Around 1928 Con Vlismas of Murbah was looking around for new challenges and saw that the banana industry, stagnating since bunchy top disease had decimated the north coast plantations in the mid 1920s, was making its first tentative steps towards recovery. He was an entrepreneurial risk taker with a canny instinct for timing and in a move away from the local ‘cafe image’ of the stereotypical Greek entrenched by the early immigrants, sold his well-established Austral Café and acquired a banana plantation at Carool.
Nevertheless, Con found the local industry was still disorganised and quickly realised that banana growing remained a too chancy business at this stage. So he repurchased his cafe and was back in the kitchen by 1930. Three years later however, the industry was brought under the firm control of the Department of Agriculture, at the same time the Banana Growers Federation, formed by H.L. Anthony in 1929, was restructured after amalgamations with other organisations, and now provided district councils drawing together the various banana growing areas in NSW to give better management of marketing, quality control and production under one umbrella organization. (At this time Queensland accounted for 80% of Australian banana production, but within a few years the North Coast got to wear the mantle of the dominant producer.)
Con then acquired a 100acre lease from Mr Gaggin at Main Arm, Mullumbimby, and in late 1933 became a foundation member of the Main Arm branch of the Brunswick District Council of the BGF. In that year, when the Mullum banana industry started to get off the ground again, there were only 355 acres under bananas in the Brunswick Valley, bringing an average return of 13/- a case and representing a flow of £26,130 a year to the district, but still a long way from the post WW1 returns, and still an insignificant player in the banana business, having just 7% of the total NSW acreage. At the same time Angelo Hanos, also from Perahori and an earlier employee of Con’s at Murbah, was a foundation member of the Billinudgel branch. Prior to formation of the BVD and for the first few months thereafter, all growers in the Brunswick valley had been represented by one branch at Mullumbimby, at which Con was an outspoken delegate.
He was initially ‘hands on’ at the 'Austral Plantation', with the cafe left in the hands of his partner, Louis Bertsos, but a year or so later he passed on the plantation management to his foreman, Eric Bloomfield. Eric continued to run the place, supervising 33 employees in the logging, clearing, planting and harvesting, until he signed up for WW2 and Con sold the lease. Con’s sortie into the game was very profitable and enabled him to appreciate the work opportunities available and the potential for growth in the industry. He is arguably responsible for the slow trickle, later a flood, of his fellow Ithacans, mainly from his village of Perahori, into the banana growing hills of the North Coast. The census of mid1933 found 22 Greeks in Murbah, less than half of whom were in the café game, suggesting that Con had assembled a group of compatriots for a plantation invasion.
His brother, Odysseus (Joe) Dimitrios Vlismas, was in the vanguard of the following wave of Ithacan growers when Vlismas Bros acquired a plantation near Con at Palmwoods in 1934, perhaps a little later. He, together with Peter Kitsos over at Crabbes Creek, were the initial Greek/Macedonian growers of substantial presence, arriving at about the same time as the first Italians filtered through from the Richmond District. Collectively with the Finns and Sikhs, who were already well established, they and their following compatriots helped continue the revitalisation of the banana industry.
The Chinese, Mullum district’s earlier major ‘alien’ group in the banana game, had left the growing side of the industry after the bunchy top disaster. Having been through the ropes they were more than happy to leave the hard yakka to these new growers. They subsequently had a large influence in the wholesale fruit markets, but their earlier presence in the Brunswick district is memorialised by the name Chinaman’s Hill between Crabbes Creek and Middle Pocket and Chinaman's Ridge Road at Wilson's Creek/Huonbrook. Until the BGF started to flex its pecs the Chinese agents at the Sydney markets seem to have tied up most of the Mullum growers. The Murbah firm of Chow Kum & Co was the local agent for many banana growers in the early years of the industry.
Along with the Vlismas many other players also sensed the end of the Depression-led collapse and came onto the field, pushing up the NSW acreage dramatically from the 1927 low of 1500 acres. The 1933/34 season was still pretty good, but the following year things started to get out of hand with the continuing exponential growth of the industry, presenting an average gross return of 11/3d per case for the season, barely covering production and marketing costs. In the 12mths to 30Jun35 a total of 1,770,801 cases were consumed in Australia, representing a diet of 2 bananas per week for each Australian, but nevertheless represented a glut. At this time there were 338 commercial growers on 2210 acres in the Bruns District and 854 players on 7550 acres on the Tweed, contributing to the North Coast’s dominant position in Australian production.
The shakeout that followed saw North Coast plantations down to 15,745 acres by mid 1937, from which the growers who continued playing managed a nice average run rate of 16/- per case. By this time the north coast growers had captured 80% of the southern markets, while Queensland retreated to develop its home market. This benign environment remained consistent and by mid 1940 acreage had only recovered to 17,211 acres and was still generating the same return, with 1000 less growers sharing the treasure. The following war years turned out to be extremely profitable.
The Vlismas brothers managed their plantation/s on a rotation basis. Joe landed in the early 1920s to join Con at Murbah, but in about 1929 went to Lismore to manage the Capitol Café until relieved by one of the others. The Paramount Café at Murbah was burnt out in mid 1935, probably releasing John for a spot of temporary banana bending until he returned to Greece for his 12mth holiday. The Capitol was sold in 1937, leaving only the Bellevue to manage, so releasing more than one to oversee the clearing, planting and harvesting. Joe however, seems to have been the longest serving manager. By the end of the war the place was divided up into separate leases and by the late 1940s they were absentee landlords, having returned to the Murbah district to dabble in other farms and ventures.
By this time the only Greek freeholders remaining in the Palmwoods/Upper Main Arm area seem to be the Mellis Bros and Archie Caponas, with Ernie Paspalis, Archie’s fellow Kytherian, on a nearby lease. By early 1950 the Italians and Finns were the most prominent migrant groups at Main Arm while most Ithacans were out around Mullumbimby Creek.
Others from Perahori who quickly followed the Vlismas’ into the sport included Jim and Eric Kassianos and Denis Pilikas who established around Billinudgel in 1936, Jack Karavia at Mullumbimby Creek in 1936, Paul Melidonis at Main Arm in 1936/37, Gerry Kassianos at Blindmouth in 1937, and the influential Andrew Alidenes at Palmwoods in 1937. (James Sechos/Sechopoulos, perhaps a Rhodian or Kastellorizan, predates them all with a farm at Wilson's Creek in the mid 1930s, but his circumstances remain a mystery. He was a friend of Peter Dimitri Psaltis of Mullum.)
The first Greek banana growers on the north coast appear to be the Kytherian brothers-in-law, Mick Manuel Psaltis and George Zakarias Souris, when they planted out a portion of their 250acre coastal farm at Bundagen, near Coffs Harbour, in early 1927. The bookies favour Theo John Condoleon as the first Kytherian to play the game on this stretch of the coast when he acquired a plantation somewhere around Murbah in about 1937. (And also of Kytherian extraction were the innovative Notaras Bros, Angelo and John of Woolgoolga, who developed the largest and most productive fully-irrigated banana farm in NSW. Through the 1950s they established practices still followed on banana farms today.)
Andrew Lambros Alidenes initially had settled in South America before deciding to move on to Australia. He eventually jumped ship in Melbourne in 1929 and, after a sojourn in Adelaide, settled in the Murwillumbah area undetected under the surname Lambros. His brother Spiro, a merchant mariner from the age of 14 who jumped ship with him, wasn’t so lucky. He, also carrying the name Lambros, was later deported after being sprung in Adelaide where he was attempting to fulfil his lifetime’s ambition of becoming a psalmist in the Orthodox Church. Andrew however, had more native cunning and, according to family folklore, ducked and weaved all the way to northern NSW where he had heard his fellow villagers, the Vlismas brothers, had found good business opportunities. He used the surname Lambros, as did his brother Nick who arrived in 1936, for at least 10yrs before he was convinced that his trail had gone cold and the authorities given up the chase.
However, his appearance in this area may have been due to a family connection with George Adelenes. George was born on Ithaca in 1862 and like most Ithacans went to sea as a youngster. He was a 12yr old in New Zealand when he decided to come on to Australia, landing in Newcastle in 1874, arguably the first Ithacan in a town that was to become the largest Ithacan enclave outside the capital cities. Just as with the Finn seamen, it’s probably no coincidence that Newcastle, a major port town, developed a large enclave of Ithacan sailors.
He subsequently spent 23yrs around Sydney and Melbourne before returning to New Zealand for a long stint in 1897, after which he settled in Brisbane. In 1904 he came to Lismore, probably accompanying Stratti Andrulakis and his Ithacan wife Athena Florias/Florence who, coincidentally, were in Melbourne at the same time as George. Rather than settle down in a traditional Greek cafe however, he became a cook and camp overseer for a group of Lismore-based Government surveyors who wandered all over the region in their mapping and road/village planning expeditions. He was still recorded in Lismore in 1909, the year Athena Andrulakis sold the business, but thereafter his whereabouts are a mystery. It’s probable George worked for the Andrulakis during the periods the surveyors weren’t in the field.
No doubt he became well acquainted with Mullum and Murbah during the camping expeditions and it’d be interesting to know whether his letters home were responsible for subsequently bringing Andrew Alidenes, and perhaps Con Vlismas, to the area. Conversely, he was not identified in NSW or QLD in the 1916 Greek Alien census so it’s possible he finally returned home pre war where word of his exploits would have spread around the island. He would have been 54 in 1916 and resident in Australia for about 40yrs. [Another suspicious Ithacan name was that of 35yr old Arthur George Lyvanas of Patras who opened the first Greek cafe at Kyogle in late 1906. Just after the war he opened a cafe at Darlinghurst in partnership with Arthur Raftis, a probably Ithacan simplifying his name from Raftopoulos. Patras was a favoured migration destination for the Ithacans, and 'Lyvanas' has a resonance with the later Ithacan Livanis family of Mullum.]
In 1939 Andrew travelled to Sydney and married Despina (Isabel) Haritos, born in Darwin in 1918 to pioneering parents Efstratios George Haritos (Tsaritos) and Eleni Harmanis. In 1917 her parent’s marriage, in a dual ceremony with Diamantis Pitsikas and Kyriakoula Harmanis, was Darwin’s first Greek Orthodox wedding.
Except for her brother George, who was serving in the Army, all of Despina’s family came to Mullum after the bombing of Darwin in 1942. Efstratios initially worked for the Pippos Bros at Main Arm before joining Andrew and Despina further up at Palmwoods. He was assisted on and off by sons Mick and Nick, but Nick later acquired his own banana patch at Billinudgel in partnership with Tom Guebaroff. Son Jack attended secondary school at Southport. Shortly after the war they all returned to Darwin except for daughter Assimina (Sylvia) who had married Tony Peters (Pizimolas) in the meantime. The Haritos brothers pioneered commercial barramundi fishing in the Northern Territory, while George separately established a commercial crocodile venture.
Nick (Ningle) Haritos, weighing in at 9st 6lb, was the champion boxer in the district. A ‘grudge’ match between he and Tiger Kelly of Byron Bay, in which Nick’s style was likened to a ‘blitzkreig’, received a lot of attention. The smart money was on Nick who had beaten Tiger in their two previous encounters, but this time around the bell saved Tiger and the match was declared a draw. Theirs was the main event of the tournament, but the lead up bouts had the reporter lamenting the demise of ‘ringcraft’ in the ‘fistic arts’. Another Greek boxer around at the time was Louis Christian (Bellou) who toured with the Jimmy Sharman boxing troupe. He spent sometime hiding out at the back of Yankee Creek in the 1940s after a disagreement with Sharman. Another part-timer with Sharman was Charlie ‘Oyster’ Feros, the first cousin of the Byron Bay Feros’. He was based in Lismore but one anecdote has the troupe at Bangalow in 1945/46 where Charlie, a very olive skinned Greek, had to make a first selection from a number of amateur challengers. He chose to box with an Aboriginal and signalled his choice with the statement ‘I’ll take midnight here’. The quick witted Aboriginal, probably equally as quick with his fists, replied with ‘You look about half past eleven yourself mate’! No record of who won. B. Comino of Southport also featured in a number of tournaments at Murbah during the war. And yet another during the war years was the Brisbane based heavyweight, Nick Kriticos, who often starred as the main event in tournaments in the region.
These blokes may have prompted Andrew Alidenes to have a go. Unfortunately he chose to box above his weight with a 14½ stone monster. At the BGF banana loading shed at Mullum in mid 1949 the challenges were issued thus: Monster- … you black ------- dago ------… Ali Denes- … you Australian -------- …. Ali was subsequently laid up for a month but won the rematch with Judge Storkey V.C. refereeing. He even got some free lessons: Barrister Mr B.F. Telfer of Sydney, grabbed the court bailiff around the neck and applied a ‘stranglehold’ while his honour demonstrated the ‘uppercut’. Them were the days.
It’s possible a number of other Darwin Greek refugees, if not pugilists, came to the district with the Haritos family and decided to stay. It was about this time that the anxiety of the BGF and RSL over Greeks monopolizing the banana industry moved up the scale.
During the war Slugger was indirectly accused of circumventing manpower restrictions by going into partnership with his employees in leased patches on his farm(s). The banana industry was given protection status during the war and self-employment and the need to protect the investment was apparently a legitimate reason for exemption from call-up. One such co-lessee in partnership with Mrs Alidenes was Velo Vassell, who had come down from Brisbane in mid 1944 without permission of the manpower authorities and was sprung while making an application for exemption from military service. The matter was handed over to the Police Magistrate for determination, before whom it was alleged by the police prosecutor, who was also President of the Mullum RSL, that it was an example of extensive ‘dummying’ occurring among alien banana growers in the district. ‘Alien’ conspiracy theories abounded in this wartime period and the RSL had been seeking just such a test case for four years to back up their ‘dummying’ assertions. The PM refused his application, but made no determination on Punchy’s way of obtaining labour.
Andrew and Despina moved to the Murbah district in 1946, shortly after the Haritos family departed, and established a farm at Tumbulgum. Their Palmwoods property, by then divided up into 5 to 10 acre banana parcels, was left in the hands of various lessees. Before departing it’s believed they bought their property at Yankee Creek, which was worked by Andrew through regular commuting from Murbah.
Their move may have been prompted by a disastrous fire that wiped out almost 200 acres of banana plantations at Main Arm and Palmwoods, with the losses in the vicinity of Palmwoods estimated at £23,000. The year 1946 marked the worst drought in 65yrs and there were frequent and serious losses all over the north coast due to bushfires. On 16Sep46 a fire broke through into Palmwoods valley from the top end of Main Arm and entered an area of 600 acres of closely settled banana land… The fire was first observed coming over the top of the hill above the residence of Mr Andrew Lambros about 1 pm on Saturday. From a beginning of four firefighters, it was not long before practically all of the 100 men occupied in the area were engaged, plus another 100 volunteers, including men from as far south as Byron Bay and as far north as North Tumbulgum….
Lambros & Co lost 12 acres of its 31 acre holding; Lambros Bros lost 7 acres of their 21 acre holding; Lambros Bros, James & Smith lost 15 acres of a 20 acre holding; and Bill Pippos lost 10 acres of his 22 acre holding. Bill and the Mellis Bros, Paul and Nick, at Upper Main Arm suffered the worst loss. Bill lost his packing shed, flying fox systems, most of the materials for a new home, a good suit of clothes and a considerable amount of money… The Mellis Bros lost their residence, packing shed, flying fox wiring systems and 15 acres of their 20 acre plantation. The largest single loss was suffered by Cranney Bros who had 50 acres burnt out plus the destruction of 100 separate flying fox wires leading to their giant packing shed. They managed to save their 9 workers’ cottages however, for which the later hippies are grateful. Tom Mott at Upper Main Arm was practically wiped out. All up, bananas worth about £40,000 were destroyed. Two weeks later a fair swag of the Vlismas Bros plantations at Eungella went up in smoke.
The Alidenes returned to this area in 1949 and subsequently had farms at Blindmouth and Montecollum, but the largest at Yankee Creek, now reached from Alidenes Road at the foot of Laverty’s Gap, remained the mainstay. This farm was 300 acres with about one third the holding under cultivation and had one of the area’s longest flying foxes. The farm roads were hand dug from the flats to the upper reaches. A licensed sawmill also was established on the farm and supplied with the logs brought down from the range by bullock team. They also introduced pineapples and beans and were the first to irrigate bananas, and the pecan nut trees planted by Mrs Alidenes are believed to be one of the first stands in the area. For further diversification they also ran a few beef cattle and goats and established a small piggery, all of which positioned them well for the eventual downturn in bananas.
Andrew was influential in the local Greek community, sponsoring other Greeks, including his brother Nick in 1936, and dispensing advice as he saw fit. Mrs Alidenes often acted as translator and interpreter, on occasions in crucial medical emergencies and in legal matters. She and a coterie of the Greek ‘banana wives’ also carried on the time honoured Greek tradition of ‘matchmaking’ (Proxenia).
Andrew appreciated the spirit of free enterprise in his new homeland, playing the game hard where required. Like his seafaring Ithacan ancestors he had a love of the sea and built a fishing trawler, the Aristotle, based at Brunswick Heads. He always invested confidently in Mullumbimby township.
In the early 1950s, sensing the growth in Mullum, he became a developer, creating the 21 lot subdivision at the rear of the Catholic Church across the river. He was responsible for the extension of Laurel Ave and the construction of several new streets. He also won headlines in mid 1950 when he paid a record price for a Mullum allotment; £675 for the large block on the corner of Burringbar and Gordon Streets knocked down to him after some spirited bidding by competitors. These actions brought him into the Chamber of Commerce where he was outspoken on a number of occasions, particularly over BGF excesses. In late 1955 after a prolonged period of low banana prices he convinced the chamber to approach the State Government to have low interest loans made available to growers who had demonstrated bona fides by remaining in the industry for at least seven years. The meeting also decided to seek BGF support for the proposal despite Andrew’s contention that the BGF was not helping growers as it should, but was spending money on ‘white elephants’ such as the new store being built at Mullumbimby. The BGF reply was a gem. They described the suggestion as ‘ridiculous’, suggesting that chambers of commerce could assist the industry by organising combined meetings of their own organization with the Housewives’ Association in an endeavour to step up consumption of bananas. At the next crisis the BGF itself proposed Government intervention.
Andrew later joined the Mullumbimby Branch where, in 1958, he became agitating for a review of the ‘merchant scheme’, one of the measures taken by the BGF with the Sydney agents to stabilize prices following the 1955/56 glut. With another glut in 1958 prices were heading south again. That year he also lead the revolt against the NSW Government’s introduction of a road maintenance tax when he pointed out that over the years the banana growers in the areas of Main Arm, Mullumbimby Creek and Wilson’s Creek had contributed thousands of pounds towards making and maintaining their roads. ….
Andrew moved on in 1962, aged 58, and it’s understood that Mr Ruddock has no plan to deport him as an illegal alien. Isabel died at the family home in Stuart Street in 2003. Their daughter, Helen L'Orange AM, was head of the Office of the Status of Women in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 1988-93.
Nikolaos worked for his brother Andrew for a fair period before establishing plantations at Palmwoods, Blindmouth and Main Arm where there were 1300 acres under bananas by late 1944. At that time Main Arm was 25 Creek crossings from the railway station at Mullum from where 700 tons of bananas were being despatched each month during the season. Despite this huge supply there was no slackening in demand and bananas remained a nice little earner. In mid 1944 the authorities approved his purchase of a house in town (he was an ‘alien’ remember), from where he commuted to his Blindmouth farm.
Like Andreas, Nick didn’t have the benefit of an education but demonstrated what can be achieved through hard work and determination. He married a fellow Ithacan, Constantina Karavia, distantly connected to Jack and Chris Karavias of Mullumbimby Creek. His mother-in-law, Aphroditi Karavia, arrived in Mullum in 1949 and nine years later was presented with her naturalization certificate at one of the first official functions by the newly elected Doug Anthony MHR. A large party afterwards saw her toasted by the Shire Clerk who paid tribute to the high regard in which the Alidenes family was held in Mullumbimby. She died in Mullum in 1990 aged 98, outpacing Nick who was reunited with his brother in 1976 aged 67. Constantina, who landed in 1938, still lives in Stuart Street, while son Leo now works the family farm at Palmwoods and son Sam also carries on the family farming tradition at Everitts Hill behind Uncle Toms, after a varied career in teaching and town planning. Penny, Christine and Harry have moved out of the area. (And the reformed Brunswick Valley Historical Society survived its early years by the generosity of 'The Alidenes Fund'.)
Gerasimos Spyro Arkouzis, also from Perahori, first landed in the early 1930s but returned to Ithaca a few years later to marry Niki Pippos of Vathy. He came back on his own in 1938 and farmed bananas at Murwillumbah and later with Spiro and Aristidis Dendrinos at Rosebank, where both seem to have had hassles getting Government approval for their lease in 1944. Also at Rosebank in a plantation partnership during the war years were the Mytilinian brothers-in-law Stratis Karampasis and Jim Coultis. They subsequently decided that the cafe game was the way to go and some time post war both went to Lismore; Jim joining his brother Peter at the Craigmore Café while Stratis went to the fish ‘n’ chip shop of his brother Stellios, who is alleged to have had a Mullum cafe for a while.
By the time Gerry settled at Mullumbimby Creek in about 1946 he was finally in a position to send for Niki and son Spyro. That year, and again in 1947 and 48, he took out banana prizes at the Mullum Show, with Pippos Bros the runners-up, but in 1949 places were reversed. He seemed to have had two plantations, one later acquired in partnership with Mr Jamieson next door to his original patch. They retired to Greece in 1963, but after a two-year stay returned to Oz, settling in Brisbane after Niki won the argument over Gerry’s desire to re-establish back in Mullum. Gerry died in Brisbane in 1975, just after they had all returned from a holiday on Ithaca. Spyro, who married Artimi Grivas in a grand ceremony on Ithaca in 1969, is now a successful businessman in Brisbane.
Gerry’s younger half-brother, George, arrived about 1950 and later married Maria, a Cretan girl. They and their son Spyro moved to Holland Park in Brisbane in 1981, but still owning property in Mullumbimby as well as a chain of shops in Brisbane. George recently died in Brisbane.
Gerry Arkousis and Spyro Stavros Pippos were the only Greeks to join the Mullumbimby Amateur Fishing Club and proved to have uncanny skills in the game. Gerry was Club Captain on the final two day outing of the club in mid 1956 when Spiro won the club championship. Smells fishy, but the following year Spiro swept the pool, taking out the club championship in nearly all categories. And again in 1958 and 1959. Nobody ever caught him using the traditional Greek techniques of dynamite and nets. He was Club Captain by the time of the Far North Coast Championships in 1959 when Mullum lost the title they had held for the previous two years. Spiros started to lose his touch in 1960 when he only managed third place in the club championships.
Spiro and Maria Boutsis were from the village of Eandion on the island of Salaminos adjacent to the port city of Piraeus, which British bombing had reduced to a giant pile of rubble, and arrived with their two young sons, Efthymios (Tim) and Fotis, in 1953. After a period working for Andrew Alidenes they subsequently acquired banana patches at Mullumbimby Creek and Wilsons Creek. Spiro’s brother Stylianos (Stan) arrived as a 22yr old bachelor in early 1954 and was initially in partnership with Spiro until a couple of years later he acquired his own plantation half way up Montecollum, next door to Costa Tsintilas. At the same time S. Boutsis, presumably Spiro, had a farm in the Alidenes area, South of Mullumbimby Creek off the Wilsons Creek Road, where his neighbours were Andrew Cassianos and Augoustis Tsimpikas. Spiro and Stan, the sons of Efthymios and Maria (nee Hatzimihali), had 7 other brothers and sisters, some of whom are believed to also have come to Australia, perhaps around Mullum for a period.
Stan sold up in the mid 1960s and after a few years banana labouring on a compatriot’s patch at Middle Pocket returned to Greece in the early 1970s. Spiro and Maria moved to Crabbes Creek in the late 1950s but in 1974 returned to Salaminos for a holiday, which subsequently turned into a permanent arrangement when homesickness proved incurable. They died within 20 days of each other in early 2006. They were accompanied by their daughter Leigha (Aglaia), now an English teacher who has two daughters of her own and lives in Salamina. Her brothers however, are still in Australia; Tim a school teacher in Melbourne and Foti, who had a plantation at Burringbar in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in the mining industry in WA. Leigha was an 8mth old baby when christened in a mass baptism ceremony at Murbah in late 1958 by Fr Gregory Sakelariou of Brisbane. Many Mullum Greeks, including her godmother Dionysia Caponas, attended for the usual all-weekend festivities.
Alex Demetriou mined bananas at Mullumbimby Creek from the late 1950s through to about the mid 1960s. Probably connected, if not the same bloke, was E. A. Dimitriou, also wandering around Mullum in the late 1950s.
Theo Economos/Economitis, was a Cypriot who arrived from Sydney in the early 1950s to take up a plantation next door to Danny Pippos at Mullumbimby Creek. His wife, Theofila, also a Cypriot, and three children, Jack, Peter and Aspira, all born in Sydney, arrived shortly afterwards, but they all moved on to Brisbane in the early 1960s after bananas became unprofitable. Theo was outspoken at BGF meetings and was prominent in the move in early 1955 to ban ‘Pitt Street Farmers’ from the banana industry when the growers were searching for remedies to overcome the severe banana glut at the time. Allegedly these ‘wealthy growers’, as opposed to the ’genuine growers’, were buying up to 60 acre farms and planting out without too much concern over turning a profit because of tax write off advantages. It seems that while the dairy farmers continued to be the leading suppliers of banana patches these blokes became next in line as they divided their holdings up into individual leases.
Theo also became the main spokesman for the Greek community in the late 1950s. In 1959 he was the organiser of the reception for Archbishop Iezekle and the coordinator in despatching the money collected by George Hadjia for the Cyprus appeal.
George Vasili Hadjia, his wife Anna and family of four boys and two girls, were Cypriots who farmed at Mullum Creek from the mid 1950s until about 1960. During the Greek/Turk clashes in the lead up to Independence on Cyprus in 1959 George initiated an appeal in Mullum to help Greek families affected by the disturbances. Mrs Loukia Michael Barwava Taffy, left with seven children after her husband was killed, was the first recipient of money.
Amongst the other Cypriots were Vasilios Hadgispiron (Bill Spiros), his wife Eirini, three daughters and four sons, and his brother Andrew with his wife Kyriacou and children Spyro, Georgina, Stavros, Helen and Jim. Both brothers grew bananas at Mullum Creek from the mid 1950s to early 1960s.
Many Cypriots came and went but the only other couple identified was Kyprianos and Panagiota Papageorgiou who grew bananas at Mullumbimby Creek from the early 1950s through to the early 1970s. They and their daughter Georgia are believed to have eventually settled back on Cyprus.
Cyprus was a British colony from 1878 to 1960 and most Greek-Cypriots chose Britain as their preferred place of settlement. Following the Turkish invasion of 1974 a further huge wave of refugees was taken in by Britain, so much so that today there are about 250,000 living there, 40% of the island’s population. About 12,000 of this second wave came to Australia, bringing the total to about 65,000 Cypriots throughout the country.
Theo Gianniotis was from the small island of Meganisi, a satellite off Lefkada a few miles north of Ithaca, and was a banana grower around the district for many years. He was sponsored by his brother-in-law Stathis Andrew Pippos in 1948, and laboured for Stathis for a few years before buying a patch from him. His wife Zaharati Pippos, the sister of Stathis and the cousin of Danny Pippos of Mullum Creek, never joined him permanently and only ever came out for holidays. Upon the eventual arrival of his sons, Bill and Jim, Theo returned to Ithaca where he died in about 1980. Two other sons never came to Australia but one, Andrea, comes and goes frequently and is now believed to be a semi-permanent resident of Brisbane.
By the mid 1950s a banana plantation registered in the name of Gianiotis Bros was situated between Archie Korialos and the Pippos Bros. Bill, born Vathy 1936, landed in 1952 and spent 5yrs at Mullum Creek before returning home to marry Maria Kouginanos, the niece of Dionysis Caponas (nee Pippos) and nephew of the above Stathis Pippos. They later farmed for 30yrs out along Main Arm Road until retiring into Mullumbimby. Their son Theo is now a pilot in the RAAF and son Andrew a farmer at Murwillumbah. Bill’s brother Jim married Helen Tsintilas, cousin of Marigo Dendrinos of Middle Pocket, and moved to Murbah to plant bananas in the early 1960s. They retired to Brisbane with their two children Theo and Zeta in the mid to late 1970s.
Bill and Jim were in the senior Mullumbimby Soccer team in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of the other Greeks and Macedonians who came and went in this ‘United Nations’ team included I. Yofechevich, C. Ouslinis, C. Bassoutis, W. Apostoloff, C. Vlahos, Z. Vlahos, G. Naoum and A. Soultas. Mullum had two senior teams, known as Mullum One and Mullum Two, in the Tweed District Soccer Association, but in early 1959 they decided to split into separate clubs and a reshuffle took place in which all the ‘New Australians’ gravitated to the Wyverns and the ‘Australians’ to the Bluebirds. They were a curiosity when they first took to the field in 1959, with the Daily News commenting on the five different nationalities making up the team. They won the Tweed Championship that year but were just beaten by Twin Towns in the finals of the 1960 competition. There were still a couple of English migrants in the 1960 team but all the others were non-Brit 'New Australians'. Their strongest competitors were the Murbah Spartans, which also included a number of Greeks. Soccer was huge throughout the Richmond-Tweed in the fifties and sixties.
Telemachos (Archie) Vasilios Korialos was serving in the merchant navy and docked in Germany when Italy invaded Greece. He hightailed it back to Ithaca and had an adventurous wartime service in the resistance, but after the war when open fighting broke out between the various resistance forces he rejoined the navy. In 1945 his ship, the Kyklades, was docked in Newcastle when he decided to stay. After a few months work on a Greek owned coastal steamer he was advised by the city’s strong Ithacan community, with whom Andrew Alidenes had left a standing order for labourers, to head north where well paid work was available in the booming banana industry. His initial employment was with his koumbaros, Bill and Gerry Pippos, at lower Palmwoods, but upon their move to Murbah just after the war Archie went further up into the steep country to work for Alidenes. (Archie’s first cousin was Koula Pippos (nee Ksini), wife of Spiro of Goondiwindi who was the brother of Bill and Gerry, later of Murbah.)
At Palmwoods Archie lived in a small hut and worked long backbreaking hours, at one stage losing everything he owned in a fire that gutted his hut. Andrew Alidenes provided replacement clothes and local Mullumbimby businesses extended him credit. He gradually recovered and a short while after the Alidenes move to Murbah in 1946 he was in a position to lease a 10 acre patch from him, with a house, where he worked alone for the next 9yrs.
His wife, Effie Kahrilas, whose brother served on a minesweeper in the North Sea during the war, was sponsored out first-class by Archie in 1954 after her father had agreed to Archie’s proposal by letter for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Effie, the cousin of Toto Livanis and Chris Karavias, was from Archie’s home village of Perahori and had been responsible for the household and welfare of her younger brother upon the unfortunate early death of her mother. She experienced something of a culture shock upon arrival at the farm, which was flattened 8mths later by the devastating 1954 cyclone and caused the lost of all their possessions. They then moved to Mullumbimby Creek where a strong Ithacan enclave was developing and where social life improved with closer neighbours. Their leased 15 acre plantation was on the 100 acre freehold of Stathis Pippos and acquired in two lots, the first from the Australian John Tate and the adjacent one a short time later from the Italian Franco Demontis who moved over to Main Arm to join the growing band of his compatriots in that area.
Stathis’s patch had the road frontage and Archie’s was further up the hill behind, causing great hassles with access. Stathis objected to Archie’s flying fox going over the top of his plantation, which brought to the fore Archie’s inventiveness and mechanical skills. He constructed one of the largest platforms in the district, elevating the wires beyond any chance of interference with Stathis’ bananas, and when he eventually got road access via a neighbour his ingenuity saw him adapting an old Dodge to power the flying fox and remove the hard labour of carrying fertilizer and the like to the top of the steep half mile long plantation. The odd way some of the leases were divided up made flying fox interference a perennial problem for the uphill growers. In a number of cases the courts were called upon to adjudicate when damage to banana plants resulted in disputes, fisticuffs and ‘threatening words’.
Fifteen acres is a heap of bananas and apart from family help Archie needed the assistance of farm hands. This labour came mainly through itinerants, mostly fellow Ithacans who arrived with the intention of staying but after a stint of banana labouring on their compatriots’ leases found the hard work of maintaining a plantation was not for them. One such was John Kondilis who worked for Archie in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Other labour came as a result of Australia’s post war mass migration policy, which brought people of many nationalities, a lot passing through Mullum looking for work. One such was an Austrian Winfrew Klepp who worked for Archie for a while and decided to stay. Win was goalie for the senior Mullumbimby soccer team, made up almost entirely of ‘New Australians’, in the 1950s and 60s. He has now semi-retired to Brunswick Heads.
Another nine years of hard work followed before Archie and Effie accumulated the wherewithal to acquire a house in town in 1963, the same year life was made a little easier when the standard banana case was changed, reducing the 75lb monster down to a slightly more manageable 56lbs. They retired in 1974, selling the farm to a Sydney man through the Caponas real estate agency, but Archie continued to work on his neighbour’s farm on a casual basis for the next 15 years.
During the winter months Archie was able to produce about 65/70 cases a month rising to 90/110 during summer. In the good seasons, depending on market demand and whether supply had been interrupted from other production areas due to cyclones/bushfires/floods/hailstorms and such, he achieved up to £5 a box. Sometimes though, the cheque didn’t even cover the freight let alone overheads and the wages of his farm hands. Most Mullum storekeepers were sympathetic with the growers in these periods and extended credit as required.
Archie died in 1997 aged 85. His daughter Arjiro (Geraldine) now lives in Sydney while son Eleftherios (Leo), having inherited his engineering aptitude, carried on the family presence in Mullumbimby with Leo’s Garage in Dalley Street until recently. Mrs Korialos continues an active retirement and is proud of her years as one of the ‘banana wives’ who, amongst numerous other farm and household activities, had to assemble the wooden boxes and pack them in time for the afternoon train. [During the banana boom years two express banana trains departed daily from Murwillumbah, loading at Mullumbimby, Bangalow, Lismore and Casino, and headed direct to the southern markets, but probably with a couple of stops in the Coffs region.] One of the solutions trotted out in the glut havoc of 1960 was for centralized packing to enable some control of production and quality of fruit, but the Greeks essentially operated their plantations as family units and this would have meant the end of a large slice of family participation. In any event, with no end to the glut in sight the slow trickle of the Greeks from the industry started at this time.
Effie says ‘We all worked hard because we were scared’. The war years had left an overriding memory of great hunger, with the death through starvation and malnutrition of many relatives and friends, driving them all in desperation never to see the experience repeated. This resolve saw them stick with the banana game, working harder and living frugally in the down times, until they achieved financial security. Apart from this hard core of stayers, the Ithacan community was not a stable one. Ithacans were coming and going all the time, both families and single labourers, maintaining Mullum’s Greek population as the largest ‘alien’ presence.
Effie learnt English on an opportunity basis. Archie, who picked up English over his many years on the boats, which were owned, captained and crewed by many different nationalities, was her initial teacher, but the farm kept him busy and exhausted at the end of the day, leaving little time to devote to a structured programme. In about 1960 the reception for the ABC Sunday afternoon radio programme allotted to rudimentary Greek/English lessons improved. This was supplemented by a free book, titled ‘Walter and Connie’, a series of conversations between two people rendered in both English and Greek, which helped Effie pick up grammar and written English. This study went on at night after the day’s banana labouring and sometimes went through to one in the morning. The mass migration scheme had been going on for nearly 15 years at this time yet the Government never managed to provide an English teacher to one of the larger New Australian enclaves in the state outside Sydney. In about 1948/50 the Greeks of Mullum Creek had hired their own teacher, organised by Jack Karavia and Gerry Arcouzis, who gave lessons once a week to the community, but this only lasted a year or so before the emphasis changed to teaching Greek to the children.
Harris Petrou Markoulli was listed as a banana grower of Mullumbimby Creek in the late 1960s.
Harry Manoli Petrellis was from the northern Greek island of Lemnos where Australia had a high recognition factor. A major ANZAC base was established there during WW1 for the build up to launch the Gallipoli campaign, and afterwards the British/Turkish armistice was negotiated and signed there. The villages of Portiano and Moudro contain large Australian War Memorial Cemeteries. Between 1952 and 1975 there was a mass migration of Lemnians to Australia, most settling in Melbourne where the Lemnian Brotherhood was established in 1939. Harry and family, who landed in Melbourne in 1954 with 63 of their compatriots, chose to move north and were the only Lemnians to settle in Mullum. Within 6 days of landing they were on the train north after immigration authorities advised there was work available on the cane fields. After labouring in the fields of the Tweed for a couple of months they came south and worked in the Mullum banana plantations for almost two years, mostly with Andrew Alidenes, before accumulating the wherewithal to buy a lease from Stathis Pippos, next door to Jack Karavias at Mullum Creek. They lived on site for 23 years before buying a house in town. By this time the returns from bananas were at rock bottom and since 1971 Harry had been working with the Byron Shire road maintenance gang to supplement income. He worked with the council through to 1983, labouring on his patch after hours and weekends, when he was forced to retire after his back gave out. He had been trying to sell his plantation for sometime but in the end just walked away from it.
His eldest daughter, Vasiliki, married a Kytherian, Spiro Raissis, and now lives in Brisbane. His second daughter, Angela, married Barry Jamieson and lives on the Gold Coast. His last daughter, Marli (Marleen), was born in Mullum and married Leo Vlahos, proprietor of Leo’s Food Bar, previously the Feros Café, in Magellan Street, Lismore, before moving to Sydney. His wife Fotini (Fay) died in Mullumbimby in 1992 aged 64. Harry, now a spritely 80yrs old, still lives in James Street.
The brothers Gerasimos (Gerry) and Vasilios (Bill) Angelo Pippos, from Vathy on Ithaca, were the first of many Pippos to come to the region and grow bananas. They had spent some time running cafes out west during the 1920 and 30s, but a little before Gerry’s marriage to Panagiota Vlismas in 1939 came to try their luck at bananas near Joe Vlismas at Main Arm. In 1944 Gerry moved to the Murbah district, followed by Bill, by then at Mullum Creek, a couple of years later. They and the Macedonian Vasilovich Bros shared one of the banana prizes at the Mullum Show in 1944, the first held since 1941. And again in 1945 when Bill alone was holding the fort as ‘Pippos Bros’.
Gerry sponsored his 30yr old cousin, Stathis Andrew Pippos, just as Australia formally declared the nice nazis persona non grata. He managed to get himself to Port Said and a berth on the Italian boat Romolo, which, when it sailed in early Apr40, was the last passenger ship to risk the Mediterranean to Australia route until the end of the war. It was also the last voyage of the Romolo; after depositing Stathis in Sydney on 8May40 it was hightailing its way home when Italy formally declared allegiance to Adolf and the RAN's recently requisitioned and converted merchant cruiser Manoora took up the chase. Two days later Romolo scuttled herself and sank off Nauru, helped along by gunfire from Manoora, thus marking Australia's first blow against the new villains. Manoora took the crew and passengers to Townsville and the Italians subsequently enjoyed the distinction of being amongst the first guests of Australian internment camps.
Stathis joined his older brother, Spyro Andrew Pippos, at Burringbar but quickly decided he could generate a better income by labouring for Archie Caponas at Main Arm. Two years later he had accumulated the bananas to buy a share of Spiro's 7 acre patch - an 8yr lease on the farm of William Bridger 2 miles from the railway station on the right bank of the Upper Burringbar Road. A few months later, Apr43, he signed a contract to acquire John Bishop's 10acre lease on the farm owned by the President of the BGF, Roy Armstrong, near the top end of Mullumbimby Creek Road. But approval of the purchase was a long, drawn-out process because he was a 'subject of a country under enemy occupation' and came under the umbrella of the new 'National Security (Land Transfer) Regulations'. He had to get the police to certify that he was a top bloke, prove that there were no native Australians upset over the purchase, get the Department of Agriculture to certify that he was an ace farmer, detail his contribution to 'Patriotic Funds', and help make the local lawyers millionaires in handling all the paperwork. The 3yr lease ata rental of £30/yr was eventually approved in Sep43, with Spiro putting up £300 towards the purchase price of £1000, the deal involving £400 up front to Bishop and the balance paid off at the rate of 50% of the net profit until the debt was cleared. The return from bananas was so good at this time that Stathis was in a position to purchase the whole farm from Roy Armstrong by 1946, the same year he and Spiro, trading as 'S & S Pippos', picked up a banana award at the Mullum Show.
Spiro had landed in 1937 and acquired his lease at Burringbar sometime in 1941. It took him a year to clear and plant before he started to generate an income, in the meantime surviving by labouring on other people's patches. In May47 he returned to Ithaca to marry and suffered a bout of homesickness, remaining to assume management of the Pippos family farms and the responsibility for the welfare of his parents. His sister, Dionysia, landed in 1949 and married Archie Caponas, later moving to Sydney where she died in 2000 aged 82.
In 1958 his canny instincts sensed a permanent end to the banana industry's good times, prompting him to sell up and return to Greece, where the family, by then including two sons, Andrew and Aristotelis, settled in suburban Athens. In partnership with his brother-in-law, Philip Comninos, he invested in the construction industry and did well in the boom years of the 60's and 70's, building a number of apartment and office blocks and a hotel in downtown Athens. Stathis passed on in 2004, aged 95.
Arriving at Burringbar shortly after the Andrew Pippos' was their cousin Spiros Stavros Pippos who had landed in early 1939 and initially spent a few years at Goondiwindi and Brisbane before hearing the banana news on the Ithacan grapevine. He laboured in the plantations, including those on the property of his future father-in-law, Arthur Shackell, until acquiring his own lease from Arthur shortly after his marriage to Oriel in an Orthodox ceremony in Brisbane in Jan43. It seems he was staked by John Comino of Murbah and the purchase wasn't finalized until Mar44 in another long drawn-out process due to the obsessive scrutiny being given to all land purchases, whether freehold or lease, by aliens during the war. Shortly after the war they moved to the growing Ithacan colony at Mullum Creek, by which time Oriel was speaking like a native-born Greek.
By 1953 the new banana boom was well underway and Spiro decided to reap the capital gains and return to Ithaca, with by then 4 sons aged from 2 to 9. But as their boat approached Ithaca the devastating earthquake struck and they subsequently found no suitable house left standing, prompting a return to Australia within 2mths. He acquired another plantation at Mullum Creek and took up where he left off in the mysterious sport of angling.(He was a fishing champ and is probably the same S. Pippos who generated a lot of interest in early 1949 when he caught an ‘Eagle Ray’, a rare fish around here, while fishing off Mooball Beach. It bears a definite resemblance to an eagle and in some respects is not unlike a penguin. The beastie came in at 120lb and was displayed prominently in Mullum until the smell drove everybody nuts.)
He had a house in town by the early 1950s, but saw the writing on the wall for the banana industry in 1960 and moved to Loxton in South Australia to try fruit growing. His son Stravros was a star student of Vera Black (Mavromatis) at Mullum High. Upon leaving school he moved with his family to Adelaide where he subsequently had a successful career in TV and publishing. He married Athena, a cousin of Anna Caponas’ husband, Gus Minett, and begat three children, one of whom, Angela, is now a prominent TV presenter in Melbourne. Stavros has now retired in Adelaide where he continues his love of photography, three books of which he has had published. His last book, "Shades of Ochre", won both the National Gold Award for printing excellence and the coveted Heidelberg Australia Award for the best crafted book in the country. A documentary on his work, Shades of Ochre, was recently shown on the Prime network.
Spiro and Oriel always planned to return to Mullum to retire, but once their children grew up and settled in and around Adelaide they decided to stay. They now have 15 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.
Spiro sponsored his brother, Gregory Stavros Pippos, just after the war. He was labouring for Spiro at Mullum Creek by at least 1950, but a little after Spiro's temporary return he moved to Murbah, allegedly to work on another of Spiro’s farms. He had lost his leg during the war, which was a bit of a handicap in the banana game and probably accounts for his returning to his wife and family in Vathy a few years later. His sister, Aphrodite, married Manoli Peters six months after landing in 1950 and subsequently moved to Stanthorpe. Another sister, Elli Tsintilas, arrived in 1963 and joined her husband Costa in Brisbane after the collapse of the banana industry had forced him off his patch at Montecollum.
Dionisios (Danny) Giannis Pippos was sponsored by his cousin Stathis Andrew Pippos and arrived at Mullum Creek in 1948 to labour for Spyros Stavros Pippos, buying the place when Spyros returned to Greece in 1953, at which time he was in a position to bring his family out. He died in his home at Brunswick Terrace, Mullumbimby, in 1990 aged 84 and his wife, Maria, in 1980 aged 65. Their daughter Helen died under unfortunate circumstances in the 1980s and their two surviving daughters, Barbara (m. Gerasimos Grivas) and Gloria, now live in Newcastle. Danny and family were the only Pippos left in Mullum by the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Danny's nephews, Spyro and George Nicholas Pippos, arrived in the early 1950s to become banana benders; Spyro at Mullumbimby Creek and George later at Murwillumbah. Their cousins, Johnny and Andrew Pippos, the sons of Peter, also came in the 1950s to buff bananas. Johnny went to Brisbane while Andrew married a local Aussie girl, Benita, and moved to Melbourne after the banana industry downturn of the early60s.
Andrew Pippos was the Great White Hunter of Mullumbimby Creek. In Aug59 he sounded the siren over a lion stalking the plantations and led a band of intrepid armed men on safari through the hills of Mullum Creek trying to track the beastie down. His description of his sighting and the sound of its roar, coupled with a similar occurrence at Main Arm 2yrs earlier, convinced everyone of the veracity of his claims and alarmed a small community of New Australians. Most residents of the area are reluctant to go out of doors for fear of being eaten or shot. A Greek named Pirras who went home after work found his house all locked up. When he was able to get inside he found his wife and children terrified. Three days later work was still at a standstill and the search still ongoing. And Andrew was still sticking to his story that it wasn’t the Belongil Bunyip that he’d seen and heard.
By the mid 1950s there were four separate plantations, all adjacent to each other, at the top end of Mullumbimby Creek registered under some form of Pippos; Pippos Bros, Pippos & Devine, Pippos & Spiros and Pippos, Spiros & Hadgia. All Pippos were from Vathy rather than Perahori, the origin of most of their neighbours.
Also at Mullum Creek in the late 1940s was the Macedonian, Ionis Stefanidis, earlier of Upper Burringbar. He is probably the same J. Stefanidis who later had a farm near those of the Macedonians, Lazaros Katronis and Norm Apostoloff, in Coopers Lane, Main Arm. He seems to have acquired the freehold there by the mid 1950s but was gone by the late 1950s.
Another Macedonian, Vello Vassell (Soulis), established himself on a plantation at Mullumbimby Creek in the late 1940s, sometime after his run in with the law at Palmwoods where he was accused of ‘dummying’ for Andrew Alidenes during the war. At the Mullum show in 1947 ‘Vasell & Condie’ took out one of the banana awards, and again in 1949 as ‘Vassal & Condie’. His son George and grandson Arthur were also growing bananas at Mullumbimby Creek in the 1960s and 70s.
James Kargas, aka Gargas, was a banana grower at Montecollum from the early 1950s through to the early 1960s. He retired to Tweed Heads where he died in 1976 aged 73.
Chrisostomos (Toto) Livanis was sponsored out by Nick Alidenes in 1937 and laboured for him until leasing a patch in silent partnership with Andrew Alidenes at Palmwoods during the war. He was joined by his wife Mersevi (nee Cassianos) and son Spyro in 1948 and a couple of years later acquired a house in town. Sometime around the mid 1950s Toto dissolved his partnership with Alidenes and went into partnership with Pat O’Neil on a 10 acre patch at Wilson’s Creek near the Power station. In 1961, at the height of the banana glut and depression in Mullum, they took the courageous decision to sell up in town and build at Wilsons Creek, where they remained until retiring to Brisbane in 1996. They moved to a retirement village where Toto, still active at age 91, died the following year when knocked down by a car, predeceasing Mersevi who died two years later aged 92. Son Spiro, just starting to sprout in his mother’s womb when Toto left Ithaca, was continually reported as an academic star during his schooling at Mullum from the late 1940s into the early 50s, sharing distinctions with Penny and Christine Alidenes in the same class. He later married an Australian girl of Hungarian extraction. His sister Helen, the God-daughter of Archie Korialos, married Tony Vafias, the nephew of the Cominos of Murbah.
Toto’s brother Spiro had landed in Australia many years before him and is believed to have come to the north coast region sometime before or during the war. He attempted to lease a patch in the Murbah district between Jul and Oct 1944, but his circumstances thereafter are a bit uncertain. He married an Australian girl, Gertrude Getsch.
The Ithacan seaman Paul (Polimitis) Mellis (Melidonis) jumped ship with his good friend Andrew Alidenes. They went their separate ways initially but later, towards the end of 1934, Paul was one of the first Ithacans to join Andrew in the Murwillumbah area. He eventually settled on a banana patch at the end of the track at Upper Main Arm, about as far as you could get from civilisation, and called for his brother Nick to join him in 1938. In late 1944 Paul was badly injured, including a fractured skull, when he got his arm caught on a hook and was dragged for some distance behind a banana carrier’s vehicle.
Their aunt was Aphrodite Karavia, the future mother-in-law of Nick Alidenes. Nick Mellis was also a sailor who had returned to sea one day after the birth of his daughter Vivi in 1937 and wasn’t to see her again, or her sister Barbara (aged 3), for 12yrs. Nick had promised his family that he would search the world on his voyages to find the perfect place to settle and then send for them. However, he spent the next 12mths fruitlessly exploring in Africa before deciding to join Paul. This story was repeated often with the Ithacan sailors. Barbara and Vivi’s mother, Spyridoula, never saw her father for 24yrs. After jumping ship in America he established a nightclub in New York during the roaring twenties. Barbara recounts the family folklore of when he finally accumulated a retirement nest egg and returned home to be met outside the house by his daughter Christina who raced inside saying ‘Mum there’s a strange man outside’. Mother hurried out and after a while recognition dawned: ‘Oh my god, that’s your father’.
With the end of the war Nick again was able to re-establish contact with his family in Perahori and arrange for them to come to Australia, but then he and his family suffered a great misfortune when Spyrodoula died just before the boat was due to sail. Nick went immediately to Brisbane to see the Qantas officials who arranged for the two children to fly out.
Barbara married George Varela of Murwillumbah in 1956 and a year later Vivi, who also moved up to Murwillumbah to work in the Varela fruit shop, married Nick Papadopoulos. That same year Vivi also had the distinction of being the first female naturalized in Mullum’s new municipal ceremonies at the council chambers. In late 1958 her uncle Paul died at Main Arm and a few years later her father Nick came to live with them. He died in 1965 when they moved to Clothiers Creek.
Barbara’s and Vivi’s story is representative of the trials and tribulations of a lot of the families trying to get out of Greece after the war to join worried husbands and fathers in Australia. While they and their fellow Ithacans were relatively safe on their isolated island during the war compared to the destruction being wrecked in the rest of Greece, there was still the constant fear of becoming a battle ground which frayed nerves. Continual hunger is their overriding memory.
Their father had forwarded the money for their passage in 1947 but it wasn’t until two years later that they had organised all the necessary paperwork and finally managed to get a berth on a boat. At that time Greece was in turmoil with the aftermath of WW2, the new civil war and many thousands of refugees, displaced and homeless people. Many wished to start a new life elsewhere and embassies and shipping lines were being swamped with people trying to leave. Organising passports, visas, landing permits and the range of other approvals was a long drawn out process in the face of implacable bureaucrats. British embassy officials could make no determinations on their own initiative without going through the Australian High Commission in London, which then consulted the Department of External Affairs. And then finding a berth was another set of problems. Australia eventually opened an emigration office in Athens in 1950 and was swamped with 800 applicants on the first day.
Eventually, in 1949, when everything was in order, boat passage booked and deposit paid, their mother died, just two months before departure. Nick in Australia was notified of the tragedy by Spyrodoula’s sister, Christina, with whom Barbara and Vivi had gone to stay. He was soon able to organise alternate passage through the good officers of Qantas, who even organised the reimbursement of their boat fare. Four days after leaving Athens, they reached Darwin and were immensely relieved to be met by the Haritos family with whom they could finally converse in their own language. Nick had previously arranged through Andrew Alidenes and Tony Peters to have their Haritos in-laws meet the girls and reassure them they hadn’t been abandoned.
They stayed nine days in Darwin before continuing on to meet their father in Brisbane where there was mutual non-recognition all round; each carrying outdated photos. A bus to Mullumbimby, a taxi to Main Arm, a steep two-mile walk to a remote two-room shack and dismay ended their odyssey. The contrast with the barrenness of Ithaca was immense. No-one had prepared them for what to expect, so much so that for years Barbara expected lions and tigers to appear from the forest, but the snakes were a reality. Equally great was the disruption to the lives of the two brothers who had been living a bachelor lifestyle for 12yrs and had no idea how to handle two young girls. They never bought a house in Mullum like many others. Nor did they abandon Main Arm like most of the early Ithacans who re-established in the strong enclave at Mullumbimby Creek.
Barbara’s introduction to the hard physical life of banana growing started almost immediately. Vivi on the other hand started school at Main Arm and is believed to be the first Greek student to attend there. She somehow picked up English through osmosis just by sitting at the back of the classroom and listening, and in two years was able to pass the exams to qualify for high school, but instead she too joined Barbara in the banana plantation. Barbara’s adaptation to English was much slower as she had no reason to associate with native Australians. She taught herself to read with comics; by matching the words in the bubble with the action depicted in the drawing. At that time Australia wasn’t prepared for the post WW2 mass migration of southern Europeans and there were no multicultural organisations or Government assistance to help migrants adjust. Barbara, Vivi and the others lived in isolation from the mainstream culture. Thankfully settling-in became easier after Saint Gough received the multicultural commandments in the early 1970s and sent the Apostle Grassby off on a preaching mission.
At the height of its influence in the mid 1950s Mullum’s ‘New Settlers League’ was still agitating for funds to set up proper English classes. Nor did they have any luck in finding a teacher to run a course on the tricky subject of ‘How to be an Australian’. The migrant proactive Tweed Daily posed this question in an editorial titled ‘What is the Australian Way-of-Life’ in early 1955 but apparently nobody had an answer, as there was no response via letters-to-the-editor. Perversely, the Greeks were into an early form of multiculturalism and seemed just as interested in preserving the Greek language as learning English when the communities of Mullum, Murbah and Lismore banned together to hire a teacher to keep Greek culture and language alive in the Australian born. A Greek teacher from Murbah, Kyriako Sarris, travelled down to Mullum by bus each Saturday through the late 1940s until replaced by Mrs Savvas from Lismore in the early 1950s. She travelled by train from Lismore on Friday, staying overnight at Byron Bay teaching the Feros children and next day coming to Mullum to run classes for the banana growers’ children. She also taught English to the adults in Lismore, but whether she did the same in Mullum is uncertain. She was also responsible for organising regular concerts for the children at Bexhill where the opportunity was taken by the Lismore/Mullum/Murbah communities to get together for a party afterwards.
Barbara’s lament that “anything had to be better than Main Arm” was satisfied by Saturday visits to the Big Smoke. They caught the bus into Mullum and spent all day ‘hangin’ out’ before finishing off with a treat at the picture theatre. Over the next six years they got to visit Lismore on the train two or three times, and even went to Brisbane once to go to a ‘proper church’. Spiritual needs were satisfied by specific requests for a Greek Orthodox priest from Brisbane when weddings, funerals and baptisms needed to be conducted. The Mullum community was not as organised with a venue like the Macedonian Hall at Crabbes Creek and services were conducted in various locations, but mainly the Anglican Church. Nor could they very often use the same priest as the Macedonians because of the language problem. Where possible the Macedonians used the services of a Macedonian speaking Russian Orthodox priest, although they often shared the non-Macedonian speaking Greek priest. This difference in services was due entirely to the language problem and not to any political problems between the two communities. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s the Burringbar hall was the venue for the combined Mullum and Murbah communities to celebrate the Christmas and Easter festivities.
But the isolated and arduous lifestyle got to Barbara and Vivi in the end. At this time, about the mid 1950s, they were the only Greeks left up in their remote leg of the scrub at Upper Main Arm where their patch was believed to have been on poor banana land. Barbara could see no light at the end of the tunnel; ‘It was as if I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole with no way out’. Despite the proposals from the many other bachelors in the district she accepted the suit of the widower George Varela in 1956; which seemed to be preordained through her family’s association with the Varelas.
Vic Misios had a plantation somewhere in the area. He landed in the late 1940s/early 1950s and initially worked for the Macedonian Mick Tsalakos at Crabbes Creek before getting his own patch. His son Arthur took to the language like a duck to water and won first place in the English exams in his first year at the High School in 1958. In the same class was Angelo Alkos who came second, but with firsts in maths, science, social studies and handwork. There were many Greek academic stars at this time. Penny Alidenes had just graduated as dux at Mullum High in her Leaving Certificate year, and the following year nine Greek High School students were at the top of their various classes and subjects, with Lambro Alidenes taking out second in the state in Agriculture.
Anastasios (aka Tasos and Ernie) Paspalas (Paspall) seems to be the only Kytherian apart from Archie Caponas to try his luck in bananas in this area when he leased the dairy farm of Bruce Wheatley, across the road from Archie at Palmwoods, in the early 1940s. He was an adventurous type who came to Australia as a teenager and worked all over the place before acquiring a fishing tackle shop in Brisbane, which became very well-known amongst the big game fishermen. His Marlin fishing companions in North Queensland included Zane Grey and Randolph Stow. Ernie’s niece, Irene Mavromatis from Pitsinades, married Peter Aroney, a leading figure in the Greek community of Brisbane.
It was Ernie who was prominent in introducing the Mullum growers to small crops, mainly beans and tomatoes, as a profitable sideline to bananas. His experiments with various varieties of tomato, planting techniques and the identification and eradication of various diseases, were most successful and gave him a production of 600 cases in 1950, returning £3 per half bushel case. The Star of 4Dec1950: Mr. Paspall intends giving more time in future to small crops, and less time to bananas. He will cut out several acres of bananas to give him more time to carry out his plan. Some hundreds of cases have yet to be picked. Ernie went bankrupt in his banana venture after his plantation was flattened in a cyclone, but undaunted he tried his hand at avocadoes where his experiments in crossbreeding, in conjunction with Chalker of the Dept of Ag experimental farm at Duranban, led to the development of a new avocado variety.
His reputation as a home-brew maker was also known far and wide and his long lunches with many companions became legendary. Up to 20 people at a time would come down from Brisbane for the weekend for Ernie’s feasts. He died in Mullum in the 1960s and his English wife Madeline passed on the lease to the Alidenes and retired to Brisbane. Unfortunately, Ernie in his zest for life and love of experimenting never put the same enthusiasm into saving a quid and Madeline ended up on the pension. (In the late 1930s she held Queensland's 'Big Game Fishing Record for Women.')
Augoustis Tsimpikas landed from Rhodes in 1952 and the following year made his way to this area, acquiring a banana farm at Wilson’s Creek across from the power station. He was joined by his 14yr old daughter Poppy in 1955 and the following year by his wife and sons, Peter and Leo. Like many others the family moved on at the height of the banana glut of 1960, relocating to Brisbane where Augoustis’ brother had established himself. Son Leo now runs a successful real estate agency in West End.
Kosta Tsintilas, brother-in-law of Greg Stavros Pippos of Murbah, was another of the belated arrivals who came in the late 1950s just as the banana industry was starting its long term decline. Shortly afterwards he moved to Brisbane where he worked alone for a few years before being able to bring out his wife, Elli, and son and daughter in the early 1960s. Kosta’s father was the brother of Maria Dendrinos of the Pocket; another of the many multiple interconnections of Mullumbimby’s Greek community.
The Black (Mavromatis) family, from Northern Ithaca, arrived during the war and grew bananas here for almost 20yrs before selling up in 1960 and moving to Brisbane. As a general rule northern Ithacans settled and remained primarily in Melbourne, with smaller enclaves in Perth and Newcastle, making the Blacks a rare species around here.
Marcus Black came to Australia from the village of Exoghi around 1910 and spent many years in businesses in Melbourne and Ballarat before he was able to accumulate a nest egg, return home, build a house and marry Aliki (Alice) Raftopoulou. The arrival of the Depression however, saw his savings rapidly evaporating and prompted his return to Melbourne, leaving Aliki to look after their young daughter Calliopi (Poppy) until he re-established himself and was in a position to send for them. In due course his family arrived in Melbourne, but after the birth of Vera and Les they relocated to South East Queensland upon a relative advising Marcus of the availability of a good business opportunity at Southport.
They sailed north before the war to take up a shift management position at Theodore’s Café, where in time they inevitably meet Steve Angouras and Tony Feros whose regular runs between Murbah and the Brisbane markets had them calling in at all the Greek establishments en route. They were informed of the booming banana industry in the Mullum district and this knowledge, coupled with the regular visits of a few prosperous looking Mullum Greeks in shiny new cars, was the incentive to move to Middle Pocket to take up Daniel Dowling’s farm in the early 1940s when rumours of an imminent Japanese invasion began circulating.
Prewar Middle Pocket was totally a dairying centre, but by the late 1940s some remarkable changes had taken place. Returns from dairying were dropping rapidly and most dairymen turned to leasing banana land or growing the things themselves, resulting in closer settlement as leaseholders built houses for their families and shacks were erected for banana labourers. At the extreme end of The Pocket so many new dwellings had been erected by the Phillip Bros that the place became colloquially known as ‘Phillipstown’. They were substantial plantation owners and like everyone else found they had to offer accommodation as well as high labour rates to attract workers, both bachelors and families. However, isolation because of poor roads and lack of bridges remained a problem for sometime.
Marcus had trained as a bootmaker on Ithaca and his many years in the shop-keeping game had not prepared him for the hard physical work of banana growing, leading to a severe heart attack while the children were still young. Nevertheless, he battled on until the banana glut of the late 1950s signalled it was time to retire, much to the delight of Aliki who allegedly had no great love of the farming life. The family moved to a house in Station Street for a short period before settling permanently in Brisbane in early 1960. A large crowd attended the Middle Pocket Hall in late 1959 to give the family a public farewell, and all speakers expressed appreciation for their involvement in community and district affairs over the years. The other nationalities at Middle Pocket were particularly effusive as Marcus had been the community’s contact man for the ordering of bulk wine from the Griffith wine maker Rossetto. The grappa arrived in 50 gallon casks and many thousands of gallons were consumed over the years.
Poppy made her debut at the Anglican Ball in mid 1950 and was lucky to get there. It was a day of torrential rain and the car broke down in one of the creeks on the way from the Pocket. They were eventually towed out by a tractor, but she and the family had to wade through a few more creeks before they got a lift into town. She moved to Brisbane to work in the early 1950s, married a doctor and is now a grandmother. Flooded Creek crossings were also the cause of Vera and Les being unable to get home from school at times. On such occasions Vera stayed with the Caponas’s while Les waited at the bottom pub until being picked up by Toto Livanis. Prior to the bus service from Middle Pocket to Mullum Poppy and Vera attended boarding schools for their initial secondary education; Poppy at St. Hilda’s at Southport and Vera at Summerville House in Brisbane.
Vera was school captain in her Leaving Certificate year in 1953 and upon graduation went off to Teachers’ College in Newcastle. After qualifying she returned home and spent three years teaching at Mullum High, becoming a role model for the ‘New Australian’ children and fondly remembered by many others. Like her brother Les she was hooked on music, entering eisteddfods and singing at many functions. Both starred at the concert to celebrate Mullum’s Jubilee in late 1958. She became House Mistress of Acacia House of which Christine Alidenes was Girl’s Captain and Lambros Alidenes was Boy’s Captain in 1958. At the end of the year she was posted to Bass Hills High in Sydney and sometime later moved to Athens, teaching English for many years before recently returning to live in Brisbane.
Les was also an excellent singer, performing solos at all the school functions, and starred in celebrations at Middle Pocket when all the residents gathered to celebrate the coronation in 1953, bringing the house down with a fine rendition of ‘There’ll Always Be An England’. Is that assimilation or what! In mid 1952, aged 14, he took out a heap of prizes in the week-long Murwillumbah Musical Festival in competition with adults. Like Vera he studied singing under Mr. ‘Pop’ Pringle and was much in demand for performances at weddings and charity events. He too was a senior prefect and house captain. He entered eisteddfods in Lismore and Murbah and won Champion Tenor and the B Grade Premiership for Adults, giving him a headline in the Tweed Daily Mail of Boy Tenor Star of Eisteddfod. As a swan song he entered the 2LM Talent Quest in early 1960 and won the popular vote of both the audience and listeners. He continued with his music in Brisbane, studying at the Conservatorium and joining the Light Opera Company, later working in New Guinea for several years. They were a musical family.
Jim, Eric, Theo, Aristomenis, Spiro and Andrew Gerasimos Cassis (Kassianos) were Ithacan banana growers at Middle Pocket who worked alone for many years. Jim (Diomedes), the eldest, had arrived from Perahori in 1924, followed by Eric (Spyrargyris/Aryiri) in 1928, but it’s believed they didn’t make it to this area until about 1936, shortly after Eric's visit home, at which time Jim had a plantation at Upper Burringbar. Aristomenis (aka Emmanuel/Manoli) joined them on the farm in 1937, followed separately by Theo and Andrew a couple of years after the war, and finally Spiro with his wife Nina and three children Gerry, Denis and Costa in about 1950. Jim and Eric were half brothers to the others and cousins to Gerry Kassianos of Mullumbimby Creek.
Eric managed to bring out his family, wife Arti (nee Livanis) and daughters Martha and Zeta, in late 1939. Helen, Koula and Gerry were born in Australia. In 1945 Martha married Leo Manias, a partner with a fellow Ithacan, Spiro Dendrinos, in the Capitol Café in Lismore before both established a banana ripening rooms business. In the late 1940s Eric and Jim also moved to Lismore and bought into the venture. (And Zeta, from a base of no English, went on to become dux of Lismore High 1948-50.)
The youngest, 24yr old Aristomenis, was sponsored out by Jim and landed in Brisbane in early 1937. He is believed to have initially joined his brothers at Middle Pocket before acquiring his own plantation at Upper Burringbar, but in late 1943 purchased, or attempted to purchase, a freehold or lease at Mooball, when the hysteria over aliens taking over the banana industry was at its height. He is probably the Cassis half of the Vlismas & Cassis partnership identified at Mooball in late 1944. By late 1947 however, after spending almost 10yrs as a resident of the Victory Hotel at Mooball, he was out of the game and living at Murbah, probably working in one of the cafes after wisely cashing in on the high plantation prices just before the glut hit with a vengeance in early 1948. In 1950 he married a Kytherian girl, Helen Damati, the sister of Patra Bavea of the Vogue Café in Lismore, and acquired a banana plantation at Dunoon/Rock Valley, but, once again with canny timing, sold up in 1957 and rejoined the cafe game with the acquisition of The New City Milkbar in Lismore. In the late 1960s the family moved on to Sydney, where Manuel died in 1996.
Andros/Andreas (Andrew) relocated to Wilson’s Creek sometime in the late 1950s but, like many others, moved on in the glut havoc of the early 1960s. By the time his wife Anastasia landed in 1964 he is believed to have been living and working in Queensland for a couple of years.
Theo was the only one to stay in the area. He was joined by his wife Patricia (Perestia/Perestelia) and two sons, Gerry and Greg, sometime in the early 1950s. They lived in Mullumbimby, commuting to their banana patch at The Pocket until moving to Brunswick Heads at some stage. Patricia is another of the Ithacan wives who allegedly wasn’t overly fond of the farming life and took the opportunity to join her sons at Everitts Hill in the cafe/fruit business at the first opportunity. Theo eventually gave the banana game away and he and Pat retired to the Gold Coast where he died in 1991 aged 92. Apparently it was their two sons who finally persuaded them to adopt the name Cassis.
Arthur Cassianos, a cousin of those above, landed sometime in the 1920s and was a chef at Con Vlismas’ Austral Café in Murbah for many years before moving to Lismore just before the war to work for Peter Manias in the Capitol Café. He caught the banana bug a few years later and came to The Pocket for a period, but in the mid to late 1940s moved to Mullumbimby Creek near his cousin Gerry. He and his family returned to Murbah via a stint on the Gold Coast in the late 1950s. His brother Stratti, the short-lived proprietor of the Austral in 1928/29, came back to Australia a couple of years after the war.
Themistokles Kassianos (Theo Cassis), another cousin of those above, was an eccentric character who spent some time wandering in Africa before landing in 1924 and coming to work for his first cousins, the Manias Bros of the Capitol Café in Lismore, sometime pre WW2. He attempted to purchase a lease around Billinudgel in late 1943, but it’s believed he didn’t come to The Pocket to grow bananas until the late 1950s, a little before the Capitol was sold, either on his own plantation or with Theo and/or Andrew. Sometime in the early to mid 1960s he gave the game away and moved across to Mullum Creek to live with his other first cousin, Jack Karavias. He was more or less retired at this stage and lived on his own in a small shack on the property where he died in 1969 aged about 70.
One of the Cassianos plantations was amongst the eight that were totally destroyed in the Billinudgel area by a selective hailstorm in late 1954. Another two plantations suffered 50% loss. By this time some of the growers had diversified into other crops and suffered a total loss of 8000 cases of tomatoes and about 5 acres of beans. Fruit and veggie growing remained a chancy business. The Government declared there were no funds available for assistance and the growers had to rely on credit from Mullum business houses to tide them over. An insurance scheme never got off the ground. This matter was debated often by the various branches of the BVD council of the BGF, but they could never agree on the funding arrangements, each branch maintaining that ‘acts-of-god’ in their area were less than in their neighbours’ and they should therefore be levied a smaller amount per case that the others. The Coffs Harbour District Council seems to have been a more disciplined organization, with stronger leadership, and got their act together on this one.
Evangelos (Vargeli/Angelo) Dendrinos landed in 1936 and spent a couple of years as a cane cutter in North Queensland before turning to bananas in this region. His wife, Marigo Tsintilas, a cousin of Chris Karavia and Helen Gianotis of Mullumbimby Creek, arrived from Perahori in 1939. Her nephew, Kosta Tsintilas, arrived in the late 1950s and settled at Mullum Creek but in the early 1960s moved to Brisbane where his wife Elli, sister of the Pippos Bros earlier of Mullum Creek, finally joined him from Ithaca.
Vargeli initially worked for Andrew Alidenes up at Palmwoods before moving to Middle Pocket in the late 1940s, remaining for just over 20yrs before settling in Brisbane. His four daughters Reni, Bessie, Angelina and Nina were all born here. Angelina later married Chris Georgopoulos of Clothiers Creek. Both still live in Murwillumbah, but their children Maria, Anna and Alex have married and moved to Brisbane.
Peter Aristidis Dendrinos of Lismore, the consort of Christine Nick Alidenes, was from a different family, although possibly distantly related. His parents, Adriana and Aristidis, both died in Lismore, while his first cousin, Spyro Angelo Dendrinos, proprietor of the Capitol Café in Lismore (and koumbaro of Spiro George Tsicalas), retired to Mullum in the 1980s, staying for ~5yrs before settling in Canberra.
The Ithacan seaman, Angelo Kanaris Hanos, 32yrs old when he landed from Perahori in 1930, established a plantation at The Pocket in late 1932/early 1933. He had spent 18mths in Sydney before moving to Murbah to work for Con Vlismas, either in his cafe or on his banana farm, and possibly was staked by Con to acquire this farm. By 1936 he was well established and employing a number of Australian workers. His fate is unknown, but he seems to have moved on sometime during or after the war. Possibly connected is Ioannis Spyro Chanos from Perahori who had the Bouquet Café at Lake Cargelligo (near Condoblin) in the 1930s. Various Pippos were also around this area at the same time.
Vasilios Maralios, a 30yr old Yelgun banana grower, died at The Pocket in late 1958. He had been visiting the Dendrinos family, for whom he initially worked upon arrival from Greece in 1955, and became ill after allegedly drinking something odd from a bottle.
A Peloponnesian couple was George and Vasso Fillipousis/Philopoussis who were one of the rare families to arrive together as a family unit. They had a banana patch up at Montecollum through to the mid 1950s before moving to the Pocket where they remained until retiring to Brisbane with daughter Toula sometime after the collapse of the banana industry.
Dionisios (Denis) Aristotelis Pilikas, from the island of Stavios, a satellite speck off Ithaca, arrived in Australia in 1923 with his wife Katerini (nee Maroulis from Vathy), and made his way to The Pocket sometime in the 1930s to grow bananas. Kathleen is believed to have had either her own cafe in Mullum or worked as a cook for Archie Caponas where she specialised in providing Greek meals to the growing community. They shifted to Laverty's Gap, Wilson’s Creek, in the mid 1940s and around 1950 moved onto Sydney where Denis died in about 1970 and Kathleen about five years later. Denis’s brother, Mikialis, had landed in Melbourne pre WW1 but resettled in South Africa a short while afterwards, returning to fight in the Balkan wars in 1912. Their mother was Chrysomy Kouvara and may have some connection to the Kouvaras of Murbah. The only other Pilikas to come to Australia was Denis’s nephew Mikialis, the son of his brother Anastasios, who landed in about 1960 and eventually settled at Newcastle.
George Vlahos and his wife, Evangelia, arrived from the Peloponnese in the early 1950s and grew bananas at Middle Pocket. They and their three daughters were a quiet family and it’s believed they moved to Adelaide in the late 1970s.
Their nephew/cousin/…, Leo Vlahos of Lismore, took over the Feros Deli in Magellan Street, and married Marli Petrelis, daughter of Harry of Mullumbimby Creek. Chris Vlahos had a plantation next door to Gerry Kassianos at Mullum Creek by the mid 1950s. He was one of the foundation members of the Mullum UN soccer team in 1959 and is believed to have come from Athens where he played first division soccer. Z. Vlahos was also identified in the team in 1960.
Another of the many Ithacans from the village of Perachori was Floryia Vlismas, unconnected to the Murwillumbah Vlismas brothers. He arrived in the late 1950s and stayed through to the 1970s before moving to Brisbane. It’s believed he is now somewhere in country Queensland. He is no doubt the same Frank Vlismas who accidentally shot and killed the Macedonian Chris Zigalas while they were out on a duck shooting expedition at Main Arm in mid 1957. He had lived with Zigalas at Middle Pocket for the previous 4mths but became a boarder at the Middle Pub in Mullum after the accident. The Ithacan John Kondilis was also on the duck shooting expedition. He lived and worked on Zigalas’ Yelgun plantation and later went to work for Archie Korialos at Mullum Creek.
Paul and Voula Vrakas came up from Sydney to The Pocket in the early 1950s. They moved in and out of the banana industry and returned to Sydney in the 1960s with their three sons and two daughters. However, Paul returned on his own in the 1970s and after a period with bananas at Crabbes Creek bought a fruit shop business in Mullum followed by a fish ‘n’ chip shop at Bruns. Both were only short duration ventures and he subsequently returned to Sydney.
Euripides Armensis became a banana grower on Condong Range sometime pre WW2. He suffered a bit of heartburn in late 1945 when he bought a house in Murbah and came up against the stringent wartime tenancy laws. Until then he and his wife and two small children had been living in a two-roomed converted packing shed with a man who worked for him also living on a small verandah. The house in Murbah had a tenant prior to purchase who argued that there was not enough room for Armenis and his wife and family… and he was not prepared to share the house… The magistrate ruled in his favour despite Euripides’ plea that his wife and children were in poor health. Nevertheless, the family is believed to have been living in Murbah by the late 1940s. A cousin or nephew, Nick Armennis, joined him at Murbah about 1951/52 and spent about 5yrs with him before moving to Nundah in Brisbane. His marriage at Nundah in 1959 drew 30 members of the Murbah Greek community. Euripides’ son, Angelo, married Marina Varela and became a chemist at Kingscliff.
The Ithacan Gerasimos Angelo Pippos, a cousin of the ubiquitous Pippos clan of Mullumbimby, was 14yrs old when he landed from Vathy in 1925. He seems to have almost immediately gone to Mungindi on the NSW/QLD border where he remained for many years and eventually acquired or established the Café de Lux. He subsequently had a shop at Injune north of Roma, but shortly before or after his marriage to Panagiota Vlismas in Sydney in 1939 came to Murbah. He had a short stint as a cook for the Comino & Varela partnership until they closed the cafe part of the enterprise, after which he moved to Main Arm at Mullum with his brother Bill to acquire a banana plantation near Joe Vlismas. He relocated to Reserve Creek in 1944 but in the late 1940s got back into the cafe game by acquiring The Ocean Café, a fish ‘n’ chip shop in Wharf Street. In 1950 he acquired another plantation at Clothiers Creek and commuted to the farm while Panagiota ran the cafe. He seems to have been the leading sponsor of Pippos rellies and friends from Ithaca over the years and was the godfather of Andrew Stathis Pippos of Mullumbimby Creek (while Andrew's brother Aristotelis became the godson of Mark Cassimatis.) Gerry and Panagiota, with children, Andrea, Yianni and Angeliki, moved to Brisbane in 1954.
Gerry's brother Vasilios (Bill) followed him up from Mullum a couple of years later. His purchase of a property at Moree in Sep1942 in partnership with his brother Stratis perhaps indicated an intention to stick with cafes, but he didn’t stay much beyond that time before being lured to bananas at Mullum. He had landed in 1927 and seems to have gone direct to Dirranbandi, where he acquired his own cafe by at least 1928, trading as Pippos Bros, a partnership that was boasting branches at Mungindi and Brewarrina by at least 1930. He married Katherina (Nina) Tarifo in Sydney in 1938 and had two daughters, Maria and Georgia.
The eldest brother George managed to avoid catching the banana disease. He also came in the 1920s and established himself as a fruiterer at Brewarrina, where he was proprietor of another Café de Lux by 1928. He died in 1973 and the cafe passed to his son Angelo, later Mayor of Brewarrina, who still runs the place, believed to be the only original 'Greek Cafe' still trading in Australia. The cafe is a time capsule where you can get mixed grills served with real hand-cut chips and milkshakes made with real fruit.
His brother Stratis had the Elysian Café at Bourke by the late 1930s and later acquired the Royal Hotel at Goondiwindi, allegedly via a stint of banana bending at Main Arm. The youngest brother, Spyro, landed as a 13yr old in 1926 and spent a year with Gerry at Mungindi before moving across to Dirranbandi to work in Bill’s cafe, replacing Bill as principal of this branch of Pippos Bros about 10ys later. (Theo Feros, brother of the early Feros of Mullum, also had a Dirranbandi cafe at this time.) Spiro later acquired the Victoria Hotel at Goondiwindi, leaving it and other Goondiwindi holdings in the hands of his son Angelo upon retirement in Brisbane.
Angelo (better known as George), born at Dirranbandi in 1942, remained to manage the family holding. George was also part-owner of the mighty Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi Grey that went on to capture the imagination of the nation with its many race wins against the odds. George went on to become Chairman of the Queensland Thoroughbred Racing Board, Chairman of Queensland Rugby Union, Director of Australian Rugby Union, Chairman of the Mater Hospital Art Union, Chairman of Pippos Hotels, and many other positions, all topped off with the award of an OAM for services to the Greek Community.
Alex Pippos, another cousin of Gerry, landed in 1937 and is believed to have had a cafe at Tottenham near Nyngan until news of the banana boom filtered through. He laboured on a compatriot’s patch for a couple of years before leasing, or attempting to lease, a property at Upper Burringbar in 1943. His family, wife Marika and son Jim, arrived about 1947, at which time he had a plantation at Reserve Creek and was still there in 1955 long after Gerry had moved into town. By the late 1950s they had a house in town from where Alex commuted to his patch at Reserve Creek. In 1959 Jim married Eleni Giozgakis who had landed 12mths earlier and was living with her sister Voula, the wife of Nick James (Thermistopoulos) of The Ritz Café Murbah. Alex and Marika and their three Australian-born children moved to Brisbane in the 1970s.
The brothers, Spyro and George Nick Pippos, arrived post war to grow bananas. Spyro arrived first and went to Mullumbimby to join his uncles, Danny and Stathis, before moving up to Murbah in the early 50s after the arrival of his wife Aphrodite and five children. George arrived in Australia shortly after Spyro, but had moved up to Murbah ahead of him in the late 40s. He lived with Spyro at Clothiers Creek before they both sold up and relocated to Brisbane in early 1958. George then married a Greek girl, a couple of years after which Spyro and family returned to Ithaca.
Gregory Stavros Pippos came up from Mullum in the early to mid 1950s, allegedly to work on the Murbah holding of his brother Spyro. He had lost his leg in the war and had to wear a wooden prosthesis that he later managed to mangle in a banana accident. He took his leg to Brisbane for rectification but was told it was unrepairable and had to be left behind as a pattern for the manufacture of a new one - which left him wandering around on crutches for a fair while. Nevertheless, even with the new leg it was too much of a handicap for him to be a successful banana grower in the tough market at the time and he eventually had to give the game away and return to his family in Vathy. He too lived with the above Spyro Nick for a while.
Yet another pre war Ithacan banana grower was Spyro Papakolonias, probably one and the same Spyrogianis Demeta Kolonias who landed in 1939 and worked for Con Vlismas for a while before acquiring a plantation at Reserve Creek. He initially had joined the large Ithacan colony in Romania, where he married Frossia (Efrosini) and begat Saphio (Zafiro, aka Vera) before coming on alone to Australia. Frossia and Saphio were finally able to join him in 1949. Saphio married the Cypriot George Vasiliadis at Murbah in 1953 (with Bill Varella as bestman) and moved off to Brisbane, thence to a cafe at Quirindi, after George decided life as a banana bender wasn't for him.
Also from Ithaca, via a long sojourn in Melbourne where he had landed in 1924, came Nick Kandiliotis to grow bananas at Clothiers Creek in about 1950, but he could be the same N. Kundilas identified in Murbah in 1940. He married Ploucia, a cousin of Alice Black of Mullumbimby. They and their two children moved back to Melbourne in the early 1960s. He is probably connected to Jimmy Candiliotis, who was working in one of the Murbah cafes in the early 1950s.
A contender for the first Kytherian into the banana game is Theo Condoleon, the son of John and Kalliopi (nee Vlandis) of Hora. He landed with his sister, Pelagia, and her husband, Paul Emmanuel Condoleon, in 1934 and initially went with them to Nimbin until acquiring a banana lease somewhere in the Murbah district around 1937/38. He was full on, living in his packing shed, until going to work part-time for Mark Cassimatis at the Civic Café in about 1940. In mid 1944 he quit the game entirely to become a full-time fruiterer in Murbah, but 18mths later sold up and moved to Queanbeyan with Paul and Pelagia, and thence Wellington where he died a bachelor in 1960 at the young age of 42. He may have some connection to John Vlandis who acquired a plantation at Burringbar in 1948 and was also a part-timer with Mark Cassimatis.
John Emanuel Vlandis, born in the Kytherian village of Kalokerines in 1896, served as a liaison officer between the Greek and British armies in WW1 and came to Oz in 1922, shortly before his brother Peter. Together they had a cafe in Sydney for many years until John teamed up with Dimitri Condoleon of Hora and acquired a cafe somewhere in or around Sydney. Unfortunately they were wiped out in a flood shortly afterwards, which saw them both stranded for three days, after which they went their separate ways and Jack figured banana growing might be a less stressful option. He acquired a lease from one of the Macedonian freeholders at Upper Burringbar in 1948, at the peak in banana lease prices but at the bottom of the banana market when growers everywhere were getting no returns and beginning to let their fruit rot on the ground. He was sprung in early 1949 for having a weedy patch and pleaded that he had no time to look after it because he was trying to earn a quid by chipping on a neighbour’s property! Jack also retained his love of cooking and over the years found an outlet by working on weekends at the Cassimatis and Vlismas cafes in Murbah where he was responsible for introducing the growing band of young Macedonians to the community. The cumulative effect of various herbicide sprays he had used over the years was reckoned to be the cause of his death at Upper Burringbar in early 1958.
Jack never again saw his wife Anna (nee Cominos from Milopotamos) or his daughter Katerini (married a Vlandis namesake) after leaving Kythera. His daughter Chrissa however, born 3mths after he had left, came to Australia to join her uncle Alex Cominos at Orange in 1949. In about 1950 she settled at Sandgate, Brisbane, where she coincidently married George Kontoleon, unconnected to her father’s earlier partner. In 1953 Jack sponsored out his granddaughter, Maria Vlandis, who joined Chrissa at Sandgate and subsequently married Peter Cassimatis.
Peter and Nick Cosma Psaltis, initially employees of Archie Caponas at Mullumbimby, leased their own banana patch at Upper Buringbar in late 1941. They were joined by brother Theo in 1944, at which time Nick seems to have acquired another nearby lease. Their parents Cosma and Maria (nee Feros) arrived in 1947 and sister Katina in 1948, all working the lease/s together until about 1950 when they went the Kytherian cafe route.
At the same time their cousins, Peter and Theo Dimitri Psaltis, also rejoined the caterers by acquiring the Popular Cafe in Mullumbimby. Theo had initially been in partnership with his cousins until he and brother Peter acquired their own patch shortly after Peter's discharge from the AIF, working it by commuting daily from Murbah. They likely sold to fellow Kytherian Bill Hlambeas, who is a contender as the anonymous ‘Bill the Greek’ of Mullumbimby during the Depression years. Bill landed in 1923 and made his way to Upper Burringbar sometime around 1950. His patch was adjacent to those of the Macedonian Paul Atzis, his fellow Kytherian Jack Vlandys and a Yugoslav named Jacendo, with whom he shared a packing shed.
Another Burringbar grower who was more attracted to catering was Anastasios Bertsos, from the Angus village of Alophori in the Peloponnese. He landed in 1936 and was initially a Murbah cafe employee until branching out into banana growing at Upper Burringbar after a stint with the Civil Aliens Corps. However, he found banana bending wasn’t for him and returned to the cafe game at Murbah ~1949, coincidental with the glut which gave the industry a major shakeout.
In 1939 came Yiannis Clemis, aka John Papaglementos, aka John Pappo Klimis, from the village of Monolithos on Rhodes to bend bananas on Condong Range. Rhodes became part of Greece in 1947, following centuries of Turk and Italian rule, and those arriving pre WW2 were Italian nationals, enabling them to have a lot of fun as ‘enemy aliens’ during the war. His family joined him in about 1947 and they later moved to a patch at Kynnumboon. They retired to Brisbane sometime around the mid 1970s. John could have some connection to Harry Klimis, President of the Rhodian Association, Colossos, at Biloela during the 1930s.
The circumstances of his compatriot from Rhodes, Savva Poutias, aka Savvas Zambicos Pozzias, are similar. He also moved to Kynnumboon after his wife and family arrived, but went to Brisbane a few years earlier than the Clemis. It’s believed Savva’s father may also have been here for a while.
Stergo Hagiaglou was a Rhodian who arrived in the 1940s. He, his wife Kaliopi and two sons grew bananas at Clothiers Creek and Dungay for many years before retiring to Brisbane in the late 1970s. Their daughters, Vasiliki and Tsambiga, were probably the first Greeks to attend the Clothiers Creek School in the late 1940s.
George and Katerini Patounas were another couple from Rhodes who arrived in the 1950s, but moved to Brisbane shortly after the tragic death of their daughter in a firearm accident.
Down amongst the Macedonians at Dunbible was yet another Rhodian, George Fotinis, who landed in Adelaide from the village of Apalachia in 1928. It seems he arrived in the area from Queensland sometime during the war and remained at Dunbible through to the early 1960s.
Also with a patch at Dunbible was James Banos/Mpanos who came from the village of Aliveri on Evia, Greece’s second largest island, in the 1940s. He and his wife Elefteria initially retired into Murbah before moving to Brisbane in the late 1970s. He probably has some connection to the only other apparent Evian in the region, Stylianos Giorgios Apogrimiotis, who landed in Adelaide from Aliveri in 1927 and 10yrs later established Appo’s Fish Shop in Lismore. (Perhaps connected was Aristides Dimitri Chroneos who also sailed into Adelaide in 1927, from some place named Evisi in Greece, and came to Dunbible to bend bananas in the 1940s after a stint of cane cutting in North Queensland.)
Amongst those from the British colony of Cyprus were the Georgiou, Skouras, Loucas, Theohares and Chrysostomos families.
Aristi Georgiou landed pre war and made his way to the Murbah plantations at least by the mid 1940s. Sometime in the 1950s he too moved down amongst the Macedonians at Dunbible to grow bananas but retired from there to Brisbane in the late 1960s. In the meantime he married Kyriokoula in Sydney. His nephew, George Georgiou, arrived in the mid 1950s but has since moved on to Sydney.
Christos Skouras/os and his son Leo were also prewar arrivals and had their own patch at Condong by the end of the war. Leo married a Brisbane girl, Cloe, and is now in real estate in Murbah. The remainder of Christos’s family arrived in the early 1950s. Daughter Louisa married Con and settled on the Gold Coast.
Christos’s last daughter, Katina Skouras, married his compatriot Yiannis Theohares who arrived pre war to fatten bananas on Condong Range. They moved to Brisbane in the early 1970s with all the children except Chris, who married an Aussie girl, and Koula, who married Charlie Loucas. Chris was a star in the Murbah Spartans’ soccer team and on his first outing with the team in 1959 won the comment …shows promise and will be worth watching in the future. He and a bloke named Valos were selected in the combined Tweed team to play Lismore shortly afterwards. Leo Kodos was another Spartans’ star. (And Chris is probably the same C.J. Theohares running a Murbah cafe in 1967 when he urged his fellow citizens to form the new State of New England.)
Kyriacos (Charlie) Loucas came from Cyprus in the 1940s and alternated between cane cutting and banana bending at Tumbulgum and Condong. He married Kyriacoula/Koula Theohares at Murwillumbah in 1955 and they spent many years in the district before eventually retiring to Brisbane with their two daughters.
Pantelis (Bill) Chrysostomos landed in 1945 and came direct to Clothiers Creek to join his compatriots, followed by his wife, Maria Skouras, and 4yr old son Chris in 1949. In 1958 they moved into town and acquired the cafe of Alex Mitsos opposite the Regent theatre and made it over into Bill’s Friendly Snack Bar, which they held for 12yrs before closing the business after the drop in popularity of theatre going saw customers fading away dramatically. In the meantime Bill had built the Cyprus Pines Flats up the hill on Main Street and established the Corroborree Coffee Lounge nearby. They have now retired to Burleigh Heads and enjoy sifting sand through their toes in retirement. Their son Phillip married a Canberra girl and is now a High School teacher on the Gold Coast. Son Chris initially adopted the name Stomou and ran the upstairs theatre and the downstairs sports centre at the revitalised Regent Theatre before becoming a principal in Elders Real Estate in Murbah with his wife Denise.
The earliest Cypriot in Murbah appears to be Louisos Socrati Papadopoulos who looks like he had a stint in bananas with the Vlismas. He was born in the village of Larnaca on Cyprus in 1899 and landed at Fremantle in 1924 after 13yrs in Egypt. He spent a couple of years in WA before coming east, marking time in Sydney, Moree, Kyogle and Brisbane prior to arriving in Murbah in early 1929. But he only seems to have stayed a year or so before returning to Moree.
Another cane cutter was John Nikolas Papanikolas who arrived from the island of Limnos in the late 1950s/early 1960s. He was also a builder who briefly returned to his basic trade in Murbah in the mid 1970s before acquiring his own trawler and becoming a professional fisherman operating out of Brunswick Heads.
Also farming at Condong by the late 1940s was Christodoulos Elia. He was still there in the late 1950s when John Nikolas Elias became a banana grower at Upper Burringbar in 1959
Another at Condong was Peter Maniotis, who turned up from Tripoli in the Peloponnese in the early 1950s. He moved to a patch at Hopkins Creek sometime in the late 1950s. He and his wife Vasiliki had two sons and two daughters, one of whom, Georgia, married Peter Angouris of Murbah in the late 1960s.
Their neighbours at Hopkins Creek were Michael and Natalie Soleas. Mick was a cook at the Austral Café until acquiring his patch around 1950.
An early arrival at Condong was Dionisios (Denis) Georgopoulos who landed from the village of Monsata, Kephalonika, in 1925 and was in the district at least by the start of the war. He was staked to his Condong patch in 1943 by John Comino, but sometime in the early 1950s moved to Clothiers Creek where, in early 1960, 59yr old Dennis suffered probably the Tweed’s worst hard luck story. A week after he had completed an extensive refurbishment of his house, including wiring for the connection of electricity, his old faithful kerosene refrigerator decided it didn’t want to be orphaned and exploded, destroying the whole house in a fire that consumed the building and all the family’s possessions in a few minutes. Luckily his wife and three children were away at the time. He hadn’t got round to upping his insurance, which only covered a fraction of the loss. His Clothiers Creek neighbours provided temporary accommodation and clothing.
Another hard luck story occurred when the Papoutsis family lost everything in the record 1954 flood. They, Dimitri and Anastasia with young children Anastasios and Panayiote, landed as assisted migrants from Kalamata in the south-western Peloponnese in Apr1953. After some time at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Albury they were pointed towards the Tweed banana industry, but they'd had enough by 1955 and moved to Brisbane, by then with new daughter Constantina. Dimitri is believed to have been a driver for the Varela's at the time they moved on.
Another Georgopoulos, Apostolos, came from some place named Parorion in Greece, perhaps Perahori on Ithaca, in 1928/29 and was a banana grower at Dunbible at least by the end of the war.
Also in the Clothiers Creek community were Theo and Manuel Stavlas who arrived in the early 1950s from the island of Asstipalia off the coast of Turkey. They were initially cane cutters before getting their own plot and growing bananas as well as continuing in the cane game. Manuel later returned to Greece where he married, but Theo eventually went back to his basic trade as a builder and became a developer based at Woolongong. He recently completed a large block of units on the Gold Coast. He married Maria, a schoolteacher at Clothiers Creek in the early 1970s, and has two sons and a daughter.
At nearby Reserve Creek were Nick and Vivi Papadopoulos and Nick’s retired parents Sotirios and Vasiliki. Nick, a Peloponnesian sugar cane cutter, had met and married Vivi Melidonis in 1957 when she came up from Main Arm to work in the Varela fruit shop, shortly after her sister Barbara’s marriage to George Varela in 1956. Like most of the Greeks of that era Nick worked hard to accumulate the capital to sponsor out all of his family; his elder sister arriving first followed by his parents, another sister and his younger brother. They have all now settled permanently in Australia except his younger sister who married and returned to Greece.
Vivi’s retired father, Nick, one of the pioneering Ithacan banana growers at Main Arm, joined Nick and Vivi a few years after her Uncle Paul died in 1958. Her father died in 1968, aged 66, a few years after they had moved to Clothiers Creek. They sold their 385 acre Clothiers Creek farm in about 1972 and moved to Adelaide, but only stayed for 3yrs before moving across to Sydney where they spent the next 26yrs before recently returning to this area. They have since retired to Pottsville where they were staggered at the money they had to fork out for a property in an area which was sleepy hollow at the time they left in the 70s.
Some others Identified:
By 1940 the banana industry was second to dairying in the district but postwar became the Tweed’s leading wealth producer after dairying’s long-term decline started to accelerate. By the time of the banana festival in late 1957 it was reckoned that the banana industry was the Tweed Shire’s foremost income generator by far, having almost 1600 growers producing half a million cases per year from about 7000 acres of plantations and bringing a gross income of £1.5 million. Timber was the next largest income generator with £1 million coming off 25,000 acres of state forest. Surprisingly the sugar industry was only contributing £0.5 million from its 120 farms spread over 4000 acres. Like everywhere else on the north coast the dairy industry was still in a downward spiral at this time, but shortly afterwards was joined on the slippery dip by bananas.
The Tweed banana growers remained viable into the late 1960s/early 1970s because of a greater production per acre than those in the Brunswick Valley. And where the Greek community around Mullum began to break up and disperse from about 1960, the community of the Tweed remained active, even continuing to grow for a period, until the early 1970s when children were grown up and moved away. Even so, a lot of the banana growers then found employment in the Murbah cafes, which also had remained viable a lot longer than those of Mullum because of Murbah’s lesser dependence on the banana industry. The regular Saturday morning Greek classes at Murbah came to an end in the late 1960s when the resident priest in Lismore was not replaced at the end of his term. Through the 1950s these classes were conducted by Mrs Katy Savvas from Lismore and attracted over 30 students.