Life Stories- Plomarites in Australia

Migrant Profile

Vasilios Tragakis (1903- 71)

 Based on an interview of Kathy Zaloumes (nee; Tragaki)

By Vasilios Vasilas

As his father, Panagiotis, was a blacksmith, young Vasilis helped out in the workshop. The limited work opportunities in the village forced his brother, Efstratios, to make the daily trip to Mytilene to work as a dry-cleaner. After serving his National Service as an evzona, Vasilis returned to Plomari and quickly realised the poverty drew him abroad, and to Australia.


Above: Serving as an Evzone during his National Service. Vasilios is in the front row, second from the left.

When he arrived in Australia (1927), he worked for the Zantey family in Taree- in their Elite Café- then moved onto Wingham, and then worked for Jim Georgeson in the Golden Key Café in Wellington. He must have liked Wellington because (in 1937) he decided to buy the Boomerang Café. The local real estate agent, Albert Wilkins, was instrumental in helping him acquiring the business; incidentally, Wilkins would later help him buy his first house- which he named after his beloved homeland, Plomari. Having secured himself his own business, he looked towards settling down. His brother, Georgios, was holidaying in Greece in 1937, where he also married Pipitsa Zaloumes. It was during his holiday that an introduction was made to Maria Koundouri; she was engaged and travelled to Australia to marry Vasili.


As Maria arrived in March- and during Lent- Vasili managed to get approval for a wedding to happen before returning to Wellington. The wedding occurred in Andonios and Pelagia Berdoukas’ home- in Randwick. After being farewelled by horiani, the newlyweds got into car and began driving back to Wellington- where a wedding function was being organised by our father’s good friends, Mick Malek and Albert Wilkins. Just outside Penrith, however, they had a car accident. Our mother would later recall her embarrassment in getting out of the car in her wedding dress and having to go to the hospital- with Vasili- for check-ups. In the following year (1939), our parents would sponsor her brother, Nikolaos, to Australia.


Our mother would later recall the language barrier when she initially started working the Café; although she could not understand English, she quickly learnt the brands. For instance, when a customer asked for chewing gum, she would recognise Spearmint or Juicy Fruit. With the daily exposure to customers, working every day in the Café helped her quickly English. Our parents were a great team together; while Vasilis worked the kitchen, Maria managed the cash register. After a couple of years, they had truly established themselves in town and they renamed the café, Bill’s Café.  


As Wellington was a larger country town, there were a number of Greeks living there; Georgios and Theodoros Stathakopoulos (from Akrata, Peloponnesus) owned the Golden Key Café, while Efstratios and Maria Asproloupos (nee: Moutzouris) owned the Kosciusko Café. Zaharias and Manolis Cassimatis had a games parlour.


It was in 1953, that our parents decided to renovate the Café; they practically changed everything! They really wanted something a lot larger- to cater for more people. There was now one dining room, which lead onto another one; during weddings and other large functions, we would open the doors, and there would one enormous room- like today’s reception halls. There was now a roomy dance-floor in the middle and a long table at the back of the room for the main table. To show he never forgot where he came from, he always kept an icon of Agios Ioannis in the Café which was painted by his horiano, Vangelis Manolios.


Every year, we would spend two summer weeks in coastal Forster as a family. Throughout the year, we would also travel to Sydney, where we would meet up with all the horiani; the meeting place was always the Berdoukas’ home. Many of Sydney’s horiani would be there such as the Papapetrou and Moutzouris families. I fondly remember the adults in the lounge room all talking in their Plomaritan dialect and we- their Australian-born children- seeing another side of them come alive.


Above: His children, Panagiotis and Ekaterina (first and second from the left respectively) working in the family business.

The increasing numbers of Greek migrants arriving in post- War Australia definitely impacted rural New South Wales. Following the arrival of our mother’s brother, Ioannis, her two brothers bought a small fruit shop- the Wellington Fruit Supplies- which was near our Café. Later, they sold the business and moved to the other side of the town, where they bought larger premises. Plomaritan, Ioannis Spanellis, bought one of the fish shops, and he would marry Georgia Fanis- whose family owned the Macquarie Café. A few years later, Georgios and Paraskevas Hatzistefanis would also buy a Café and would name it the ABC. George and Dennis Avouris would later buy the Golden Key. As a result, there was a very small, close-knit Greek community in the town, and we enjoyed an active social scene together. Most of Greeks would meet either in our Café or the Golden Key to catch up with each other- have a meal and a few drinks. Vasilis had a daily ritual; after the busy part of the night, he would go and have a quick drink at one of the local pubs- with whoever was free. For many years, he did this with Georgios Stathakopoulos. After the drink, he would return home for dinner.


Despite having several Greek families in the town, there were not enough to justify the establishment of a Greek Church, so we had to rely on a priest coming to the town on very rare occasions. In 1963, Father Georgios Koukoulas was ordained as a Greek priest and appointed in Dubbo’s Greek Orthodox Church, Myrtidiotissa. My wedding with Sarandos Zaloumes was actually his first wedding! As the Father Giorgos would only come a few times a year, we would all arrange for engagements and baptisms- as well as other blessings- to occur while he was in town. One year, Father Giorgos blessed seven children’s baptisms in one day! We would use either the town’s Church of England or Methodist churches- whichever was available. When Dubbo’s Greek community began fundraising for the building a Greek Church in their town, Vasilis was instrumental in raising funds for the cause among our town’s locals and Greeks. 


In 1956, our family visited Greece, where we stayed for eleven months; while we were away, Stan Pavlides, Giorgos Tzannes and Andonios Babadellis (Vellis) managed the Café. Our parents very proud of their heritage and the holiday momentarily calmed their yearning for their homeland. One amusing memory from the trip was actually on our return; Vasilis missed figs so much that he managed to bring back some back with him and planted them in his own farm- which was just outside town. He would also plant hundreds of olive trees and various nut trees, thus creating a piece of rural Greece across the other side of the world. He was very proud of his bakche (vegetable garden). Once his children were married, Vasilis dedicated his time to his farm (i.e. 1963).   


I would like to thank Sarandos and Kathy Zaloumes (nee: Tragaki) for all their time and help in writing this feature. All photographs are courtesy of the Zaloumes family.