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Western Australia. The Greek presence in Western Australia: an outline history.

Multicultural Communities Online. Official Publication of the Online WA Multicultural Communities Gateway.

Volume 3, Issue 4 October 2002 Page 9



The Greek presence in Western
Australia: an outline history

By: Dr John N. Yiannakis.

Until recently it was accepted that the first Greek to arrive in W.A. was a Castellorizian - Arthur Auguste or Athanasios Augoustis. Augustis - had stepped ashore at Broome sometime in 1890 or 1891 from Egypt. He spent a short while there before moving onto South Australia and then returned to the West in 1896. He soon sponsored his two cousins, the Manolas brothers, who followed him half way around the globe. This action began a classic process of chain migration from Castellorizo - Greece’s eastern most island possession - to Western Australia. Other Castellorizians soon ventured from Europe and North Africa to Australia: brothers, cousins, wives, friends and eventually entire families made the journey across the world. The process, which Auguste had initiated, continued until well after World War II, by which time the island of Castellorizo had been depopulated.

This story however, is that of the first Castellorizian arrival, not the first Greek, to Western Australia. Greek sailors aboard British or French vessels visiting Western Australia possibly remained behind quite early in the colonial period. Yet, when Auguste died in 19 3 2, a newspaper obituary made reference to his early arrival in this state. Hence this element of community folklore goes back in origin nearly seven decades. Yet, the archives show that there may have been a Greek family (known as Barvides) in the Swan River Colony as early as 1830, and that at least three Greeks did jump boat’ at Albany in 1870. A group of sailors from the vessel Callixene failed to return to the ship in April 1870. Antoni Fossilo (Phasoulas) was one of these men and is the only one whose life can be traced and documented with certainty after this incident.

The few Greeks in W.A. at the beginning of the century, 148 according to the Census of 1901, tended to come from a variety of islands such as Crete, Samos, Santorini and particularly Ithaca. Many of the men were attracted to the ‘golden West’ directly from their homeland, but more importantly from the Eastern States, lured, during the 1 890s, by the gold discoveries at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. Though plenty of Greeks could be found on the Western Australian gold-fields, a significant proportion of them, particularly Ithacans, went East or returned to Greece after the 1916 Anti-Greek Race Riots.

As the Ithacan cohort diminished Castellorizian arrivals increased.

These early Castellorizian settlers and those who immediately followed would soon shape and dominate Greek community politics, patronage and power broking. Such large numbers of them began arriving between 1917 and early 1919 that the Federal Cabinet of W. M. Hughes called for a halt in Greek migration to Australia, unless the intending migrant had a close relative residing here. However, since ‘chain migration’ relies on a network of friends and relatives, the impact of Hughes’ policy on Castellorizian migration to Western Australia was insignificant.

The large number of Castellorizian Greeks in this state does not alone explain their dominance. Even after the 1960s when they were no longer the undisputed largest group, their political and financial influence remained considerable. Decisions made, organisations established and networks formed, particularly during the second and third decades of this century, laid the basis for Castellorizian control of community affairs. Subsequent generations of Castellorizians would build upon these foundations so as to develop community networks and organisations requiring Castellorizian support or sponsorship.

As Greek arrivals to Western Australia increased in number early this century, and with linguistic and cultural problems not being solved, the desire to formalise an ethnic organisation was enhanced. So, in 1911 there was an effort to institute a Greek Orthodox Community in Perth. The initial attempt failed.

The following year some of the individuals present at the abortive 1911 meeting, decided to institute a fraternity. A pan-hellenic body was not yet possible, so a regional association whose members shared greater common ground’ was the next best thing. The Castellorizian Brotherhood came into being during 1912 and was the first Greek regional fraternity formed in Australia.

In Western Australia, the next regional fraternity to be instituted was during 1930 with the Greek­Macedonian ‘Alexander the Great’ Association. Such associations, as well as the numerous fraternities that sprang up in Perth during the 1 960s, are examples of the importance of regional bonds which often override national ones.

By 1914 the number of Castellorizians who had followed Arthur Auguste to Perth totalled about 120, with another few dozen scattered elsewhere throughout the state. A comprehensive, but not complete, census list was compiled by the Federal Police in June 1916, recording the name, age, address and occupation of 267 “Greek born” adult males in W.A. This census provides insight into the nature of the Greek presence in W.A. at the time. For instance, most of those listed were engaged in general labouring, fruit shops and restaurants. There were also a number involved in the timber industry.

During the 1920s this became a popular occupation for newly arrived Greeks. Though the work was difficult and dangerous it offered hefty financial reward in a short period of time.

The newcomer then had the ability to return to an urban centre and establish himself as a shopkeeper. Even though this enterprise may have been a gamble, it was believed to be more profitable than being an employee since it was perceived that wages paid to foreign workers were low and the treatment of migrants was poor.

In recent times however, there has been a sharp decrease in the percentage of Greeks who conduct their own business. In 1933 and 1954, for instance, 42% of Greeks Australia wide were employers or self employed. By 1971 this figure had fallen to 22% and in 1986 dropped again to 17.4%, even though the number of small businesses in Australia has increased. Thus, fewer ethnic Greeks are working in what have been considered their traditional categories of employment.

What has also emerged over the last decade or two is that overseas born Greeks in W.A. are under-represented in professional and clerical occupations compared to their Australian born counterparts. (Australian born Greeks in the West, however, are over-represented in professions such as medicine, the judiciary, academe and education.) The discussion paper that accompanied the 1986 Census made the observation that the number of Greeks in the professions (5.1 %), was lower than expected, while 30% of Greek males and 41.9% of Greek females in the workforce were labourers - a category which includes the occupation such as factory workers, cleaners and construction workers.

With regards to the 1916 census it is also possible, by studying the names of the persons recorded, to estimate the number of male Castellorizians in Western Australia. A little over 66% (178) of the Greek males listed statewide during 1916 appear to be Castellorizian. Within Perth the percentage was even higher. By the early 1930s their numerical dominance was still intact. According to the doyen of migration studies in Australia, C.A. Price, there were 620 Castellorizians in Perth during the early 1930s. In 1933 the Greece born population of Perth stood at 693, thus Castellorizians constituted approximately 89% of the city’s Greek born population. And, as in other urban centres, these early Greek settlers tended to conglomerate in particular suburbs close to relevant recreational and cultural venues, and places of employment. In Perth, this was in the inner city precinct now known as Northbridge.

With its membership restricted to Castellorizians, the Brotherhood was certainly not a pan-hellenic organisation. The association did however, strive to handle the affairs of the Greek population of Perth and Fremantle in a pan-hellenic fashion, that is, exhibiting public and private concern for all Greeks. Assistance to newcomers was given, usually at a cost, by members of the emerging petite bourgeoisie like Arthur Auguste, who would allow many recently arrived migrants to remain in the basement of his new business premises, an oyster saloon in Barrack Street opened in 1915, until they had established themselves. Also, the Castellorizian Brotherhood organised Greek educational and religious facilities, at various locations such as the Hibernian Hall in Murray Street or, more often, the Assembly Hall in Pier Street. In 1915 the Brotherhood opened the first afternoon ‘Greek School’ in Perth, which Germanos Iliou, the newly arrived priest, took over. It also began the task of raising money for the construction of a church.

Because Castellorizians took the initiative in organising the construction of a church, and would continue to be the chief sponsors of such a project through the Hellenic Community of Western Australia, which was formed in 1923, their control over local Greek affairs was reinforced. The Orthodox Church, which was such a powerful symbol of ‘Greekness’, was linked in Perth to Castellorizian determination and efforts. An example of this Castellorizian dominance of the Hellenic Community is that when this organisation was established, nine of the twelve inaugural committee members elected, including the President, Secretary and Treasurer, were Castellorizians.

During the late 1920s, when the church construction project was undertaken, more Greeks from Lesvos, Ithaca, Smyrna, the Peloponnese and Macedonia were venturing across the seas. The Macedonian arrivals in Perth after the mid 1920s were significant, due to their substantial number, and despite the complications of ‘Macedonian’ ethnicity. These settlers were important as they further accentuated the growing diversity developing among Perth’s Greek population.

It was also during the 1 920s that larger numbers of Greek women began to settle in Western Australia. The increase in female numbers is reflected in census statistics which show that in 1911, 3.5% (12) of the state’s Greece born population were women, but by 1921 the figure had risen to 25.7% (148).

It was not surprising then that the first of many Greek women’s sororities was founded in 1923. This group would go on to become the Hellenic Women’s Association. This organisation became crucial to the local Greek community’s philanthropic activities, including fund raising for the church of Saints Constantine and Helene, which was finally built in late 1936. In more recent times such associations have become more politically active, no longer content to play a secondary role in community affairs. The large number of Greek arrivals in the post 1945 period did not see a corresponding increase in Castellorizian migration to Western Australia. Census data reveal that, between 1947 and 1961, the number of ‘persons born in Greece’ in W.A. rose from 1,933 to 4,088. Greek Macedonians, Mytilenians, Greek-Egyptians, Greeks from the Peloponnese and from numerous islands were now in a position to begin organising themselves on a larger scale. Regional fraternities proliferated to cater for the diverse origins of Perth’s Greeks.

Various Greeks communities were also established away from the metropolitan area in both the pre and post war years. In Bunbury, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie incorporated associations exist and in the two former mentioned towns Greek Orthodox churches have been erected.

During 1951 some of the more recently arrived migrants joined with those who came to Western Australia in the very late 1930s, to establish the Hellenic Progressive Association of Athena. This organisation especially aimed to attract Greek migrant youth. Newsletters, dances, plays and finally sporting teams, were to be the means by which this association would help Greek youth to mix and socialise. Over time, the complexion and purpose of the organisation changed, as sport became its main focus. Thus, the Floreat Athena Soccer Club developed out of the Athena Association. Success on the soccer field during the 1970s and 1980s resulted in an upsurge in membership, particularly from post World War II Greek immigrants, for this club.

By the mid 1950s Perth’s Greek community had grown to such an extent that a number of individuals believed that another Greek Orthodox church was warranted. Such a move however, was not welcomed by all sectors of the community. This new group set about establishing their own community and organising their own church. The new committee purchased an Anglican church, Saint Paul’s on the corner of Carr and Charles Street (less than 4km from the already existing church), and by 1959 had established the Greek Orthodox Community (Evangelismos) of Western Australia.

This church has become associated more with post-war migrants, especially non­Castellorizians, and migrants still in the process of securing an economic base.

At the same time the Church of Saints Constantine and Helene is identified with the older, more established Greek migrants, predominantly Castellorizians and their descendants.

Into the 1990s Perth’s Greek community was diversifying even further. Not only were community organisations becoming more multi? purpose, being involved with the management of old age units, a hostel, a day school and so on, but there was an injection of new Greek arrivals to W.A. Greeks from South Africa, Cyprus and the Eastern States of Australia were settling in Perth. Just as one hundred years ago the poor economic outlook in the East drove many people to W.A., for some Greeks at least the West again seemed to offer more favourable opportunities.

For over 130 years, Greeks have been settling in Western Australia. During this time they have not only established associations and venues to allow for the maintenance of their Hellenism, but have made invaluable contributions to the state. In business, education, the arts, the professions and sport, Greeks have been prominent. Often forgotten by those studying the Hellenic presence in Australia those Greeks from the western third of the continent, despite their divisions and differences, are proud of their community and its achievements.

For those who would like to pursue the study of the Greek Presence in Western Australia further, we recommend the Greek Pioneers in Western Australia by Reg Appleyard and John Yiannakis.

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