Life Stories- Akrasi and New Zealand/ Australia

 Aristomenis Asproloupos (1902-84)

narrated to Vasilis Vasilas
by Michael Aspros
 
Our father used to recall that our paternal grandfather, Mihalis Asproloupos, had the nickname, “kasianis”, who was a merchant between Lesvos and Asia Minor. He was apparently known for his strong assertive character.
The aftermath of the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” had serious implications for Lesvos’ merchants as they were cut off from their contact with Asia Minor trading ports such as Smyrni and Ayvalik. Add the influx of refugees after the exchange of populations (1923), and Greece experienced an enormous crisis.
 
With the lack of opportunities, my father found his way to Marseilles where he worked as a waiter in various cafes. I suppose this was where he was exposed to the workings of small business in the hospitality industry which would strongly influence his decisions to migrate again and what he wanted to do with his life. Even after many years had passed and having settled in New Zealand and later Australia, he still could speak French.
 
Several Plomarites had already migrated to Australia, and our father probably followed suit. He had already experienced what it was like to live abroad (in France), and this probably made his decision easier. Although he disembarked in Sydney (1932), it was not long after that he found himself on a boat again– this time bound for New Zealand. He experienced difficulties in finding work in Sydney, and heard about an uncle in New Zealand. He ended up in Milton, where he bought himself a fish café.
 
He sponsored his brothers, Ahilleas and Manolis, to migrate to New Zealand too. In a familiar scenario– where the “older” migrant helped the newly arrived migrant with his first “break”, my passed down his fish café to Ahilleas. Manolis would end up in the fish industry– with his own business of fishing trawlers. To settle down, our father did return to his homeland, where he married a Plomaritissa, Irini Kapetanellis. It must have an incredible journey for our mother to migrate to the other side of the world. Our father had bought the Aspros Fish Café in Milton– which still exist today– and she never got used to that freezing Antarctic wind. She used to call Milton a “fantastic” place at the end of the earth. Marina was born while they were living in Milton.
 
Above: Our parents’ wedding day in Plomari (1936). In the doorway are our paternal grandparents,
Mihalis– wearing the cap- and Marika– wearing the headscarf. Our mother's family's nickname was "Pyrgiolis".
 
Our father talked about the difficulties migrants encountered in these New Zealand townships; racial discrimination was rife. Fortunately, he had a likeable character; in constant dealings with the public, he made many Scot and New Zealander friends. While he enjoyed mixing with the locals, our mother kept to her family and work.
 
After spending so many years in these New Zealand townships, our family moved to Wellington, where they enjoyed being part of small Greek community there. Plomarites living in Wellington were the Kaldellis and Kontopos families (just to name a couple). We had bought The Club Café in Courtney Place– its façade is still there today. I was born while our family worked The Club Café. While growing up, I remember my sister and I always had to speak Greek to our mother; according to her, she could not understand English. It was her way of making us use the Greek language– before we forgot it.
 
Being open for five and a half days, gave us time to socialise. Sundays were spent having visitors and visiting other Greek families. I remember going to a race meeting was like a family excursion.
 
The cooler New Zealand weather, however, did get the better of our father; after heeding to a doctor’s advice to settle in milder climate, our family moved to Sydney just after the Second World War (1947). Our father had come over to Sydney prior to our migration, where he worked in the P & S Fish Café ( for approximately twelve months). We stayed with our maternal auntie, Mersina, for a month before settling in Kensington and our family business was .The Spot Café in Hunter St for the next fifteen years.
 
Our father found many Mytileneans here; he enjoyed this social network so much that he was a foundation member of the first Mytilenean Brotherhood of Sydney and N.S.W Committee. He worked, lived  and “blew” money for the Brotherhood. All the big dances were held in the Paddington Town Hall, while the Shark Island picnics were the major excursion at the time.
 
It was not until 1961 that our parents returned to Lesvos. They would visit their homeland a number of times- one time was for 18 months.
Above: Plomari, 1960’s. Our parents are on holidays in Plomari. Aristomenis is wearing the black headscarf,
while Irini is riding the donkey on the right. 
 
I would like to thank Michael Aspros for the narration and all the help to write this feature on his family.  
        
Vasilis Vasilas