Life Stories- Agia Paraskevi and Australia

Socratis Behlevanas (1897- 1961)

Migrant Profile: Socratis Behlevanas

based on an interview with Stavroula Saunders (nee: Behlevanas)
by Vasilios Vasilas

Many of the village men at the time had a strong sense of adventure; to overcome their poverty and hardships, they were willing to take risks and migrate  to faraway places as the United States of America or Sudan. Uncertainty did not faze them. Socrates’ brothers, Panagiotis and Andonios, were already in the United States in the 1920’s- in the state of Delaware; however, he could not join them as the United States were not taking migrants at the time. Because horiani (co-villagers) had also migrated to Australia, he followed their initiative and arrived in 1929.


Above: Socratis (left) fought in the Greek-Turkish War (1922-23).


His first stop was country New South Wales- in the town, Kyogle. He recalled Greeks in the town such as Efstratios Glytsos (from Smyrni, Asia Minor) and Panagiotis Megaloconomos (from Kythera), with whom he worked at Peters & Co. Café.


During this time in Kyogle, he applied for Australia Naturalization. However, his mind probably remained on the prospects of joining his brothers. He saved enough money to holiday there in 1930- on his way to Greece to visit his mother. He returned to Australia and resumed his work at Peter & Co. Café in Kyogle. In 1935 he again joined his brothers, having applied for permanent residency for America. But after so much patience and effort to settle there, he returned again to Australia by the end of the year.


He may have been torn between being with his brothers in the United States and the horiani here in Australia. It was more likely to have been a combination of the dislike of what he personally experienced there, and other social factors such the discrimination of the African- Americans that swayed his decision to return to Australia.


He then worked for Panagiotis Mihailaros (Peter Mitchell) in Forbes, and in other NSW towns before settling in Cootamundra. The town had a population of four to five thousand- including the surrounding wheat-growing and sheep-grazing areas. Other cafes in the town were: the Popular, originally owned by the Coombes family (from Kythera) and then the Theodorakis family (Crete); the California owned by Ioannis Pappas; and the Old Silver Star Café owned by the Nicholson family. They were a close-knit, little group of Greeks, who took turns in holding Easter or Christmas celebrations in their respective cafes- it all depended on who proposed it. The cafes all had big backyards, where the traditional lamb–on-the-spit and a large table were set up, followed by much feasting. In a similar way, engagements and weddings or baptisms were also celebrated in the various cafes.


With his savings he bought a fruit shop, The Fruit King, at the close of the decade and owned it throughout the War. He traded his business under the name, William Bahles.

Above: Engagement photograph (1939).


In 1939, Socrati married Maria Psellos, who was from Makri (now Fethiye) on the southern coast of Asia Minor/Turkey- opposite Rhodes. They went on to have five children: Stavroula (1941) Nicholaos (1942), Despina (1945), Kyriakos (1947-2008) and Antoni (1948).


Above: The interior of the White Rose Cafe In Cootumundra..

In 1946, he actually bought the White Rose Café off his koumbaro, Tom Varouxis.     


"We were at the end of Parker Street, not quite in the main part of the town. When the town experienced quiet periods our business was affected more quickly. In the end, the was a general decline in business and the café was no longer viable."


In 1957 we bought the Capitol Café in Adelong- close to the Snowy Mountains. Adelong was a smaller town- about one thousand people. The Café itself was wider and slightly shorter than the White Rose, and it had fixed cubicles.


We were frequently visited by horiani working in nearby Tumut, at Steve Comninakis’ Excelsior Café. They would come over at New Years Eve- the women would cook wonderful food while the men played the traditional New Year's cards. With such a strong rapport, we helped each other, especially on  busy Show Days- they came to Adelong, and we would go to Tumut.



                                                Above: The Behlevanas family. Cootumundra, 1946. 


At home, we always spoke Greek, and Maria always cooked Greek food- whether it was yahni (stew), pastichio (meat and pasta) or spanakopita (spinach pie). We made our own yoghurt- the locals had no idea what it was. Socrati hated the Aussie “devon sausage” but tolerated “garlic sausage”, which he would eat with his glass of McWilliam’s sauterne- we had no access to salami or retsina (Greek wine).


We grew up with a vivid picture of Aghia Paraskevi and Mytilini, which Socrati painted. But it was so far away- it felt as if it was on the moon. He probably longed to visit his homeland, but it was out of the question with his large family and its responsibilities


Socrati Behlevanas passed away in Adelong, in 1961. He is buried at Botany Cemetery, Sydney.

All photographs courtesy of Stavroula Saunders.
I would like to thank Stavroula Saunders for all her time and help in writing this featureVasilis