Life Stories- Plomarites and Australia

 Part 2: Maria Provata's Life Story

Living away from your homeland and your family is a harsh reality; you either accept it or you will die from all the worry. I suppose that is why I dedicated all my time and energy to my family. I was blessed to have a good husband and I did everything for our children. I made sure Aphrodite- for example- was always dressed well. 
Above: Maria and her husband, Emmanuel Papapetrou.
However, most of our time was spent on our large sugar cane farm. While a Cypriot fellow –and his wife- worked full time on our farm, we had over a dozen seasonal workers during harvest time. I used to feed my children, Panagiotis and Aphrodite (and later, Isidoros), put them to sleep and then cook the workers’ lunch. During the Second World War, one Italian fellow was in trouble with the Australian authorities and he found solace on our farm. He never forgot our gesture; even when we later moved to Sydney, he would still occasionally visit us. The War was actually hard for us because we lost all contact with Greece and our families; we sent all these parcels to help our families and they were all sent back. Because of rationing during the war and a general deprivation of commodities, we were self sufficient on the farm having been skilled in knitting, sewing, cooking and agriculture as a young girl in Greece. 
Emmanuel promised me that when the War was over, we would return to Greece. He was away from Greece a lot longer than me and had probably forgotten how difficult it would have been for us and, especially, our children in Greece. What prospects would our children have had there? Perhaps selling newspapers on street corners in Athens or perhaps some other labour intensive activities? I wanted my children educated; I wanted them to go onto university. As an alternative, I remember when my husband proposed, to send Panagiotis to a boarding school in Charlesville. This, I immediately refused and pointed out that while I was bringing up my children, I wanted to be by their side. After fifteen (or so) years in Innisfail, we decided to move to the city (Sydney); our children’s futures were a paramount priority.
Above: Maria and Emmanuel's children: Aphrodite, Isidoros and Panagiotis.
My husband Emmanuel was an enterprising man; in Sydney, we had a café for two years, moved onto a private hotel (The Grand Pacific Private Hotel) on Coogee Beach and then bought The Little Dutch Inn- which was only a block away from Town Hall on Park Street. He spent several years there before going into business with a nephew for a couple of years and then retiring.
Sydney was a much different experience to North Queensland. I remember taking my basket and going to the shops; if I had difficulties explaining myself in English, I would simply apologise and then walk off. My priorities continued to be looking after my household and children. Emmanuel was a very social person and quickly made friends within the Greek community. He actively became involved in the Mytilenean community and was a founding member of the Brotherhood. We went to all the Dances, as well as the picnics at Clifton Gardens and Nielsen Park.
My husband and I visited Greece twice: in 1961 and 1969. It was an emotional experience to see my parents and family again. Deep down however, I felt as though I was a stranger there- Australia was my home. I feel very proud and been blessed to have been able to live long enough to see my three children educated two as Specialist Doctors and another a Specialist lawyer. I have also been blessed to see my six grandchildren follow in their footsteps and to live long enough to see two great grandchildren. 
This feature was also printed in the Mytilenian Brotherhood of NSW's Year Book (2009).
I would like to thank Isidoro Papapetrou for organising the interview with his mother, Maria, and for the editing this feature.  Vasilis
Back to: Part 1