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History > Oral History > Archie Kalokerinos. Parents and Childhood.

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submitted by Archie Kalokerinos on 03.10.2005

Archie Kalokerinos. Parents and Childhood.

From the book MEDICAL PIONEER OF THE 20TH CENTURY

CHAPTER 1

MY FATHER AND MOTHER


According to family folklore, my father’s family originated in Constantinople, about 1500 AD. During the next 400 years there are records of Kalokerinos men in Crete and the little island of Kythera that is situated between Crete and the mainland of Greece. Movements seemed to be random in nature but were probably initiated by three factors -business, trade and serious incompatibilities with the Turks. Eventually three remotely related families settled in Kythera and that is where my father was born.
The history of that now tranquil little piece of paradise is a honor in itself. For hundreds of years pirates found Kythera to be an easy target whenever the urge to murder, rape, enslave and plunder appealed to them. Barbarossa was the most brutal, hated and feared pirate of them all. He landed during the quiet of one night, surprised the defenders with a ferocious attack, and spared no one as he stormed up the hill towards the castle of Paliohora. The Kytherians, and some Venetian soldiers, fought until the last man lay dead in the river of blood flowing around him. The women, rather than submit to the hated Turks, threw their children over the cliff thenjumped to join them.
In 1809, the English gained control of Kythera - thus bringing an era of peace and safety to the island, but the mainland of Greece remained under Turkish domination until 1821 when the Greeks began a successful rebellion. Independence resulted in a fever of patriotism. Kythera sought union with the motherland — a movement that was supported by the British. Kythera became a part of Greece and remains as such to the present day.
In the 1800’s two Kalokerinos men became famous for
somewhat different reasons. One of these, Andreas Kalokerinos, moved from Kythera to the island of Milos where he was to be adopted by a wealthy Greek. However, before the adoption was completed the stepfather-to-be died. Andreas remained on Milos long enough to play a role in the discovery of the statue of the Venus de Milo. One of his descendants settled in Crete, where he became an important and very outspoken patriot who specialised in upsetting the Turkish administrators in every possible way. As a result of this, a price was placed on his head. He was captured, decapitated and his head presented, on a platter, to the Turks.
The other notable Kalokerinos, appropriately named ‘Minos’, owned a block of land near Herakleion in Crete. He had dug some trenches and found parts of huge stone walls and some earthenware jars known as pithoi that were as large as a fully-grown man. The famous German archaeologist, Schliemann, displayed an interest but did not proceed to purchase and excavate the area. According to some historians this was because Minos lied about the value of the land and the number of olive trees it contained. However, family folklore suggests that the real reason was the determination of the Turks not to allow excavation. Schliemann then decided to search elsewhere and moved across the Mediterranean Sea to the site of ancient Troy. The story of what he found there is like a dream that came true. One day, realising that he had stumbled on something utterly magnificent, he dismissed his Turkish diggers by telling them that it was his birthday and they could have a holiday. Alone with his beautiful young Greek wife, Helen, he dug from under a wall a treasure of gold and jewels that almost defied description. Often I imagine the scene as he bedecked Helen with all this wealth. Schliemann had certainly placed his name in the pages of history.
He smuggled the treasure into Germany where it remained until it was confiscated by the Russians at the end of the Second World War. For many years its whereabouts remained a mystery. Recently it has resurfaced in Russia and there is certain to be a lengthy legal battle between the Turks, Germans, and Russians for ownership.

While Schliemann was excavating Troy an Englishman, Sir Arthur Evans, was thinking about Crete. He had seen some strange coins in a dealer’s shop in Athens. When he was told that they came from Crete he concluded, with rare brilliance, that somewhere near Herakleion was buried the ancient city of Knossos. In the spring of 1894 he arrived in Crete hoping to convert this assumption into reality. The Turkish authorities were discreetly provided with money, and permission was granted for the excavation to proceed. What was found rewrote the entire history of the ancient world. Homer had mentioned it. It was the legendary home of King Minos and his daughter, Princess Ariadene, who gave Theseus the thread that led him into her arms after he slew the Minotaur. In Knossos was a civilisation stretching back to 3000BC. Sir Arthur had triumphed. Today it is possible to visit the site and recall the glory of the ancients and the astuteness of the man who revealed it all to us. It is strange that associated with it all was a modern Greek with the name of Minos.

By the mid 1800’s the three Kalokerinos families had become established in the village of Alexandrades, well inland from the coast of Kythera - a site probably chosen to provide some protection from pirates who tended to raid coastal villages. In 1895 my father was born. Following tradition he was named ‘Nicholas’ - after his paternal grandfather. Only one other child, a girl, was born into the family. She was called ‘Katina’ - after her paternal grandmother.
Each family in Alexandrades existed on a minute plot of land separated from its neighbours by stone walls. A pear tree grew from the middle of the wall separating the Kalokerinos plot from the Petroheloses next door. The pears were of the prized ‘Athenian~ variety so there were many battles fought over ownership. By an incredible stroke of fate one of the Petrohelos sons, Emmanuel, was to become in Australia, many years later, the influence that controlled everything that mattered in my life. It seems that there is a power above us all that guides, or forces, some of us along certain paths. I find it difficult to believe that it was just a series of chances that entwined my life with that of my father’s neighbour.

Kythera during those times was at peace with the world, but limited arable land produced insufficient food for an increasing population. As children were born, resources were stretched to the limit and it became necessary for boys to migrate overseas as soon as, or before, they became teenagers. Many found a home in America but for a period that door was closed to Greeks. That is why my father came to Australia - in 1908, when he was just 13 years old. Other Kytherians who had come before him became established in fish shops and cafes and had developed a scheme that helped new arrivals. When a ship docked in Sydney harbour a proprietor from a fish shop or café would be there to meet it. Employment and accommodation would be offered. In this way my father learned to clean fish, to wash plates, to cook, to mop floors and something of greater importance - to speak English. In a remarkably short time he was ready for the next stage. A grapevine was in existence that somehow managed to filter information to Sydney from all the close and remote parts of Australia. My father was told, ‘There is a place called Emxnaville, five hundred miles away. It needs a café. Go there
and start one.

Easier said than done! In Australian terminology Emmaville was a ‘hole’. That is: not a very nice place. It was, in reality, a series of holes because its existence depended on tin mining. The miners were a mixture of ‘Australians’ and Chinese. Brawls and drinking were the order of the day. Fortunately my father had grown big and strong. He could handle the roughest of the rough - and he could work. With the aid of a wood-stove and gas lamps he cooked steak and eggs, ham and eggs, sausages and eggs, and meat pies. He made his own ice-cream, cut sandwiches, squeezed oranges and lemons to make drinks, and sold cigarettes and tobacco. The café would remain open until well after midnight. It would be serving the first breakfast by 6am. For a period my grandfather came out from Greece to assist. He objected to the long hours that my father worked and sometimes threw water over the stove to extinguish the fire. ‘There,’ he would say to my father, ‘you can no longer cook steak and eggs. Go to bed.’
Twenty-five miles from Emmaville was the larger town of Glen Innes. There, before the turn of the century, a Kytherian named Panaretos had established the Paragon Café. Although this was not as well known as its famous namesake in Katoomba (in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney) it was always regarded as a ‘good business’. During and just after the first war it was owned by Peter Crethary, another Kytherian. Further along the main street, opposite the Post Office, was a fruit shop. Jack Megaloconomos (from the Kytherian town of Potomos) had purchased that establishment, shortened his name to ‘Conomos’, and worked hard to save some money. In those times, Greek men accepted the role of carer for their sisters and younger brothers. Jack accepted this responsibility
gladly and managed to bring to Australia three of his sisters. One of them, Mary, was to become my mother. In a double wedding, she and her sister, Natalia, were married by a Greek Orthodox priest in the Church of England Church in Glenn Innes on April 13, 1924.

When I researched the origins of my family I found it difficult to trace my mother’s side. Her parents were extremely poor. Her mother’s brother was extremely rich. He was the ‘mayor’ of Kythera. He owned the olive oil factory and entertained all the important people. By all accounts he was a good man. Many of his descendants were to settle in Australia and become men and women of considerable note. The Kalokerinoses certainly had established themselves in the history books but the descendants of the Megaloconomos family achieved their own special brand of fame by imprinting themselves, with remarkable ability, upon the present.

As a small girl, my mother struggled to survive with the rest of her family. She grew her own flax, spun the thread and wove a glory-box full of everything that a girl was supposed to need when she got married. For some reason all of this was left behind when she left Greece. Eventually, after my mother’s death, some of it emerged in Australia and was given to me. It includes a huge sheet made for placing on the ground during olive-picking time.

Before she reached her teens my mother was sent to Egypt to act as a housemaid for a wealthy Greek family. That was how she made her first contact with Australians. They were soldiers preparing to fight the Turks and Germans during the first war. She had reason to fear them as she saw them drunk and rioting in the streets of Egypt. Later, when she learned that she was to come to Australia, her initial response was far from happy. However, after marrying my father she found herself in a country where she was treated
kindly, and opportunities for progress and security were open to anyone who wished to take them. She did not know, of course, just how extensive these opportunities were and how deeply involved her children were to become in the future of the country she had been directed to adopt.

CHAPTER 2

CHILDHOOD


Australia is by all standards a vast stretch of country. On one side the Pacific Ocean rolls in to a series of golden, sandy beaches and the wonders of the Barrier Reef. There is a coastal strip that reaches inland for a distance of up to thirty miles or more until confronted by the abruptness of the Great Dividing Range. This runs from the northern tip of the continent to the southern corner facing the island of Tasmania. Its grandeur is inspiring. For many years after white settlement its fearsome cliffs and gorges prevented exploration of the inland. There are mountain streams and waterfalls and the scent of gum trees mixed with the tinkling calls of bellbirds. Then, almost as suddenly as they begin, the ranges level to a tableland that spreads westwards for sixty miles or so before gradually sloping to the almost never-ending plains and deserts of Central Australia.

Glen Innes is on the tableland. I was born there on September 28,1927, in a cottage-sized nursing home run by a motherly woman, simply known as ‘Nurse Robinson’. Two other boys preceded my introduction into the family. Emmanuel was born far to the west in the town of Moree. The rest of us were Nurse Robinson’s babies. James was fifteen months older than myself, Ada five years younger, and Leo the last by a few more years. Our mother lost two babies either at birth or very soon afterwards. We were raised in a few rooms perched above the Paragon Café.

Tradition was followed when names were decided for Emmanuel, James (‘Demetrios’) and Ada (‘Adriana’). After that my father was free to choose and he went back to the history of ancient Greece. However, he must have been half-asleep when lessons in that subject were taught because he got things terribly
wrong. I was named after the hero Alcibiades. During the process of translation the spelling was mixed a little and officially my name is spelt ‘Archivides’. One historian records part of the life of Alcibiades. ‘In all Greek history there is perhaps no figure that so intrigues the mind as this wayward but fascinating adventurer. His exceptionally handsome looks were the talk of the town. His private life, if even a quarter of the ugly tales were true, can have been little better than a prolonged debauch.’ He was a famous general. In the early days, following Athenian custom, he fought in battles alongside his best friend, Socrates. During one battle he saved Socrates’s life —a favour that was reciprocated during a later battle. His audacity was clearly demonstrated when he seduced the wife of the king of Athens. Banished, he joined forces with the enemies of Athens in Sparta, where he seduced the wife of the king of Sparta. Banished from there he fled to Persia where he eventually met a rather nasty end. I can think of few qualities that are shared by Alcibiades and myself. Leo (‘Leonidas’) fared a little better than I did. His namesake died gloriously fighting as a Spartan king in the battle of Thermopylae.

The town of Glen Innes was founded about 100 years before I was born. Scots and Englishmen claimed the area surrounding it and named it ‘New England’ because of a resemblance to parts of England. The low, rolling hills and the fertile river flats produce fine wool, wheat and a variety of other crops. The town’s population has not changed much over the years and stands at about 6,000. During my boyhood, tin mining and sapphires kept many families from the poor house. Most of my friends and I collected little glass bottles full of sapphires ‘panned’ from the local plains. We also found gold by searching in crevices in the beds of creeks and rivers flowing towards the coast.
The great depression was in full swing during my childhood. Our family, fortunately, was spared the financial hardships experienced by many others. Some of my schoolmates never wore shoes. They could not afford to buy them. Winter and summer they were barefooted and their feet became hard and characteristically stained brown with the colour of the local dirt. They lived in shanties rudely fashioned from kerosene tins flattened into metal sheets. But there was some good in it all because everyone lived secure and free from the problems that have since developed in our community. It seems that when our country was poor we were, in some ways, a better race of people.

Many years later I was to discover that a price was paid by some for the tranquillity of my childhood. The first settlers had totally erased all traces of the original owners of this land - the Aborigines. At school I was not taught about the tribes that once roamed around the hills and valleys of this beautiful place. It was as if they never existed. There wasn’t even a spear or a club or the head of a stone axe to remind me of what once had been. I now know what happened. While the foundation stones of three magnificent churches were laid in Glen Innes the local Aborigines were either removed by force or killed.

I find this difficult to explain because those entrusted with my education and care were all. apparently, fine men and women. Yet, some were the offspring of those who committed genocide. They fought in two wars and lost many fine young brothers and sons in order to save the world from genocide. Yet, their fathers were guilty of this crime. Of course, as a child I was totally oblivious of this history and lived in a world that was ordered and serene.

One ambition, and one ambition only, drove my father during his life in Australia. With an enormous passion he wanted his children to live a better life than the one he was forced to live and, particularly, he wanted them to be respected in society. All this had to be done by hard and honest work. The pattern he developed in Emmaville was put into use. By 6am he was out of bed preparing the kitchen and café for the first customers. My mother, burdened by five children born in rapid succession, was forced to follow. At midnight, often later, they got to bed. There were no breaks. Seven days a week, fifty- two weeks a year, winter and summer this was what had to be done. For this reason contact with our parents was scanty. As children we were not taught to speak Greek. Our parents addressed us more often than not in Greek that we clearly understood but we always answered in English. Reflecting on the hardships that my mother experienced saddens me, and I wonder how she managed to keep body and soul together.

One day, at the age of six, I ran into a moving car in the main Street opposite the Paragon Café and suffered a compound fracture of the skull. Dr. Gaul operated under an open ether anaesthetic, skillfully saving me from permanent disability apart from an almost imperceptible degree of spasticity in the right hand. Many years later Dr. Gaul’s son was to administer anaesthetics for me when I operated in Collarenebri.

School began for me, as it did for most children, in the kindergarten. My teacher was a beautiful young lass named Miss Brown. She later married my cubmaster and I mention this because it was the beginning of very happy relationships with a series of teachers and others who influenced and guided me during my early days. With only one exception teachers recognised my needs, my talents, and the need to encourage me during periods of struggle. The day before I commenced the final medical examinations at the University of Sydney my headmistress during those early school years, Miss Bennett, sent me a telegram expressing her interest and best wishes.

Outside school hours I was kept busy with the church, Sunday school, the cubs, scouts and juvenile lodge. One talent, only partly recognised, was the possession of a particularly fine treble voice. I enjoyed singing in the church choir and wherever else opportunity offered. However, I was told nothing about the onset of adolescence. When my voice eventually broke it was as if the whole world had come to an end.

There was one aspect of those times that I intensely disliked. My father had noted that most of the boys who proceeded to social and professional success could play a musical instrument. Emmanuel and James were taught to play the piano. Little me was presented with a violin and lessons were arranged in St. Joseph’s Convent. I was the only boy in Glen Innes cursed with this instrument. I had to carry it to school every morning, spend half an hour in the convent before school started, and carry it home again in the afternoon. On Saturday morning, while all the other boys were playing cowboys and Indians, I was learning about the theory of music. During the May and August school holidays I was forced to practice for up to two hours each day. I hated it. Other boys poked fun at me. Many times I would drop the violin in the street and chase some of those who teased me beyond endurance. Often it would end in a brawl. So I rebelled. First, I coated the keys of the violin with grease preventing stabilisation of tuning. Then I placed stones inside the body of the violin and finally, because all my endeavours failed to achieve the desired result, I simply did not attend lessons. When my
father found out about this all hell was let loose but he finally seemed to understand and the lessons came to an end. That is why I never became a concert violinist.

At the end of 1939, after the war had started, my older brothers had completed two years in high school and I was about to start. Our father studied the situation and arrived at a clear conclusion. Most boys educated solely in Glen Innes failed to achieve the status of professional men. Many boys performed better in Sydney schools. Furthermore, those from certain suburbs tended to become high achievers. Since there was insufficient money to send us to boarding schools, or buy a house in one of these suburbs, and it was necessary that a living be earned, a solution was found that satisfied all necessary criteria. A ‘mixed’ business - that is one that sold groceries, food items and a variety of other goods - was purchased in Rose Bay, the heart of the elite. We lived behind the shop in Old South Head Road. The move was, for me, a cultural shock of major dimensions. I was a boy from the bush at home with open spaces and of tree-covered hills with wattle and the enchantment of the season’s change. Sydney was a collection of dreary houses with people who seemed to come and go as if they were zombies. I missed the friends of my childhood. I had nightmares during which I went back to Glen Innes but there was something strange that prevented me from actually being a part of it. I would wake up and hear the rumble of trains and the constant noise of the traffic. To make matters worse I could not adapt to attending the school at Rose Bay.

It was late November when I enrolled in that institution. For some reason the yearly examinations in Glen limes had been delayed. The Sydney students had already completed them so it was necessary for me to do them alone under the supervision of a not very
understanding headmaster. My marks were low, and the headmaster classified me towards the bottom of the scale. I was told that I could not proceed the next year to a high standard secondary school and would be sent to Darlinghurst Junior Technical High School where students of calibre similar to myself would learn to become tradesmen. This meant that I would not be taught a foreign language. At the time a pass in an examination for a foreign language was necessary for entrance to the university. In other words; I would never satisfy my father’s ambition. However, there is more than one way to skin a cat. My father arranged for me to have private tuition in French. I was a dreadful pupil. The lessons went the same way as the violin lessons. My father gave up.

Emmanuel and James had, over the years, become students in the same class, probably because James was promoted or started school early. They began their schooling in Sydney at Randwick High School, and like me did badly in the examinations, but the headmaster took their background into consideration and allowed them to proceed, on probation, to a higher class. One year later they were both near the top of their class and well on their way to a university education.

Darlinghurst, however, did not turn out to be a total disaster. I had a series of good teachers in all subjects. The science master was a bright young man named John Watson. He taught physics and chemistry with zeal and interest. He enthused his students and I found that this enthusiasm was fertilised by my older brothers who were on hand at home to answer difficult questions and teach me more about the wonders of science. Emmanuel in particular was good at mathematics and chemistry and eventually graduated with honours in chemistry at the university. My father’s shop became a sort of meeting place for some of the brightest students in Sydney. What was discussed varied from day to day but always left me feeling astonished that boys so young could accumulate such knowledge.

It was at Darlinghurst, during one of John Watson’s lessons that I became aware of a stubborn streak in my personality. John stated that the circumference of a circle was 2rrr and that it was 22/7. In a rare moment of failure as a teacher he did not explain that this had been decided by a process of trial and error. I refused to accept it because I could not see the reason why it was so. There was a vigorous argument that tested the determination of us both. The matter was never resolved. Years later as I was about to graduate from the university I met John in the University Union. He had given up teaching and decided to become a doctor.

The third year of my high school days was spent at Ultimo - a dedicated one-year technical school. It was there that something occurred that has tickled my sense of humour ever since. One day I was given the task of making the tea for the teachers. At home in Rose Bay we used a teapot that had a hinged lid. Whenever it was necessary to empty it I simply inverted it over the sink. When I looked around for somewhere to empty the teacher’s teapot I could not find a sink. So I inverted it over the toilet. The lid came off and fell into the bottom of the toilet bowl. I fished it out with a piece of wire, rinsed it with some water and made the tea. Four years passed. In a city street one day I came across Mr. Gilchrist, one of the Ultimo teachers. He invited me back to the school to have tea with the staff. There on the table was the same teapot. I was not so much concerned with what I had done with it years before but more worried about the possibility that some other student had done the
same thing more recently.

Woodwork was one of my favourite subjects and strengths. I read the theory notes so often that I could recite them from memory. During the exam I simply wrote what I had memorised. When the results were handed down the teacher began with the marks of the top student, another Greek boy by the name of Sarantides. I was a little surprised because I expected to hold that position. Then the second, third and all the other student’s names were called, and mine was still not amongst them. Finally, my paper was produced and I was asked to come forwards. According to the teacher I had cheated. He compared what I had written with the class notes he had issued and they matched word for word. ‘How do you explain that?’ he asked. I answered, then began to recite what I had memorised. The teacher scratched his head for a moment, carefully went through my paper, deducted one mark for some trivial reason and declared that I was now top of the class.

This is a story that I tell not just because it did in some way demonstrate an apparent superiority but because I did equally well in the other so-called ‘technical’ subjects - a feat that brought me to the attention of the authorities and resulted in promotion to a special class of students who were destined to become manual arts teachers. My fourth year at high school was therefore spent at a particularly fine institution - Sydney Technical High School. That was the year that Emmanuel and James commenced courses at the university.
Two factors influenced the faculties they entered. Our father had asked some parents of university students what costs were involved and had calculated that he could not afford to put more than one son through medicine. Furthermore, there was a quota for entry into the medical faculty. James scraped in by the back door.

Emmanuel did not and enrolled in the faculty of science. After a few terms our father got a very pleasant shock. Many of the so-called ‘costs’ he had been told about included cigarettes, whisky, wild women and cars. Since Emmanuel and James restricted their participation in these pleasures, costs were low, and our father found that he could put three or four sons through medicine for the cost of what he had thought was one. Emmanuel became an excellent science student with special abilities in chemistry, theoretical and applied. After graduation with honours he enrolled in medicine. James was a popular, about average-to-good student. His special talents surfaced like an erupting volcano during his first year as an intern.

The last two years at high school were more or less non-eventful. The teachers were all particularly good. However, I was beginning to find in myself a fundamental weakness that made the retention of some fine details difficult. This became apparent during studies in physics. Textbooks at the time were either too complex for my limited brainpower or too poorly written. At the end of my school days when the exam results were published I received what was called a ‘lower’ in physics. That is, just a poor sort of a pass rather than a total failure. Had I proceeded on to become a teacher this would not have mattered but a series of events changed the significance of it all.

During a technical drawing lesson at the college I argued with the teacher about what type of pencil could be used. The teacher declared that only a HB pencil was permissible. I wanted to vary the type of pencil when I considered that the particular task at hand needed it. The teacher and I could not agree and it ended in an impasse with nasty feelings all around. Next we attended our first lecture in psychology. Something that was said by the lecturer did
not make sense. I politely questioned it and was curtly told to learn and not question. So I said. ‘If that is the case it is obvious that your lectures are not worth attending.’ There was an awful row. My career as a teacher ended before it had begun.

At that time the war was just coming to an end. Australia decided that it needed more doctors and the quota system for entry into the faculty of medicine was abolished. At the same time it was decided that a pass in a foreign language would no longer be a requirement for matriculation. My father was quick to see the possibility. But what about that ‘lower’ in physics? The answer was to have coaching lessons in physics and sit for a special exam called the ‘matriculation’. I had become friendly with a fellow Sydney Technical High School student named George Sonter. He had boarded with a man who ran a coaching college and advised strongly that I should seek this man’s help. I did. It worked. In March 1945 I was able to enrol at the university as a medical student.

Detailed analysis. Archie as Medical Student, Intern and Ship's Surgeon

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