Life Stories: Agia Paraskevi and Australia

Migrant Profile: Stame George

Stame George (Stamis Vouyioukas), 1940-

Narrated to Vasilios Vasilas by Stame George

My father’s family were from Pergamos, Asia Minor. My grandfather, Giorgos served in the Greek army and was killed in the Second Balkan War. My father, Naoum (1914-1973) unfortunately did not meet his father. It was the growing anti- Greek feeling in Asia Minor during the First World War which forced my grandmother, Marigo Georgiou Vouyioukas, to take her young sons, Ioannis and my father, to seek refuge elsewhere. She later recalled to my father they secretly left Pergamos (my father on her back) and made their way to the coast and paid their way across to Mytilene. As refugees, they were - by comparison - fortunate not to experience the Catastrophe and Exchange of Populations later. With her young family, she settled in Mytilene - making her way to Agia Paraskevi.

My mother’s family were farmers. Like many Agia-paraskevotes, my maternal grandfather, Paleologos Dimos, had gone to the United States for work.

Although Naoum went as far as second-year high school, the realities of his family’s financial circumstances forced him to leave school and learn to be a barber. He later rented a small shop as a barber in the centre of the village , and in the late - 1930’s, he married Irini Dimou.

During the Occupation, my parents survived by bartering their services of cutting people’s hair in exchange for wheat, oil, fruit, vegetables and other products.

Once the War was over, Naoum deemed Greece’s post War political situation as tumultuous and decided to migrate to Australia (1946). He was sponsored by Ioannis Kretsis, who incidentally was also a barber in country New South Wales - Wingham.

He spent a couple of years working in Panagiotis Mihailaros’ (re: Mitchell) White Rose Café in Forbes and then moved to Sydney, where he got a job working as a waiter at the Castellorizian Club in Oxford St, Sydney. This is where he worked until his retirement. Through his work, he became very close to the Castellorizian community.

It was during this time I spent in our village that I learnt the bond of community, and to care for others. My mother - as well as relatives and villagers - obviously played a significant role with nurturing these feelings.

Above: A family reunited. With my parents, Naoum and Irini.

After a few years, my father had saved enough money to sponsor my mother and me to Australia. Our ship took 45 days to arrive at its Melbourne destination; from there, we had to take a train to Sydney. My father was waiting for us. After six years, we were reunited as a family. We arrived in Sydney on a rainy ANZAC day - a public holiday - and nothing was open. We finally found somewhere to eat - in Bathurst Street. My father had begun looking for a house to buy before we arrived; for a month, we lived in this large house - owned by Greeks - in Balmain which had ten rooms rented out. We finally settled in Paddington.

In Sydney, my mother kept in contact with the Agia-paraskevotes - a lot more than my father. I remember we had a close relationship with the Kretsis family, especially when they had the Arctic Milk Bar in Bondi. The children, Panagiotis and Katina - who were slightly older than me - would advise me about the Australian way of life - what to do and what not to do. Later, our family sponsored mum’s sister and her family - the Zondanos family - and Stavitsa Kazantzis. A close family network was thus created where we would visit each other’s houses and go out together.

I attended Paddington Public School. It was initially very difficult for me; I was even put in Year 4, - two years behind my age group - as the teachers believed my lack of English would hamper my progress. My peer, Giorgos Kolidakis, would sit next to me, and he was my interpreter whenever I did not understand. It was a matter of a few months that I began to understand my new language and my teachers realised that I was an enthusiastic student who wanted to excel. When I was ready for high school, my teachers advised me to attend a newly-opened high school - South Sydney Junior Boys High School, where they believed I would do well. I finished Year 12 as Dux of the School, and attended Sydney University for my Degree in Science. Achieving Distinction Levels in Physics for my Degree, I continued my Post Graduate studies with an Honors Year (Physics) and a Masters of Science (Qualifying Physics).

Life Story: Part 2