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Oral History

History > Oral History > Chrisanthe Comino (formerly Aroney)

History > Oral History

submitted by Gaye Hegeman on 02.07.2008

Chrisanthe Comino (formerly Aroney)

Without the love and care of her immediate family and a network of aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles and their children, the transition that Chris had to make when she migrated to Australia at the age of fourteen would have been very hard indeed to accomplish. Towards the end of her last year at primary school her aunt and uncle, Frosso (Efrosine) and Paul Satouris who lived in the New South Wales country town of Cowra, invited Chris to live with them. They were able to offer her a home, employment as well as an opportunity to further her education. The decision to accept their invitation was not difficult to make, especially when Chris considered her only other option - that of remaining on the Island to work beside her mother in the fields. Chris had already seen first hand how hard her mother, a widow had to work to support the family.

Chris’s maternal grandfather, Nicholas Galanis* saw to her travel arrangements. In those days if someone returned to Kythera from Australia the news got around quickly and everyone on the Island knew about it. When Mr. Nick Mendes from the village of Karava, brought his wife and three children to Kythera to see his father before he died, Chris’s grandfather got in touch with him. He wanted his granddaughter to travel to Australia with someone who had a good command of English. When the Mendes family left the Island, Chris accompanied them. Their ship the “Himalaya” docked in Sydney on the 3rd April 1954. Chris was met by several relatives, her great-aunt Anthea Cordato who was her grandmother’s sister, and Peter and Lena Galanis, her mother’s brother and his wife. Her uncle Paul Satouris, had a business partner, Arthur Simmons a Greek from the Pelopponese who happened to be in Sydney on holidays and he drove Chris and her great-aunt to Cowra. With the exception of a few close family members who remained on the Island most of Chris’s relatives lived in Australia.

Chris was born in the family home at Aroniathika on the 21st May 1939 which is celebrated in the Orthodox calendar as St. Constantine and St. Helen’s day. She was christened Chrisanthe Aroney (nick-name Papadopoulos) and was the first child born to George and Kaliope Aroney* (formerly Galanis) both from Aroniathika. As the first grandchild born on her mother’s side and the second grandchild born to her father’s parents she became the centre of attention. Her young teenage aunties and uncles often played with her while her mother prepared dinner and when they didn’t pay her enough attention she would cry. Chris was a healthy and lively child and started to talk at a young age. She has one sibling, her sister Anna who was born in 1943.

Her father George Aroney* served in the Greek Army during the war and returned home towards the end of 1942. Chris can remember her father saying when he put her to bed each night, “Close your eyes now because I am going to turn out the light and you won’t be able to see!” The saddest event during her childhood was his untimely death which cast a shroud of sadness over the whole family. He passed away in 1945 when Chris was six years old. The years of the Second World War were difficult enough economically but became much harder without his presence. Her mother Kali who was thirty-six years old was bereft at the loss of her husband. That year they had one of their heaviest snow falls and it is the only time Chris can recall that a thick blanket of snow covered the whole island. Everything was white.

The family home where Chris was born belonged to her great-grandmother, Efrosini Minucos. At the front of the house was inscribed “1888,” the year the house was built. Their house was a two-story plaster rendered building, and back then the living quarters were upstairs while their animals were housed below in the cellar at night. When she was old enough it was Chris’s job to bring the animals in from the fields in the afternoon and feed the chickens. They kept goats, sheep and two donkeys.

As it was one of the larger towns on the Island, Aroniathika had a primary school. Chris recalls they had a good teacher but there were only about twenty children in the whole school. By the time she reached sixth grade, not long before she left the Island, the enrollment had decreased to thirteen children. At school Chris enjoyed reading and loved stories about mythology. The two friends she remembers most from her school days were Aphrodite Kastrisios who also migrated to Australia, and Rita Fatseas. As there was no organized sport for girls they mainly played active outdoor games such as chasing and hide and seek. One Sunday afternoon Chris and a group of children were playing a potentially dangerous game, jumping from roof to roof. The houses which were built close together had flat roofs, and were very old. During the night there was heavy rain and the roof of one of the derelict houses collapsed. They had no toys as children and had to be inventive and use their imagination when they played together. Chris used to make her own dolls out of rags. Another of their games was to walk in the snow on their verandah to make footprints.

Besides rearing her children, Chris’s widowed mother Kaliope also cared for her grandmother, Efrosine Minucos who lived with them. When she was not attending to household duties she worked in the fields on land owned by the family and often for other people. They grew wheat, vegetables, produced olive oil, wine and were more or less self-sufficient. When Chris was older she used to prepare the evening meal so that it was ready when her mother came home at night, and if she went out to play or the food was not to her mother’s liking she was reprimanded with a smack. Although life was hard and they did not have a lot, Chris considers they were some of the luckier ones because they had family in Australia who used to help them out.

During the three month summer holiday period their paternal grandmother Chris Aroney took young Chris and her sister Anna to her holiday house at Diakofti, which was right on the beach. They either walked or rode on donkeys along an old track, a short cut through the mountains which took about three hours. The track hasn’t been used for years and is no longer there. Next door to her grandmother’s house at Diakofti lived an old man who had spent quite a few years in Australia and must have been in his late seventies or early eighties. The best place for kids to swim was in front of his house. He used to sit on the step outside his house with his watch, “Five minutes – no more,” he would say. If they remained in the water any longer he would wade in with a stick and chase them out. It was his belief that children shouldn’t stay in the water any more than five minutes!

Throughout the year there were many events in the community for them to attend. Everyone learned to dance on Kythera and Chris was no exception. The highlight of Christmas was going to church and eating special food. There would always be a very nice soup and a meat dish which sustained them in the cold winter weather. This was followed by a community dance at night and people would come from other villages. Usually it was held in the Kafeneon or in the lounge room of someone’s house if it was large enough. Other times there might be a dance on New Years Eve. On New Years Day they went to St. Basil’s church at Aloizianika, not far from Aroniathika because St. Basil is the Patron Saint for the New Year and had a celebratory lunch afterwards. About six weeks before Lent there was the Apocries at which time it was customary to dress in masks and fancy dress costumes. Those taking part went from door to door in the neighbourhood and you would have to guess who they were. Then at Easter they took red dyed eggs to church where they would crack them. In Australia they have the Spaletto festival in September. The Spaletto is the Kytherian National Costume.

Although life in Australia in the beginning had its challenges there was nothing that an adventurous fourteen year old could not overcome. When Chris entered first year at Cowra High School she could not even say “yes” or “no” in English. By the end of the year she had topped her class in Maths. She explained that she just saw the numbers on the board and worked out the problems, never thinking that this was anything special. Several factors helped her adjust to life in Cowra. Next door to her aunt lived an Australian family by the name of the Stevenson. They were a lovely family she recalls, who had three children. Their daughter Dorothy was the same age as Chris and they became best friends. Also, because at least half the students at her school were immigrants from the migrant camp at Cowra Chris was able to blend in and felt more accepted. Chris attended Cowra High for one year.

The café that her uncle owned in partnership with Arthur Simmons was called the “The Garden of Roses” and Chris worked there as a waitress for four years. With her earnings she was able to send money back home to help her mother and have enough left over for entertainment and to buy things. Country and Western music was very popular then, and she really enjoyed performers like Reg Lindsay and Slim Dusty when they came to town. They put on a show once or twice a year and of course they had to eat somewhere! They came to the “Garden of Roses” for their meals. A company called Solleys brought a traveling Tivoli show to Cowra. Many of the performers who came into the café for meals later went on to appear on television when it started. Other than the occasional traveling show, there was not all that much to do in a country town. When she had time off work Chris and her friend Dorothy used to go to the pictures at the local theatre. She always liked sewing and made her own clothes with the help of her aunt who cut the patterns. Her aunt and uncle had three children all younger than Chris and when she had free time she used to play with them.

After five years at Cowra Chris went to live in Sydney with her great-aunt, Anthea Cordato who had a house at Bondi just across the road from the water. Chris spent a lot of her spare time on the beach and recalls the occasions when she returned home sunburned from too much sun. Although Bondi was a nice place to live during the week it became very crowded on the weekends, especially in summer. At first Chris worked in a dressmaking factory at Railway Square but after a year left to work for a clothing manufacturer called Freedmans that made fashion clothes. When their factory was at Bondi Chris could walk to work but then they relocated to East Sydney. Chris found the work varied and interesting but she was glad she did not have to deal with customers. She referred to herself as a “jack of all trades” and mainly worked in dispatch, on the machines, did finishing off and prepping.

In 1961 when she was twenty-two, Chris was invited to be a bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding in Brisbane. It was on this occasion that she met her future husband George Nicholas Comino (read George’s biography in Oral History). From the description she was given of Brisbane she expected to see a large city and was surprised and a little disappointed when it turned out more like a large country town. She and George were married in 1963 at St. George Church, West End in Brisbane two weeks before her twenty-fourth birthday. After a two week honeymoon in Tasmania they returned to begin their life together at Laidley a country town in South East Queensland where George had already established a Drapery business.

Looking back over the years Chris reflected on the highlights of her life as getting married, having children, seeing her children grow up and marry and then produce grandchildren. If there had been more opportunities in her era she would have liked to have furthered her education and gone to University but in some respects feels satisfied that her children have had access to higher education and extra curricular opportunities. Raising a family in a country town had many benefits. She didn’t have to take them anywhere because they could walk to most things. They went to school by themselves, to music lessons, swimming, dancing classes, sport - whatever they wanted to do they could do it by themselves and were never restricted. Her three children are Vikki, Kay and Nicholas. When they were pre-school age they were always with her in the Drapery shop as there was no Day Care then. She spent twenty years in Laidley before moving to Brisbane with her children in order to give them better access to tertiary education. Running a business was probably the most challenging aspect of her life. After selling up their Drapery business in Laidley, she and her husband George settled in Wishart a suburb of Brisbane. George was the last of his family to leave Laidley. Chris has traveled abroad several times returning to Greece twice and on one occasion toured Disneyland with her grandchildren.

Chris’s mother Kaliope migrated to Australia when she was sixty-nine after her mother had passed away in 1974 at the age of ninety-four. Because all of her close relatives had left the Island there was nobody there for her so the family decided to bring her out. She lived a few months with Chris and a few months with her other daughter Anna who lived at Warialda, New South Wales and later at Wishart, but she was never really happy in Australia. The house in Aroniathika that belonged to Chris’s maternal grandfather Nicholas Galanis, was willed to all of his children and grandchildren so they would always have somewhere to stay when they went back to Kythera for a holiday. The house was to be for everybody, but one of her Australian born cousins lives there now and maintains it, otherwise it would have just fallen down.

Socially Chris’s life centers around the family, many of whom now live close by, and attending church and church functions at the different Orthodox Churches in Brisbane. Because her husband George came from a large family, her sister-in-laws who used to live in Laidley became her girlfriends. Her sister Anna lives just around the corner at Wishart. Anna is also married to a Comino though not related to George’s family. They are all very close.

The family traditions they maintain such as food, church and dances help to perpetuate their links with their Island heritage. Usually the dances correspond with special events on the religious calendar. Among the Kytherians here in Australia there has always been a tradition of hard work with the whole family working together. Chris emphasized that they came to Austalia for better opportunities and to make sure that their kids had a better chance than they did. She believes education is the key. Her aunt, Anthea Cordato used to say “learn what you can even is you don’t use it. Knowledge is never too heavy to carry.” She places education and security above everything believing that everyone should have some qualifications they can fall back on.

*Galanis: In regard to their nick-name, a long distant ancestor must have had fair hair, the real surname way back was also Aroney as were the Papdopoulos family. Most people from the village had the surname Aroney since the name is derived from the name of the village

*The names and birth year of George Aroney’s brothers and sisters are: Anaryiro (Andy) born 1901, Panayoti (Peter) 1903, Fotini 1905, George 1906, Dimitri (Jim) 1910, Kosma (Charlie) 1912, Adoni (Tony) 1914, Kosta 1916/17, Botitsa 1920 and Andrea 1922.

*The names of Kaliope Aroney’s (Galanis) siblings are: Peter born 1907, and Efrosine born 1922.

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