Life Stories- Plomarites in New Zealand

Migrant Profile- Ioannis Kontopos

Migrant Profile- Kleanthi Pitsiladi

Ioannis Kontopos (1908- 92)


Kleanthi Pitsiladi (1915-     )

Based on an interview of Doukas Kontopos
 by Vasilios Vasilas
Our paternal grandfather, Doukas, was a clothes maker; he would travel for extended periods and would return with rolls of material. Our father was sent to Mytilene to learn the shoemaking; he used to later recall that his employer would “clip” him whenever he would make a mistake and if the customers asked him why our father was crying, he would reply that he missed his mother. However, his shoemaking days did not last long.
Growing up with a large family was always difficult; there was a lot of hard work to provide for the whole family and this was compounded by the parental responsibility of readying their daughters’ dowries. It was that cycle of poverty and lacking work opportunities that forced young people to look for other opportune alternatives. One Plomariti would migrate and this would inspire others to follow. Our father was like all the other Plomarites who who did their cross and prayed for the best as they embarked on a journey to the other side of the world- in this case, New Zealand- and start afresh.
Above: Ioannis, with his wife, Kleanthi (Pitsiladis) and their son, Doukas, on a Sunday picnic.
The Mastrogeorgiou family was one of the first Plomaritiko families to establish themselves; Mr George was instrumental in sponsoring other Plomarites to New Zealand. He provided work and board to all these young Plomarites. Our father’s first job in Wellington was in George’s café. He used to jokingly remember how the employees would wait for the manager to go on his errands to eat something; one of them would wait at the café’s entry as a signal, while they cooked up a snack. Another fond memory he would recount was being taught to dance by another employee, Jimmy James, who would go onto compete in the Pan Pacific Ballroom Dancing Competition. Having saved some money, he went into partnership in a suburban café but it did not work out. What he never forgot was the extreme cold and dampness; he used to cut pieces of newspaper and put them on base of his shoes to keep him warm.
Having worked for ten years in Wellington, Ioannis felt it was time to think about marriage and family; he returned to Plomari, where he married Kleanthi Pitsiladis in 1939, and they had two children, Tzanos (1948) and myself (Doukas, 1944). It was in the late 1940’s that our parents were able to buy their own business- the St Francis Café on Willis St, Wellington (which was part of the famous Hellenic Mile of the city).
As a family, we really looked forward to Sundays- the day shops were shut. Sundays were picnic days. As our father did not drive, we used to get always picked up and go driving around Wellington’s harbour. During this drive, you were bound to see ( and meet) people you knew because most Greeks were also making the most of their day-off. When we went visiting friends and relatives’ homes, we would go to so-and-so’s house; if they were not there, we would go to someone else’s. If they were not there… and so on. Being in the Greek community’s small social circle, we would probably meet up with the people were initially visiting at someone else’s home. Our family socialised with other Mytileneans such as the Aspros family, as well as other Greek families- the Gerrys, Garland, Avasis and Barris families. Our parents were also fortunate to have members of their respective families migrate to New Zealand: our father’s sisters, Metaxia (Kathestidis) and Evanthia (Araboglos); and our mother’s brothers, Manolis and Andreas (Pitsiladis).
Above: Sundays were picnic days. Favourite spots were the Botanical Gardens and the Zoo.
This photograph was taken at Wellington's Botanical Gardens- with family friends, the Gerris and Barris families. Kleanthi and her husband, Ioannis,
(4th and 3rd respectively in the top row) and with Doukas (second in the bottom row).
In the 1960’s, the business was renamed Willis St Fish Supplies. Our family worked this fish and chips café until 1972; although he retired from business, Ioannis worked as a barman for a few years at the St George Hotel. After years of promising themselves they would visit Greece and never finding the time to realise this dream, they finally returned in 1972. They were able to visit Greece one more time.
Above: At a family function. From right, they are: Doukas Kontopos; Ioannis’ brother -in-laws,
Andreas and Manolis Pitsiladis; John Gerris and brother-in-law, Kathistides.
I would like to thank Doukas Kontopos for all his help in writing this feature article on his father, Ioannis. All photographs were kindly reproduced with Doukas' permission.