Life Stories- Milies and Australia

Penelope Berdoukas (1920-     )

narrated to Vasilis Vasilas
by Penelope Berdoukas
Milies is an alpine village, where most of our villagers were involved with farming, growing olives. Plagia was the nearest (larger) village, which was about an hour away. We had one church, Agios Ioannis, and one kafeneio. My maternal grandfather, Panagiotis, who used to make his own ouzo, owned the second kafeneio of our village. He used to take and sell his produce across to Asia Minor. However, once he passed away, both the ouzo-making and kafeneio ceased.
Although most villagers were farmers, my father, Andonios, was a builder. He went wherever there was work, whether it was around our island or other parts of Greece. One time, Corinth had suffered a severe earthquake and he spent extended periods of time there (as there was a lot of reconstruction to be done). Unfortunately, Milies did not have its own school; any parents who wanted their children to be educated sent them to Plagia. My parents did not go to school, and neither did my older sister, Maria. When I was seven years old, however, I was really motivated to go to school. I remember asking my godmother, who had a grocery store in Plagia, for a pencil and an exercise book. My school bag was actually made from one of father’s old trousers. The worst thing I dreaded about school was walking to and fro in winter; the cold and snow made it very difficult. I really enjoyed school; it was disappointing that I could not continue further than primary school. My schoolteacher tried to persuade my parents to allow me to continue my schooling- to no avail.  
The most disadvantageous aspect about alpine villages, such as Milies, was the great distances from other larger villagers and towns. These distances isolated us; if something went wrong, we were just to far away from help. There was no transport or telephones. My mother, Arhondoula, passed away young, forty-nine years old; she had appendicitis and by the time she was rushed to Mytilene, it was too late.  
The Occupation was difficult because we deprived of our usual trade with other parts of the island. The Germans only came to our village a few times and they never stayed for a long time. We were fortunate enough to have our olive groves; our olive oil saved us. It was during the Occupation that my father passed away; I now stayed with my sister.
Above: A postcard of the P & O's Strathmore- the ship that Penelope migrated to Australia with.  
Soon after the 2nd World War, migration began and many of our villagers searched for better opportunities abroad. I was meant to go to Africa, but it never happened. It was my father’s brother, Grigoris, who lived in Plomari, who proposed for me to migrate to Australia. He already had a son, Andonis, living in Queensland. The tragedy of losing both my parents made me believe migration was a new beginning. He wrote to Andonis and he, subsequently, wrote to me. At the time, Andonis’ business was in Tambo, Queensland. I remember reading his letter; he would gladly sponsor me but he also pointed out Tambo was in the middle of “nowhere”. I just agreed, as my mind was set about migrating. With a few clothes and a hand-made rug in my suitcase, I left Greece.  
I never reached Tambo. By the time I arrived in Sydney, My cousin, Andonis, had sold this business and was now living there. He welcome me after I disembarked our English ship, Strathmore. I really liked Sydney; what made it very enjoyable was that my first cousin Permathia ( who later became a Penelope), who was married Ioannis (Jack) Moutzouris, really looked after me. It was at their child’s Vasilis’ baptism that I was introduced to Panagiotis Moutzouris. After two months since my arrival in Sydney, I found myself engaged, and married not long after.
Above: A photograph of Penelope's engagement to Panagiotis Moutzouris (1947).
 At the time, Panagiotis already co-owned his business- the Regent Café in Parramatta, Sydney. In 1947, there were not many Greeks living there. Most Greeks were café owners from Kythera. The only Mytilenean family living there was Nikos and Poppy Tsirigotis ( i.e. Nikos was from Gera), who owned the café on Church Street- near the Parramatta River bridge. The café-owners had a good rapport with each other; we socialised together whenever we could. On respective name days, we visited each other’s houses to celebrate the feast day.
Life was very good in Australia; I was blessed to have a good husband who did not want me to work in the cafe, but to look after our children, Stergios and Maria. I always spoke to our children in Greek and that is why they know Greek so well today.
The first time I returned to Greece- and to my village- was with my husband in 1963. I was extremely happy to see my sister whom I had missed so much. We visited Greece another four times, the last time being 1998.
I would like to thank Penelope Moutzouris (nee: Berdoukas) for the narration towards this life-story and her daughter, Maria Petrohilos (nee: Moutzouris) for all her help to organise the interview. 
                       Vasilis Vasilas