Life Stories- Megalohori and New Zealand


 by Mercina Viatos

Migrant Profile

At an early age my Father left home, first to work in Mytilene for a wealthy family and then to Kavala where he worked in a restaurant washing dishes. With his first pay, he bought a quilt.  After work he had to wait for the cook to finish, scrub down the bench and use it as a bed!

In 1930 Dad was sponsored by Apostelos Linardis to immigrate to New Zealand.  Later he was to sponsor Linardis’ son. Dad travelled on the Fair Sea to Sydney arriving in New Zealand on the Marama on 4th November 1930.  He was 19 years of age and small in stature earning the nickname “Pouteli.” (young Peter)

In Wellington Dad met up with other Greeks, many of them characters, sharing rooms with them above a confectionery shop.  Dad worked in the shop for no pay, this being his board.  Linardis had a motor bike.  In the afternoons he whizzed around upstairs practicing whilst down stairs he was heard doing burn outs!  Jimmy James also shared the accommodation. He loved dancing - teaching many young Greek bachelors and later becoming owner of the famous Roseland Cabaret.

Mathew Barris, a cousin, took Dad on his motor bike to Kilbirnie where they bought fish and chips.  Asked what he was eating Dad replied “Cooked fish and fried potatoes.” “ No”, Mathew explained, “here they are called fish and chips a popular New Zealand meal!”  Little did he envisage that he too would sell such food.

Above: Fishing with his brother-in-law, Panagiotis Vounatsos (left) and wife, Maria (middle) at Evans Bay, Wellington. 

Over the next few years, Dad worked in the South Island with other Greeks in restaurants and owned different businesses before returning to Wellington.  He was responsible for opening the second Milk Bar in Wellington days after the first one opened.  The Golden Gate Milk Bar, established in 1935, was a very popular meeting place with the Americans stationed here during the war.  The first Milk Bar was opened by the Pagonis brothers and bought by Len Malaghan and Albert  Haymen.  The story goes that Malaghan and Haymen travelling from the South Island on the train, overheard a fellow diner comment his meal was “Tip Top”.  This is how 3 Milk Bars in Cuba Street (later purchased by Dad and Spiro Berdebes) were named - as was Tip Top Ice Cream.

Dad, always a sportsman, teamed up with others to go shooting.  They went to a farm near Levin where one of the group knew the farmer.  He asked “Any gillies up the hillies?” meaning “Any goats up the hills?”

In 1938 Dad wrote to his parents to send him a bride.  Maria Vounatsos, daughter of Dimitri and Amersouda was their choice.  It was decided that she travel with Kleoniki, Dad’s sister, as chaperone.

Above: Megalohori, 1954. L-R: Panagiotis Ververis himself, his parents, Permathia and Ioannis, and his father-in-law, Dimitrios Vounatsos. 

Arriving in Wellington on 28th March 1939, Dad’s first glimpse of Mum was of a lovely young woman with long dark hair plaited and twirled around her head, a style of the era.  He arranged for his bride to stay with Mr and Mrs Aristidi Aspros until their marriage on 2nd June 1939. They were married by Father Bates who, at that time, officiated at most Greek weddings. When Archbishop Evangelinidis came from Australia they took their vows again.

For Panagiotis Ververis' Life Story: Part 2