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History > Oral History > Stamatoula (Stella) Cassimatis - formerly Manolessos

History > Oral History

submitted by Gaye Hegeman on 02.03.2010

Stamatoula (Stella) Cassimatis - formerly Manolessos

In life, each one of us has to make choices and decisions - some come easily while others take time to resolve. A recurring theme throughout Stella’s story relates to some of the choices and decisions she had to make and the consequences that followed. Her story details events from her childhood in the village of Logothetianka, a description of her family home, childhood duties and responsibilities, her schooling and social life and eventually the all important event of her marriage and migration to Australia. Besides her parents and siblings, her extended family also played an important role in her development. Her story begins with her father, and the influence of countless generations before him, of men, many of them still only boys who left the Island in search of work.

Born in 1876, Evangelos Minas Manolessos was fourteen years old when he left the Island and although not a lot is known about his movements Stella thinks that he first travelled to Australia before departing for America in the company of a friend. It is possible he worked in the catering industry, either as a chef or as a business owner but without a doubt he knew a thing or two about food presentation, such as carving up roast meat and serving it nicely on platters and was the one, in later years, who prepared food for weddings and special occasions. Early last century when an increasing number of young men were beginning to venture to distant places to find employment, Evangelos aged 32, returned home after an absence of 18 years intent on settling down, with enough money to build one of the nicest houses on the Island.

When Evangelos became betrothed to Maria Careedy (b.1882), it was accepted that she would move to Logothetianika after their marriage because her husband was building a new house. They were engaged for seven months whilst they waited for the house to be completed, a long time to be engaged in those days. People couldn’t believe that she would leave her village, Mylopotamos, which was considered to be one of the most fertile spots on the Island, but when they saw the new house, they could see she was very lucky.

Their marriage, which took place in 1907, was blessed with seven children. The first born was Kiriakoula (Koula) followed by Minas, then twins Nikos and Haritos, (Haritos died at the age of eight months), Efrosini (died very young), Stamatoula (Stella) and last of all Jim. Stella, their sixth child was born at Logothetianika on the 4th November 1915, delivered by a village midwife. There was nothing unusual about her birth and she enjoyed good health throughout her childhood.

People told her father to invest his money in land by the water at Pasa Limani (Piraeus), but he preferred to build a house with every convenience that he could enjoy which included a large cellar for the winter. However in later years he often regretted that he had spent all his money on that house and hadn’t invested his money instead. Their home was constructed by local builders out of stone on a large sloping block of land and comprised of two stories at the rear and a single story at the front

Her memory still very clear, Stella described the layout of the house as having four main rooms, a combination lounge and dining room, two bedrooms and two kitchens, one with a fireplace for winter and the other for summer which they referred to as ‘little kitchen’ and ‘big kitchen.’ Water for household use came from a large well outside the kitchen. At the rear of the building were the work rooms which included a room for making wine and spirits, a store room and a work room where her mother did the weaving.

A square shallow trough (lanos) made out of bricks was used for crushing red and white grapes for winemaking. An opening in the side of the trough allowed the juice to flow into barrels. Nothing was wasted and the skins left behind after the crushing were collected to make spirits. The grape skins mixed with other additives were placed in large glass bottles that were bound with rope, and sealed. There were at least three or four of these glass containers kept in the store room. A story often told in the family circle, was about her brother Nickolas who as a curious six year old, helped himself to some spirits, added sugar and drank the mixture. It made him very dizzy and affected his balance. He called out, ‘mother come quickly the church is moving up the street!’

Another room, used for food storage was set up like a supermarket, something Stella thinks her father observed in America. This room contained barrels of oil and wine, sugar, onions, garlic, potatoes, and fresh produce such as eggs and vegetables harvested from their garden. Perishable items were stored on open shelves. In winter, (January to April), when it rained everyday making it difficult to work outside in the fields her father who had learned how to make smoked ham in America would rub a pork leg with coarse sea salt then place it on a shelf until all the liquid ran out. The leg was then hung on a wire contraption over the fire place so the smoke from the fire would create smoked ham. It was delicious! In summer her mother made preserved sweets from figs and grapes which she stored and offered to visitors throughout the year.

In the last of the work rooms, Stella’s mother wove rugs, similar in style to flokati as well as blankets and carpet. A floor covering composed of woven strips of carpet was assembled on their timber floor at the beginning of winter then taken up and stored under the house during summer. The carpet was soft under foot and helped keep them warm during the cold months of the year.

There was never any shortage of work for them to do outside the home, and each of the children had tasks to fulfill either in the vegetable garden and seeing to their animals. Stella loved the animals, especially their goat which was kept for milk and breeding. She was affectionately named Haido, a lovely good natured animal. When ever she was called, no matter where she was, Haido always responded. Their goat was a good breeder and produced four to five kids each year, but it was a sad fact of life that these young animals had to be slaughtered to provide meat for the family something that Stella remembers with distaste.

As well as their home garden, they had grape vines to tend on other land owned by the family. There were fig and almond trees at Bouzanes, peach and lemon trees at Logothetianika, and olive trees at various locations – Platani, Agorasto (meaning land they had purchased), and Bouzanes. After the olives were crushed, the left over pulp was collected in large canisters to which her mother added something to turn it into soap. The soap would last the family the whole year.

An incident which occurred when Stella was about ten years old still stands out in her memory. Nicholas loved to play with his father’s hunting rifle which was kept behind a door inside the house. The rifle was used for shooting rabbits and other game. When fourteen year old Nicholas came home from school one afternoon, he began to fool around with the rifle acting the tough guy. Pointing it at Stella’s chest he challenged her, and asked if she wanted to be ‘shot.’ Of course he was only playing a game. Stella declined and pushed the rifle away in the direction of the wall just before he pulled the trigger. To their great astonishment and horror the rifle exploded with a deafening roar leaving a large hole in the wall. Neither of them was aware that the rifle had been left unlocked and loaded. A decorative hanging was quickly retrieved from a wooden storage chest and draped across the hole. Their father didn’t learn about the incident until years later. Naturally they had a terrible fright and Nicholas, still in shock expressed his remorse, later confessing to his sister that if he had inadvertently killed her he would have taken his own life by jumping into their grandfather’s deep well!

Her father had a brother named Vrettos who went to Africa and when he returned to Greece, settled in Piraeus where he established a factory that manufactured all kinds of things, but mainly buttons and locks for the army. He became a wealthy man and remembering his birthplace donated a building in the village which was converted into a school. He married a lady by the name of Tasia but they did not have any children. In honour of their generosity a street in the village of Logothetianika was named after them, known as Vrettos and Tasia Manolessos Street. As a result of her uncle’s donation Stella and the other village children were able to attend school close to their homes.

In those days boys and girls were taught in separate classrooms and Stella remembers that her teacher’s name was Katina Aroney. Although she had no standout favourite subjects, Stella enjoyed learning about history and religion. She also had a love of reading Greek books and often entertained the neighbours by reading to them on long winter nights, seated by the fireplace, as old people could not read or write. One of her school friends was Marouli Andronicos from Kousounari. By the age of twelve, Stella had completed her elementary schooling.

Stella expressed pride in her village which she described as a pleasant place that had a good school and several churches. Her family attended church at Ayios Minas. There were dances on every name day either in their village or in the surrounding villages. Next to their school was a kafeneon which had a large room. Stella recalls the wonderful dances that were held there during her childhood and youth. Two musicians usually a violin and a bouzoukia player, provided the entertainment.

Stella remembers her grandfather Nicholas Careedy, an enterprising man who owned two water mills. He was likable, full of charm and very good looking, the kind of person who took pleasure in making up rhymes about anything that took his fancy. When she was a child he composed a rhyme about her fair curly hair.

In Greek

‘Anage den e vrethike,
Stin gitogia sou xteni
Na fgiaxis tin xoristra sou tin anakatomenoi.’

In English

‘In your neighborourhood,
Wasn’t there a comb at all for you to use
To fix your untidy hair.’

Stella’s cousin, Brisbane resident Nicholas Careedy who bears the same name as their grandfather, remembers the practical jokes their grandfather played on his poor unsuspecting victims. As a small boy Nick often stayed with his grandparents and recalls the water mills as well as his grandfather’s beautiful gardens where he grew many varieties of fruit such as orange, lemon, fig, pomegranate, apricot and nectarine. Their grandfather also kept bees with at least 20 hives in the village and another 10 elsewhere. Villagers came to the mill with their sacks of wheat loaded on the back of a donkey and returned a week later to collect the flour. At that time there were about 12 water mills operating in the village of Mylopotamos.

After she had completed her elementary school education, Stella’s teenage years were spent mainly performing household duties, either working in the garden or doing housework. During the winter months when it was either too cold or too wet to go outside for days on end, Stella sewed and made items for her glory box. When she was 17 she was allowed to travel to Piraeus to stay with her sister Koula for three months. Koula was pregnant with her first daughter Roula. Together they sewed, knitted, cooked and spent many hours crocheting designs onto pillow and sheet sets. Sometimes on a Sunday, her brother Nikos took her to the cinema and Stella remembers seeing her first movie. She was so entranced by the experience that she pleaded with him to stay for the next session. They arrived home late that evening to a very worried sister! Still a teenager, safe and secure with her family, Stella could not have foreseen the many decisions and challenges that lay ahead in the not so distant future.

In 1937 Adonis Cassimatis, from the village of Perlegianika, returned to the Island from Australia for family reasons. He first met Stella at a dance held at Mylopotamos to celebrate St. Thomas in the week following Easter. Out of all of the young women at the dance, Stella was the one to catch his eye. That evening, Adonis arranged with his cousin, who owned a van to take Stella and her parents to their home after the dance. The couple met again at another dance. Soon after, Adonis called at the Manolessos home and without saying a word to Stella, spoke with her father asking for his permission to marry. Her father responded with a firm ‘No!’ Days later Adonis returned once more with the same request, again receiving the same answer. Disheartened, believing he had no chance he decided to return to Australia and made his way to Piraeus.

While Adonis waited at Piraeus for a ship to take him to Port Said, he had a dream. In the dream he saw Stella and she was smiling at him. This gave him a glimmer of hope that he might have a chance. Encouraged by his dream he returned to Kythera and as they say ‘third time lucky!’ Stella was impressed that he had dreamt about her and following his third proposal she accepted.

They became engaged on the 3rd April 1938 and the wedding took place three weeks later on the 27th April at Agios Minas at Logothetianika. Stella was 22 and Adonis 31. As was the custom, the bride and groom dressed in their wedding clothes, walked to the village church accompanied by their relatives. Following the marriage ceremony the wedding party returned to the family home for the reception which included a dance in the lounge room. Four months later, the newly weds left Greece, boarding the passenger liner ‘Otranto’ at Port Said which departed for Australia on the 27th July 1938. Their sea voyage ended one month later on the 28th August when they docked in Sydney. Another few days travel north by train finally brought them to Brisbane, marking the beginning of their new life together in Queensland.

Adonis was in partnership with his three brothers and they owned the Royal café at Boonah, a country town near Ipswich. The young couple planned to remain in Boonah for three to five years, work hard then return to the Island. In those days if you came back with a thousand pounds you were considered rich but Stella’s father advised them not to return because he could foresee hard times ahead, especially with war looming in Europe. Wisely they followed his advice. By the age of 28 Stella had given birth to four children, Mary on the 15th May 1939, Emmanuel on the 4th June 1940, Athena the 24th July 1942 and Evangeline 15th February 1944. Their original short term plan extended and extended, until thirty-six years later they eventually returned to the Island.

In the meantime other opportunities came their way. In 1945 Adonis and his brothers bought a property at Nicholas Street, Ipswich, demolished the old building on the site and built a new drapery store. Their store, called ‘Ipswich Money Savers,’ sold manchester, men’s wear and haberdashery lines. They remained in this business until 1963 when Woolworths made them a good offer and bought all of their stock and the shop.

After they had settled up their business affairs in Ipswich, Adonis and Stella purchased a house at Frost Street, Mt. Gravatt in Brisbane. Now retired, Adonis became a member of the fund-raising committee for the Saint George church, and on the first committee for the new church at Mt. Gravatt, Dormition of the Theotokos. As a token of appreciation Adonis was presented with a ‘gold key,’ in recognition of the largest donation. Adonis passed away due to heart problems in 1976 at the age of 69.

The worst experience of her life, Stella recalled was the loss of her husband. “Everyone loved him, he was a good man” and without hesitation exclaimed that the most wonderful time in her life was “to be married to Adonis and to have a most wonderful family – and to think that I didn’t want to marry him and almost didn’t. If I had waited another year the war would have been underway in Europe and life on the Island would have been very uncertain.”

A strong, independent woman, Stella endeavours to face life’s many challenges with a positive attitude and even a recent heart operation has not deterred her from doing the things she loves. When her cleaning lady comes on Tuesdays, they have morning tea together afterwards. On Wednesday she attends aqua aerobics for senior citizens while on Thursday she meets her friends at the South Side Church at Mt. Gravatt for morning tea and bingo. On Friday Stella attends an exercise class then on Sunday she goes to church, has coffee at the hall after the service and sometimes does grocery shopping with one of her daughters afterwards.

Granddaughter, Melina Mallos remarked that her grandmother’s example has taught her that having a passion in life is what sustains a person and gives their life meaning and purpose. She has four passions: (1) Her family; (2) cooking, (3) her garden and (4) her faith. As an early riser she will often be found in the kitchen cooking some of her favourites, such as Greek shortbread, paximadia or koulouria. Stored in her generously sized pantry they are ready to offer her family and friends when they visit. She loves watching cooking shows and is always on the look out for new recipes. With the aid of her walker, she prepares her own meals and does her best to maintain a small flower garden at the front of her house and a vegetable garden at the back. When she retires for the night at 8.30 pm, Stella reads her religious books for half an hour before she goes to sleep. Because attending church every Sunday is a priority Stella will never be heard making excuses that she is ‘too old’ or ‘her legs hurt.’ Her husband died 34 years ago and she has been on her own since, yet she makes the most of her life. She makes herself valuable – by contributing. Usually this is done through her cooking and helping those in need.

Now in her 94th year, Stella can look back on her long life with a sense of satisfaction knowing that she has worked very hard, looked after her family, volunteered her time to assist those in need and contributed time to fundraising for the church. She is not the only member of her family to have reached a grand age. Her brother Nikos, who also migrated to Australia lived to the age of 94, sister Koula lived to 92 and her cousin Nicholas Careedy, still active and in good health, is 97 years of age. Stella has twelve grandchildren and at last count twenty four great-grandchildren.

She believes that the most important things in life are to be good, to be honest and to put faith and hope in God.

Cassimatis nick name: ‘Voutsas’

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