submitted by Karavitiko Symposium, Sydney on 01.04.2010
18/10/1916 – 27/3/2010
Cons father, Yeoryi Dimitri Tzortzopoulos was born in Karavas in 1869. His family parachoukli, or nickname was Hihlis. He married Olympia Tzortzopoulos, born in 1874, who was the daughter of the renowned Karavas priest, Pappa Minas. Mina’s children were sometimes referred to as the Pappayoggigi. Together, they had 13 children. 4 of the children, all girls, either died in childbirth, or died young. Four died during the birth of the first 3-4 surviving children, whilst Georgia, the last born, died as a 4 year old.
The convention, at the time, was that the 12th born child was christened by the King. Con was very proud of the fact that the King was his nono (godfather).
The 8 surviving children were: Katina (1894), Marouli (1896), Dimitri (1898), Minas (1900), Haralambos (1910), Theothoros (1912), Panayotis (1914), Constandinos (1916). Of these 8, five were destined to emigrate to Australia; Katina, Dimitri, Minas, Panayotis, and Costandinos. Until this week Con was the sole survivor of his family. His demise marks the end of a Tzortzopoulos dynasty.
In 1896, Yeoryi built the Tzortzopoulo patriko spiti (Tzortzopoulos family home), which lies at the base of the steps that lead up to the murmaro, and the church of Ayios Haralambos, in Karavas. The house was one of the larger houses in Karavas, but, given the size of the family, conditions were overcrowded. Three or four children slept to a room. George was entrepreneurial – engaging in agriculture, “emporiki”, and establishing a ceramics factory on Ayia Pelagia.
Con was born into a period of political turmoil. Tension was high between monarchists and republicans. In 1916, in Potamos, Yeoryi, a vassilikos - made the fatal mistake of declaring himself "for the king". An altercation ensured. Later, Yeoryi was taken away by authorities, and brutally bashed. He sustained multiple injures, including serious kidney damage. Although he survived the attack, he never fully recovered. Weakened, he became susceptible to all kinds of infection. In 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic struck Kythera, and Yeoryi succumbed to it.
Con remembered, as a two year old, being summoned to his bedroom, were Yeoryi was lying gravely ill, and his father saying goodbye to him. Yeoryi kissed him. By the next morning he was dead. Wife, Olympia, was left to fend for 9 children, aged from 20, to recently born. (Georgia, the youngest, would die soon after her father.)
In 1922, Olympia sent Dimitri, the eldest son to Australia. In 1928, Panayotis, followed. Katina and Myna migrated in the next decade. Olympia died at age 80, in 1960, after falling twice down the aspa, slope, to the rear of the family property in Karavas. Like so many other Kytherian mothers, Olympia did not see the 5 children who had migrated to Australia again; including Con.
Con helped his mother gain income, by ploughing fields with a bullock team, growing crops, and by trading goods in Piraeus. He navigated a small boat to and from Kythera. He was a consummate sailor. He always maintained his Merchant Navy Licence.
Con and his brothers worked hard, but they also “played hard”. The Tzortzopoulos household was glendi-central of Karavas, and even of Kythera. Con always claimed that parties “did not really begin”, until the Tzortzopouli arrived. In his youth, he was a consummate dancer. Con also obtained a well deserved reputation as a “Cassanova”. He and his brothers were handsome, and maintained a very high level of self-confidence and self-esteem. The opposite sex found this combination irresistible.
He was always an extremely positive man; innately optimistic. When people speak about Con, they always refer to the fact that he had an engaging smile. He always seemed happy. That happiness derived from a very deep place in his psyche.
Con also had a strong “moral compass”, an innate sense of “fairness”, an inordinate capacity for “self-control”, and a very high pain threshold. He was even-tempered, and had a great ability to make an even-handed assessment of every situation. All these qualities made Con a leader, rather than a follower.
Ultimately he was forced, like so many other men and women of his generation, to leave Karavas, and the island of Kythera. He remained throughout his life, a proud Karaviti, and a proud Kytherian. The ethos of Kytherians, and the beauty of the island, remained with him for his entire life. For 36 years in a row, he attended every Karavitiko Symposium.
As a young man he went to Athens, gaining employment there with the Porihis family, in a large store which sold everything. He worked hard, for little money. Later, his aunt found him employment in a manufacturing plant, where wages and conditions were far better. The economic downtown in Greece prior to World War II, saw his weekly wage reduced to one loaf of bread. Starving, he was forced to return to Kythera.
He spent the war years in Kythera, providing food not only for his mother, but for his many nephews and nieces as well. In 1941 and 1942, the family, under Cons supervision, planted wheat on the Tzortzopoulos property at Ayia Pelagia. By hard work and enterprise, they lived reasonably well during the occupation. He assumed the role of “patriarch” of the Tzortzopoulos soi at a young age. Initially, because his older brothers left for Australia. This trend was reinforced, as most of his brothers, in particular, died at a young age. Con assumed the role of surrogate father, and later surrogate grandfather, for many of his nephews and nieces, and their children. Con had a very deep commitment to his extended family.
During the occupation, Con, along with another small group, witnessed, a German supply boat sink off Avlemonas, and the foodstuffs with which it was laden, float to the surface. They had to make a decision whether to take the items they salvaged, by boat, back to Karavas, or overland, by donkey. Fortuitously, they chose the latter. The Germans arrived by sea, and interrogated Con and the other leaders. “I thought they would kill us, then and there.” The “food entourage” had long left, and Con managed to convince the Germans that he and his group had not taken anything. He was allowed to leave. Throughout his life, lady luck seemed to favour him.
Greece was economically destitute after the war. One of the few viable industries was the Merchant Navy, but it was very difficult to gain a position. Con embarked on a long sea journey, as a passenger. He asked the ships captain if he could work for no pay, in order that he could learn the Merchant marines duties. He worked very hard. The captain was impressed, and took his details. Some months later a position became available in Holland. The captain sent a message to him, that if he could find his way to the ship, he would be employed. Con began a 3 year career as a Merchant Marine.
He circumnavigated the globe a number of times. In the USA, he stayed in Baltimore, visiting an “uncle”, George Thomas Tzortzopoulos; parachoukli, Georgekas. Perhaps prophetically, George T was married to Despina Mentis, an aunty of Con’s future wife. The Baltimore Tzortzopouli were coming to the end of a long and successful business career. They had been amongst the first in the USA to establish supermarkets. They offered Con a management, and future ownership role. Con accepted. He promised that as soon as he had visited his two brothers and sister in Australia, he would return. It was the only promise he broke in his entire life.
In June 1949, Cons ship took him to Adelaide, where he alighted. Initially he lived in Goulburn where his brother and sister Myna and Katina were established. He made his way to Warren, NSW, where he worked with his brother Peter, in a fruit shop, and market garden, for 1½ years.
After Peter married, it was decided that the business was not large enough to sustain two (future) families.
In late 1950, Con went for a long tour of NSW country towns, looking for a shop to purchase. Eventually he rented a premises in neighbouring Gilgandra, at 41 Miller Street, from fellow-Kytherian “Jack” Pentes, after paying £1,200 "key money", an exorbitant amount of money in those days. The lease was for ten years.
When he arrived in Gilgandra, 9 shops sold fruit and vegetables. Con was wilfully competitive. He set out to dominate sales of fruit and vegetables in the town. He travelled long distances to obtain supplies directly from market gardeners. He often bought produce, cheaper than major wholesalers could. He entered into contracts with semi-trailer drivers, to bring large amounts of produce directly from the Brisbane Fruit Markets. He also established a fruit truck run that operated 6 days a week. It traversed, and made sales, in every street in the town, on a cyclical basis. Eventually Con’s was the only viable fruit shop in the town.
The lease for 41 Miller Street was not renewed in 1959, and so Con bought one of two freehold butcheries across the road, at 42 Miller Street, Gilgandra. He converted this to a fruit-shop, milk-bar, and mixed business, which was even more successful. He was considered the preeminent businessman in the town. All the inter-Bank reconciliations in Gilgandra were conducted during those irregular times when Con decided to do his banking. It was the only time that sufficient cash circulated in the town. Con prided himself on the fact that except for a brief period in Athens, he always worked hard, and generated substantial income. He had a habit of keeping large sums of money in his wallet, something his sons tried to dissuade him from doing. He maintained this habit of the “yemato potrofoli” (full wallet), until very late in life.
Con married, Evangalia (Angie) Coroneos, nickname Belos, also from Karavas, Kythera, in 1951. She had been brought to Australia by her aunty, Crisanthe, and uncle Peter Katsoolis, of Gosford in NSW. Con and Angie had 5 children, 4 of whom survived, George, Peter, Phillip and Eric. Olympia (Ollie), the second born, and only daughter, died an infant, on 28th January 1954. This tragedy, never fully emotionally resolved, had deep ramifications for the family. Angie invested an extraordinary amount of energy and love in her four children.
Mrs Brown, Gilgandra’s baker, remembers that a fellow Greek, from the ABC Café, “…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.” Con put a very high store on education. He encouraged his sons to strive for excellence. He always insisted that the only acceptable mark was 100 out of 100. If it was less he always wanted to know “what happened to the other few marks?” This changed in 1966, when Peter was given a mark of 105 out of 100, by mathematics teacher Mr Gorrie, for finding a solution to a problem that no one else of that age, in all his years of teaching, had ever managed to arrive at. Con sat all the boys down, and brandishing the test paper in his hand, said, “right…from now on, you fellas, you gotta get 105 out of 100.” 100 out of 100 was no longer acceptable.
His proudest moment, which vindicated his stance on education, was at the 1968 Gilgandra Speech Night. It was the only Speech Night Con ever attended. Between them, all his sons had accumulated about 17 first prizes, for academic achievement, and a number of sporting awards. That year Con had also decided to donate a number of “Poulos” prizes for Citizenship, and school spirit. After the fifth or sixth “Poulos” prize had been announced, a ripple of respectful laughter reverberated around the Hall. The laughter began again after each subsequent “Poulos” announcement. Con sat in the back corner of the room, beaming like the light house of Ayios Nikolaos, on northern Kythera.
Con was vitally interested in social and political affairs. At 7:00 pm, a group of Gilgandra’s citizens would gather around Con’s bakelite radio and listen to the ABC News. Subsequent discussions about the news could ensure for an hour or more. At home, dinner table conversation with Con, often involved emotionally charged debates about a wide variety of subjects. Family dinners resembled a session in parliament, rather than a chance to gain nutrition and sustenance. Life was never dull with Con around.
Con was good at almost everything, with perhaps one exception – driving. This is probably not the time to mention a few of his accidents. Putting the new Cadillac through Ron Hapgood’s plate glass window. Rolling the Holden, on the way back from brother Peter’s funeral in Warren. Crashing into the side of the house, causing all the lino to ripple. Missing the bridge at the bottom of the road to one of the market gardens, and jettisoning the truck in the river. Or, being tailgated by a semi-trailer while carrying a large load of apples just outside Bathurst. The latter did not make a pretty picture on the CBN-8 News. Again, Con was very lucky. He survived all his accidents unscathed.
Con loved being in the company of his nephews and nieces. When the soi gathered, the men would retire to the largest room in the house, and settle in for an all night-early morning game of cards – normally poker. Shouts of “limit, no kitty”, much blaspheming, and banging of the table would ensure. As young children we sat and watched the theatrical performance in awe. Vast sums of money accumulated on the table for one “hand”. Again, Con was wilfully competitive. He played in a very calm and measured way, but also with a fair share of luck, something he would not acknowledge. “Skill, son, skill”! Perhaps it was. He rarely lost at cards.
The long hours in the shop, 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 2 hours break on Sunday between 2:00 and 4:00, gradually wore him down. His children too, needed to leave Gilgandra for further education. In 1972, he decided to sell the shop to his brother and sister-in-law. He and Angie moved to Sydney, and settled in the suburb of Pendle Hill, where they lived for the ensuing 34 years. Con was only 56, but he never worked again.
He did engage in property investment, building his house, a large factory for investment, and investing in a block of flats in Parramatta. He was also a very astute share investor. His business acumen rarely failed him. When his sons tried to encourage him to spend some of his hard earned money on himself, he rarely did. “I am doing all this for you fellas”.
Con and Angie had 7 grandchildren. Angelique (Angie) and Dean, born to George and Lorraine (nee, Ducrow), Gabriella (Gabby), Nick, and Anna (Nouli), born to Peter and Lynn (nee, Hespe), and Isabella (Bella) and Sebastian (Seb), born to Eric and Elizabeth (Liz, nee, Devine). Angie, Dean, Gabby, Nick and Nouli, were bought up in a new Tzortzopoulos patriko (Poulos family home) in Ramsgate Avenue, Bondi Beach, along with their cousins Peter and Jack, sons of George Peter Poulos and Tina (nee, Mallos). The Poulos’s had purchased a set of four units together, in Bondi, and created an enclave there.
Of course the tradition of poker games was established at Bondi Beach, with the creation of the Kytherian Manilla Club (KMC). Evening-to-early morning games of Manilla were frequented by persons named Tzannes, Cassimatis, Comino, Kepreotis, amongst many others. None of Con’s sons inherited his commanding competence at cards.
Grandmother Angie, came to stay for many days at a time to baby-sit her grandchildren and great-nephews, to cook, and clean, and garden, and organise, and advise, and talk, and joke and have fun, and make us all laugh, and bring presents, escape her husband, and go to “the Club” around the corner. “Those were the happiest time of my whole life.”
Cons children and grandchildren visited him frequently at Pendle Hill. He always made them feel most welcome, greeting them with his beaming smile, and a big hug. He and Angie made sure they were “stuffed” with copious amounts of food, always insisting that they eat a second helping. High academic achievement was rewarded with a significant sum of money. The tradition of striving for academic excellence continued. The grandchildren loved going to Con and Angie’s. The only “down-side” was being forced to drink the “stale” soft drink, that Con, true to his entrepreneurial nature, had bought some years before, in very large quantities, at a huge discount.
In 2004 Con accompanied his eldest son George on a grand tour of central western and north western New South Wales. Of course, the prime pilgrimage point was Gilgandra. "I was pleasantly surprised to find the Gilgandra Fruit Mart still operating, and still economically viable. I had established the shop at 42 Miller Street, Gilgandra in 1959, and to see it still operating 45 years later, pleased me immensely. Both the interior and the exterior of the shop were in superb condition. Even the original scale had been retained, and was in use at the rear of the shop”. Con was doubly proud that his was the only one, of all the original “Kytherian” shops, that had maintained its identity.
In 2006, on the occasion of his nintieth birthday, then Prime Minister, John Howard, sent him a letter which included the following comments:
"It is with much pleasure that I send you this message of congratulations on the occasion of your 90th birthday.
Over fifty years ago you chose Australia to be your home and a generous people extended to you their gift of welcome.
In the half century that has transpired, you have joined with so many other proud Australians to help make this country what it is today. You made a home for your family and provided for them a secure future as they, in turn, have forged a prosperous life for their children.
Your efforts over the years have shown that our wealth as a nation is due in no small part to the toil of those who have chosen to make Australia their home.
On your 90th birthday please accept my best wishes, not only on this important milestone but for the wonderful contribution you have made to our country."
In the 37 years Con was retired he was rarely bored, or without a “project”.
He maintained his faculties and his rationality until about 2 weeks before his death.
He died peacefully in his sleep.
May his memory be eternal
Αγιον τό μνημη του
The Seven Ages of Man
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
William Shakespeare As You Like It.
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