kythera family kythera family

Oral History

History > Oral History > Eleni Dedes, (nee Sourry). Uralla, NSW.

History > Oral History

submitted by George Poulos on 05.12.2004

Eleni Dedes, (nee Sourry). Uralla, NSW.


Janis Wilton.
Immigrants in the Bush.
Cafes and Cafe Owners.

Armidale College of Advanced Education.
81 x A4 pages.

Peter Tsicalas (see, Culture, subsection, Bibliography), desribes this book in the following way:

"...mainly compiled from taped interviews she did with four Greeks on the New England Tablelands in 1983. She’s put together a great story accompanied by many old photos of the Greeks of Armidale, Uralla and Tenterfield, their cafés, and family tree charts. Plus photos of Kythera landscapes and people.

The audio tape includes the voices of Eleni Dedes (nee Sourry) and Nick Mentis".

Janis Wilton's career since 1989

Since 1987 Janis Wilton has pursued an academic career culminating in an appointment as Associate Professor, School of Classics, History and Religion, the University of New England.
She was President of the International Oral History Association:

for 2002-2004 - and is now Immediate Past President. Also a Trustee of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

She coordinates the local, family and applied history awards at UNE - visit:

She has remained vitally interested in the oral history of various ethnic groups. In November 2004, she was involved in editing and promoting, Golden Threads, an oral history book, focused on the experiences of Chinese-Australians.


This project was initiated by the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts Museums Commission.

For numerous other references to Janis Wilton, simply type Janis Wilton into any one of the many research engines for the world wide web.

For an overview history of immigration per se, see, Janis Wilton & Richard Bosworth, Old Worlds and New Australia: The post war migrant experience, Penguin, Ringwood. 1984.

Funding and open copyright for Immigrants in the Bush

The 1989 publication, Immigrants in the Bush - is a spiral bound, self-published work, which is no longer in production.

Janis Wilton's research was sponsored by Multicultural Education Coordinating Committee, NSW. (M.E.C.C.).

This material was "...financially supported through the M.E.C.C., although the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Committee, the various bodies it represents, or the NSW Minister for Education. Copies may be made of these materials without prior reference to M.E.C.C. provided only that:
1. they are used for educational purposes
2. the source is acknowledged".

With this open copyright, which I recommend that all oral historians utilise, I can take the liberty of publishing excerpts here. The data is educational, and intrinsically Kytherian - and a perfect example of what can be revealed by analysis of good oral history.

Janis Wilton has also given us personal and written permission to re-publish excerpts of her work - for which we thank her immensely.

Janis Wilton's Conclusions in Immigrants in the Bush

Many early Greek settlers in Australia worked in cafes and became cafe owners in rural areas. Some later arrivals followed this example. But to stereotype all Greek-Australians as cafe owners is to deny the complexity of the history and experiences of Greeks in Australia.

The statistics show that before 1939 in Australia a majority of Greeks lived in country areas and the majority worked in small businesses, usually cafes. After the Second World War the pattern changed. The majority of Greek immigrants remained in the metropolitan areas and laboured in industry.

Individual oral histories join the statistics in challenging the simplicity of labelling Greek-Australians as cafe owners. The stories of Eleni Dedes, Nick Mentis, Harris and Maroula Pavlou, and Spiro Giovas, reveal the hidden pressures and patterns which led Greeks into small businesses. They highlight the nature of the cafes and the people who worked there: the importance of chain migration, the difficulties and humour of adjusting to different foods and to different working conditions, and the changing nature of the goods sold and the facilities available.

The oral histories also point to the social life which developed around cafes: the participation in local affairs so that Greek-Australians could become part of their new local community. The recollections also constantly return to the shaping influences of family and community, and to the frustrations and pleasures of living between two worlds.

The experiences described by Eleni Dedes, Nick Mentis, Harris and Maroula Pavlou and Spiro Giovas are the stories of individuals. They can be used to reflect on the nature of the Greek experience in Australia. Yet what is needed are more accounts and more oral histories so that details and complexities of the history of Greeks - and other ethnic groups - in Australia can be documented more fully and simple stereotypes rejected.

Eleni Dedes, (nee Sourry)

[Janis Wilton weaves the themes of her social history with the 4 threads of the migrants she has interviewed.
What appears here bears no correlation to the way that Immigrants in the Bush. Cafes and Cafe Owners, unfolds.

Here, I have "teased out" the Dedes (nee, Sourry) thread and collected it into one ball.

My interest in in the Sourry lies in the fact that my "second" maternal grandmother, Kirranni, was a Sourry, and the fact that most Sourry ultimately derive from, or near the town of Karavas in Kythera.]

Eleni Dedes) was born in 1925 in Uralla. Her parents, James and Maria Sourry, owned the White Rose Cafe there. They came to Australia from the Greek island of Kythera: James Sourry in 1907 and Maria Sourry (nee Maselos) in 1908. They met at Walcha.

Eleni Dedes recalled how her father went first to America, later returned to Kythera, and finally migrated to Australia.

"My father came to Australia in 1904 with his father who was a knife-sharpener, and my father used to shine shoes as a boy at the same homes as my grandfather used to sharpen knives. But after the earthquake in San Francisco in 1906...they left and went back to Greece and then my father came back here to Glen Innes. He had an uncle there...who had a cafe...[They left Kythera because] it was so stony and rocky, they couldn't make a living".

Eleni Dedes has vivid memories of her childhood in Uralla - going to school, helping in the cafe, and having family picnics. In 1943 her father died and, for the next four years, with her mother and younger sister, she managed the White Rose Cafe. Then in 1947, she and her sister both married. The cafe was sold.

[George Dedes was born in Pireaus, Greece, in 1921. In 1938 he was brought to Australia by his maternal uncle who provided him with a job in a cafe. During the Second World War George Dedes served in the Australian army, spending over two years in New Guinea. His health suffered and eventually, when he was forced to retire early, he was awarded a war pension.
When he met Eleni Sourry, he was working for her brother-in-laws brother in a cafe in Gunnedah. The couple were introduced to each other at a family wedding.]

Eleni Dedes moved with her husband George Dedes to Moree, where they worked in another cafe for two years, and where there first child was born (there would eventually be seven children in the family). The family then settled in Armidale.

For the next three decades Eleni Dedes worked raising the family while George Dedes earned an income. He first went into partnership with his brothers-in-law in the Minerva Cafe in Armidale; next he laboured at the local brickworks; finally, he worked as a bar-manager at the Armidale Bowling Club.

Sadly, in 1983, George Dedes passed away. Four years later Eleni Dedes also passed away. George Dede's had visited his birthplace of Pireaus, once, since he had come to Australia in 1938; Eleni Dedes had never visited her parents''birthplace, Kythera.

White Rose Cafe, Uralla, 1919-1947

According to Eleni Dedes, her father, James Sourry, opened the first cafe in Uralla. This was in 1909.

"He was paying nine pounds a week rent there and he opened up with a few tables and chairs and a bench...that was the first cafe, but there were also twenty seven pubs in Uralla then."

[JW: "Twenty seven pubs" is an exaggeration but it reflects how our memories work. Eleni Dedes was highlighting how much bigger and busier Uralla was before the improvement in transport and communications caused people to use Armidale rather than Uralla. She was also making a reference to Uralla's earlier boom time when gold was mined at nearby Rocky River. In this context the accuracy of the figures and statistics cited is virtually irrelevant. Rather, it is the message conveyed that matters. This applies to other figures and statistics in oral history."]

In 1919, James Sourry bought a block of land and built the White Rose Cafe. The business went well. Eleni Dedes, born in 1925, remembered the cafe, its customers and the people who worked there.

"There was a partition in the cafe. There was a room for men and a room for women. There was a lot of shearers and gold-diggers then (in the 1930's), and the men would smoke and the women could order the meals abd talk. In 1944, they pulled the partition down and put two archways and, later on, after we had sold the business, they pulled the archways down and just put up columns."

In the 1930's the White Rose was well stocked with the goods and refreshments found in cafes of the time.

"Oh we used to work from children. Rather than let us out on the street we used to = we had a big trade of penny lollies - there was licorice blocks, four a penny, and those jaffas, without paper, they were four a penny. Conversation lollies were four a penny. [Conversation lollies] were little lollies with "I love you" on it...[they were] pink, white, green, and yellow and different flavours.

There was a traveller used to come round, Allen's traveller, and he used to always be there at lunchtime when we came home for lunch from school and we thought he was a real good guy because he used to give us a little box each of licorice eggs, but they were out of the stock that Dad was buying.

The milkman used to deliver us bulk milk, and we'd sell it it for four pence a pint, and sell milkshakes, four pence for a big shaker of milk. I remember my father usedc to make syrups for the drinks - he'd dissolve a bag of sugar in a wooden sort of keg. I can still see him there with his apron on stirring this sugar to dissolve it and then he would get a little medicine glass and measure out the essences and the colours and make it into one gallon lots.

And we had the best ginger beer in the state. Father used to make the syrup and then we had a soda fountain and a big cylinder of gas and he had it connected onto a fountain which it would go through and be cooled and you'd pull the handle down like the barmen do the beer and a glass woulod be four pence, and an ice cream soda, sixpence.

And I can remember Mum making fruit salad. She would make a five gallon drum of fruit salad for Saturday for sweets after a meal - they'd get a three coarse meal for tow and sixpence. We had roast pork and vegetables, roast lamb and vegetables, sausages and vegetables, fish and chips, and pies and rissoles - they could make a choice of those.

I remember Christmas time there, we'd serve about one thousand meals at lunch time and the same at tea and after the pictures wqe would get both rooms full for supper and coffee and sandwiches and tea and toast and stuff like that - pie and a cup of tea. There would be seventy two people and more for supper after the pictures and they'd catch a bus and go home. But when people started to buy their own cars, they used to drive through Uralla and come to Armidale and the business wasn't there anymore".

The White Rose Cafe was staffed by members of the Sourry family and bu other Greeks from Kythera, often newly arrived in Australia. This was typical of the network which developed around Greek cafes and within the Greek community generally in the inter-war years.

"My father would bring out young men, realtives - cousins or cousins relations, and give them jobs in the shop and train them and teach them English. And they'd learn to cook and learn to serve over the counter and then, soon as they got about a thousand pounds together, they'd go and open their own cafe...Dad helped a lot of them set up business. The travellers would come through and say where there was a place for sale. But, it would take them a long time because, for a start, they would have to work for about twelve months to pay their fares - it was about ten pounds then - and they were only given enough money for haircuts and a pair of shoes or something like that. Shirts were only two and sixpence then, and shoes were seven and six. And they were fed and given accomodation, and my mother used to do their laundry for them".

Fellow Greek-Australians were not the only ones who benefitted from the White Rose. During the Depression and the Second World War, other Australians also found assistance and support there.

"(During the Depression) I can remember people walking through and asking if they could chop wood for a meal or could they have a a saveloy and a piece of bread or could they have something to eat and a cup of tea. Dad would always give them a meal rather than money because they used to go straight to the hotel and drink it. I remember them with a sugar bag on their back and they used to carry their shoes to the edge of the town, put their shoes on to come to town....

During the war we had an army camp there at the showground and my mother turned our lounge room into a dining room for the officers, and the soldiers used to sneak in for a meal...they would sneak down across the railway and down the back, into the kitchen, and she would feed them there, and she used to say, you'll get me into trouble as well as you get into trouble - but they didn't care. They were hungry and they wanted a meal. They would get a good big staek and mashed potatoes and peas and fried tomatoes for two and sixpence. Big plates and two slices of bread and a pot of tea. All that for two and sixpence".

In 1943, James Sourry died. His wife and two of his daughters, Eleni and Katina, took over the family business. Then in 1947 Eleni and her sister got married and the cafe was sold.

Sense of Community

For many Greek-Australians, the family is central to the way they live. The trust and solidarity between family members means that they have a responsibility to support and help each other.

To Greek-Australians, family is not just the immediate family of parents, brothers and sisters. Family extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and koumbari. It can also extend to members of the local community.

In the Greek villages that so many early immigrants came from, community and family were strongly linked. For the village to function effectively, tasks had to be shared, so every member of the community played a part.

In Australia, Greeks have tended to remain closely linked to family and community. The tradition gained extra strength from the difficulties of being labelled as foreigners "who stick together and don't mix with Australians". It is easier and less damaging to self esteem to seek support from those with similar backgrounnds, and it is easier to remain in a group where you know the rules and feel comfortable.

The community which Greek-Australians keep alive is not just based on Greekness. It has a regional foundation. The island or town of birth has special significance. Chain migration - a Kytherian bringing out a fellow Kytherian - is common in the history of Greek migration, and the regional loyalty extends to life in Australia. Often social functions are held with people who have come from the same part of the Greek-speaking world. When Greeks from the same locality are not available, or when a rural town has no or few people from Greek-speaking backgrounds, some Greek Australians establish networks and contacts outside their town.

"A.H.E.P.A. stood for the Australian Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. ..One Sunday a month, they'd arrange to go to a different town. The men would have a meeting in the afternoon, and, at night, they would sort of have a party and dance. That's how young people got to know each other. Of course, Kythera is only about eight miles wide and twelve miles long, something like that, and everybody knew each everyone. They were practically related I suppose. Then the Cypriots started coming and people from other islands. The Kytherians are stil very strong within themselves. Once you would never hear of a Kytherian girl marrying say someone from Crete or someone from Athens. Although, now, as long as they are Greek, they don't mind because it's the same religion, the same language, practically the same traditions.

Now to a wedding on St. James' Day in Tamworth, the Greeks from Uralla, Armidale, Guyra and Glen Innes come and there'd be, oh, well over two hundred people, might be more. We don't usually count littlies...

The celebrations are important. For St James Day in Tamworth, they have a service and they'll take the St. James Holy picture, and go around the church three times and, after the service, they have a barbecue and a big celebration.

For a wedding, for funerals, or baptisms, we need to get a priest up. We have to apply for a priest for when he's free, because there is a shortage of priests at the moment and we have to pay his fares both ways, his accomodation, and we have to pay a fee to the church for the hall. Any of them will lend us a church, although we have a Greek church in Carroll and a Greek church, St. James, in Tamworth.

For a long time, every week, the Greeks here have got together and the men play cards and the women just sit in the lounge and talk...and usually at Christmas time they have a Christmas dinner in their own homes and after dinner they usually go out to the Commissioner's Waters or some dam and have afternoon tea and take watermelons and fruit and coffee and put it in the middle and share. And at night they used to book the Legacy Hall and whatever was left over from Christmas dinner and they'd take down there and have supper and the kids would dance. Usually, which ever children have grown and gone away from home, they come back for Christmas and there is usually a big congregation of them".

School experiences and aspirations

Beyond the various Greek communities and networks is the Australian society in which these migrants have chosen to live. It has not always been easy for Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds to get accepted by the rest of Australian society. Interviewees recalled some of the friction and conflict they had experienced.

"During the Depression, the kids at school used to say, "you'll never go to heavan because you're too rich", and I used to cry....Mum could see we were in a bit of strife so - Hoffmans had a big store in Sydney and the traveller used to come and sell everything from sportswear to jewellery, and Mum ordered two basketballs - one for the juniors and one for the seniors - and donated them to the school. That sort of eased things over for us a bit.

The teachers were a bit touchy with us. One day, one teacher called the kids in and said to bring their entrance fee of two and sixpence to do the bookeeping examination. Going home one of the girls said, "don't forget to bring your money". I said, "what for?" She said, "well we are doing an exam for bookeeping". I didn't know but I took the money in. The teacher said, "you're wasting your father's money. You will never pass.
I said, "well, if Dad is good enough to give me the money, I'm good enough to do the exam".
When the results came out, she didn't read my results out until last, and she said, "the biggest surprise in the world - Helen Sourrey's got ninety eight percent".

[HW: Eleni Dedes descriptions of school are evocative of the school experiences of many migrant children, past and present. For an analysis of the experiences of Greek children in Australian schools during the 1970's, see, Eva Isaacs, Greek Children in Sydney. ANU Press. Canberra, 1976.
For a fictionalised account read the stories by Spiro Zavos, Faith of our Fathers, Uni Qld Press. St Lucia. 1982.]

Community participation

One of the ways in which Greek-Australians seek and gain acceptance in their local community is though participation in local events and organisations.

"My father was an agent for the Fruitgrowers' Association. They used to make timber boxes then and they used to tie the boxes with wire. Dad had a storeman set aside especially for that and the farmers used to come and order and collect their stocks from him. They used to have Fruitgrowers' Association meetings once a month I think.

Dad was also in the Masonic Lodge...and he was an alderman for a few years on the council.
[James Sourry's obituary in The Uralla Times, 16 and 23 September, 1943, attests to his position in the Uralla community.]

Dad also supported the football. They had the Sourry Cup, Grade A and Grade B, and they used to ask him to go out and kick the ball off.

Mum was in the Country Womens' Association and Dad would take the women wherever they wanted, or he'd do anything for the school. "Ask Jim Sourry - yes, he'd do it for you."

Identity, and return

When migrants return to their places of birth, it is often with high expectations. But time does not stand still, and the home they remember frequently no longer exists. The return visit can be disappointing and unsettling.

"Mum hadn't been back since she came out as a nine-year-old. So when she was fifty she went back to Kythera....and my mother-in-law she kept saying, I don't want to die out here. I want red soil over me. But she went back twice and she could see a bif difference, she could see she couldn't live there...

My husband went back ten years ago. But, after two weeks, hew got homesick. The children were all at home and the house he used to live in as a child was demolished, and the streets had changed and the trees were gone from the front of his house, different buildings were up, and the people he remembered were all old and ready to die. I think all that upset him".

Leave a comment