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|Miltiades Bidzanis/Bidzanakis - Michael De Diar
15.08.1835 — 13.06.1920
One day in Port Pire, South Australia in mid - 1875, in a large store made available by the Whitings company for the townspeople to hold meetings, concerts and church services, during an especially long and tiring sermon a rather short, stocky, middle—aged man of southern Mediterranean appearance jumped up from his makeshift seat.
He dropped a coin noisily on a brandy cask and boomed at full volume in his distinctive marriner’s voice: “Time and tide wait for no man!”. That man was Miltiades Bidzanis.
But if tides rule the lives of seamen, surely the times shape the lives of many more people.
Miltiades Bidzanis belongs to the latter case. His life was definitely shaped by the historical circumstances and events
around the time of his birth. He was born on 15 August 1835 of a Kytherian father and a Cretan mother at Palia Roumata in the region of Hania on the western most side of Crete, although Cerigo (Kythera) is stated on his naturalisation certificate.
Surrounded by mountains, Palia Roumata itself is a small picturesque village situated in a valley of olive groves and grapevines, where Bidzanis families still reside today.
At the time of Miltiades Bidzanis’ birth, however, the island was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, although the mainland of Greece had already been liberated for five years.
The years around his birth, and as he grew to manhood, were particularly tumultuous because of the intolerable conditions of subjection the islanders faced.
This was even more so later, because of the lack of application by the Ottoman authorities of the more lenient terms of the 1858 edict which had been granted to the people of Crete after they rose in another revolt in that very year. In parallel, taxes continually increased, bringing the subjected Cretans to desperate conditions.
As a result, persecutions, imprisonments and murders of the conquered islanders, were quite frequent at the hands of their harsh rulers, sometimes for insignificant reasons, although in some cases as retribution for the killing of Ottomans, who behaved callously towards the Christian inhabitants.
It is not surprising that this turbulent period, in which Miltiades Bidzanis was born and raised, influenced the course of his entire life.
Because of the conditions in which he grew up, he had little schooling, but was noted for his keen interest in the sea, like most other islanders. In fact he had his first taste of life at sea when he was only nine years old and, following the quest for adventure that had for centuries called young Greek men to the open seas, he smuggled himself on board a ship as a stowaway! He hid in the bread locker of a ship (where there was plenty of food), but luck was against him for he was discovered and made to return home.
His ignominious return did not deter him and as soon as he could, when he was still quite young, he became a deck-hand, learning along with other skills how to manouvere the sails and the rigging against the winds and the tides.
During these years, and later as a seaman, he was able to travel widely, and gained an extensive knowledge of the Mediterranean, especially of its eastern area. He is still remembered today for the fascinating stories he used to recount about the many different ports and places he had visited on his voyages to the Holy Land, Cyprus, Egypt and elsewhere.
But this early life at sea did not only endow Bidzanis with a mariner’s valuable knowledge, it also provided him with the opportunity to reveal his natural courage and his eager defiance against the despised Ottoman overlords. His grandson Alan relates how his mother, Ella Melissa (wife of Bidzanis’ seventh child Leonidas George), had heard her father-in-law reminiscing about his involvement in rescuing British soldiers during the Crimean War, hiding them on his ship and secretly getting them to British controlled areas, such as the Ionian Islands and Malta.
By the age of twenty-five, he was already an experienced and confident seaman and also a proud young man. According to a family story, when returning to his village in Crete to visit his parents and relatives, Bidzanis was involved in the murder of an Ottoman Turk. This incident proved to be a turning point in his life.
As was to be expected, the authorities targeted the entire family, seeking to arrest and punish the men especially. Faced with this danger, the only way to escape death was to flee. So, Miltiades and his brother Hariton (also known as Harilaos) left in secret for Kythera, the most southerly and most easterly of the Ionian Islands, which were under British rule. His brother eventually reached Smyrna, Asia Minor - an ancient Greek city noted for its thriving commerce and its high level of culture —where, after a successful life as a merchant and hotelier, he died in 1906. Before they took their different paths, the two brothers promised each other that one day they would meet again, a promise which was never fulfilled.
However, the life of a fugitive did not suit Miltiades Bidzanis. In a very short time, answering the call of the sea and wishing to put more space between himself and the Ottomans, we find him signing on the ship Sir John Lawrence for Australia.
He arrived in Port Adelaide on Friday 30 August 1861 and a few days later he signed off the ship, in this way becoming only the second recorded Greek in South Australia.
For the first eleven and a half years he made Port Augusta his home, working as a seaman on ships in the coastal trade and eventually acquiring his own small ketch.
Through hard work and long experience as well as the natural instinct of a true mariner, he soon mastered the secrets of the treacherous coastal waters and learned how to steer the ships safely against the buffeting winds of the area, in the process
gaining his Master’s Certificate which enabled him to navigate in the Spencer Gulf.
Sometime during those years he also changed his name into Michael De Diar, possibly to better cover his tracks. Family information passed down through generations asserts that his new surname is linked to the nickname “elafi” (deer) which he earned when he still lived in his native village in Crete because of his prowess in running and jumping. The word “Diar” is a mis-spelt form of “deer” and the “De” possibly represents the Greek abbreviation of his father’s name Demetrios.
Over the years his name has appeared in a variety of spellings, such as De Diar, DeDiar DeDear, de’Dear, deDear and de Dear. After 1920 the family, in an effort to standardise their name, modified it into “de Dear”.
Interestingly, the name Bidzanis had similarly been a nickname given to the family after a forebear who spoke with a lisp. He, unable to say the word “vizaini” (suckle), had pronounced it “bidzaini”, and thus Bidzainis, later Bidzanis, had become the name by which the whole family was known.
In Smyrna, it appears that Hariton again changed the name from Bidzanis to Bizanis, and this is still the surname carried by his descendants through his son Elias (Leon) in Australia, though now spelt Bizannes.
In May 1873 Miltiades Bidzanis decided to move to Port Pire, because, as the area had been surveyed in 1871, and the township gazetted in 1872, the government had started selling land there.
Port Pire was already quite a busy harbour, having been discovered in 1846, and used after that by the pastoralists of the area, and so it would obviously provide work for a master mariner.
He settled in a part of Port Pine called Solomontown, named after Emmanuel Solomon, one of South Australia’s most successful merchants. Port Pire itself was growing rapidly in the year he arrived, and by the end of that year an unofficial head-count showed that 160 people (forty-seven of them children) had taken up residence there.
In Port Pire, he married Elizabeth J.M., whose surname is unknown, but who was reputedly a French migrant, and she bore him three sons. Very little information has survived about this marriage, or about their children, except that two of the sons were named Ernest Charles and Harilaos Richard, while for the third we know only the initials C.E.H.
Elizabeth’s headstone still marks her burial place in the Port Pire cemetery, informing us that she was forty-one years old when she died on 27th January 1876.
About two and a half years after the death of his first wife, on 16 May 1878, Bidzanis remarried, this time to Florence Edith Mary Davidson, a twenty-one year old Australian-born woman from Geelong, Victoria.
Florence De Diar, (nee, Davidson)
They were married at St Paul’s church in Port Pire, and during their thirty-nine years of married life they had ten children, six sons and four daughters. All the children were born and educated in Port Pire and each was given at least one Greek name.
In order of birth they were:
Athena Ellen (d. 1967), Cleopatra Emily (d. 1975), Cleanthe (Clyanthe) Edith (d. 1970), Constantine Theophilos (d. 1971), Demetrios Harilaos (d. 1974), Hector John (d. 1959), Leonidas George (d. 1963), the twins Clarence Andreas Themistocles (d. 1966) and Clement Spynidon Miltiades (d. 1974), and Gwendolin Olga (d. 1974) named after the then Queen of Greece, Olga.
Michael De Diar, his wife Florence, and their ten children in Port Pirie, 1908
Port Pire, with its new settlement and its rapidly expanding trade, succeeded in keeping Bidzanis for the largest part of his nearly sixty years in Australia. His abilities assured his success both as a pilot and as a master mariner, not only gaining him respect among his fellow-seamen but also helping him to acquire a second sailing vessel, for which he employed another skipper.
With his two boats, the Normanville and the Amelia, he carried on a successful and profitable life of coastal trading, loading his vessels with wheat, tinned meat and other cargo, which he transported mainly to Port Augusta and the Spencer Gulf in general, returning with limestone for the Port Pire smelters.
In this way he was even able to employ his sons as well - a valuable training experience, which qualified them to subsequently earn their Master’s Certificates and, moreover, for two or three of them to become Masters of their own vessels.
In general Bidzanis’ life and career, especially in Port Pire, proved fulfilling and rewarding, despite the harsh conditions of his job at sea. In fact, so settled had he become in Port Pine with his new wife, his young and expanding family and his established work at sea, that in 1883 he finally made the decision to become a citizen of South Australia (then called the Province of South Australia).
His naturalisation was granted on 16 July 1883, making him the first Greek to be naturalised in Port Pire, and the fifth in South Australia.
But gradually the years passed and the conditions of his life changed, as well. His children grew and several of them decided to follow their own paths and move to other places. One of the twins, Clarence, was the first to leave, settling in Sydney some time after 1910, and he was soon joined there by the other twin, Clement. Before long Clyanthe went to live with her two brothers in Sydney, and eventually Leonidas as well. But Leonidas was not there for many years before World War I broke out. He answered the call to serve his King and the Empire and joined the Australian Army, returning to Sydney only after his service as a bombardier and as a courier ended.
Once the twins were settled in Sydney, and around the time of the outbreak of World War I, they saved enough money to bring their parents over to the eastern coast. Bidzanis’ powers had begun to fail some years earlier and, despite his long and enduring love for the sea, he was forced to accept that the time had now come for him to retire.
Unable to spend his days on the sea, Port Pire, the town which had become such a large part of his life and had fostered his whole family, could not keep him in it's fold any more, and so he and his wife went to join their children in Sydney.
First they lived in Redfern, and then, wishing to be closer to the water, they moved to Coogee. A very old man now, he passed his days by visiting Greek shops where he could talk in his native language. But still he could not resist the sea and, since he could no longer work as a seaman, he contented himself with trips on Sydney harbour and from Circular Quay to Manly on the ferry.
However, despite the quiet and enjoyable life he shared with his two sons and his daughter in Sydney, Port Pire had definitely carved a niche in his heart. So, after about two years in Sydney, yielding to his innermost desire, the old mariner made what would be his last journey to his old port. Demetrios, one of their sons who had remained in Port Pire, sent the money for Bidzanis and his wife to return there by train.This time, however, Bidzanis came to Port Pire, not as the only Greek resident, but as one of a growing community.
By then Bidzanis’ wife, Florence, was ill with dropsy, and Demetrios took her into his home to care for her. She died there, on 26 May 1917, in her son’s arms, sixty years old, and after nearly forty years of married life.
On her death, Demetrios then took Bidzanis into his home, where he spent the remaining years of his life.
He died in Port Pire on 13 June 1920, at the age of eighty-five, after nearly sixty years in Australia, the land of the South.
Sadly, he did not live quite long enough to see his compatriots in that town grow to such a number, that in 1924 they were able to form the first Greek Community in the whole of South Australia, and in the following year, to consecrate the first Greek Orthodox church in Port Pire.
The death of Miltiades Bidzanis, or under his Australian name Michael De Diar, sealed a long and fruitful life during which, with his determination, fortitude and hard work, he had succeeded in fulfilling all the goals he had set out for himself.
All except one. That was the promise he had made many years before, to be reunited with his brother Hariton. This is the only promise, a dream in his life, he did not manage to make come true.
It is a very poignant epilogue, that the promise the two brothers were unable to keep, Hariton’s son Elias (Leon) Bizanis, whose descendants today live mainly in New South Wales, attempted to fulfil.
One day in the early 1900's, Bidzanis had chanced to meet a Greek sailor working on a merchant vessel which had docked at Port Pire, who knew his long—lost brother in Smyrna. Obtaining the address from him, Bidzanis wrote his brother a letter full of brotherly love, describing his new life in Australia and expressing his deep desire to meet him again one day.
So, after the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the destruction of his native Smyrna, in 1923 Leon Bizannes, later to become editor and manager of the Sydney Greek-language newspaper To Ethnikon Vema, (The National Tribune), travelled to Port Pire in search of his uncle, about whom he had heard so much from his father.
On his arrival he sadly discovered that he was too late, for his uncle, Miltiades Bidzanis, had died three years earlier.
In The Wake Of Odysseus. Portraits of Greek Settlers in Australia.
124 La Trobe Street
Greek-Australian Archives Publications