Life Stories- Geragotes and Australia

Efstratios Tamvakeras Part 2

One of the station managers, Percy Black, used to dine in the Café every weekend and I had overheard one of his conversations about hunting wild pigs. Why this conversation grabbed my attention was that I loved animals. One day, I drew the courage to ask him whether the hunters killed the mothers too; when he replied they did, I asked him of the piglets’ fate. With my young mind, I felt sorry for them, so I asked him if he could bring me two piglets- so I could have them as pets. I would feed them with all the left-over food- we threw way- from the Café. Sure enough, Black brought me three little piglets but I quickly found out how noisy they were and I had to find somewhere to keep them- where they could not disturb anyone. I found an abandoned farm, where they they had all the infrastructure of herding cattle. Using metal sheets, I enclosed them in a smaller area and split a couple of 40 gallon metal drums to use for their food. Every day, I would bring the truck around to the farm and dump all the food left-overs and the pigs would devour it. Black would regularly come and visit the farm, and even brought a few more pigs. I found myself with eleven pigs!

After eight months, these piglets were fully grown; they ranged from eighty to one hundred pounds. Black asked me what I was going to do with them and advised me if I had any plans to sell the meat to the shops, I had to kill them soon, as wild pigs which eat domesticated food for a period of time- their meat loses its smell. Although I had grown fond of them, I could see his point. I decided to kill them; as I used Papantoniou’s truck and food for the pigs, he would get half the meat, and the other half I would sell it. I sold my half share of the meat to the local pubs and hospital, and made 80 out of it. It was a lot of money, considering I was getting 5 a week at the Rex.

Above: Cutting up the wild pigs with Elias Spatholpoulos (right) in Walgett.

It was not long before I left Walgett, and moved to Sydney, where Panagiotis Koulioumbis found me work at the Australian Wool Mill factory in Marrickville. For a short while, I lived at Venizelou Caldi’s house in Marrickville, which was close to work, but I then boarded at Nikolaos and Sophia Pergamalis’ house in Surry Hills. They were lovely people, and I regard Sophia like a second mother. Their house had 10 boarders, but there was always twenty people in the house, as it was a meeting place for Sydney’s Agiassiotes. It was always busy; when the ships- with new Greek migrants- on Wednesdays and Saturdays, there was always a flurry of movement in the house. Once people established themselves, they moved on- only to be replaced with new arrivals. 

While I continued to work at the wool mill, I also found casual work at the Iatrou family’s Coronet Restaurant, as well as a café in Broadway (two days), a café in Park St, City (Thursdays) and the Regent Café (Sundays). All I did was work! And incredibly, I did this for fourteen months. On Saturdays, I did not work and I would go to the George St cinemas and watch 8 movies. I spent all day there; I loved watching the latest films. It was also one day that I could rest.

With my savings, I went into partnership with Malamas Kontopos (from Paleohori) in a fruit shop in Matraville; however, Malamas moved on after six months and Georgios Psirras- who I had sponsored to Australia- took over his share. I had no idea about the fruit and vegetable business- Malamas did- but we worked very hard to build the business. For six mornings, we had early starts- going down to Sydney Markets and buy our produce. Giorgos was a people’s person, and he was very good with the customers. In 1956, extensive flooding in rural New South Wales made things very difficult for us, as there was very little produce, and whatever there was, it was very expensive. Giorgos and I were on the brink of bankruptcy. As Giorgos was a carpenter (and out of desperation), we came up with the idea of breaking up the large wooden pear boxes and making them into longer tomato boxes. We would then go down to the Markets and barter them for produce. This idea practically saved us! Not only did we overcome this difficult period, we actually did well once everything returned to normality. Giorgos and I stayed together for three-and-a-half years.  

A business opportunity arose in Kingsford when I bought an empty block of land- with no title- and built a fruit shop. I had heard of a fellow in Bathurst who had begun a new concept of selling fruit/vegetables in the store- self service. With an Australian fellow, we drove all the way to Bathurst to see how this worked. When I introduced this to my store, my customers were not used to it- it was something very different at the time. As more and more Europeans were living in the Kingsford area at the time, they desired European vegetables- that reminded them of home. The shop itself was a great success! Out-of-area customers were even coming to the shop.

Above: On my wedding day, my parents escort me to Church.

In July 1962, I returned to Greece for an extended holiday. It was there I met and married Stella Avaliotou, and we returned to Australia together. Although we resumed working the Kingsford fruit shop, my vision of our future had changed; like my grandfather and father, building was in my blood (as they say), and I had just realised this all those years. Before I could enter the building industry, however, there was a lot of learning to be done! At the time, we had bought a largish property in Auburn and for the next two years, I spent every weekend there knocking it down and rebuilding it- trying different things. It was my apprenticeship- with all its trials and errors! Other tradespeople came to help me- Vangelis Manolios, Georgios Panousos, Efstratios Rigas and Ioannis Konstantaras. It was through this apprenticeship that I was able to successfully transform myself from a shop-owner to a builder.

It was in 1968 that I was struck with bowel cancer; it was a sickness not very common at the time. The timing was unfortunate, as we did not know what would be the consequences. We had a very young family, and Stella was pregnant again- expecting twins. After the operation in July and a five-week recovery period, I was back at the building sites. It was Stella and our family, and my love for work that helped me overcome all the adversities, and taught me how precious life and family truly are.

Australia is next dearest thing to me after my family. It provided me with security and an opportunity to establish myself, to achieve social dignity and respect. If I had my time again, though, I would still go down the same path as I have, marry the same lady but make fewer mistakes. 

Back to Part 1


I would like to thank Efstratios and Stella Tamvakeras for all their time and help in writing this feature.


All photographs courtesy of Efstratios and Stella Tamvakeras.