submitted by Vasilia Uhrweiss (nee Margetis) on 01.05.2012
I have written the Life Story of my father, which features in the Notable Kytherians section. My father was a Founding Member of the Kytherian Association of Australia in 1922. He was also on the organising Committtee of Ayia Triatha church in Surry Hills.
24th November, 1889 - 12th November, 1961.
My father Bretos Margetis was named after his grandfather, who is pictured here with his daughters,and was probably born about 1850. His son George married Vasilia Galanis and they had three boys, Bretos, Dimitri and Minas, and three girls Maria,Panayiotitsa and Evangelia.
Dad was born on the 24th November 1889 in Aroniathika and went to the village school with his brothers and sisters and was a keen student. (Of interest is the origin of the name. It appears to come from the baptismal name of the mother (Margeta or Marieta), but was used as a nickname in the beginning but appears for the first time in the parish register of Saint Mina in Logothetianika in 1801, but was still regarded as a nickname. Also it appears that three members Margetis, came from Koropi (on the coast going to Sounion) two of whom settled in Araniathika where they added the name Aroney in order to register their origin. A century later it made an appearance in Chora. It appears that the present day family name, Margetis was originally a nickname of one branch of the large family Aroney of Aroniathika, but it was decided by the Prefects of Argolidos and Corinthias, that the family name Aroney be replaced by Margetis.
Apart from Kythera the family name is mentioned in Crete, and in an earlier period 1536 it is mentioned in a catalogue of conscripts from Chania, and in 1678 there is reference in Kefallinia to a painter of icons Christodoulos Margetis. These cases show that the family name Margetis has connections outside the region and are linked directly with Kythera.)
But to continue:
Judging by the photograph the men appear to be wearing their "Sunday Best", but life on the land was very hard,so their father decided that the boys had to seek a better life elsewhere, and chose Australia as they had relatives there already who would be able to help them.
George Margetis with his sons, from left to right, Minas, Bretos and Jim, taken in Greece, about 1902
Bretos was the first to go and arrived in Sydney on the 3rd of December 1903 on the ship Orizaba.He stayed with an Uncle (name unknown) and went to school, and learnt English quickly by reading the local newspapers and having a dictionary beside him to look up words he didn't understand. He was a good student and did well,even with language difficulties. When he left school he helped his Uncle in his business and managed to save money to send home to his family in Kythera. He continued saving as much as he could and by the time he was nineteen he had his first restaurant.
Registration of Alien Certificate of Bretos Margetis, 1915
In 1915 he had to register with the government,and received a Certificate of Registration of Alien, under The War Precautions (Aliens Registration)Regulations 1916 and was finaly registered at a Police Station in Sydney. He then became active in the Kytherian Association, and was one of the founding members of the commitee,and was the Secretary 1924-1926.
Two of his sisters, Panayiotitsa (Bonney) and Evangalia, and his two brothers, Dimitri ( Uncle Jim) and Minas came to Australia, but Mina later returned to Greece to his parents and sister Maria.The girls married, Bonney to Vasili Georgopoulos who had been a chef at the royal court in Athens, and later opened the Athenian Restaurant in Castlreagh St., and Evangalia to Spiro Coroneo (Uncle Sam) who opened a business in Greenthorpe, south west, N.S.W. Uncle Jim never married because he was short and worried that he would have short children.
Bretos Margetis with one of his good friends in 1904 and 1922
Bretos opened a restaurant at 617 George St Sydney with white tablecloths on the tables and red velvet covered chairs. It was an "up market" restaurant and served three course meals for two and sixpence,which was expensive for those times. It is interesting to note that the shop next door was a Chemist Shop which may have given Dad the idea for his future children to become Pharmacists (which they did).
He developed a love for music, especially Opera,and took singing lessons with a Mrs Cresswell who taught him many songs from operas, but his favourite was La Donna Mobile wich he sang with great gusto at friends parties. Through this interest he met Theodora Lianos who was also a music lover,and had learnt to play the piano quite well, and soon there were wedding bells in the air and they married at the Agia Triatha in Surry Hills.
Studio portrait of Bretos Margetis and Theodora Lianos
Bretos Margetis and Theodora Lianos outside Agia Triatha, Sydney
Studio portrait of Theodora Lianos on her wedding day
Studio portrait of Theodora Lianos on her wedding day, with mirror image
Dad had also bought two Picture Shows in Fairfield The Crescent and The Butterfly,and while he took care of the business in town, Mum travelled to Fairfield to manage the businesses out there.It was in Fairfield that Dad obtained his life long passion for cricket and in 1925 was asked by the Fairfield Cricket Club to be their Vice-President, which he accepted with pleasure.
Crescent Theatre, Fairfield
But the Depression was still here and things were not going well in Australia and the rest of the world,and Dad had to close the restaurant at first,and later the Picture Shows, and so lost everything. But he was the eternal optimist,and always believed that when one door closed another one opened. He took jobs wherever he could find them and went to Parkes at one time, and back to Bondi, and was a cook in his brother-in-laws restaurant. He even opened a cake shop in Double Bay, the Niagara Cake Shop, but the economy was still bad, so he had to close it too. Then Dad was offered a job in Canberra with Harry Notaras and went there to try his luck.
At that time Mum,George and I lived in a flat in Double Bay and went to the Double Bay Public School (which is still there). Mum took a part-time job in a sweet factory, folding the little cardboard boxes that the sweets went in. Mum always made sure that she was home before we walked home from school and greeted us dressed as if she was going out.
Mum also arranged for George and I to have music lessons with Mrs Cresswell and paid for them by sewing dresses for her .When Mrs Cresswell came to give us our piano lessons she often heard me singing, and even though I was about eight years old, apart from teaching me the piano she taught me a few little songs, a couple of which I still remember.
I went on to the Wollahra Opportunity School and George went to Randwick Boys High School. Then Dad was offered the opportunity to buy one of the Notaras shops in Kingston which he accepted and at last at the age of Fifty-three he was on his way to start a new life at Victor's Rotary Cafe in Kingston Canberra,and he sent for his family to join him at last.
Once in Canberra Mum and Dad joined the Greek Community and became very active in promoting Greece by broadcasting and arranging programmes on special Greek Days, the 25th of March and the 28th 0f October on the radio station 2CA .George read speeches about these days,and I sang Greek Songs, and records of Greek music were also played. These were fairly well received by the general community there, but there was still a certain amount of xenophobia, even though Greece was fighting with the Allies.
Dad met many young men who were customers, who came to say goodbye to him when they leaving for the war in Europe and some kept in touch by letters. Some cadets from the nearby Duntroon Military College,would ring to say they were coming in the evening for a meal. Even though it was after hours in Canberra,Dad served them in the large kitchen at the shop,and the boys sat around the table and laughed and talked to Dad while he cooked them steak and eggs on the fuel stove there. This was about 1942-43.
Mum was also instrumental in encouraging the Musical Society of Canberra to write to the A.B.C. in Sydney asking them to bring the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to Canberra which they did, and other cultural performances followed, including the concert given by the world famous Greek Soprano, Elena Nicholaides.
George and I went to Canberra High School where we joined the choir and took up sport, hockey for me and athletics for George. I took the part of the leading soprano in the Opera Dido and Aeneas and George sang in the choir,and as a result of this performance was invited to perform in the same role at the Armidale University. Mum came with me and sat proudly in the audience, thinking of the interest and love of music that she and Dad had fostered in us. Mum and Dad then sent me to board at Frensham at Mittagong,where I became the head of the choir and represented the school at Singing School Festivals in Sydney. Mum or Dad always came to Mittagong if I was in any concert at the school.
George and I went to Sydney University to study pharmacy (George had given up studying Dentistry in Melbourne as he realized that it wasn't for him) so we were together. We had found our apprenticeships,George with our Uncle Theo Lianos who was managing Christians Pharmacy in Kings Cross,and I spent the first year of my apprenticeship with Fred Rolfe in Queanbeyan and the balance at Paul Kelly's Pharmacy at Brookvale which was a long way from Coogee especially by public transport,and I travelled three hours a day - (very few students had cars in those days).
We had joined the Olympic Club when we came back to Sydney to study, and met many members whose parents knew our parents previously so we felt quite at home.We took part in many of the club's activities,the parties and competitions and talent quests .Joan Varvaressos and I were keen but friendly adversaries. Some I remembered were Big Con and Little Con Mottee, Nick Marcels, Stan Georgiadis, Con Papalexion, Toti Stanley, Nina Aikonand Bill Psaltis, to name of few. They also staged a Greek Comedy "Sproxenia which "brought the house down" when it was performed.
We boarded with a family in Coogee, Mrs Parsonage (a great cook)and her husband, who were very good to us. They allowed us to have a party when they went on holidays, (they were very trusting)so we invited friends that we had made at the club and some from the university. Mum drove down with the local fruiterer Kyriacos Calligeros, (who was going to the markets) and brought some food for the party (and to join in the fun of course). A good time was had by all and we sang and danced and talked till late. I remember Con Mottee and Areanthe Simos and many more who were there that great night.
At Uni, George and I joined the S.U.P.A. (Sydney University Pharmacy Association), and helped organise the Pharmacy Ball one year, which was a great success mainly due to George's boundless enthusiam. I was also elected the Pharmacy representative on the S.R.C (the Student's Representative Council), and captained the Pharmacy Hockey Team (we never won a match).
Also about this time a group of Greek descent undergraduates were brought together by Manuel Aroney to form the Sigma Epsilon Phi Chapter and we met fairly regularly and arranged a dinner in honour of His Emminence, Archbishop Iezekiel. It was another great success. Manuel, who was head of the steering committee acted as M.C. and three toasts were proposed by Andrew Coroneo (to the University), fourth year Medical student George Papadopoulos(to Sigma Epsilon Phi), and final year Law student Helen Gleeson (to Hellenism), and Pharmacist George Margetis moved the vote of appreciation to His Emminence, in Greek.
At about this time George and I had moved from Coogee to Kings Cross to a boarding house, The Oriana, (which later became the Rex Hotel and is now units). The other residents in the house were mostly elderly ladies,who liked us very much, and fussed over us and said prayers and lit candles at St Canice's Church when we having our exams. (I like to think that their prayers helped).
In the meantime Mum and Dad were working very hard In Canberra,as there were very few scholarships to the Uni,so all fees and books had to be paid for, as well as our board,and as pharmacy apprentices we were not allowed travel passes either even though our wage was a mere pittance.Dad constantly urged us to work hard to get along and at one stage,after we had written letters about our social activities and nothng else,he sent a very stern letter, saying that he was pleased we were having a good time !!!!!!,but what about our studies???????, and not to forget that he and Mum were working very hard for us. I still have that letter.
But Mum and Dad were still active in the Canberra Greek Community,with Dad helping many new migrants in Canberra to translate any documents they had,and in 1951 the Very Rev.Archbishop Theophylactos was aproached by the organisers of the forthcoming Women's Jubilee Convention to be held in Canberra in October of that year, to send two delegates from the Ladies Welfare Committee of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australasia. Mum was approached to be one of two delegates,the other being Mrs.K.Hood (Melides)from Sydney,and Mum was greatly honoured and accepted. Her paper referred to the trials that Greek migrant women suffered on coming to Australia,and ways and means that could be done to overcome them,and for Australian women to do their part in helping them to learn the Australian way of life, and eventually to integrate into the general community.The papers of both delegates were well received.
After KIngs Cross we moved to a house in South Coogee, where we studied for our Finals and where a group of students met two or three times for coaching by a pharmacy lecturer. George and I supplied supper,(sandwiches) and served tea from a very large crockery teapot that George had found somewhere that held seventeen cups of tea( which was just enough). George and I found some permanent work in Pharmacy, George at Kings Cross again and I worked for a time at Stevens Pharmacy at Surry Hills which was near the Agia Triatha in Bourke St. I then went home to Canberra to do relieving work in the country, and George did likewise. We were never lonely on these jobs, as all we had to do was to enter any Greek Milk Bar and tell the owners we were young Greek pharmacists away from home, and they opened their arms to us.
After we had finished our various jobs in the country, we both returned to Sydney and lived in MacMahons Point, and we found permanent work, George at the Cross again, and I at Bradford's Pharmacy in Wynyard Station.
Then in 1956 Dad received from Coles an offer to buy the shop. We were all thrilled and looked forward once more to be a family together. Mum and Dad packed up and moved in with us at MacMahons Point until we found a lovely unit to move into at Neutral Bay.
In the meantime Dad financed George and I to purchase two pharmacies,one in Waverley, and the other in Redfern which had a large Greek population. We then opened a pharmacy in Caltex House in Kent Sydney, which at that time,1958 was the tallest building at that end of town. Mum went there to work with an employed pharmacist. Dad went to help George at Redfern because of so many Greek customers, and I employed a cousin, Elaine Theodore to help me.
They were small businesses compared to those of to-day, but they did well although the shop at Waverley starting from scratch was slower but Dad was in his element. He had his family with him, and we went to concerts and parties together, and many of our friends included them in our invitations as well.
But he wasn't going to be satisfied until he had bought a house for us, which he did when he found one in Victory St. Rose Bay. We moved in July 1961 and each morning Dad got up early to go down and buy the daily paper, and go back home to read it in the front family room,which looked out to the beautiful Harbour, and he would say "I wouldn't call the King my Uncle."
But it wasn't to last and in November he went into hospital for an operation,and his pancreas burst and he passed away on the 12th November 1961. It was a dreadful shock to us and everyone. Mum, George and I were devastated too that Dad, having succeded at last in everything that he could wish for,was not allowed to enjoy it more. But at least he made it,and he was a great Dad, and we loved him very much and George and I were very grateful that we had those few happy years together as a family and I remember a comment made by one of Dad's cousins Jim Galanis,at the funeral, that he had never seen a man who was so happy with his family and proud of them too. For that remark we were thankful. And we put on his headstone:
TO LIVE IN THE HEARTS WE LEAVE BEHIND, IS NOT TO DIE.
And that's where Dad will
Bretos Margetis in 1961 relaxing in his new home at Rose Bay
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