Life Stories- Plomari

Migrant Profile

Panagiotis Moutzouris – Peter Juriss (1917-2011)

The following covers our father’s life in four stages – much of the following comes from the stories he shared with us. 

Stage 1 - Childhood in Plomari – up to 13 years old / 1930 

Our Dad, Panagiotis Moutzouris (known as Peter Juriss in New Zealand), was born 1917 – and possibly a year or more before - the date of baptism was often recorded as the date of birth in those days.  Our Dad was one of 8 children – Irini, Gianni, Maria (who died as a baby), Panagiotis (our father), Anastasia, Sofia, Demetri and Katerina.

Dad started work at age 5.  The first jobs he held included delivery boy, selling papers, working in a mini-market, and working at the post-office lighting the furnace.  He was a hard worker from the start. By age 7 his mother, (Pelagia Panagiotou Maistreli) told him he was earning more than his father.  Our Yiayia Pelagia used the money to help his sisters. Dad got his first pair of new shoes at age 6.

Started school at 7 years of age.  Attended school for 5 years, and continued the other jobs.  Loved school – liked a bit of rough and tumble, had fights with other kids often up to 3 years older than him, and bragged to us that he always won the fights – small but strong.  Spent hours playing in the sea with friends after school.

He loved Sedouda – one of his happy places; one hour walk into the hills from seaside Plomari.  The family went there for 3 months each summer – except for his father, Grigorios, who was the captain of a boat and wasn’t at home much.  Our Dad fished, reared goats, looked after the olive groves and grew vegetables.

At 11 years of age Dad started working at the wharf unloading bricks and tiles from the boats to the beach – very heavy physical labour. He also did other jobs like learning to prune the olive trees, which he became an expert at. Finished school at 12 years of age. After this spent a year working as a labourer, carrying 80kg porcelain stones to the building sites where they built large room size blocks to put in the harbour as a wave break.  They formed the wave break that is in the Plomari port now where people go for their walks.  Dad’s shoulder would bleed from the abrasiveness of the tin/asbestos/porcelain.

Earned good money which provided dowries for sisters and went toward cost of building the new family home. Dad also did some of the building work.

Great Depression 1930 – severe poverty. Olive oil was like gold and Dad traded it for wheat. They lived on a very basic menu of horta (dandelion leaves), olive oil, haricot beans, bread.  He saw very hard times.


Above: With his sister, Anastasia (left) and his wife, Zoe, on their wedding day. 

Above Right: Panagiotis children gaving fun with family business' van (Geraldine Fish Supply).  

Stage 2 - The 1st Class Tradesman Plumber in Athens – up to 37 years old / 1954

Dad then moved to Athens in his mid teens, to follow his dream to be a tradesman. Gianni (his older brother) found Dad a plumbing job since he felt sorry for him after seeing him working as a labourer. Dad progressed very quickly to first class tradesman plumber and became a foreman, and did this for 11 years.  He wanted to be the best.  Determined and competitive.  He spoke proudly of his achievements as a plumber.  He was so good at his job that even though he was the foreman and was involved in planning and organising the work, he still was able to complete more actual plumbing work than the others despite he had far fewer hours to do it in.  Also worked Sunday’s on his own contracts. Interrupted by 2 years navy service.  Just after the conclusion of his navy service the war broke out.

Returned to Plomari in 1941 because of the World War 2.  Was called to service but didn’t get the message in time to leave with the ship, and soon after the Germans occupied Mytilene so he remained in Plomari and never actually served.

Dad said he should have died 100 times over due to what he and his younger brother Dimitri had to do during the war.  They had to hide from the Germans in the rocks by the sea for hours until after curfew waiting for their Father to come into port with supplies.  On those nights he rowed to and from his Father’s boat carefully so as not to disturb the water so the Germans wouldn’t see ripples.  Got caught once by a Greek who had sided with the Germans, but got away when one of the other people caught tried to make a get-away.  They chased the other person leaving Dad to escape. The wheat they got from their father, Pappou Grigoris, would be hidden under manure so the Germans wouldn’t confiscate it.  Truly harrowing/hard times that many of us can only imagine.

Dad left for Athens after the war ended but before leaving did some work for our mother’s father, Christos Karanikolas.  He liked Dad because he was a hard worker and strong.  Mum (Zoe Karanikolas) was a friend of Dad’s younger sister, Katerina. Dad told us that our mother was referred to as “the attractive xeni” who all the Plomaritises (local girls) wanted have as their friend … and all the boys wanted to court.  When Dad visited Plomari from Athens, he and his brother Dimitri (Theo Mitcho) used to follow their younger sister Katerina and our mother on their walks by the port. Dad’s sister Katerina and our Mother went to Athens for 9 months to go to learn dressmaking.  Dad used to take our Thea Katerina and Mum out to the movies, coffees, walks.  He came to quite fancy our Mother as a potential wife.

Mum moved to Corfu though.

Greek Civil War, and economic problems (high inflation) meant work dried up in Greece – people couldn’t afford to pay for the plumbing work they started.  Dad would still have had a job though because of his abilities, but he gave it up for a colleague who had a young family and who begged the owner not to lay him off - crying.  An example of the caring man our father was.

To Panagiotis Moutzouris' Life Story: Part 2