Life Stories- Dafiotes and Australia

Migrant Profile

Mihail Agamalis (1938-    )

Based on an interview of Mihail Agamalis

by Vasilios Vasilas


As my father, Andonios, was a shepherd, I followed his footsteps to become one too. Our flocks grazed on the Ahladies Mountain in the winter and in Kalloni’s valley when the weather became warmer. My mother’s family, the Kontellis’, were tobacco farmers.


Above: My parents, Andonios and Ourania.


 I remember when I finished my schooling, I cut myself on my first day of work at Georgios Papadopoulos’ farm- cutting potatoes. Apart from farming and a few trades, there were no jobs in rural Lesvos. It was my older brother, Ignatios, who migrated to Australia in the mid-fifties; it was a great injustice for young men to stay in villages and toil the farms- and for pittance- so they looked for other alternatives for work. And so many young men were migrating abroad that those who remained behind decided to follow them and try their luck abroad too.


As a teenager, I worked wherever there was an opportunity: for eleven months a year, we looked after our tobacco fields; or I would look after our flock of sheep; or dig wells. It was a difficult lifestyle. With tobacco, there was always the haggling with the buyers who would come around and try to convince you your produce was not good quality. Then they would offer you some ridiculous price (for your produce)- which raised the question inside you whether it was all worth it. And if your politics did not agree with the authorities, it would be no surprise to find your tobacco field aflame.


Above: A portrait in Kalloni.


Socially, life in rural areas was restricted too, whether it was its strict moral code or limited opportunities. We would wait for a panygiri (i.e. dates) to come around for the village to come alive with festivity and good cheer. In the mid fifties, Klidaras opened an open cinema in nearby Kalloni, and Mariolas opened an all-season cinema later; the cinema became a central part in rural Greece’s social life- as it was a window to the outside world.


Above: During National Service.


When I finished my National Service, I returned to the village and resumed working our fields. Ignatios was writing back home- always encouraging me to migrate too; with a half-a-heart, I decided to come to Australia in 1963. Although Ignatios was here, I did not know what I would encounter- I did not know if everything would favourably work out for me. On the same voyage- with the S.S. Patris- there were several Dafiotes travelling together: Nikolaos Parmakellis, Omeros Parmakellis, Trifonas Dandoulis and Evangelos Vavladellis. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; we had such a good time early in the trip that we quickly ran out of money and spent the rest of the journey asking for I.O.U’s (laughs). For some reason, our social circle baptised me Theoktistos; a few days after my arrival in Sydney, my brother and I were at the fish markets- purchasing fish for his fish shop- and a former passenger recognised me and called out, “Theoktiste!” My brother had no idea of what was happening…. (laughs). It just shows how much fun we had on the voyage.


My brother’s Golf Course Fish Shop was in Liverpool; at the time, it was almost like a country town. The lifestyle was a little slower and the people were very calm. I thought this was a great country. I tried to convince Ignatios to buy a farm- just outside Liverpool- and plant olives tree because, “One day, people will be buying olives here too.” I just saw so much potential here. With such an influx of migrants, Australia was bound to change. 


I started working in Sydney Waterboard- joining sewerage pipes. A Spanish fellow- with all our gestures and a mixture of Greek, Spanish and English- taught me how to connect them. I was very keen to learn English; whenever I wanted to learn what was something called, I never hesitated to ask.


While my brother was holidaying in Greece (1967), I managed his shop and this opportunity provided me with first-hand experience of running a shop. By the time he returned, I was ready to begin searching for my own business. I finally settled with the Palace Fish Shop in Pendle Hill. I already had the experience of working a fish shop; there was a lot of preparation- cutting the potatoes and fishes, and pre-cooking them. For three times a week, I was at the Fish Markets early in the morning to buy what fish I needed for the shop.


In 1980, I bought the Atlas Take Away in Blacktown. For two-and-a-half square miles, there were no houses around- it was all bush. The local sergeant came around to our shop when we were still getting it ready for opening and asked, “What are you doin’ here?” When I replied that we were opening up take-away, he was totally surprised, “Who for? The foxes?” Over the years, however, the area was developed (and populated), and it was a successful business.


For twenty years, I catered for the Police Stations’ cells in the Blacktown area, and New South Wales Police Department even recognised my service with a Certificate of Appreciation. After twenty-four years there, I retired. For forty years, I worked seven days-a-week but all the hard work and sacrifice paid off for my wife, Konstantina, our five sons-, Andonios, Nikolaos, Konstantinos, Panagiotis and Stavros, and myself as Australia gave us security and opportunity to gain a better life.


All photographs courtesy of Mihail Aagamalis.

I would like to thank Mihali Agamali for all his time and support to write this feature. Vasilis