Life Stories- Geragotes and Australia

Migrant Profile

Efstratios Tamvakeras (1935-  )


Based on an interview of Efstratios Tamvakeras

By Vasilios Vasilas

My paternal grandfather, Efstratios, was a very successful builder, who had built the church- Zoodohou Pygis- and mosque in Mesargos, as well as the church in Trigona. My father, Nikolaos, followed his family trade and went as far as Corinth to work rebuilding the town after an earthquake.


My maternal grandfather, Efstratios Souvatzis, or better known as Toumboutos, owned a factory that produced goods of clay- whether pottery or pots. His work’s significant contribution in the area was, however, the terracotta pipes used to supply all of Gera with water from the mountains.


I enjoyed very memorable childhood years; having the name of both grandfathers and being the first grandchild on my maternal side, everyone looked after me. These years were the loveliest time of my early life. As a child, my maternal grandfather would playfully trick me; for example, he would place loukoumia (i.e. Turkish delight) on the family’s plum trees and then cheekily claim the trees grew these sweetest delights.


In all this childhood paradise, the harsh reality was Greece spent almost ten years in war, as the German Occupation was followed by the Greek Civil War. While the rest of Europe’s wounds of war were beginning to heal as its nations had undertaken the enormous task of rebuilding itself, Greece continued shedding blood. A tragic turning point in our family was the news my mother’s brother, Panagiotis, was killed in the Civil War (1948). Although I was only a teenager, his death impacted me so much that when I returned to Greece in 1963 for holiday- I went to his grave in Ioannina and returned his bones to our village.


As a student, I enjoyed studying philology and geography, and writing compositions, yet our circumstances of poverty and the toiling effort to survive merely highlighted higher education as a luxury. At the time, my father did not have much work, and one of the options to ease the financial burdens on our family was to send me abroad. Being the eldest (of my sister and I), it was my fate to migrate. My father had fought with Dimitrios Papantoniou in the Greek- Turkish War (1919-22), who had migrated to Australia in the 1920’s, and wrote a letter to him- via Panagiotis Koulioumbis- requesting whether he could sponsor me to migrate.


When I left our island, I was travelling to the unknown. Other young men had migrated before me and we would hear of their successes- through their correspondence with their parents. Another sign of their success was the cheques sent back to help out their families. Despite these reassuring signs, there were no guarantees for you. I travelled on the S.S. Cyrenia with another horiano, Panagiotis Hatzistamatiou. When we stopped over in Fremantle, we were strolling along one street when my eye caught something shiny- it turned out to be three-pence. As we did not have any money, this was certainly a lucky find. We went to a nearby supermarket and bought a large bag of various lollies. In hindsight, our actions highlight how young we were, as our minds went straight for the sweets.


Panagiotis and I got off in Melbourne, where a representative of the travel agency, Thomas Cook, welcomed us. I remember the representative gesturing to us if we were hungry and, out of our embarrassment, we replied we were not. So we went all caught an airplane to Sydney, and we were starving. We boarded an airplane and flew to Sydney. We stayed in Sydney for the next five days- at Efstratios Tsakiris’ house in Brighton Le Sands- he owned a café in Broadway at the time. Another flight, and this time to Walgett. When we were descending to land at its airport- a shed- I can remember thinking the arid countryside looked like the SaharaDesert, there were few trees and even fewer houses. I wondered to myself, “Where have I come to?”



Above: Working in Henty, on the border of Victoria and New South Wales.

Above: Working with Mihailis Kyriazis in the Rex Cafe, Walgett.

Although it was a small town, its surrounding area was enormous! There were about 700 whites living in the town- most of them were graziers. Of these 700, over 100 of them were the very wealthy station owners. They were drive into town with their American Buicks, wear leather jackets and hats and send their children to private schools. Papantoniou always served them when they came into the Café, as they would ask for the boss. There was a very large indigenous community there too. 

Above: Working in Henty, with Aristides Vareltzidis (left).

The Rex Café was in the centre of the small town. At the time, these cafes were a meeting place for families, as pubs (i.e. public houses) were not very family-orientated. Papantoniou had established it with his partner, Avgiris (from Neohori); by the time I got there, Avgiris had sold his share. During the week, when it was a little slower, there were seven of us working the Café; on busy days- during the country fairs or rodeos- there were as many as fourteen!


After eight months in Walgett, a job opportunity arose in Henty (north Victoria), where I worked for the Karakonstanti family (from Agia Paraskevi, Lesvos). They were very good employers, as well as good people. I stayed there for ten months, before returning to the Rex Café, as Papantoniou needed help delivering orders. At sixteen years old, I found myself with a driver’s license and driving a truck around Walgett and its surrounding area. For a teenager- who had not even been in the country for two years, it was a big thing!

Continue To Part 2