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Kytherian Identity

Culture > Kytherian Identity > Chapter 8: Achievement through Integration or Assimilation? Part C: Absorption, Case Studies, Conclusions.

9069: Culture > Kytherian Identity

submitted by Kevin Cork on 23.01.2006

Chapter 8: Achievement through Integration or Assimilation? Part C: Absorption, Case Studies, Conclusions.

During the 1990's KEVIN CORK undertook extensive research into cinema's in Australia.

Tragically, he died before completing his work, but most of the chapters of his Ph.D Thesis, were completed.

His wife and children have kindly given permission for his work to be reproduced.

His work appears here under his own name.

Most Australian's would be unaware of the degree to which Greeks, and particularly Kytherian Greeks dominated cinema ownership in Australia - especially in New South Wales.

The first part of Chapter 8 brings together the themes of his study - focusing on a number of Kytherian families.

The importance of the Hellenic and Kytherian contribution to Australian cinema ownership and history is clearly demonstrated in Chapt 8, as in all other chapters.

Part C, of Chapter 8, Includes a section on Absorption, A Case study of Theo Conomos at Carinda, and conclusions about whether the Greeks and Kytherians Achievements were derived from Integration, or Assimilation?

The final one-third of chapter 8 - Part C - (reproduced here) goes to the heart of the philosophical question:

what is the basis of the Hellenic and Kytherian sense of identity? and,

How do you maintain the Hellenic and Kytherian sense of identity in a "foreign" Anglo-Saxon country?

It is difficult to know how to pass on to Kytherians the results of Kevin Cork's important research's.

In the end, I felt that the results should be passed on in the most extensive way - i.e. in full re-publication of Chapter's.

All Chapters now appear on the kythera-family web-site.

Other entries can be sourced by searching under "Cork" on the internal search engine

See also, Kevin Cork, under People, subsection, High Achievers.

Achievement through integration or Assimilation? Chapt 8. [Continued from previous 2 entries, Parts A & B].


Absorption

Tsounis, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, considered that Greek migrants, although absorbed economically, were not necessarily absorbed socially, politically or culturally if measured against such things as participation in social and cultural institutions in the host society, and the acquisition of positions of influence, privilege and power within those institutions. While the members of the subject group were absorbed economically, the degrees to which they were absorbed into the other three areas must be measured against each individual's life. All were motion picture exhibitors and their cinemas (especially those that doubled as ballrooms) were important in the host society's social and cultural lives. If Tsounis' point is applied, then all of the subject group participated to a high degree in the social and cultural institutions of the host society through selection of film programmes, working with dance/ball committees, and generally mixing with local people in relation to their cinemas and other interests (eg lodges, sporting groups, other commercial activities). The political aspect of Tsounis' thought could apply to those who became naturalised, who sought amongst other things the right to vote at all levels of government, and to the two men who served on their local councils.

As theatre proprietors, they achieved positions of influence within their communities. An example of the esteem in which one exhibitor was held, and which reinforces the type of influence that these men had, can be found in part of an obituary for James Simos (Roxy Theatre, Cootamundra) who died in an accident in 1938.
The late James Simos was generous and gentlemanly, and clear thinking was naturally one of his characteristics. He was one whom people were glad to be able to call a friend; and there has passed on a townsman from whom Cootamundra gained much during his sojourn...True, he was a shrewd businessman, but the writer, who was closely associated with him for years, came to realise that James Simos gave more thought to prospective programmes for his picture theatre than from the angle of financial gain. His main thought was rather, 'Would the people benefit and enjoy the programme?' And his ability in that direction was outstanding. He occupied an important position in the community life of Cootamundra in this way, guiding the destinies of a business which deeply affected the social activities of the town and district, and one which also deeply affected its status. The business wielded an influence which many do not appreciate.

His unassuming and kindly manner covered an iron will; and his loss, under tragic circumstances, will be sincerely regretted by many who were honored [sic] with his friendship.


Case study - Theo Conomos at Carinda

Kytheran-born Theodore Emanuel Conomos (Megaloconomos) was sponsored by Lambros Conomos (no relation) of Walgett and arrived in Australia at the age of 25 in 1927.
Dad and Theo were from the same village. In fact, Lambros and Dad brought quite a few fellows out from Kythera and Theo was one of them...When they couldn't get enough people to work in the shop. They'd come and work in Walgett for a couple of years and then they'd, with a little bit of money in their pockets, they'd go and find a similar business somewhere else.

After leaving Walgett in 1929, Theo spent time in Brewarrina and then Sydney before he moved to Carinda in the mid-1930s. He is believed to have been encouraged into this venture by Lambros at Walgett. His brother, Vassilios (Bill) Emanuel Conomos (whom Lambros Conomos also sponsored), joined him in Carinda where they leased a large block of land (approximately 165 feet to Shakespear Street by 132 feet to Colin Street) from Harold H Amiet from 18 May 1936. Included in the lease were a shop (facing Colin Street) (which they renamed the Carinda Cafe), a house (in Shakespear Street) and a public hall (facing Colin Street). There was also a smaller shop at the corner of the two streets.

The public hall (60 feet long by 30 feet wide, with a stage 30 feet by 12 feet) had been built by Harold Amiet in 1930. With walls of wood and iron, a wooden floor and a galvanised iron roof, it resembled many a country hall of its time. Seating was for 300 (more than the size of the village's population). By 1937 Theo and Bill Conomos' letterhead boasted that they controlled the refreshment room, the hall, the ice works and the town's electricity power supply. As well, they also installed a petrol bowser outside the refreshment room. Sometime in the late 1940s Theo upgraded the electricity plant with the help of his brother-in-law, George Rosso and, at the time, wired-up a number of privately owned buildings and provided some street lighting. All of this was done with the approval of Walgett Shire Council which was either unable or unwilling to do the same. According to local historian, Margaret Johnstone, the power was turned off at midnight and Theo controlled the supply until the middle 1960s when rural power came to the district.

A third Conomos brother, George, joined Theo and Bill for a short time in the later 1930s but did not stay in Carinda for very long. He eventually moved to Orange where he ran a fruit shop.

The public hall brought in some rental from dances and other social functions, but the Conomos brothers could see a better financial return if a regular picture show were set up. Probably guided by the success of the Walgett Conomos Bros' cinema, Theo and Bill set about turning their hall into a cinema in 1937. The conversion was relatively simple. Besides the erection of a screen on stage, and the raising of the rear portion of the auditorium floor, a 9 feet by 6 feet projection box was constructed on the left hand side of the facade and necessary wiring was installed. The evening of 12 July witnessed the opening of the Carinda Talkies. The opening programme included "Naughty Marietta" and several featurettes, including the Metrotone News. (This was the first time local people had been able to see, and hear, news items.) The cinema was variously referred to as Carinda Talkies and Megalo Theatre.
Messrs. Conomos Bros, of Carinda, intend opening the new picture theatre in Carinda Hall on Monday, 12 July, to be followed by a dance, the proceeds of which will be donated to Carinda Hospital. Dancing will commence at about 11.30p.m. and Jackson's Orchestra will provide the music. Hostesses who will assist Messrs Conomos Bros. with the dance arrangements are Mesdames G. Marskell, R. Hardy, J. Munro and Sister Cornwell.

Lambros Conomos' brother, Emmanuel (Hector), recalled Theo's practical solution to balancing his picture programmes.
I always used to balance my programmes [in Walgett] so as to bring out the show about half past ten, but very, very seldom hold the people there until eleven o'clock. See, give them a chance to get home. And, of course, being next to the cafe, give them a chance to spend a few bob on coffee and toast. Anyway, I believe Theo never used to balance his programmes. He used to get onto Fox or anything and say send me such-and-such a production or he might have 20,000 feet of film there...there was 11 minutes per 1000 feet, if I remember rightly - sound film. So Theo thought...this is no good staying up to after midnight so, once or twice, he discarded a reel. Someone asked Theo, 'Theo,' he said, 'that had a funny sort of a finish.' Theo said, 'Yes, I couldn't understand it myself.'

On 15 January 1940 the property being leased to the two brothers was transferred into their names. Another block of land, measuring the same as the first, but on the eastern side of the unnamed lane and fronting Shakespear and Wilga Streets, was purchased by Theo on 9 April 1945. By 1940, the firm's letterhead showed that a cordial factory had been added to their investments. A further addition in 1941 was the "Town Butchery" in Shakespear Street. On their letterhead of 1947, the cordial factory had been deleted.
Support for charities by Conomos Bros was commonplace. The year 1941 was typical. In January, a special film screening, followed by a dance, was held in aid of the local branch of the Red Cross Society. "Messrs T. and B. Conomos are to be complimented on their generosity in donating the proceeds of the entertainment to such a worthy cause." In February, Theo "convened a meeting to decide whether some function should be held" to raise money for a country-wide fund-raising activity in aid of the Greek Red Cross. The meeting was large and enthusiastic and it was decided to hold a Sports and Novelty Events Day on 28 February, with a ball in the evening at the theatre. Such was the success of the day that Carinda contributed £150 to the charity. Three months later, the brothers donated the proceeds from their Third Anniversary Pictures to the local Country Women's Association.

In 1944, Theo married Vasyliki (Bessie) Rosso, originally from Kythera. In the succeeding years, their family grew to four children. Bill, on the other hand, never married. Preferring to return to Greece where he might spend his later years, he transferred his half share in the enterprises to Theo on 8 May 1950 and returned to Kythera where he later passed away.

Having seen the village cut off by floods in the early 1950s, Theo and the Carinda Progress Association pushed for the construction of an aerodrome. In 1952 land was acquired and, in 1953, the first commercial flights into Carinda commenced. Theo returned to Greece in the early 1950s for an extended holiday and left George Rosso in-charge of the hall, and other brothers-in-law, Peter and John Rosso in-charge of the cafe. He made another trip to Greece in 1956, having arranged for the hall's facade to be remodelled in his absence. This included bringing the entire front into line with the existing ticket box and installing an awning. The result was that the hall blended with the adjacent Megalo Cafe.

In 1961, desirous of better educational facilities for his children and hoping to take life a little easier, Theo and his family moved into Dubbo. Although he left his brothers-in-law to run the cafe, Theo returned to Carinda each Saturday to show the pictures. As television started to impact on the cinema industry, Carinda suffered. In 1966, the theatre was screening once each week, but by 1967 it was screening once a month. The following year, no pictures were shown, although the hall was used for other social functions. Theo was 66 years old by then and it was not worth travelling back and forth to keep the show going. In 1970 pictures were tried again, but an official report stated only "6 times per year". A letter on the T & B Conomos letterhead, in May 1971 stated that "...owing to lack of patrons, we have decided to close down the Megalo Theatre for a period of at least three years."

On 16 July 1971, the shop-residence-hall block was transferred to Theo's nephew, Emanuel Peter Conomos who retained the hall's licence but indicated that he did not intend to screen pictures. In a letter dated 3 July 1972, that used the letterhead of T & B Conomos but which was crossed out and replaced by E P Conomos, the new owner stated that he no longer required the cinema licence. Below the T & B Conomos name was "Established 1935". Thus, in the stroke of a pen, the firm of T & B Conomos, providores of essential commodities, services and entertainment to Carinda for some many years, ceased to be associated with the village.

Theo passed away on 29 August 1987 in Dubbo and his wife now resides in Brisbane. The Megalo Cafe and Theatre changed hands several years ago and the cafe is now a general store-cum-milk bar called "Megalo Store". The hall, having been used for a time by Emanuel Conomos to store kangaroo skins, has become the Post Office. The shop at the corner of Shakespear and Colin Streets, run for some years by the Rosso brothers as a grocery shop, is empty. The cordial factory and ice works disappeared a long time ago, the butchery was disposed of, electricity is supplied by a public instrumentality, and the petrol pump became obsolete when a small service station was built further along the main street. What then of the Conomos name?

When a book on Carinda was launched in 1984, the authors wrote, "In paying tribute to Theo, the thought occurs of what would have happened to the village of Carinda without the forceful drive of this fine man." If it were not for this solitary book, the Conomos name would probably be forgotten and the story would be lost of how two Greek immigrant brothers accepted the challenge of moving to an outback village in the mid-1930s, grasped opportunities as they arose, and integrated into the local community. Along the way, they provided goods and services for the local populace that no-one else was prepared to provide. As their brother-in-law commented, there was nothing much to do in Carinda on Saturday nights and Theo and Bill gave everyone the impetus to get dressed up and go out, as singles, doubles or as families. Obviously, if families came to the village to the pictures, then it meant more meals at the cafe, more confectionery sold, and more petrol sold from the bowser. It was, in fact, a highly satisfactory, two-way contribution. The locals got what they wanted; the two brothers achieved economic independence and were accepted by the community. In itself, a story of successful integration.


Achievement through Integration, or Assimilation?

Was it a case, then, of achievement occasioned by integration, or did the members of the subject group assimilate? Referring to the "fuller terminology" given by Price earlier in this chapter, it is interesting to apply the terms (written below in italics) to the known facts about the subjects.

1. "Absorption - to denote the incorporation of immigrants into the economic life of a country."
The group was absorbed into the economic life of the country through its business connections. This covered a wide range of commercial activities in which they were involved and succeeded. Current though has it that up to 80 per cent of small businesses fail in their first year and, if a small business passes its second year of operation, then it can be considered a success. If one were to apply this current criterion for determining the success of small businesses then, with few exceptions (eg Alfred Crones, Walgett 1915-16, and Sam Coroneo, Tamworth Strand 1928-29), the subject group members were successful small businessmen.

2. "Accommodation - to denote a condition where the immigrant and native stock tolerate each other to the extent that they can...live together in the same country."
Commercial necessity brought about toleration in the years before World War II, although there were the few overt situations when tempers flared (eg in 1915). Toleration came with time and was different from situation to situation. As discussed in an earlier chapter, sometimes there was an undercurrent of discrimination that affected only the Greeks' children, which must have originated with the British-Australian adults for it to be picked-up by their offspring.

3. "Integration - to denote the process whereby two or more ethnic groups adapt themselves so well that they can accept and value each other's contribution to their common political and social life."
For a time, it was a one-way adaption: the Greeks adapted; the British-Australians maintained the status quo. According to Price, the southern Europeans adapted quickly to the legal system and its conventions. One Greek solicitor (C Don Service and Co, Anglicised name), who was established by the 1930s, acted on behalf of several of the subject group members. As time passed, Greeks and British-Australians came to accept the contributions each group made to the communities in which they lived and worked. For example, the Greek theatre builders relied on Australian architects and builders, while the communities accepted what the Greeks built for them. This can be seen in the opening night remarks (see Chapter 5) and the obituaries published in newspapers at the time of death of some of the exhibitors.

4. "Acculturation - to denote the intermixture of languages, dress, diet, sport and other cultural characteristics of two or more different peoples."
The Greeks learned English, followed the Australian way of dressing, learned how to cook Australian meals in their cafes, and served Australian confectionery in their cinemas, learned how to play or follow Australian sports, Anglicised their names, and were expected to pick up other Australian cultural characteristics. It was not until the late 1950s that Australians generally started to take an interest in Greek cooking and other cultural items (eg Merlina Mercouri, writer, director and star of "Never on Sunday" with its memorable theme tune by Manos Hadjidakis).

A 1994 Bureau of Immigration and Population Research document, Community Profiles. 1991 Census. Greece Born, stated that Greek immigrants generally maintained "a strong pride in their religious and cultural heritage and consider it their responsibility to effectively transfer a commitment towards the maintenance of a Greek identity to succeeding generations." This is reinforced by means of involving themselves in a network of social relationships and mutual obligations with family, kin and regional community. This is evident among the remaining members of the subject group who are proud of their Greek heritage and all that it entails.

5. "Amalgamation - to denote the intermarriage of different physical strains and the consequent blending of biological characteristics."
While this could have been one of the most important parts of assimilation for the subject group, it was limited to five marriages only - N Laurantus, G Laurantus, J Simos, L Spellson, J Kouvelis. It could be assumed that the subject group members preferred to retain their ties with their Greek culture, (and some may have believed that they might return to Greece some day), but it may also have been to do with their own perceived status within the communities in which they lived and worked.

The subject group does not satisfy the above five aspects that relate to assimilation. So, where does that place them? Did they assimilate or not? Perhaps what transpired was that the two cultures moved closer together over a period of time and ultimately brought the subject group members to the point where they saw themselves as Greek-Australians. Price suggested that Greek migrants to Australia did this and the research undertaken for this thesis supports his view.
What appears to be part of the more general process of social and economic assimilation is really part of the more general process whereby both Britishers and Europeans have, willy nilly, moved closer to each other under the compulsion of a novel but common environment. This aspect of assimilation frequently receives less attention than it deserves.

In the case of the members of the subject group who lived and worked in country towns, the latter would have provided the "novel but common environment". Long distances from other towns, connected often by unsealed roads or lengthy train journeys, the inhabitants of the towns and surrounding areas were left to themselves for physical and emotional support. The Greeks of the subject group had to adapt to the towns in which they lived and worked. From the interviews undertaken for the thesis, it became clear that all of the subject group members attempted to adapt, including Margetis who lived and worked in Sydney and its suburbs. It was essential for economic reasons that the cafe and cinema Greeks conformed "substantially to the patterns of the majority. Distinction in language, and even in dress, could mark them off as non-conformists and, therefore, in the minds of Australians, as unassimilated," thereby placing greater stress on them within their British-Australian communities. (The situation was to be very different for the bulk of the post-war Greek migrants who tended to move into clusters in Redfern, Surry Hills and Marrickville where the enclaves themselves offered refuge and support in language, diet, entertainment and religion.)

The concept of duality, as Price describes it, is "cultural pluralism, where various ethnic groups are integrated into a polity but maintain their separate ethnic cultures indefinitely." It becomes a case of achievement through integration rather than assimilation and this has been the case for the members of the subject group. Although the members of the subject group retained many things "Greek" (eg Greek language for home or with friends, Greek religious customs including naming of children; some foods), they acquired a lot of Australian ideas and manners. Holidays to Greece, keeping in contact with Greek relatives by letter or telephone both here and abroad, and socialising when possible with other Greeks, has ensured that, for many, they did not lose their Hellenic heritage. Through their business and social activities, they made important contributions to ordinary, everyday British-Australia. Their children, who were born, educated and work in Australia (many in professional areas), have retained certain "Greek" attributes and are reluctant to forego the duality established by their parents. Some have married Australian-born Greek descendents because they considered it was what their parents wanted. During the course of interviews, a few confided that they hoped their own children would do the same, although it was considered to be less important than in their generation. Price noted that it "generally takes three generations before full amalgamation, acculturation. and assimilation takes place", but in the case of many of the grandchildren of the subject group, they still retain Hellenic elements (eg the ability to converse with grandparents in Greek, retention of Greek Orthodox religion, and appreciation of certain Greek customs and cuisine). On his last point, Price may need to think in terms of a fourth generation although, as the world shrinks with current trends towards globalisation, shorter travelling times between countries, and the Internet, that generation may declare itself to be "citizens of Earth" and gather customs and mores from wherever it wants and whenever it wants, thereby expanding the concept of duality which typified the members of the subject group.

But what of the physical legacy of the subject group? The Burra Charter (1992) makes the following claim:
Communities come to value places which are the settings for important events, or which become symbols of identity and aspiration. Many churches and public buildings are important in this way. They are not just neutral venues for social events, they are important as the symbols and reminders of the events.
The cafes and picture theatres built for Greek immigrants were symbols of identity and aspiration. They were symbols of their achievements. We owe it to future generations to record the history of all immigrant groups to this shore. Considering that the Greeks are the third largest migrant group, then there should be a wealth of material about them. This is not the case. For those of the subject group, their physical legacy has been progressively eroded away through thoughtlessness, apathy, sheer bloody-mindedness and allowing the almighty dollar to take control. "The shape of a city is not static and the needs of the future have to be met as much as the past respected." Future generations, no matter what cultural heritage they possess, may learn a lot about aspiration and achievement from studying the integration of selected migrant groups within Australia. Perhaps such studies could also be used as role-models for future first generation arrivals, encouraging them to become involved in their communities which, in turn, will help make Australia a more culturally-enriched land.

It would be unrealistic to pretend that people from one culture can adopt the culture of another nation and not retain aspects of their former culture. Rather, the general process, as Price states, of moving closer together over a long period of time is supported by the findings of the research for this thesis. Greek migrants to Australia, rather than having assimilated, have created a dual nationality for themselves, viz Greek-Australian. Price states that "This aspect of assimilation frequently receives less attention than it deserves" This thesis records, in detail for the first time, a particular group of Greek men and acknowledges their contributions to the heritage of this state. Our Australian culture has been enriched because of these pre-television motion picture exhibitors and their "Parthenons Down Under".

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