Life Stories- Paleohorites in Australia

Ioannis Karavas (1932-

narrated to Vasilios Vasilas
by Ioannis Karavas
After the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, my father, Poseidon, arrived on our island as a refugee; after marrying, Maria Chrisafi, he settled in Paliohori.   As my father had been an accomplished musician in Smyrni, I suppose it was inevitable that my brothers, Dimitrios and Efstratios, and I would inherit his passion for music.  As children, we would listen to him play all day; it was inevitable we would learn a musical instrument.  
Like so many aspects of daily life, the Second World War disrupted our father’s work as a musician. My dream was to learn the clarinet, but we had no money to buy one. After the war, I remember our father managing to buy me an accordion and on that I learnt how to play music. It was so old that it would break down almost every day and I was constantly taking it to be repaired. The great irony was I bought  
I began playing publicly (in my father’s band) when I was a young teenager. Our village had five-six kafeneia, where musicians and bands played. One day, you would play in Manolis Pandelellis’, next you would be at Giannis Maragellis’ and there were even times I would play at the town square. When I was 16 years old, I moved to Plomari to play at Giannis Aftosmi’s Magougianni Kentro.
Above: My father, Poseidon, and his Band. While he is in the foreground- holding a violin- my brother,
Stratos, is on the left-playing violin- and I am with the accordion. The photograph was taken in Plomari (1949).
In 1950, my father and I simultaneously migrated; while he moved and established himself in Athens, I decided to move to Australia. I did not migrate here as a musician (laughs); I ended up working in factories like the Glass Factory and fruit shops. When a friend and I unsuccessfully tried to buy a fruit shop in Parkes, the disappointment forced me to decide my future over a flick-of-a-coin- either I continued to work in factories and shops, or I pursued a career in music. After all, music was in my blood! Music won…and it was as simple as that. Lots of hard work and practice ensured. At one of the fruit shops  I worked, one of the regular customers- a Greek (from Egypt), Jack Giacoumis- and I began talking; one day, music came up and I naturally told him that played accordion, while he played guitar. He invited me to practice with his friends on weekends. They obviously liked me because I was introduced to play on Sundays as the Bigale at Kings Cross. I was then asked to play on Saturdays, and then Mondays, as well. This was 1955, and I worked there for twelve years. Played with two Italians- Toulio Bogatti and Petro Dedesce; we only played Latin- mambo, cha-cha, merenge, boracha and bolero. I really enjoyed my stay there; my boss, who was a jeweler, was always overseas and he virtually left us running the show.
It was during my work in the Australian scene that I sponsored my father and brother, Dimitris, to Australia; they played in the Greek clubs. It was while I was still working at the Bigale that once I finished working there ( around 10pm), I used to go and jump on stage to play with my father and brother. It was a very successful restaurant and we used to go around and play at the tables. Its clientele was also impressive- playing for the likes of the late Kerry Packer and John Laws, and other T.V. personalities.
At one point, I worked with the Latin Light Band at the famous Checkers club; once the Big Band finished its set, we would come on. For three years, I worked at the French Tavern, in Hamilton St, Sydney, playing musset music. It was while I was there that an offer came from the Athina nightclub to play there. Although they would match my wage, I declined. Eventually, I could not run away from fate and I did go work at the Athina nightclub. The move had such a profound effect on my life; from that point, I lost all contact with the “Australian” scene and remained there all my life. Playing for Greeks was initially very different; every Greek’s patria had his distinct music- Cretans want kritika, Epirotes want tsamika, Islanders want nisiotika and so on.
In the 1960’s the Greek music scene in Sydney was abuzz; thousands of Greek migrants desired something to remind them of their home…and music one an important avenue to express their yearning and nostalgia. Prices were cheap, and people just wanted to go out. There were the: Athina (Celveland St, Redfern), Ta Salona (King St, Newtown), To Patris (Redern St, Redern), Tsitsifies, Panorama (Enmore Rd, Enmore), Zorbas (King St) and other smaller ones. Lots opened and closed after short times; the only ones that successfully stayed open for a long time were Panorama, Athina, Salona and Vrahos.
Above: Working at the Taboo Dancing Hall in Macleay St, Kings Cross.
Over the years I played with many Greek singers who had a stint in the Greek clubs or who were on tour here like, Poly Panou (Vraho), Spyros Skordili (Athina), Giota Lidia (Vraho), Stelios Zafirios (Marinella’s bouzouki player), Tolis Voskopoulos (Vraho), Giannis Sideris and others. On Sideris’ first visit her, he cut an album and I played on it. One of the biggest tours here was undoubtedly by Stelios Kazantzidis, who was in his heyday at the time. My father had worked with him from Greece; Kazantzidis already knew my father was here when he arrived and he asked for us to be part of the tour. We not only played with him in Sydney, but also Melbourne and Adelaide.
With the passing of the years, the Greek nightclub scene gradually shrank. Other social alternatives and obligations arose as people got older. On the other hand, many Greek nightclubs did not have long-term objectives which catered for the younger clientele’s tastes.
Over the years, it was nice to watch the clientele thoroughly enjoying themselves (having kefi), but the reality is that shop (magazi) has to be busy and the boss has to be happy for everything to run smoothly. Once the crowds becomes small at any club, the music simply stops. I played in many clubs, with many peers and made many friends. Music is in my blood; it is my life.
I would like to thank Ioannis Karavas for all his help in writing this feature article All photographs were kindly reproduced with Ioannis' permission.