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Oral History

History > Oral History > Oral History by Marion Brown (nee, Johnson). Kytherians in Gilgandra.

History > Oral History

submitted by Marion Brown (nee, Johnson) on 05.11.2005

Oral History by Marion Brown (nee, Johnson). Kytherians in Gilgandra.

As told to George C Poulos, Friday 4th November, 2005.

I was born on the 22nd January, 1921, in Cumnock, in New South Wales. My father was Bill Johnson.
Our family moved to the Gilgandra district when I was 4 years of age. Initially we lived out on the land - near Curban. When we moved into Gilgandra, our family lived in a house opposite the old school.

I married Albert "Bertie" John Brown, and we came to own 3 bakeries in Gilgandra. One was located in Bridge Street, one in Miller Street, between Shalhoub's clothing store and George Psaltis's Monterey Cafe, and the other on the upper part of Miller Street, opposite the Gilgandra Weekly offices, next to Mrs Kellys house. At the peak of the Brown's bakery business, we were sending bread everyday, out towards Dubbo, Coonamble, and Coonabarbran. Bertie and I bought and lived in our own house in Vera Street.

The Georgopoulos Family

We were very close with the Georgopoulos family. [Pronounced Yeoryopoulos, but known as Poulos]. With Emmanuel, his brother Peter and with sister Chris. There was also another brother Strati, who came to Sydney. He had Dry Cleaning businesses in Sydney, from what I can remember.

Paul Kelly came from Bombala. He did not live there with his parents. He lived with an aunt..I think. Condoleon was the name of the uncle who brought Paul out. Uncle John, who married a Raftis (?) Paul Kelly was bought out here, like so many other young boys - to help in the cafes.

[Stella Aird, (nee, Kelly): My mum met Dad when she went to Bombala to visit my Godparents - the Condoleons - she actually travelled by train with Stella Calopedis from Mendooran who was the sister of my Godmother Mrs. Condoleon so I don't know where Marions recollection of her Dad driving Mum down came from. Uncle Peter was in Casino at the time and did not meet Dad until the week before the wedding.

Dad was bought from Greece by his Uncle John Raptakis but did not like life in the city and Uncle John arranged for him to go to Bombala to work. Following the wedding he came to Gilgandra to live and he and Uncle Emmanuel were partners in the café - they also owned the newsagency for a time but following Uncle Emmanuels death Uncle Peter came to Gilgandra and then bought Auntie Una and Helen & Theo from Greece to live with him.

Mum & Dad bought his share of the business and he moved to Grenfell with Theo to run another Café before rertiring to live with Helen in Sydney. He went back to Greece and died and was buried there in the mid-ninties.]

My father, Bill Johnson, drove Emmanuel and Chris up to Bombala to meet Chris - on the occasion they were to meet for the first time. My father was born in Delgate - quite near to Bombala, and knew the district well. He knew Emmanuel and Peter quite well ....because they were all card players. Thats how he got involved.

Paul and Chris were married at the Holy Trinity Church in Surrey Hills. My older sister, Judy, was one of the 6 bridesmaids. They all looked beautiful. The Archbishop married them. This was a huge wedding. They "took over" the entire Hampton Court Hotel in Kings Cross. There was no expense spared. My mother and father were there. Fred Brooks, owner of the Western Monarch Picture Theatre was there too. He was another one of the poker players.

Where Mrs Convary's Toy Shop would later be, (across the road from the ABC Cafe, brother, Peter Poulos brought a shop, and ran a cafe there as well. Also next to the ABC Cafe, a Hair Dressing Salon was operated for a time. Peter Poulos lived two doors down from where we lived in Vera Street, with his wife and two children, Helen and Theo. Peter's wife could not speak any English at all. After the war, the two children went to Gilgandra school as young teenagers.

The ABC was very big. It used to have wedding receptions, and all kinds of functions there. You couldn't move there of a Saturday...they would be near 6 deep at the counter...waiting to be served.

Chris did all the work in the shop. She was always a very hard worker. buried in Gilgandra Cemetery, just as you go in the main gate, to the left...his gravesite has a very big granite

Paul liked the horses, but I can't remember Emmanuel ever having much to do with the horses.

I think Peter Georgopoulos, may also have been buried in Gilgandra Cemetery. Paul Kelly is buried not far from where my husband is buried. Fred Brooks was great friends with them all. My Dad, Fred, Peter and Paul used to go shooting quite a bit - an interest they shared - as well as the cards.

Dr Alexander was also one of the card players. And Dudley Seresier, the solicitor. They played at the rear of the ABC Cafe.

Alternatively, often in winter, particularly when the cricket was on in England, mum would stoke up the fire, and all the men would come and play cards at our place.

Another person who was part of the family circle was "Uncle John". He owned the Oceanic Chocolate Company - here in Sydney. He married an Australian girl - "Aunty Laura". They had three shops. One was on the corner of King and Castelreagh, and one was near Circular Quay. I do not know whether John was Chris, or Paul's uncle. John and Laura had no children. I do know that they were very wealthy.

I don't know what happened to Strati in the end.

In the whole of the central west, there would not be anybody travelling, that wouldn't stop to stay and see Mrs (Chris) Kelly. She was very highly regarded. Even if they were coming from the back of Bourke....everyone knew her. He hospitality was great. She would be up to her eyes in work, but she would stop eveything to make a cup of coffee, and make sure you were looked after. Dear old Chris!

Initially she couldn't speak any English. Mum was her oldest friend, and she helped look after Stella and the other kids, when they were born.

I have some old photo's of Stella when she was christened.

Brown family history

"Bertie"" was a gentleman in every sense of the word.

In 1939, "Bertie" was at Cranbrook school, corner of Victoria Road and New South Head Road, Bellevue Hill. He did the Leaving Certificate [then, the final High School examination in NSW], and on the day he finished, joined the Air Force. His brothers Bobby, David and Bill also went to Cranbrook.

Bertie became a baker by accident. His father had been a master baker in Tasmania. He too, however did not want to be a baker. Initially he had been a studmaster on a property near Nyngan. That's where he met mum Brown. She had grown up in businesses....she was a great one for business....and her family has a bakery at Barraba. They had moved to Gilgandra, and brought the bakery from the McDonald's. But Bertie never had any intention of going into the bakery.

He wanted to be an architect. He had done, and passed his preliminary entry qualifications before joining the Air Force. His father became ill, and he stood in for him in the business. He had younger brothers, who needed to be "raised" and educated, so he took his father's place in the business - and it went "on and on". was hard work. So he never got to do his architecture.

His other brothers all became professionals - but Bertie was more professional than the lot of them put together.

There was no future in Gilgandra if you wanted to be a professional, and want to broaden your horizens. My three brothers were all educated at Cranbrook, and are all professionals.

My "Bertie" was a bookmaker. He knew Jack Vanges from Nyngan very well. This was also why he was freindly with Paul Kelly, who as you know, was also, like Jack, a big bookmaker.

My father Bill Johnson, was a bookmaker. He always loved horses. Bertie became interested when I met him, and Bertie followed on. He loved going to the races. He would work back late at night, and then get up early to go to the race meetings. He had a driver, Wally Prout, who also did the book. Wally did very well later - businesswise. He married Leonie Collison, Cubby Collison's daughter. Bob Coxshedge was another staff member. Bertie had a large staff.

Bertie died on the 25th April, 1966.

Our children - went to boarding school.

Peter and Ian too, became boarders at Cranbrook. Ian is a businessman living in St. Ives. Peter attended Gilgandra High School, until the end of 2nd year, and for the beginning of 3rd year we decided to send him to Cranbrook. Peter as you know, became a doctor. Peter married Olga Evangalianidis, the daughter of Father John, from the Holy Trinity, Greek Orthox Church in Suury Hills. They have 3 boys, who are also Cranbrookians.

There were always Browns coming and going from Cranbrook. "We" held the record for the highest number from any one family to atend the school.

Bill, Bertie's brother, has a grandson, who will be the next Brown to attend Cranbrook

Heather went onto a professional career in business, working for Lend Lease, and working for major companies overseas. She returned to Australia to establish an importing business, and has recently opened a retail outlet in Double Bay, Sydney, selling crocodile products. She is constantly travelling backwards and forwards between Singapore, Darwin, and Sydney.

Psaltis (Protopsaltis) family

George Psaltis came later in the Monterey Cafe. They were a quite family, who did not have a great deal to do with the community. My father-in-law, Albert Brown - he was very freindly with George Psaltis. George "kept to himself."

He liked to shoot, and I have a couple of great photo's of Albert and George shooting in Gilgandra.

They were a very very nice family. Alexandra was a quiet, sweet, little woman.

They had a relative, "Uncle Nick". He came and went. He liked the cards. He may also have been one of the card players at the ABC Cafe

"Jack" Pentes

He was a good old friend. That's how Peter (Brown) and Olga met..actually. At George Pente's wedding. (George was Jack's only son.)

George, and one of Jack's 4 daughters, Helen (a pharamacist) were also married at Holy Trinity, Surry Hills. Helen married a very nice man, a Cypriot, called George Mayfosh. A really nice man...and good husband to Helen.

Jack was of the old Greek tradition. The children had to follow the rules of the parents. In particular the male parent. He had all the say.

Helen went to school at St Catherine's. Jack, I think, brought a house in Dutruc Street, Randwick, so the family could live near the school.

Mrs Pentes - Stavroula Flaskas was a "marvelous cook". She had cooked at the Consulate in Athens. She did not speak English very well.

In January 1955, at the time of the big flood in Gilgandra - all the Pentes family were in Gilgandra for the school holidays. They did not realise the imminent danger from the flood, and they all got stuck in the house in Morris Street. None of them could swim, and they cried out for help.

Bertie swam over to them, and brought them over to our place - because we had a 2-storey place. Terrified they were..... It didn't occur to me to be terrified of the flood.

Bertie also rescued 3 Greek boys who were working in the ABC Cafe.

The Bensley family, [from the clothing shop in Gilgandra] also got trapped. Bertie got them out too. Bertie got them all out, and we....there were 15 of us the house. We only had candles for lighting.

Mrs Pentes she used to say, "Are we going to be killed!? Are we all going to be killed!?"

Gas cylinders, from Weston's Garage were skimming past on top of the water, and hitting the house. My fathers brand new car was picked up and washed away. Everything was chaos.

Mrs Pentes hung on to me....crying and crying.

In the morning, an army "duck" - an amphibious came and picked us all up.

From that day on, Mrs Pentes felt that my husband was like a saviour. She always had something for Mr Brown. She always bought food, pastries, spinacopita....Sometimes she would bring food, and we hadn't finished, I told her, the last lot of food she had bought.
Party dresses would be bought for the children. Later when Heather was born, she always had gifts for her. Mr Pentes would never come back from Sydney without bringing gifts back for us.

Mr Pentes and I would always fight over "his way". He was much to hard. Much too hard on the family.

Catherine, the eldest, worked at the Telephone Exchange, as a telephonist.

Jack never spent any money on the house in Gilgandra. Nor did he ever want to go back to Greece.

When Helen was dying I was advised that Helen wanted to see me. (I was overseas). I never got to see her. She was a lovely girl. A very very good girl.

Later in life, Stavroula became crippled with rheumatoid athritis. Her health deteriorated, and she struggled around on two calipers. In another block of land, away from the house, she and Jack had a large vegetable garden. There they grew fresh vegetables, including spinach to make spinach pie. She would struggle to get to the vegetable patch, and then struggle to return back to the house. She always had good food. She was a beautiful cook.

Jack spent a great deal of time sitting on his chair on the corner opposite the Western Stores. Long after all the other shops were closed, Jack would remain open. I suppose Jack had nothing to go home for. His family was in Sydney.

Jack had properties in Dubbo. He would often go there to ensure that they were properly maintained.

When he left to go to Dubbo or Sydney, he would come and find me and say "Mrs Brown, I am leaving the keys with you". (ie. for the shops and house). He went by train, or he would arrange a lift in a car. He was terirified of areoplanes.

Jack was very very strict. Helen was freindly with the Garlings. One year, the Church of England Ball was on, and she was scheduled to make her debut. I said to Helen, "Mr Brown and I are going, you can come with us." No, no, she said, my father will not let me.
Then we won't tell him. You will bring your clothes up, and get dressed in our house. I thought that we could say that Mr Brown and I were going, and Helen was coming down to look after our children, at our house.

We all got ready. Helen was very excited because she had never been out at night before. But somehow, Jack found out. I dont know how he found out. He stormed into out place...furious..Poor Helen never got to go to the Ball.

This was one of my many fallings out with Jack. I said to him, "she is coming with us, she will be safe, nothing will happen...
No. No. No.

Eventually Helen did disobey him about marrying George. I said to him, You have got to allow Helen to marry George. George had a nice coffee shop - restaurant in St. Ives - and numerous properties. Mr Pentes wouldn't give his approval. We would all be invited to attend the wedding of Helen and George. Then at the last minute, he would not allow the wedding to go on.

On the third time he did this, Helen said - No, she didn't need his consent. She was going to marry George whether he wanted it or not. This is why she didn't get to have a really nice wedding. I said to Jack there should be no more yes-no about the wedding. Look Mr Pentes, I said, I am not going through this business again.

I also attended George's wedding. George worked for a long time at Serafim's Pharmacy, Taylor Square.

Sklavos Pentes family. Peter and Theothora

Before I was married I worked in the Bank of NSW. The lack of male workers, due to WWII, had opened up new employment opportunities for women at that time. Originally I was posted to nearby Warren, but soon came back to work in Gilgandra.

The original Bank of NSW building had burnt down, and so as a temporary measure the bank rented a premises from Jack, situated between his shop on the corner, and that of Peter Sklavos's shop, "The Victory Cafe.

One of my "duties" as it turned out, was to check all Peter's money, and do his accounts. Only I could be trusted to go and to do all the accounting work.

It came the time when he was wanting a wife. So he sent home to "get a wife".

He had this studio portrait done, in white tie and tails. It was "touched up". He showed it to a couple of men who had just returned from the war. They were in hysterics. "How is she going to know you when she gets off the boat"?

He sent off this studio portrait. Then the shop was shut up for a couple of weeks. He came in very excited. He was going off to meet the boat, which was carrying his future bride. This was Theodora (Sophios). She was only young. About 19. She couldn't speak one word of English.

They brought the house in Morris Street. Everyday of my life she would come in and cry.

One day Peter came to the bank. Mr Godfrey, Mr Godfrey [bank manager, NSW Bank], Mrs Brown must come to see my wife. All she could do was cry, and show me the photo's of "home" (Kythera).

She stuck to her guns. She would not work in the shop. She was a very very good seamstress. She could make very good clothes. They had 6 children.

When they sold the place, my mother did visit them on the Gold Coast, Queensland. My sister Judy lived in Brisbane. They had a few days there. They had a lovely home there, right on the water.

We would go down sometimes to patronise Peter at the Victory Cafe. Particularly some Saturday nights after the races. He served good food. All the cafes did. They all served a very very good meal.

Poulos (Tzortzopoulos) Family. Con and Angie

I don't remember your father coming to Gilgandra. I can't remember the first shop. (41 Miller Street). I only remember the the shop near the Theatre. (42 Miller Street).

Mr daughter, Heather remembers that the shop sold very very cold watermelon.

My sister, Lorna Johnson (later Harris), was your mother's best friend. They lived in the house opposite you, which was owned by Bertie and I. Lorna worked for Mr Holmes the chemist, which was how she came to meet Frank. Lorna and Frank used to live there, while Frank was doing locums at Gilgandra. After Lorna left Gilgandra, they first brought a pharmacy at Mudgee, before moving to Trangie. Frank died about 5 years ago.

I know your mother and Lorna have corresponded over the years. I know that Lorna valued the freindship with your mother. Lorna was very quiet. Your mother was very quiet. My father was burnt to death in the bushfires. Lorna helped to pull his charred remains out of the dam. She never really recovered from this tragedy. Your mother lost her only daughter as a young baby. They had these tragedies in common.

Both women were isolated. "It must be very very hard. For a woman, more than a man." A man has his work outlet.

Lorna loved gardening. [My mother also loved gardening, another common interest.]

Lorna had a long association with the Greek families. She could make herself understood with your mother.

Lorna now lives in Bathurst, in NSW. She has two children, Bill and Jane.

I don't remember Angie going to the shop much.

Paul Kelly was a very social person. Your father was not. He kept to himself, and the business. He worked hard. He made sure you boys were well educated. Paul Kelly over-indulged his children. Your father did not.

I have always gone back to Gilgandra, regularly. The last time was about 4 years ago.

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