George Feros. The endeavours of my father by Ruby M Brown (nee Feros)
by his daughter Ruby M Brown (nee Feros)
Institute OF KYTHERAISMOS. 2nd INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM. PROCEEDINGS
Thank you for the privilege of being here today to share with you the life of George Feros.
The synopsis for this year’s symposium is the Globalisation of Kytheraismos (in essence the endeavours, philosophy, identity and culture of Kytherians).
I am truly proud of my Kytherian heritage and I would like to share with you the endeavours of my father, George Feros.
When I spoke at the 25th Anniversary dinner of Feros Care last year I promised to write a book about George, and donate the profit to the organization he was instrumental in establishing. Feros Care Inc. is an aged care organization which stretches from Kingscliff to Ballina on the far north coast of NSW. I am very proud of Feros Care, the organisation bearing the name of my father. If George’s story is not written the history of Australia will be all the poorer. George’s story is one great Australian story or more precisely a story about one man’s passion to do great things for the citizens of Australia. When this book is published it will have my Greek name on it!
Did you know George? I mean did you really know what was behind those eyes that looked into your soul. (Point to the painting). Some I talked to last night at the cocktail party, have heard of George and his endeavours.
As our Prime Minister said on National radio news yesterday afternoon, migrants have added so much to our heritage. George, like many other Kytherians, has left us a rich legacy we can be proud of.
George, in his teenage years, was an alter boy in the church at Mitata where his grandfather was the priest. He came from a family of hard working Kytherians (vourgaris).
From when he left in 1923, George never returned to Kytheria. He told me many times how much he missed his dear mother and cried many times to be able to see her again.
From the day he left, George had to care for himself. He had to be like an eagle. Eagles learn to fly when their mother pushes them out of the nest and over the edge of a cliff, like the edge of the cliff in Mitata. George’s mother (nee Maria Sclavos had to let George go as the economic conditions of the time were so bad, she had no option. I can’t imagine how George’s mother must have felt. George, like the little eagle, had to spread his wings, release his power and find his place to fly to, in this world. Not, of course, that he flew anywhere! He never had a commercial plane ride in his life.
As George referred to the “Old Country” he told me many times about how he got into the wine vat and trampled the grapes with his bare feet. When I first visited Kytheria the wine vat was still there to be seen and my mind wandered back to his many stories.
At twenty, George left the port of Agia Pelagia (or Kapsali) to go to Piraeus, where he boarded a fishing trawler for the sea journey to Port Said in Egypt. George told me he was nailed into a large box to conceal him on the voyage. He said when he reached Port Said and was let out of the box. His first meal was prawns caught on the trawler. He said he was so hungry that he ate the prawns, shells, heads and all and consumed them in their entirety. Such was his capacity to digest food. I have a chapter in the book on Potions and Lotions where I tell about the amazing digestive system of the human body, well George’s body!
A voyage from Port Said to Sydney and then by train to Lismore allowed George to meet up with his older brother Jack who was already living there.
I guess you could be excused for wondering what connection there could be, between a box, a bell and a bike. These 3 things were symbols that marked George’s identity.
George had strong convictions by which he lived. He did things his way. Convention was not part of George’s way of living.
Every day in the last 20 years of George’s life, he would mount his bike and ride off. The bell and the box he carried in a homemade hessian bag, which he slung over his shoulder. He would ride to the local pubs and dismount from his bike and out would come the box and the bell. He rang the bell to let people know he was around. The box was to collect money to give to his passion – the nursing home. He became an icon in Byron Bay. He cut his teeth, so to speak, collecting for the Australian Orthodox Home for the Aged and continued to perfect his art of collecting money for a nursing home.
George was not afraid to go anywhere to collect in any weather. Rain, hail or shine, George was there! He would go to the local footie match, the pubs and clubs. If the weather was so bad that no one would venture out, George would! He wouldn’t miss the one person who may be out that day or night who would give him a shilling (ten cents) towards his collection. When five hundred Greeks came to town for a Greek wedding, George wasn’t going to miss out on collecting from them for his passionate cause.
The box can be seen in a photo, which hangs in the hall of Feros Care, Bangalow. The box itself can still be seen at Feros Care in Byron Bay. The bell has unfortunately disappeared.
When George died in 1981, the cortège was led away from the church, with the priest walking in front of the hearse ringing the bell George had rung for 20 years. The gesture of his unspoken words heralded that George was coming.
The bike, well, there were many bikes. George wore out many bikes. He was a danger to himself and the traffic around him. It is a good thing the pace of traffic was a little slower in Byron Bay in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s or George would not have survived those days of bike riding. It was more like watch out cars, rather than watch out George.
George said he lived under the protection of the most High God (Psalm 91:1). He needed to live under some protection when he rode his bike, otherwise he would have died a long while before he did.
I think sometimes people gave George money because they felt sorry for him. If you stood still long enough, George gave you an ear-full of the need for a nursing home in Byron Bay. Thank goodness someone listened to him. It doesn’t matter what area of life it is, it is difficult being a pioneer. That indeed was what George was. He let his passion drive him on (or ride on) into all kinds of places to collect.
George was a man with a mission. As the years went on people gave him more and more in their donations. When he died there was an accumulated $82.000 set aside for a nursing home. This was in addition to what he had previously collected for the Australian Orthodox Home for the Aged, but it wasn’t a Nursing Home, and that’s what George wanted.
George became single-minded in his determination to see that the frail and elderly of Byron Bay should have well-appointed care facilities in their twilight years.
People started giving George things they didn’t want, for him to sell. Long before market days were popular in small towns, George was like a market stall himself. If people were looking for a particular item, they would often go to George to see if he had what they were looking for.
George ministered to others as he walked the streets and collected for his passion. He realized there were many faithful people who gave to his passionate cause for a nursing home. Many of these people will never be known.
The fervor for his passion didn’t dwindle over the years. He just kept on going until Saint Peter called him home. For twenty years George rode his bike and collected for ‘his’ nursing home project.
And today – well there is now an aged care facility in Byron Bay, a nursing home in Bangalow and units for the aged in Byron Bay. There is now a multimillion dollar corporation called Feros Care Inc. which covers territory from Kingscliff to Ballina on the north coast of NSW. Feros Care now has many other aged care facilities.
How did all this begin – It began with the vision of one man on a bike and the people of Byron Bay who rallied behind this man to make the dream become a reality. Big business does not own Feros Care. Big business now runs the organization, but it is a community inaugurated program.
When I wrote the manuscript for the book I was at my beach house during my January R & R (rest & recreation). While I was doing this, I was having coffee with my neighbour, Cameron. Cameron asked me had I tried to ‘Google George’. This we did and found quite a comprehensive story about George and Feros Care Inc. As we looked at the many sites, Cameron commented, “Ruby you are famous”. My reply was, “No, I am not, but my father was”. You may like to go home and ‘goggle George’.
Thank you for allowing me to share a little of the story of George with you. If this story is not preserved then a grave injustice will have occurred and the history of Australia will be all the poorer.
Thankfully this story is now written and it is waiting to be published. I trust those who read it will be fired up to continue the passion of people like George Feros to do great things for the citizens of Australia.
Kytherians, I charge you to keep the dream alive – let us always be proud of our heritage.
One of George’s sayings was “God be with you till we meet again”.
So, like George, I say to you, “God be with you till we meet again”.
George would then add in Greek, ‘safe trip’. (say in Greek)
George, may God be with you until we meet again and I wish you safe travel, wherever you are.