Life Stories- Avlaki and Paleohori, and Australia

Migrant Profile: Georgios Sclavounos

Migrant Profile: Penelope Coutli

Giorgos Sclavos (Sclavounos)

(1905- 1990)

and
Penelope Coutlis
 
(1916- 1985)
 
by Blossom Aspros and Jeannette Kontopos
 
Our father, Giorgos Sclavos, was born in the fishing village, Avlaki, which lies between Plomari and Trigona. As a fishing village, fishermen kept their boats; only they and their families lived there. A small church, Agios Georgios, overlooks the little bay (limanaki). When he had established himself in Australia, Giorgos sent money from Australia to pave and maintain his village’s church, as well as for a large icon of Agios Georgios was bought for it. The icon and a plaque commemorating his gesture are still found in the church today.
 
Giorgos was the eldest of three brothers- Dimitrios and Andonios. Like most migrants at the time, his family’s poverty was the motivation for him to migrate to Australia. He arrived in Sydney in his mid teens and he later recalled anecdotes of hardship in the early months here, such as using newspapers to keep warm during cold winter nights. His first job was in a fish café in Chalmers St, Sydney, when fish and chips were only worth half-a-penny. Although many of his migrant compatriots- Berdoukas, Moutzouris and Vamvathellis- initially worked in rural areas, Giorgos was determined to remain in the city; his love for the water drew him to the Parramatta River. His first business venture was actually a fishing trawler, Joy Socks, trawling the Parramatta River for prawns. During World War II, the Joy Socks would be requisite in Australia’s war effort.
 
Above: A portrait of Giorgos (Sydney).  
 
With a partner, he opened the P&S Fish Café in Pitt St, Sydney; the P was for Perivolaris and the S for Sclavos. Many compatriots, such as Simos, Araboglos and Asproloupos worked at various times at the P & S Café. Up until the Joy Socks was requisite, Giorgos continued to trawl the Parramatta River whenever business was slow at the café. Giorgos had also bought a house in Gladesville- only a couple of blocks away from the water.
 
After establishing himself financially, he wrote to his parents to find him a bride from his village. Naturally, she had to be beautiful. After correspondence and exchange of photos, Penelope Coutlis arrived in Sydney- chaperoned by Giorgos father, Ioannis. Penelope had gone to Plomari’s High School- a rarity for girls at the time. They married in February 1939 and had their first daughter, Irini, in November of that year. They had another two daughters, Anthoula (Blossom) and Ioanna (Jeanette). They lived a “good life” together, enjoying annual holidays at the Gold Coast and regular trips to the Blue Mountains, race meetings every Saturday and card games (which included the womenfolk) once a week. Being in business, Giorgos integrated into the broader community and the Australian way of life, setting a good example to others. Although Australia was their home, Greece still retained a special place in their hearts. Giorgos may have been part of a large family network in Greece, but he was alone in Australia; he sponsored three of his nephews to Australia, always giving them work until they established themselves.
 
Above: Penelope with her high school class; she is in the middle- with guitar.
 
Growing up in a Greek household was not easy affair in those days; as children, we grew up with two cultures. The outside world was our Australian life, but at home, it was a Greek affair. Our mother, who did not work, made sure we only spoke Greek in our home. Australians tended their gardens of flowers; our parents grew an array of zucchinis, eggplants (melitzanes) and okra (bamies).  There were also the serpentine grape vines cascading around the back door. After our grandmother’s arrival, we even had chickens in the back yard!
 
 
Above: Penelope and Giorgos, with the latter's father, Ioannis.
 
After the P & S was sold to the Moutzouris family, Giorgos- with another three partners- bought Wynyard Fish Supply; he looked after the buying (of seafood) side of the business. That meant, four o’clock mornings spent at the fish markets. This did not matter to him; he used to say the sea was in his blood, and that one could always tell fresh fish by looking in their eyes.
 
As a family, we went to many Mytilenian Brotherhood functions, whether dances and picnics. It was an important way for my parents and other Mytilenian families, such as the Berdoukas, Papapetrou, Moutzouris, Asproloupos and Panselinadis, to maintain a connection with their homeland. When there was a Mytilenian picnic at Shark island, we would get there with our own boat. We, their children, have many fond memories of these get to-gethers. Other social occasions were name-day parties; on Agios Georgios, many of our parents’ patriots would visit our Gladesville home. Most Mytilenians at the time (in the early post-war years) lived in the eastern suburbs like Kensington and Randwick).
 
Like many of the pre-War migrants, Giorgos assisted many migrants to Australia. Even today, some well-established people still remind us of his generosity- never asking for interest. People do not forget. He even helped our Cypriot neighbours. Although he was an astute entrepreneur, he always remained humble, gentle and kind- he was a quiet achiever.     
 
After retiring, Giorgos still fished for himself and kept his boat moored at Rose Bay. He fulfilled his dream of buying a home- in Rose Bay- on Sydney Harbour. He made sure his top-floor apartment had a view his beloved sea. Our parents attended Agios Georgios Orthodox Church where our motherwas a member of the Ladies Auxiliary for many years until her passing in 1985.
Migrants lives initially experienced the hardships of isolation, sacrifice and despair; however, they had this great spirit, not only of survival but achievement against all odds. Our father may have had little education- could only sign his name- but we-his children- are very proud of his achievements.  
    

I would like to thank Blossom and Jeanette for all their help with this feature and, all photographs are courtesy of them. 

Vasilis Vasilas