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History > Old Letters > Australian Greek Day, 1941

3717: History > Old Letters

submitted by Peter Tsicalas on 24.06.2004

Australian Greek Day, 1941

On and preceding ‘National Greek Day’, 28Feb1941, a few Northern NSW newspapers carried this letter from James E. Panagiotopoulos to his brother John at Dorrigo:

Dear John,

By my letter I send you my best wishes, and thank God we are all alive and enjoying the best of health. Hoorah for our Greek nation! Hoorah for the war! Hoorah for everlasting life for our country Greece. Hoorah for the British Empire; and Hoorah for the young nation Australia! This war, which is forced upon our people by the unbrave, lying Italy, we will end by defeating Italy and throwing them back in the Adriatic Sea. This victory will be victory for everyone and for the freedom of the world and for justice. The God is with us, so is the blessing of the Virgin Mary. I’m sure everyone of you living in Australia will follow the wireless news with the pride of our success, of our Army, Navy and Air Force.
We who live in this sacred land of Greece, we will do our duty to the last man and to the last drop of blood. The heroic spirit of the people living in Greece is unbelievable. The determination and the hatred against Italy is so great it cannot be expressed or written. Dear John, our country will be glorious and big after this war. We are part of the greater British Empire. England decided to make Greece the central in the Mediterranean for the British Empire, and it pays England to do so, because by Greece making a friendship with the Turks we can control East, West, North and South. On the other hand we are just the same as the British people, free thinkers and free believers. I am not called to the colours yet but I expect to be called any minute. I expect you to be always a Greek and an honest man, and always do the best you can for the country you live in and for your fellowman.
With lots of love and God be with us.

Most of the regional rags were effusive with Greek praise from late 1940 to early 1941 after the Greeks had issued their historic OHI!! (No! You shall not pass…or something) and finished driving Musso’s mob back into Albania (unaware that shortly afterwards the Duce was to ride back into Greece on the Fuehrer’s back.)

The Greek War Relief Fund was then established in Sydney and branches set up in country towns all over Australia, culminating in Australian Greek Day celebrations on 28Feb1941. The Kytherians of Northern NSW excelled themselves over this period. Angelo Crethar was the leading organiser of the Richmond Greeks, while over on the Brunswick Archie Caponas worked a miracle by negotiating a temporary truce in the ongoing banana wars.

Mullumbimby shut down on the appointed day and the biggest crowd for some time invaded town to be entertained with housie, woodchop, dance, stalls, various amusements and competitions in the main street and showground. At the gala in the School of Arts that night the various movements in Evson’s Dance were performed with skill and grace by the Greek troupe comprising Mr. and Mrs. A. Caponas, Peter and Nicholas Psaltis, Anthony Feros (of Byron Bay – Archie’s fellow organiser along with Paul Samios of Bangalow), Martha Cassis and Mrs. D. Pilikas.… A further exhibition was given later in the evening, when the company included several Murwillumbah exponents…. The Psaltis brothers were decked out in national costume, as were Mina Caponas and Martha Cassis. Somehow Archie had secured the popular Ritz Orchestra, which drew ‘400 young people’ for a night of hoppin’ and boppin’. They raised £300, which was more money for the war effort than any other activity in town during the rest of the year (notwithstanding that collections by various organisations for various funds were happening almost daily, leaving a financially stressed community – excluding the zillionaires in the lucrative wartime banana industry.)

Down on the Clarence the Notaras/Bernard/Langley/… PR team swung into action. Over the ensuing months the Clarence citizens learnt more about Greece than they ever wanted to know; from the Peloponnesian Wars and the foundation of democracy through 2000yrs of subsequent history. Money raising functions were reported every second day, including, would you believe, a cricket match between the Clarence River Women’s Cricket Association and the Greek War Fund Committee. The Committee scraped home, but no thanks to Mr N. Langley and Mr A. Notaras (who) at least proved more deadly with the ball than the bat. Peter Bernard became honorary treasure of the interim committee and, with Anthony Notaras, visited every hamlet in the region galvanising the locals and picking up the cash in their armoured car. On the appointed day, and for sometime afterwards, an exhausted troupe of Grafton Greek dancers in national costume appeared at most functions in surrounding towns. All up Grafton and District raised over £600.

On the coast the Samios Bros café and George Potiri’s Coffs Harbour Hotel became the chief collection points, while Mick Feros’ pub served the same purpose up in the hills at Dorrigo. Mick seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of Greek flags.

Further down the coast at Repton Messrs G. and H. Souris and G. Potiri were the promoters of a grand social…During the evening Mr C.S. Aroney of Coffs Harbour related to the gathering an historical incident to show the fighting spirit of the Greeks…Mr Harry Souris, in the skirted costume of the Greek mountain soldier, and Miss Lena Souris, also in Greek national costume, danced the Greek dance… Among those representing the Greeks from various centres were Mr Nick Gleeson and Miss Helene Comino of Urunga; Mr John Sophios and Mrs Manuel Kalangis of Bellingen; Mr George Souris, Mrs Nita Souris and Mrs Helene Psaltis…

At Urunga Mr Gleeson arranged the dance at the School of Arts… while Mr Kolantgis organised the Bellingen Ball…attended by 600 people… The leaders of the party were Messrs Potiri (Coffs Harbour) and Langley (Grafton) and Mrs Margos (Urunga) and Miss Bolston (West Kempsey)… and they were joined by many of their countrymen and women from Macksville, Coffs Harbour, Urunga, Dorrigo and Grafton. … the dance was marked by the striking national dress worn by the four leaders of the group and the two young patriots Arthur and George Bernard, of Grafton, who carried the Greek Standard and led the party to the dance floor. … At an appropriate interval in proceedings Mr Theo Cummins of Urunga (on behalf of Mr N. Gleeson, also of Urunga); Mr Bernard, of Grafton, and Mr M. Feros, of Dorrigo… sang the praisers of the patriotic Bellingers.

South to the Hastings Jim Aroney, Peter Vlandys and Peter Hatsatouris starred at Port Macquarie while George Conomos and a heap of holidaying mates from Moree were the centre of attraction at Wauchope. [At the Greek Ball held at the Wauchope Regent Theatre … the charming Miss Aroney (of Port Macquarie), dressed as “Miss Greece”…bearing the everlasting torch…led eleven Greeks dressed in Grecian costume…] The Hatsatouris Ritz Theatre seemed to be the main venue for Port Mac functions.

Down on the Macleay the Mottee Bros of Kempsey, ably assisted by A. Tsigounis, C. Tsakes, J. Sophios, M. Conomos (and a few other suspicious looking Greek names) were the stars and broke all records by raising just over £740 (excluding Jim Gavrily’s donation of his prized banjo accordion.)

Further down on the Manning the Taree Greeks out foxed everyone else by bringing their big day forward and inviting Dr Vrisarkis, Greek Consul-General, as guest-of-honour. The occasion saw the town gaily bedecked… with Greek flags flown from the premises of Zaunders Bros, Masselos Bros, The Paragon Café, Mr M. Gememis’ and Mr Krestis’… They set another record and all up raised over £850.

[Dr Vrisarkis nearly didn’t make it back for the Sydney festivities five days later: On Friday afternoon Mr M. Yarad took in his car Dr Vrisarkis, Mrs Vrisarkis, Mrs C. Cominos and Mr Jim Masselos for a run to Bulga to show the visitors the famous Ellenborough Falls. … On the return journey, following a script straight from the Keystone Cops, they ran into a tree after the steering wheel came off in Yarad’s hands! Dr Vrisarkis was the only one injured. In a following car with Mr Gemenis were Messrs W. Dann, Chris Michael and C. Cominos…who came to the rescue.]

A little later Krambach and Forster got carried away. …“Records are only made to be broken” declared Karambach, and raised £64 at a ball attended by, amongst other Greeks, … Mr Greg Masselos (who was the real popular boy of the night in the Greek national kilt), Mr and Mrs M. Yarad, Mr George Cassimaty, Mrs Jack Cassimaty, Miss Chris Cassimaty, all of Taree; Mr and Mrs Landis of Gloucester… At Forster £56 was raised at a ball organised by Mr and Mrs Charlie Comino who invited Mr Andronicus of Sydney as the guest-of-honour. … an added feature were the costumes worn by the Greek Nationals who marched on parade from the hall entrance to the stage singing the National Anthems of Britain and Greece…

Then they all had a bex, a cuppa tea and a good lie down.

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