Life Stories- Agia Paraskevi and Australia

 Part 2: Dimitrios Sofianos and Electra Sarika's Life Stories  

Based on an interview with Electra Sofianou (nee: Sarika)

by Vasilis Vasilas 

Electra's Story


My father, Ioannis, owned the general store in our village; it catered for everyone, and sold everything from foodstuffs to hardware. 

Being the oldest of the family, I was like a mother-figure to my younger siblings, (Anna, Yioryios, Panayoti, Maria and Taki). I was responsible for looking after them, making sure they were always clean.  I made their new clothes, and repaired their old ones..  After all these years, I have looked after so many children - whether they were my siblings, my children, my grandchildren…though these days, my great-grandchildren tire me a little. 

Throughout my childhood, I was an avid reader and really wanted to be able to continue with my education, but, back then, the education of girls was not a priority for families.  One book I remember well, was about a female pilot’s solo flight to New Zealand, and it really spurred my admiration of such individuals who encountered and overcame huge challenges.  It is through my enjoyment of reading that I developed a strong sense of curiosity and adventure about the world around us.


Above: With her sisters, Anna and Maria, and Elvira Kassiakou. Electra is second from left.

Above Right: With her husband, Dimitrios Sofianos ("Jim" Sofis).  

When the proposal to marry Jim eventuated and the prospect of moving overseas was inevitable, it really did not bother me.  I didn’t hesitate or feel any reluctance.  Migration was part of this adventure – an opportunity to see another place, meet other people and so forth. 

We travelled to Australia on the Strathmore in 1939.  When we reached ports such as Fremantle and Adelaide, there was a growing sense of anticipation that we were very close to our destination, Sydney.  After all, it had been a two-month voyage.  My first impressions of Sydney were of a beautiful city, and I couldn’t believe the big department stores of David Jones and Anthony Horderns, especially the beautiful display windows. We were taken to a Greek restaurant for lunch.  After that. we took Maria Papapetrou (from Plomari) back to the Strathmore as she was continuing the voyage to Queensland.

We boarded the train for Barraba, and after such a long sea-voyage, the train ride seemed endless. I jokingly asked Jim why he had to buy a shop so far away.  ‘Wasn’t there a closer one?’  I also remember seeing the flashing corrugated iron roofs of small country houses we passed, and inquired whether they were holiday homes - exohika. Living in a comfortable two-storey stone-and-tile house in Aghia Paraskevi, I was a little surprised to find out that they were  people’s actual houses.  When we arrived in Barraba I asked where the town was!  I thought that we had arrived at a holiday village!  

Jack was already married with children, so we lived for a time, with them in Barraba.  Although I had expected migration to be an adjustment, nothing prepared me for homesickness.  I missed my family, I missed my homeland.  The writing of letters to my family, and then receiving theirs back, was truly an emotional experience.  Ironically I only sent two or three letters and then the War broke out.  In my final letter, in 1940, I informed my family of the birth of our daughter, Anna.  After this, we lost all contact until the end of the War in 1945.  The lack of any news about your loved ones was terrible.  After the war my next letter home informed them that we had another two daughters, Effie (Efterpi) and Kathleen (Katerina). 

Barraba was a reasonably sized country town which was surrounded by productive farmlands of wheat and wool.  The other Greek café in town the Golden Bell was owned by Kytherian families – the Feros and then the Gavrilly.  We socialised with them and enjoyed many good times together.  If we had visitors, we would take them to visit the Feros family and vice versa. 

One thing that really surprised me was how close Jim was to the local community – he was a member of various local clubs, such as the Bowling Club and Masonic Lodge; he loved fishing, and had many Australian friends.  He was very social, which made it easier for me to become accepted in the local community.  Jim bought out Jack’s share in the café, sometime in 1941/42.

When the War finished, there was an economic boom in the area.  Soldiers returned home, and big landowners had to give up fractions of their properties to accommodate the soldier settlers.  There were also people settling around Barraba.  Within this prosperous time, the ironies in life are indiscriminate when tragedy strikes.  Jim was killed in a car accident in 1950, on his way home from a fishing trip, leaving behind three young daughters – Anna, Effie and Kathleen. 


Above: Electra and her daughters, Anna, Effy and Kathleen. 

Above Right: Electra and her grand-daughters, Electra Psaltis-Wiggs and Electra Stouraitis ( nee: Cominakis).

What held our family together during this difficult period in our lives was the support of the local community and of my brother Taki (Dimitri).  We felt it would have been a shame to just sell up and leave.  And where would we go?  With Taki, we worked hard and pulled together and were able to hold onto the café.  It was a busy shop and customers would come from great distances – they called it ‘the best in the west !’ 

Over the time, many Aghia Paraskevotes worked for us - Chris Sofianos, Jim Dellis, Chris Christophidis, Harry Gallinos, Michael Koumelis, Peter Oglos. Like Jim three decades before them, they had to start their life in Australia from somewhere – it happened to be in our shop.  Other horiani also worked for us although it wasn’t their first job – Steve Soropos, Paul Sapounas, Tony Comninakis.  We also had the occasional visitor passing through Barraba and we would catch up with news.

We worked the Monterey Café until the mid 1960’s, then left Barraba for Sydney.  By this time, Anna and her husband Steve Cominakis (Stavros Comninakis) had bought the Rising Sun Milk Bar in Neutral Bay, Sydney, and I suppose it was a natural move for us. 

Above: Electra with her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

After our move, my other daughters also married - Effie to Michael Haggis (Mihali Hatziyianni) and Kathleen to Harry Psaltis.. Eventually I had eight grandchildren:  Paree, Lia, Leah, Katrina, Electra, Terry, Garry and Dimity, and now, as they have married, I have fourteen great-grandchildren: Isabella, Tiana, Thomas, Sophia, Olivia, Liam, Jack, Oliver, Stephanie, Scarlett, Michael, Luke, Steven, Benjamin.  

With my family, I feel richly blessed. 


(Sadly Electra passed away before her story was published, and just two months before the birth of her fifteenth great-grandchild, Peter).

Back to: Part One

I would like to thank Electra for all her time, effort and hospitality during the interview, as well as her three daughters, Anna Comninaki, Efterpi Hatzigianni and Kathy Psalti for organising the interview and playing an active role throughout the interview process- being at the interview and editing the transcript.

I would also like to thank Stavroula Behlevanas-Saunders for the final edit of the transcript.