Life Stories- Plomarites and Australia

Maria Provata (1912-   )

Based on on interview of Maria Provata

by Vasilios Vasilas and Isidoros Papapetrou 

I was the youngest of 6 children. My father, Isidoros, was a fine man, well educated, strong willed and multi-talented.   He was also a good businessman and very enterprising. When I was too young to remember, he went off to the United States as many husbands did in those days to earn some extra money for his large family and indeed he did very well there. However, he did not enjoy living abroad and he returned to Plomari. I was only a child when he was away, but I remember my mother, Aphrodite (Klideras) always saying to me, “Your father is returning! Your father is returning!” My father was also an artist and iconographer who painted wonderful icons and portraits he was much in demand and the many people who wanted their portraits done, would come and see my father. He spent two years, when he was 18-19 years old, at Agion Oros learning iconography. I still have a small icon he painted and gave to me when I left Greece to come to Australia. My mother was also well educated and she worked hard with our schooling. Many people who were mostly illiterate would bring their official documents to be read and explained by her and she often drafted their letters. My other siblings included four brothers, Ioannis, Giorgos, Dimitrios and Apostolis and my sister, Papadoula. We were all very fortunate our mother was there to help us with schoolwork. We owe a great debt to our parents in that all their children were literate, hard working and enterprising.
Above: A portrait.
Three of my brothers, Ioannis, Dimitrios and Apostolos went to Sudan for work opportunities; only Giorgos remained on the island- working between Mytilene and Plomari’s banks in the capacity of a Manager. My three brothers all returned to Greece after several years in the Sudan. Ioannis came to Australia with his 6 daughters for a short time and after ensuring that they were all married and settled, he returned to Greece in 1966 where sadly, soon after, he passed away. Dimitrios and Apostolos also returned to Greece and settled in Athens commuting from time to time increasingly to Plomari and Mytilene. As for me, I was sent to learn how to knit; there was a lady who had studied to be a mid-wife and did not have work at the time and she taught girls how to knit- to earn some money. My father bought me a new Singer sewing machine and I was able to learn sewing skills as well as my knitting skills which were to prove invaluable when I finally came to Australia. In addition to all my other household duties, I also helped in the family business on the land picking and transporting olives in addition to other agricultural activities with fruit and vegetables. These activities have left me with a love and passion with my gardening activities not only during the war years in Australia but in later life.
In 1938 my husband to be came from Australia to attend his brother’s and my sister’s wedding. He had to return to Australia because of his business and I decided not long after to make my way there as well, where we would be married. What did I know of Australia? Nothing. On the voyage, I became friendly with an English lady who was meeting her husband (who was waiting for her. She used to give me money to buy her things, and she would ask me to keep the change. I would always refuse. There was also an Italian gentleman who was wooing me and wanted me to go offshore with him when my boat, The Strathmore, P & O liner docked in the Suez Canal. We had a two day stopover in Sydney before moving onto Brisbane.
When I arrived in Brisbane, we got married. No bridal dress. No big wedding. Emmanuel’s brother, Nicholas, was best man. We took- what seemed an endless two-day ride- the train to Innisfail. I remember eating fish and chips for the first time during one of our stopovers at Ingham. My first impressions of this country town were the cows which bellowed all day and the thousands of toad frogs outside our door very morning. Innisfail actually had many Greeks there; our neighbours, the Taifalos family, were from Castellorizo. They were wonderful neighbours who really looked after me in those first few years (as I tried to adjust to this foreign land). I taught the female members of their family how to knit. Our town even had a Greek Orthodox Church which organised social dances and picnics. The parish priest, Father Sideris, who was from Asia Minor, organised the Greek lessons for our children. I was blessed with three children, two being born during the Second World War years and one afterwards.
Life Story: to Part 2