Katherine & Alex Kasiou
Canterbury’s People: the Kasious came to Australia from the Greek island of Kos and have lived in Hurlstone Park for over three decades. Theirs is a story of success mingled with hardship and sacrifice. But they can look back with satisfaction that they have done well by their children and adopted country.
Childhood on Kos
Alex lived his early years on his father’s sheep and goat farm on the island of Kos in Greece. His parents had six children, four sons and two daughters. Alex was the youngest. Alex’s days revolved around his school, his parents’ farm and the escapades invented by the boys to entertain themselves.
His childhood came to an abrupt end when Alex’s father passed away. His brothers had left home by then and the task of running the farm and looking after his mother fell on Alex’s young shoulders.
World War II
The years of World War II and German occupation of Kos (1943-1945) were ones of extreme hardship. Memories of their privations, especially the lack of food still loom large in Alex’s memory:
“There was no food to put on the table and if there was, the soldiers would come and take it away from your family.”
The liberation of Greece by the Allies lightened their hardships but the long years of war had taken their toll of Kos.
In 1947 Alex married Katherine, the daughter of a neighbouring sheep and goat farmer whom he had known from his school days. It was a match arranged by their two families. They had the customary chaperoned courtship followed by a traditional ceremony. Alex tried to make a go of the farm once again but the island economy had suffered too many depravations. There was no living to be made on the land in Kos.
Migrating to Australia
Emigration appeared an attractive alternative. Alex and Katherine turned their gaze towards Australia. The United Church Organisation paid their passage and in May 1955 Alex and Katherine boarded a decommissioned troop ship and sailed to Australia with their four children. Alex recalls that they were all sick and uncomfortable on the 30 day passage, especially Katherine who was pregnant with her fifth child.
They arrived in Sydney at night on 5 June 1955. They were immediately put on a train to Greta Migrant Camp in the Hunter Valley.
A new line of work
Alex began working at BHP the day after his arrival in Australia. He had none of the skills needed for his new job as a steelworker, but he was keen and soon learned the new skills. In 1955, BHP had a workforce of more than 22,000 employees, many of whom were Greek, German and Italians living at Greta camp. Alex remained with BHP until he moved to Sydney in 1963.
Greta Migrant Camp
The Kasious stayed at the migrant camp for two-and-a-half years paying five pounds a fortnight for food and accommodation. Only women and children were allowed to board at Greta camp and Alex lived at a hostel in Newcastle. He was allowed to visit the camp only a few hours a week. But with ingenuity the men at the migrant hostel found ways of remaining with their families.
“I would finish my shift and catch the train to Maitland and be at the camp by tea time. Then we had to catch the train back ready for the next shift. The guards knew what was going on but turned a blind eye.”
Katherine’s life at Greta did not vary very much from one day to the next. The morning would begin by getting the children off to their school at the local public school, picking up their lunch from the camp kitchen, and doing the daily washing and cleaning. Meals were taken in the camp dining room. The food was reasonably good but the women missed cooking for their families. Eventually each hut was fitted with a gas ring and families given cooking supplies such as lentils to make their own food. Communicating with the staff at the camp posed difficulties as Katherine’s English was poor. One day in particular remains in her memory:
“I wanted some rice for a special dish and could not make them understand the Greek work for rice so I used the Italian word – riso – and they came back with a box of rinso!”
First home in Newcastle
Their spartan lifestyle at Greta camp had its rewards. Alex and Katherine had saved enough from Alex’s weekly wage of 10 pounds and six shillings for a deposit on a house. In 1958, Alex and Katherine moved to their home in Tighes Hill, Newcastle. But Katherine was lonely. Her young family kept her at home. She also found it hard to meet people because of her lack of English. She longed for company. She recalls: “All I did in Newcastle was go to church and back and look after the kids.” After five years of this, the family moved to Sydney where they could live closer to Katherine’s brother and his family.
Moving to Hurlstone Park
Katherine and Alex found a small cottage in Hurlstone Park. This has been their home since 1963. They began to make additions to the home over the years as Katherine’s brother’s family moved in. They had other members of their extended family migrating many of whom made their home with them for many years.
Alex and Katherine were remarkably industrious. Alex found work with a small goods factory in Redfern after moving to Sydney. Katherine also worked there for six years to help Alex to pay off the mortgage.
The Kasious have lived in Hurlstone Park for almost 40 years now, raising seven children in the quiet neighbourly suburb. The area was so safe that Alex and Katherine never locked their home during the day. Thefts were rare, and neighbours were watchful for strangers. No fences separated backyards and children played amicably in what was even then a diverse neighbourhood.
The Kasiou children all attended local schools, Canterbury Primary School, Dulwich Hill High School, Canterbury Boys’ High School and Canterbury Girls’ High School. Michael was the first to finish school and go to work. He lived at home and helped with expenses until he left home to marry. This was the pattern for the other children. Now their children all have families of their own. Alex and Katherine feel like honeymooners basking in the space and quiet of the house.
There were a lot of migrants among their neighbours in Hurlstone Park in the 1960s and 1970s. In the street Alex and Katherine live there were several Greek families, a couple of Lebanese families as well as Italian and Australian families. A number of these residents bought small businesses in the local shopping precinct and set up a greengrocer shop, a delicatessen/supermarket and a fish and chip café.
Alex and Katherine did most of their weekly shopping at Marrickville, on the Marrickville Road shopping strip. They would walk or catch the train with a portable shopping trolley and get their vegetables, fish, meat and special Greek ingredients at these shops. Daily needs such as milk and bread were served by the small corner shop across the road from their home. Local shops began to gradually disappear, the last one going out of business ten years ago.
Migrants moved to Hurlstone Park partly due to the good public transport. New migrants often could not afford to buy cars. Alex himself did not own a car till 1979. But when he did, the Kingswood he bought at an auction, afforded him great pleasure.
There was little time in their busy lives for outings or entertainment. When they were not working at their regular or weekend jobs, they spent their time with their large family or attending the Greek Orthodox Church in Marrickville (until 1982 when it moved to Hurlstone Park) or visiting relatives and friends. An occasional treat for the family was an excursion to the Enmore Theatre to watch Greek films.
No longer lonely
Katherine and Alex’s family has grown from the early days of their migration to Australia. They were the first of their families to settle here and were later joined by other family members from Greece. In fact their family has grown so much with the addition of grandchildren, nieces and nephews, Katherine no longer feels the loneliness she experienced in the early years.
Now she is surrounded by so many family members that she jokingly regards her time in Newcastle with no family or friends around, as the peaceful ideal!