Author: Spyros Vouyioukas
Storyteller: Thanasis Vouyioukas
Community Language School: Hellenic Orthodox Community of Bexley North and Districts
Main School: Kingsgrove Public School
The story of my grandmother’s life and her experiences of adapting to a new country.
I have chosen my grandmother to interview about her experiences when migrating to Australia.
My grandmother was born in Greece, on the island of Lesbos and the village of Agiasos. She was born in 1935. Her island had a lot of olive trees so as children they would go to work very early in the morning and pick olives. She lived in a very small farmhouse with her mother, father, two brothers and one sister. They also shared the downstairs with a few cows and goats. Her family was very poor and one memory she does have is how when WWII had struck and the Germans had invaded Greece they survived on hardly any food.
In Agiassos life was simple but they also had lots of good times as well. They would dance in the streets when couples would get married and children would be christened. Once a year they would celebrate a religious date called Panagias in August. Everyone would gather in the village and for at least a week everyday would be a great fair.
My grandmother left Greece when she was 21 years old with all the intentions to return after she had earned some money in this great land of opportunities called Australia. She remembers her father and mother waving goodbye not realising she was never to see them again. She left Greece with a girlfriend of hers which she is still very close to. For two girls who came from a village travelling by plane to a country which didn’t use Greek was frightening. Her cousin who was already based in Sydney was paying for her airfare and once she started work and earned some money she was to repay the fare. She never did repay it because she met my grandfather they got married and he repaid it.
One funny story is on arrival in Sydney all they had was a piece of paper with an address written out for them in English and instructions to get to a taxi driver(which they didn’t know what they were) and give it to him. With many tears of fear and confusion they found a driver and he took them to the address in Surrey Hills just behind the Greek church in Bourke St. By coincidence it was Good Friday when many Greeks attend church. They had never seen so much commotion and people everywhere. They were terrified.
She eventually met my grandfather in a fish shop where they both worked in Devonshire St, Surrey Hills, got married and bought a house in Waterloo St., Surrey Hills. My grandfather did an English course by correspondence but my grandmother learnt from her husband and from having to communicate with others. She had to learn because she was now working in a sandwich shop taking orders and understanding the currency. When she talks about her work she herself doesn’t quite understand how she learnt what she did in such a short time. She never attended school in Greece so she doesn’t even know how to read and write Greek properly either.
She also recalls the birth of her children…Not being able to get across her pain and in turn the doctors not quite being able to explain what was expected of her. Nevertheless, she looks back at these times as being one of her best memories.
She now says looking back you don’t realise how quickly time passes and how a city can grow so much without even noticing. The airport is at least three times the size. The population has increased out of sight. Like she says she was one when she arrived and she had three daughters and between them eight grandchildren. Her brothers who also came to Australia all have children and grandchildren and family gatherings are quite large. She now lives in a very large house in Earlwood about four or five times the size of her little terrace.
My grandmother now calls Australia home. She visited Greece last year for the first time since she had left and she did feel like an outsider. Life in the village has not changed but here in Australia she says Australia and her citizens have moved ahead and she is very grateful for being given the opportunity to live her life in such a great land.