Life Stories- Plomari


by Stan Andis (Andonaras)

Dimitrios Andonaras was just 15 as he stood alone on the deck. His Aegean island, floating slowly out of view, taking with it the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, its craggy rocks and peaks, olive trees rustling with the occasional summer breeze and the familiar call of the fishing boats. As he departed, did he stop and listen one last time? As he departed, did he stop to grieve for Lesvos, mother of Sappho, mentioned by Homer, host to Aristotle and Apostle Paul- the only home he had known? Travelling to a new unknown "land at the end of the world" was excitement and a comforting friend? Leaving everything behind- parents, siblings, culture and language, it is hard to imagine...


The year was 1917; Lesvos had finally emerged out from under Turkish domination five years earlier, but the economic hardship prevailed. Dimitrios' destiny was sealed when a letter arrived from uncle George Mastrogeorgiou, of Wellington New Zealand. Uncle had joined the first wave of Greek fishermen and restauranters departing to find their fortune in the faraway land. The correspondence offered to sponsor his nephew in return for hard work.


Upon his arrival and settling in Wellington to join the ever-growing ranks of mainly British colonists was never going to be easy. Within that, the small but strong Greek community offered cultural and familial connection. The language barrier, however, was a psychological and physical wall between themselves and wider social acceptance. The more isolated they felt, the more they hunkered down.


Uncle George and his wife Hariklia opened their home and their large Greek hearts at Number 7 Edge Hill, to the many new arrivals from Plomari. Indeed many could not have lasted in this cold strange land without them. Nevertheless, work at the Sunshine Milk Bar, a bustling cafe in the centre of town, was hard. Working from 7am until 11pm, clearing the tables, washing dishes and scrubbing the well-trodden floors earned him enough to send home to support his entire family in Plomari.


Above: Jim Andonaras and Nick Yiannoutsos in their tender years

Gradually a wife and relatives were sent for, children were born, and roots grew steadily down. For a New Zealand family, “Andonaras” was a terribly foreign sounding name. Announcing himself as equal by legal deed poll “Dimitrios Andonaras”, became, Jim Andis. As Jim Andis grew into his twenties, his name had become pronounceable and English-sounding but his heart remained proudly- often complexly, Greek.


In the 1930’s Jim left the ‘Sunshine’ (not for the first time) buying his own restaurant, The ‘Empire,’ and later, ‘The Renown,’ with his best friend Nick Yiannoutsos. During the 40’s, feeding American soldiers during the Second World War was nothing more foreign- sounding than Steak, eggs ‘n chips. During that period, when Dad wasn’t working long hours at the restaurant, he became involved in raising funds throughout New Zealand, to be distributed by the Red Cross in Greece. The Greek Government offered him a citation for his assistance.

Food rations in NZ eventually became a part of every-day life. Nick on the quiet had secured a steady supply of ‘black market’ eggs from the country town of Levin. The air-raid shelter Jim had constructed to protect his family from the potential Japanese invasion, saw its only (unarmed) combat.


It proved to be a perfect storeroom for the eggs. Carefully and with stealth in the dead of night, the eggs were stowed away. Unfortunately word got out to the ‘boys’ - the neighbourhood boys. It was a booty too tempting to ignore – world war 3 was on the go! The subsequent fight destroyed the valuable goods, the evidence-and our playtime for a long while.


“Stelio! Stelio!” The local kiwi boys were bemused to hear my Father calling out in his loud baritone voice over the fence, “Dinner is ready.” “Staniol!” “Staniol??” is all they heard. They never ever found out why.


I felt ashamed… Only Greek was to be spoken at home. My sister, Athena and I went to school not speaking a word of English. Somehow my Father had, with the best of intention, and with as much love as his big Greek heart could hold, unconsciously berated us to the same isolation and sense of exclusion that he had felt. Later I was reluctant to teach my children Greek with similar good intentions… the circles of life are not very often smooth or uncomplicated. Our eldest daughter went on to speak fluent Japanese!


Music and dancing to the ‘Kalamatiano’ blasted from 78rpm records played on his high powered valve radiogram. This radio was Dad’s second companion. He constructed a special aerial so that on Sundays he could tune into the Short Wave transmission Church Service from Greece. He also got to know some amateur radio buffs who would regularly call for ‘Jim’ on a Sunday morning. The Greek Orthodox Church was one of the rocks of the small Greek community. Dad enjoyed chanting (Spaltis) during the service and his deep voice harmonised, in true Byzantine fashion, with the higher voice of his brother Emmanuel


For Dimitrios Life Story: Part 2