submitted by Peter Makarthis on 19.08.2018
Man who found luck in the Lucky Country
(Transcribed from Australian Women’s Weekly, 30 Jan 1974)
Andrew V. Fatseas tells his story.
This story for Australia Day (1974) – the day marking European settlement in this country – tells what happened to a Greek migrant who arrived in 1924, 136 years after the first settler stepped ashore at Sydney ….. a story of joys and sorrows that are part of building a nation.
As I am about to complete half a century of my life in Australia, a kaleidoscope of events pass through my mind, each of them tending to throw light on the reasons which influence a migrant’s settling in this country or his early repatriation.
There is drama in every migrant’s life, and mine began on the ‘Hobson’s Bay’ during my voyage to Australia early in 1924. In our group of 16 young Greeks there was an older one who had been in Australia before and knew enough English to act as our interpreter – and adviser. It soon became apparent that this man had not one good word for Australians and his daily lectures on their “in born xenophobia” filled us with foreboding. “Don’t worry!” he endeavoured to pacify us, “we’re not going there to stay forever. A few years of patience until we grab what we can and then back to sweet home.”
As he believed that most of the ship’s crew were Australians he promptly told them what he thought of them when one day we were served with chipped tea cups. As a result, we were warned that we would be put off at the next port of call if we didn’t behave ourselves.
“What did I tell you?” our man snatched at the first opportunity. This is the kind of people you’ll be dealing with in Australia. They’ll object to everything about you – your complexion, your habits, the sound of your mother tongue, even your industry and progress. You’ll always be looked upon as foreigners, shunned socially and at the same time criticised for not trying to assimilate.”
Were we really being treated as inferior, I asked myself, or was our interpreter so rude and tactless
as to provoke the ship’s officers? Yet I did not notice any chipped cups on tables adjacent to ours, although there could be some on other tables further away.
Doubts and fears did cause me some anxiety which tended to increase as the day of landing in Australia came nearer. But when it arrived it was uneventful.
A few days later, I had my first job. It was in the kitchen of my brother’s café at Inverell, N. S. W. The seclusion afforded me protection from the derogatory remarks and humiliations I had been told to expect. At the same time, this isolation, plus my inability to speak English began to distress me.
I often wondered if whether it would be better to be with people and face their nastiness than spend time in the fumes of a poky kitchen pining for home. Occasionally, when peeping into the shop to see how business was conducted with people I had been warned to fear, my heart would throb violently at the sight of a beautiful girl. How could such a country supposedly inhabited by male ogres have such an endless array of enchanting nymphs? Being then 17 and emotional, I found the lack of a girl’s company a torture. If only I could tear down the alien curtain dividing us!
As things were then, especially in the narrow confines of a country town, no Australian girl would be bold enough to be seen with a foreigner, even if she felt for him strongly. No, this was not the place for me. I finally decided I should go to Sydney where chances of advancement are brighter and your foreign origin perhaps less noticeable in the bustling crowds of the big city. My hopes brightened
But the metropolis had no welcome for me when I arrived. The Greek cafes existing at the time had no vacancies, and my lack of adequate English (I had only been in Australia six months) plus my foreign complexion proved a bar to my obtaining employment in any Australian business.
Yet one day my hopes brightened. A cleaner was wanted in a mental hospital. Ah! I thought to myself this is a job that Australians would not probably rush and somewhat altruistically let a foreigner have it. “I want this job,” I said to the young woman who came up to me as I waited nervously in one of the hospital’s corridors.
“Just a minute, please,” she said and vanished into an office a few feet away. “He’s foreigner,” I heard her say among other things I half-understood. “Send him away,” a man’s voice said.
It was not long before I became penniless and forced to accept another kitchen job in the country again. That was at Kempsey. For 35 shillings (£1/15/-) a week and keep I had to work 12 hours every day except Sunday, which I devoted to the study of English.
Then one day I fell sick with shivers and high temperature. For three days and nights I lay in bed above the shop alone. Everybody was too busy. None of them could attend to me; even bring me a cup of tea during the day. And as the shop could not be run for long without a kitchen man a replacement was already contemplated. The man to replace me would need the only bed available, which I myself was now occupying.
No, I could not afford to be sick. When on the fourth the day, feeling a little better I trudged down to the kitchen, the thought uppermost in my mind was how quickly I could save up my fare and return to Greece.
By the time I saved it, I was working in another little town where friendly and warm-hearted Australians made me put aside, at least for the time being any plans of repatriation. This was Bundarra, a place of not more than 100 houses nestling peacefully in bushy surroundings 30 miles from Inverell.
Here the serenity of the bushland seemed to be reflected in the mild disposition of the people, and their attitude toward me could be summed up in the hospital matron’s often expressed “regret” that my good health denied her the opportunity to nurse me for a week or two. However, here also was a man who, when drunk, made my life a misery. He would come straight from the pub, lurch into the café with an ominous grin and growl at me; “Come on, you little dago, let’s see how you can fight.”
He would chase me round the shop determined to pit his 16-stone against my nine and a half for the fun of it. The word “dago” with its disparaging connotations really hurt.
Seeking ways and means to realize ambitions, I came to Sydney a second time, but again without success. Australians were not yet ready to tolerate the sight foreigner’s working in a store, a bank, an office, or any branch of public service.
As my savings ran low, I had to accept work in the country again. This was in a sundae shop (similar to a present-day milk bar) at Goulburn.
Here I met the unexpected. I met May. I was then 20 and she was my first love. When I kissed her, I felt as though I was exchanging a kiss with Australia. Memories pf home and the past were already being eclipsed by the splendid vision of the future. She was 20, an attractive brunette, and her love soon helped to change my whole view of Australia and its people. I no longer saw Australians as supercilious, frigid people with whom sensitive, hot blooded Mediterranean folk could not live happily in marriage.
The fact that she made a practice of seeing me only at night did not bother me at first. I was aware of her difficulty in trying to persuade her parents and relatives that falling in love with a foreigner was not really an outrage. However as time went by, I felt that my role was of merely a nocturnal companion was prolonged much more than my pride could endure. “How can we ever hope to marry,” I said to her, “if you dare not ignore the criticisms of your society? You know it will never accept me.”
“Everything comes to those who wait,” she replied and vowed never to marry anyone else. No, I could not wait any longer vexed as I was with doubts as to whether she would ever have the moral strength to cast social inhibitions to the winds.
Loneliness and the thought of returning home seized me once more as I bade May and Goulburn good-bye. Where to now? I pondered. To go back to my people a complete failure would be the ultimate humiliation.
So for the next few years I wandered from town to town working on jobs I despised until the economic depression of the early ‘thirties’ found me back in Sydney, unemployed and penniless.
With dreams crumbled and my last pound(£) fritted a way , I was glad to find sleeping accommodation in a small back room above a sundae shop at Newtown. There was no bed or other furniture except a mattress, two blankets and a chair. There was also a big wooden box half-filled with crockery packed in straw.
The first night I slept there, I found I had a host of tiny mates living in that room with me. They used to jump out of the straw at night, and scamper about the place, get under the bed clothes or hop onto my face for a closer inspection of their new visitor.
“The owner of the miniature golf course at Petersham needs a young man to assist her for three hours each evening,” Mr. Burns a regular customer, told me one day. “Why don’t you try your luck?”
“Me!” I exclaimed and my mind flew back a few years. If I wasn’t good enough for a menial job with lunatics, how could I know expect an Australian to employ me among the sane?
“Tell her I sent you. Mr. Burns added, “She’s a friend of mine.”
I could not believe it when this lady accepted me. Nor could I any longer see myself discriminated against when I was earning 35 shillings a week while thousands of Australians lived on five shillings a week dole.
Then something much more wonderful happened. I met Vera Radnidge, a charming girl with rosy cheeks and light brown eyes. With the full, consent of her parents she readily took my arm and walked out into the world with me.
To this day I feel indebted to Australia for giving me a wife whom I would not exchange for any other woman in the world. My marriage has brought me a lot of luck and happiness. I have had good positions since – editor of a Greek newspaper, principal of the Greek school in Sydney, court interpreter & etc.
But my greatest thrill was when I saw my first newspaper article in a Sydney newspaper in March 1938. A burning ambition to master the English language (without a teacher) was being realised.
As an official court interpreter and teacher of migrants now, I come into contact with many newcomers. It is a great pleasure to me to find that after I have related to them my story, they see their own problems, as a challenge rather than discouragement.
My great moment of fulfilment came in May 1971, when at the conferring of degrees at the University of NSW, I saw my son Victor receive his first class honors in Commerce. It was a proud moment which filled me with a deep sense of gratitude for Australia.
In that same moment I thought of Greece. Whether in bliss or in distress, I never forget the land of my birth. After all, it was mother Greece who instilled into me those moral virtues, without which I would not have appreciated as fully as I do now what Australia has given to me.”
Transcribed from Australian Women’s Weekly, 30 Jan 1974
by Peter C. McCarthy, Delungra, NSW August 2018
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