Life Stories: Paleohorites and Australia

Life Stories: Paul Markou Con't

In the early years (until 1963) our family owned various businesses: a fruit shop/milk bar in Enmore which was managed with his brother Dimitrios; a milk bar next to the picture show in Ramsgate, where Dimitrios Mandroulis worked for my father when he first arrived from Paleohori in 1951 and a mixed business in Abercrombie St, Redfern. In the mid- 1950’s, the Evangelos Halacas and his family went to Greece for an extended holiday and we worked their business in Narrabri, the White Rose Café. My parents left the Redfern shop to be run by someone else, while we were in Narrabri. One of Paul’s strengths was he was very adjustable; he may have owned fruit shops or mixed businesses, but he now found himself in the kitchen of a café, cooking mixed grills, actually if my memory serves me correct, he was a capable cook and loved his food. That year of 1955 Narrabri experienced bad flooding; there was a lot of cleaning that had to be done- after the water levels came down. I remember sitting on the roof of the Café and looking down the main street and seeing all the water!

 

With his brother, Nikolaos, in 1957 they opened the kafeneio Acropolis in Redfern. It was a very busy time for our family, as he still had the mixed business in Redfern, where our father would work the dayshift with mother; he would then, however, rush off and work nights at the kafeneio. Dad kept this up for another 2 years until he decided to only concentrate on the kafeneio, so we moved from Redfern and bought a home in Newtown which in the late 50’s was booming with Greek migrant families.

 

Above: A portrait. Circa 1943.

 

 By 1960, his brother, Dimitrios and his family, had returned to Greece; this thought also crossed my parents’ mind. At the same time, however, his relatives, Poseidonas Karavas and his son, Dimitrios, were in Australia. Poseidonas was an accomplished violinist, and a successful band leader in Greece, and he convinced our father Sydney’s booming Greek community needed a social outlet- a club, where families could come and eat Greek food, listen to live Greek music and have a good time.

 

With a partner, Nikitas, Paul opened Vrahos Night Club in 1963 and was situated on the first floor- on the corner of King and Mary Sts in Newtown. It operated for four days per week, Thursday to Sunday; it was promoted and structured to encourage a family atmosphere, as one could bring their family for an enjoyable night of food, music and dancing- at an affordable price. Vrahos created such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere that people organised to celebrate their wedding and christening parties there. While Nikitas looked after kitchen (and meals) Paul worked on the floor, welcoming patrons at the door and then making sure everything was running smoothly. This suited him, as he enjoyed dealing with people. The song by Stellios Kazantzithis, Vraho, Vraho ton Kaimo Mou which the Vrahos was its name sake was sung once a night by the band, the words I am sure stirred many who had left their mothers and their villages, including Paul.

 

Above: A photograph depicting the lively atmosphere of Vrahos Night Club in its heyday. Paul is dancing third from the left, while his wife, Eleni, is leading the dance.

 

In 1972, it was time to leave Vrahos, it not only had outgrown its use, but the competition had become fierce with many other Greek night clubs opening up at the time who had a more ‘sophisticated’ set-up with modern décor, also trying to compete over the years, by bringing famous singers from Greece to perform at the Vrahos had turned into a very expensive and unprofitable exercise. I doubt if any of the other night clubs had the atmosphere that one felt when they were in Vrahos in the early years. Vrahos represents an era when the post-war Greek migrants yearned for something Greek; it did not matter that they were struggling to establish themselves, they still wanted a place to take their families and relive what they were yearning for (i.e. their homeland, culture, language) in Vrahos. By the time Paul left Vrahos the Greeks were already changing; they were slowly moving out of the inner city and buying houses in suburbs like Earlwood and Rockdale, and they were more comfortable with their lives. It was an era that is fondly remembered (by those who experienced it) with nostalgia.

 

Paul was a man’s man, who worked hard to provide for his family. He was not perfect, but he had a kind heart, he was the type of person who would take the shirt off his back and give it to someone in need- even though he may only have had the one. I also remember when I was in hospital for an extended period of time, and he would make sure he visited me every day. I would hear his whistling (in the hospital’ corridor) drawing closer and I knew it was him.

 

It was unfortunate Paul never returned to Paleohori and never saw his parents again; it was something he was planning to do before he died, as his unused passport issued in 1977 is a testament to the fact that time had not been on his side.

 

I am sure though his spirit is roaming the streets of Paleohori, remembering the many times the mule would stop dead in his tracks- not budging up the steep hill- while Paul had to push and pull to get it to go where he wanted.

 

Return To:Part 1

 

All photographs courtesy of Mary Markou.

 

I would like to thank Mary for all her support and care in writing this feature. Vasili