Life Stories- Agia Paraskevi and Australia

Dimitrios Sofianos (1901 – 1950)

(Jim Sofis)
Electra Sarika (1914- 2009)

Migrant Profile: Dimitrios Sofianos

Migrant Profile: Electra Sarika

  Based on an interview with Electra Sofianou (nee: Sarika)

 by Vasilis Vasilas

Dimitrios' Story

My father-in-law, Stavros Sofianos was a farmer, and he traded much of his produce in Asia Minor, a short boat trip across the water.  It was very profitable, and he was able to to buy more land in Aghia Paraskevi.  His wife was Anna (Hatzisakiris).

His son Dimitri, was part of the Greek army sent across to Turkey, when the Greek-Turkish War broke out in 1919.  He was destined to experience the brutal realities of war. There was the terrible Katastrophi and the army and all the Greeks were forced to retreat.  He was one of the fortunate ones who reached the Turkish coast and miraculously was able to board an awaiting ship to safety. 

He would talk about his memory of the troops hurling themselves onto the ship and being packed in like sardines.  They were so desperate to survive and not be captured. 

When he returned to Aghia Paraskevi he was restless and anxious, after these war experiences.  By now, his older brothers, Miltiades, Giorgos and Efstratios had migrated to the United States, and he wanted to go too, but the problem was, that America was not taking more migrants at that time.  He was not put off and migration was still his main objective.  He joined a group of horiani -  Stelios Karakonstandis (Stan Costas) Kyriakos Hatzigiannis,, Louis Samaras and in 1924  migrated to Australia.

His early years here were difficult – he felt isolated and it was hard to find work because of the language barrier.  He talked about travelling hundreds of kilometres and doing the oddest of jobs –  washing dishes at a café, chopping timber for railway sleepers (along the north coast of NSW) - it was all a matter of survival.  At one point, the café he was working for did not have enough work and he found himself baby-sitting the owners’ children – taking them for their daily walks.  In a Sydney shop, he even played the pianola!  At that time, migrants’ lives were riddled with uncertainty – when a job came to an end, their only choice was to move on.


Above: At the back of the Monterey Cafe, Barraba. 

Above Right: On the James' farm, Barraba. Standing is Ioannis "Jack" Kretsis, Mrs James, Doreen James and Dimitris himself. Seated is Aliki Krestsis and Dimitris' wife, Electra- with their daughter, Efterpi (Effy). 

While he was working in a fish café in Maitland, he met Jack Conomos (Ioannis Megaloconomou) from Kythera, and they decided to go into partnership together.  As most of the cafes in country NSW were owned by Greeks, it was a matter of finding one that was for sale.  Jack and Jim basically got onto the train and scoured the country towns for an opportunity to buy a business. This was 1928.  They eventually opened the Empire Café in Barraba, next to the Empire Theatre. 

Jim and Jack worked well together; they were very good cooks, and their café was a huge success.  After four years, they were able to buy a block of land across the road.  They closed the Empire and built their own café – in the fashionable design of the American ones.  They named it the Monterey Café .  It had thirteen cubicles, and ten tables with marble tabletops, and it seated ninety-six patrons.  Their business quickly built up again from where they had left off.


Above: Dimitris and Electra Sofianos- with their daughters, Efterpi (Effy) and Anna. 

Above Right: Out with horiani, Konstantinos Tsakiris and Aliki Kretsis.

After several years, Jim had become very tired and suffered from ill-health. He decided to visit his family in Greece, while Jack continued to look after the café.  It was during Jim’s visit to our village that our respective parents, who were family friends, discussed and arranged the prospects of our marriage.  Like many weddings in a village, it was a big occasion, a panygiri. Even after many decades, people still remembered it because it was one of the last big occasions before the War.   

 Life Story: Part 2