greeks were also displaying a substantial degree of commercial enterprise, as according to Despina Verouhis, her father George Polites, introduced the use of glass-houses.
By 1925, as indicated by J.E.Bromley, there were 362 Greeks working at the Smelters, and Michael P. Tsounis estimates that the Greek community had rapidly accelerated in growth to a total of 400-500. During this period the community consisted primarily of Kastellorizians, Lesvians and Chiotes - all three having been affected by tensions between Greece and Turkey.
With such a swift population expansion of its Greek settlers, Port Pirie became the first Greek Orthodox Community in South Australia to be formally instituted. This occurred in 1924, and a church and a school were established.
Chris Manesis, who was from Chios and worked as a labourer at the Smelters, was ordained and appointed as Port Pirie's first resident Greek Orthodox priest. Manesis was a graduate of the High School of Chios, and his character was well suited to the priesthood.
In regard to the Greek school which had been organised, it is known that in 1930 its third teacher was Homer Piknis, who like Father Manesis had also received an education at the High School of Chios.
Even before the economic and social dislocation of the Great Depression of the late 1920's and early 1930's entangled and twisted the fibre of Australian life, the rapid growth of Port Pirie's Greek community appears to have given way to a contracting Greek population within the town itself.
C. Alexander points out that in 1927, the year he arrived in Port Pirie, there were approximately 35-40 Greek families and 25-30 single Greek males in the township, while 6-7 Greek families tilled the land for a living on the surrounding farms; this contrasts to Tsounis' suggestion that there were "over 600" Greeks in the town in 1927.
With the economic downturn of the Depression, the loss of Port Pirie's Greek inhabitants became more pronounced. Many moved to Adelaide. Others become totally disillusioned with economic conditions in Australia, and returned to Greece.
With the debilitating loss of many in Port Pirie's Greek population, and the consequent numerical augmenting of Adelaide's Greek residents, an open power struggle between the two communities characterised the mid to late 1930's. Eventually, Adelaide's authority asserted itself over its rival, and by 1938, that city's Greek Orthodox Community (founded 1930) had become the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia - the Port Pirie Community became, in theory, accountable to the Community in Adelaide.
With the outbreak of World War II, a number of Port Pirie's Greek residents enlisted in the Australian Armed Services or their Reserves.
Following the Second World War, with the signing of a migration agreement between Australia and Greece in 1952, Greeks from almost all areas of their homeland made the journey south to the antipodes.
The migration agreement had arisen as a result of the Australian Government's new immigration policy of 1947 - the policy sought to attract both "Displaced Persons" (war refugees) and immigrants from various European countries, including Greece.
Port Pirie eventually received a considerable number of new Greek residents from this influx, most going into the traditional occupational areas of smelting, market gardening and food catering.
In other Australian towns, Greek occupations between the late 19th Century and the end of the 1940's were firmly centred upon food catering businesses, after the late 1940's, the pattern changed to an emphasis on "labouring" occupations, particularly secondary industry.
The late 1940's and the 1950's decade were "boom" years in Port Pirie, the expansion in both the Smelting Plant and market gardening. In 1951, the town's Greeks obtained their first resident Greek priest since Father Chris Manesis, who had been assigned to Perth towards the end of 1926. The revival of this ethnic community by post-war immigration also quickly led to the laying of the foundation stone for the new Saint George Church in 1957.
Unfortunately, the schism which erupted between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand (instituted 1959) and the Federation of Greek Orthodox Communities (formed 1958), over the rights of Church and Community, divided Port Pirie's Greek population.
While those loyal to the Archdiocese maintained control of the Community, their opponents organised the Olympic Flame (or Torch) Soccer Team (later called Hellas). According to Jim Alikaris: "Some (Greek residents of Port Pirie) didn't want the Archbishop. These people ran the Soccer Club. That's when the Community split. Now they're all one under the Hellas."
The present solid strength of Port Pirie's Greek population is evidenced on Florence Street, the "Greek area" of town, which contains the Greek Orthodox Church, the Hellas Soccer Club and Greek owned businesses. In 1983, it was estimated that there were approximately 165 "Greek" families in the town, of which 45 were mixed marriages. There were also 30 single Greeks, and on the farms, 45 Greek families made a living as market gardeners. Of the sum total, only 20-25 Greeks ran businesses, most of the remainder being described as "labourers." Those registered on the electoral rolls in 1987 for Port Pirie and district who appear to be of Greek origin or descent, totalled to just under 300 - most residing within the city's boundaries.
Furthermore, for 1987-8, almost 100 students of apparent Greek heritage were enrolled in Port Pirie's schools. Regrettably, with evidence of a noticeable number of the most recent adult generation of Port Pirie's Greeks seeking employment in professional fields, and not limiting their potential further education or job opportunities to solely within the town, the future size of the local Greek population may be adversely affected.
At Port Pirie's cemetery, Greek names can be seen inscribed upon numerous old and new tombstones, reminders of the significant, lengthy and continuing Greek presence in the industrial port.
Port Pirie clearly demonstrates that the history of Greek-Australians is not simply a post World War II phenomenon, and furthermore, that the image of the Greek cafe proprietor is not always an appropriate characterisation of Greek work preferences.

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submitted by
Lisa Jacomos
on 17.10.2019

1430:Do you have a larger version of this photo so that we can see the people more clearly?