Life Stories- Agia Paraskevi and Australia

Maria Angeli (1927-   )

Migrant Profile

Based on an Interview with Maria Banos (nee: Angeli)

by Arthur Banos 

I was born in 1927, the eldest of four children to Efstratios and Sappho Angeli.

My father fought in the Asia Minor War and when things started looking bad for the Greeks he helped transport some relatives from Menemeni in Turkey to Greece before the ‘Catastrophe’.

As a child I began to work in the various businesses my father was involved in: tobacco, market garden, kafeneia, olives, fruit and honey. My family owned a number of horafia with names such as Moshna, Bahche, Thollonia and Rumani.

The kafeneia my father ran included the Agrokippio, on the road leading into the village, and the Alambra which is still in the main street.

I liked school and was good at story writing. I also enjoyed raising silkworms with which I made a number of garments. However I had to help raise my brothers and help my two grandmothers and my grandfather. I worked in the horafia, helped with the kafeneio and also attended school. At the age of 12 years, I started learning how to sew with a woman named Valeria. I enjoyed this very much and by 15 years of age, I was showing other girls how to sew and cut fabric to size. These dressmaking skills helped me a great deal in Australia

The 1930’s depression years affected many people in the village. By the time we recovered from the tough times, World War II broke out. The village was occupied by the Germans and some villagers were killed. The Germans would often come to our house to collect food for their troops. I remember my father had pushed a German soldier’s head further into a large sfitha as he searched for food for the Germans in our storeroom. Somehow the collaborator intervened to avoid the German from shooting my Dad. We had hid our supplies elsewhere.

They were hard years and worse things followed with the Civil War. My eldest brother, Peter, decided to travel to Australia. He left in 1946, followed by my younger brother, George, in 1951. Greece was now sending its males to work in other countries.

In Agia Paraskevi there were many examples where boys who had gone to the USA and Sudan came back wealthy, got married and either settled in the horio or went away again. I suppose we thought that was how it was going to be with Australia.

However it was not the same. Not only did it seem difficult for the boys to make enough money to return quickly, but the single village girls began to journey to Australia as well, sponsored by their future husbands.

I also decided to leave the village to join my brothers. I was probably amongst the first girls from my village to travel to Australia without a fiancé waiting for me.

I knew from my brother Peter’s letters that Australia was not going to offer an easy life. Peter was working at the Blue and White Café in Goulburn and said he hardly saw the sunlight or trees.

Nevertheless, I was determined to join my brothers as I could only see hardship for my sister Elvira and my parents if I stayed on in the village to get married off to a local who would expect a dowry of land and a house. I was too independent-minded for that life.

I wanted the adventure and not to be a burden for my brothers.

In 1953 I boarded an Italian liner called the ‘Australia Oceania’. On board was Constantine Banos from Lemnos, who had earned my father’s blessing to ‘look after’ me and my female companions during the journey. Stavroula Kovelis was my cabin mate on the first leg of the voyage to Alexandria.

It was a hard voyage that could have been a disaster.

Firstly we took a Greek boat from Piraeus to Alexandria, then a train to Ismailia. From Ismailia we boarded an uncovered train to Port Said to wait for the Italian liner. It was during this leg that some Egyptians started to fight amongst themselves with knives. The Egyptians were terrifying and cheated many of the passengers who sold their jewelry for money to buy food. The travel agents were the worst who demanded extra fares for the land travel.

We were in a Port Said hotel for a week with the other passengers without money, hungry and dusty we decided to go to Church. As we walked along the dusty road I noticed up a roll of paper which I picked up and found to be money notes. It was like a miracle. With these notes I bought candles for all my 14 friends to light in the Panagia Evangelismo Greek Orthodox Church. I was able to buy food for myself and my closest friends. With the leftover money one of my companions bought me a knitted top in Colombo.

 To: Part 2