submitted by George Poulos on 05.10.2004
Ritz Theatre, Randwick.
During the 1990's KEVIN CORK undertook extensive research into cinema's in Australia.
Tragically, he died before completing his work, but most of the chapters of his Ph.D Thesis, were completed.
His wife and children have kindly given permission for his work to be reproduced.
Most Australian's would be unaware of the degree to which Greeks, and particularly Kytherian Greeks dominated cinema ownership in Australia - especially in New South Wales.
In Chapter 10, Kevin Cork attempts to provide a comprehensive life history of each of the 66 Greek, and Greek-Kytherian cinema owners he has chosen to be the subject of his study. He manages to follow most until their demise, or return to Greece.
The importance of the Hellenic and Kytherian contribution to Australian cinema ownership and history is clearly demonstrated in Chapt 10, as in all other chapters.
It is difficult to know how to pass on to Kytherians the results of Kevin Cork's important research's.
In the end, I felt that the results should be passed on in the most extensive way - i.e. in full re-publication of Chapter's.
Eventually all Chapters will appear on the kythera-family web-site.
Other entries can be sourced by searching under "Cork" on the internal search engine.
See also Kevin Cork, under People, subsection, High Achievers.
CHAPTER 10 - ENDINGS, OR BEGINNINGS?
"...then to the elements
Be free, and fare thou well!"
All things come to an end. As a play requires a denouement, so too does the story of the Greek-Australian exhibitors. Whereas the previous chapter described the cinema years of the 66 exhibitors, this chapter briefly completes their stories. To leave them unfinished would be a disservice. Some died while still involved with cinema exhibition, some went into other business ventures, some retired, and a small group is still with us.
Of the total, 7 died while still involved with cinema exhibition. The earliest, Nick Spellson died as a result of burns on 2 January 1928 at Parkes. George Nicholas died at Merriwa in 1934/35. John Andronicos was still working in his cafe and helping his son Nick at their East Moree Theatre when he passed away in 1936. James Simos met his untimely end in an accident on the Spit Bridge on 15 September 1938. Nearly a decade later, Evangelos Hatsatouris died at Port Macquarie, on 18 September 1948. Andrew Comino (Big Andy) died at Wee Waa in July 1959. Lastly, Emmanuel Fatseas died at Condobolin on 30 December 1968.
Four returned to their homeland (three on a permanent basis) after having disposed of their cinema interests. It was in Greece that they died. George Spellson sold his cafe at Ungarie in 1930, gave his brother Leo control of his Lake Cargelligo cinema interest and returned to Greece. There, he built a house and planned to take a wife but passed away before being able to do this. It is believed that he was ill even before he left Australia. Bill Conomos sold his Carinda interests to brother Theo in 1950 and returned to Kythera where he died a few years later. Peter Kouvelis left cinemas in the early 1920s and eventually returned to Patras in Greece. It is believed that he operated cinemas in that town before passing away in the early 1950s. Angelo Roufogalis, after selling his Barellan cafe and cinema interests to his nephew in 1944, moved to Canberra where he worked in a cafe with his brother-in-law. After his retirement, he regularly visited Greece and, in 1976 suffered a heart attack and died while in Akrata.
Sixteen men, upon leaving their cinema interests, retired. Peter Sourry died suddenly not long after the closure in late 1958 of the theatre at Rose Bay North in which he was a partner. Around 1947 Lambros Conomos, although keeping an active interest in his Walgett town businesses, purchased a large rural property. Not long after, he suffered a mild stroke and had to seek medical treatment in Sydney. He married in 1951, settled in Sydney's eastern suburbs and left the Walgett interests to be managed by his brothers. On 18 March 1960 he passed away. George Mottee, who had lived and worked at Kempsey for many years, passed away on 5 August 1960. At Tumut, having sold his cinema interest to his two sons in 1952, Peter Stathis went into retirement in the town, and spent a lot of his time playing lawn bowls. He passed away on 21 September 1960. After Peter Calligeros sold his Temora Strand in 1947, he moved his family to Sydney and retired. On 25 September 1962 he passed away. Jim Mottee died in Sydney on 3 February 1962. Andrew Comino (Little Andy), having lived at Wee Waa for approximately 50 years, came to Sydney around 1962. His wife had already brought the family to Sydney in 1959 for educational reasons. Like Stathis, Comino was a lawn bowler and avidly pursued his hobby. His retirement was short, and he passed away on 16 November 1969. Andrew Coroneo's cinema interest ended when the Kings at Rose Bay North closed in late 1958 and he retired. For a long time he had been interested in gardening and spent a lot of time growing vegetables, fruit and flowers at his home in Vaucluse. He was also a member of the Hellenic Club. He died on 21 November 1970. Con Bylos retired in West Wyalong after disposing of his Tivoli cinema in 1967. Both he and his wife enjoyed looking after their gardens. He passed away suddenly on 5 May 1971. When Theo Coroneo leased his Civic at Scone around 1970, he moved to Sydney with his family. He actively pursued his hobby of gardening but passed away in April 1973. After closing their Civic Theatre in Walcha in 1972, Philip and Helen Lucas moved to Sydney and retirement which was cut short. On 6 December 1975, Philip passed away. Alex Poulos, having sold his cinema interest at Warialda in 1946, moved to Gosford and the Orion Cafe. This was sold in 1951 and the Beach and Strand Theatres at Sandgate, Queensland were taken over. These were sold in 1966 and Poulos retired, taking occasional trips to Greece before he died in 1977. After Peter Louran sold his Goodooga De-Luxe Theatre and other business interests in 1961/62, he moved to Sydney and retired. He died in 1978 as a result of a heart attack. Andrew Sotiros left Lake Cargelligo in 1964 after showing pictures in that town for 31 years. He moved to Sydney, where he retired, and died on 7 August 1978. Having run his Regal Theatre at Liverpool for ten years, George Laurantus retired in 1957, continued to live in the area and passed away on 3 June 1980. "...a happy man who enjoyed a game of poker with his friends, a bet on the races, and a flutter on the lottery - forever buying lottery tickets and sharing them with others." George Conson retired in Sydney after Riverina Theatres Pty Ltd was dissolved. In December 1981 he died, aged 92, having won his last bowls competition three months before his death. Once his Megalo Theatre in Carinda closed in 1971, Theo Conomos had no reason to travel out regularly from Dubbo where he had moved some years before. He died on 29 August 1987. Chris James did not like the thought of retiring to Sydney as he enjoyed country living. So, when his family came to Sydney in 1962 for educational purposes, he stayed behind. Family members regularly travelled back to Cobar (until 1965), then Nyngan until 1984 when, in his early 70s, James sold and came to Sydney. He was a lawn bowler and made a number of trips overseas with his wife. On 22 August 1994, he passed away.
The next group of men left their cinema interests and moved into other commercial enterprises before they retired and/or passed away. Peter Mottee was still involved with The Busy Bee Cafe in Kempsey when he died suddenly on 4 May 1942. His wife remained in the business for a number of years. Sam Nicholas left Merriwa in 1940 and moved to Nelson's Bay, then Newcastle, remaining in retail until he died in 1948. Peter Feros left Bingara for Mutoah, Victoria where he ran a cafe for many years. He moved to Junee and had a business there until he died on 19 December 1954. After selling his cinema interest in the town around 1949/50, James Katsoolis returned to running his Yenda cafe. He passed away in Griffith on 15 August 1960. Having been out of cinemas since c1931, by 1940 Bretos Margetis was working at the Rotary Cafe, Kingston ACT, which he later purchased. In 1956 he returned to Sydney and took over a retail pharmacy in Redfern with his son who was a pharmacist. On 11 November 1961 he passed away. John Notaras died in 1962. Peter Limbers died in Sydney in 1963, having had other business interests after he sold out at Cowra. Coming to Sydney in 1965 from Gundagai, Jim Johnson worked for a travel firm for a short time before dying on 28 February 1970. George Psaltis left Bingara around 1937 and ran a cafe in Kings Cross before moving to Adelaide. It is believed that he was running a cafe there at the time of his death in the early(?) 1970s. When Emanuel Aroney left the Roxy Cafe and cinema in Bingara in 1937, he moved down the road to the new Regent Cafe which he operated until the late 1950s. With that, he retired to Sydney and passed away in 1972. After the theatre closed in 1970, Jim Conomos kept active at the wine saloon in Walgett which he and brother Hector ran. It was while at work that he took ill, was rushed to Sydney by air for specialist treatment, but passed away on 13 July 1973. Having sold his theatre interests in 1946, Jack Kouvelis retained other business interests and served as President of the Hellenic Club in the middle to late 1950s. Illness dogged him for many years and he died on 6 February 1973. Sam Coroneo spent a number of years in the 1930s in a difficult financial situation owing to the Tamworth fire, and litigation. In 1939 he converted a house at Greenethorpe into a cafe where he remained until 1962 when he retired to Fairfield. After being knocked down by a car, he spent a long time in hospital before passing away on 14 August 1977.
Nicholas Laurantus finally left cinemas with the sale of his Lockhart theatre in early 1947 but continued with his farming for a good many years. He will be remembered by many people for many different things. Two philanthropic gestures that stand out were his gift to assist with the establishment of the Chair of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney in 1968 and his donations towards the creation of Lourantos Village (a retirement home) at Lakemba which opened in 1976. Four years later, on 26 July 1980, Laurantus died. It had just been over a month since his brother George had passed away.
Peter Hlentzos continued in his Cooma cafe business after closing his Capitol Theatre in 1938. In 1964 or 65 he sold and moved to Sydney where he died on 27 June 1982. Emanuel Mottee died at East Kempsey in 1987, having worked many years in cafes at Kempsey. Leaving his cinema interests at Boggabri in 1966, Con Kalligeris moved to Sydney in 1968 and set up a shoe-making/repairs business in Paddington. He worked for some time there before passing way on 13 October 1989. At Port Macquarie, Peter Hatsatouris leased out his Ritz Theatre in 1972 but maintained other business interests. The Ritz itself was rebuilt into a twin cinema with shopping arcade in the early 1980s. Hatsatouris died on 20 July 1990 in Port Macquarie. Anthony Notaras died in 1992. After leaving the cinema business at Tullibigeal and Lake Cargelligo in 1936, Leo Spellson married and operated country refreshment rooms before coming to Sydney in 1945. He took over a milk bar in Mascot, then moved into the city, acquiring a restaurant at 245 Pitt Street. This success led to Spellson's Restaurants at Newport (c1964), Collaroy and Manly. He is believed to have been the first in Sydney to offer a range of take-away dishes (besides the ubiquitous hamburger or fish and chips). In the early 1970s he retired, and passed away on 18 April 1992. Lastly, Theo Comino left the cinema at Bellingen in 1936 and pursued various business interests. He passed away on 20 June 1996 at Inverell.
Despite inquiries, a small group of men (6) have not been accounted for after their cinema days: A Crones (Walgett, mid 'teens); E Fatzeus (West Maitland, mid 'teens); Andrew Kouvelis (Cowra, early 1920s); Harry Logus (Hay, late 1920s); Archie Paspalas (Walgett, early 1920s); Peter Peters/Petracos (Walgett, 1927).
At the time of writing, of the 66 Greek-Australian exhibitors (including Crones), 10 are still alive. The oldest is Hector Conomos (95) who started in his cinema days in 1927 and ended them in 1970. He remained in Walgett with other business interests until 1973 then came to Sydney where he resides with his wife, Elly. Second oldest is George Hatsatouris (90) who started in cinema in 1926 and ended in 1971. Having pursued various business interests since, he now lives in semi-retirement in Taree. After leaving East Moree around 1939, Nicholas Andronicos ran cafes in Grafton and Brisbane. Eventually he retired and currently resides in Sydney. Arthur Roufogalis has been involved with several business interests since leaving Barellan in 1950 and now resides in Sydney. On leaving cinema exhibition, Anthony Peters pursued other business interests but has since retired and lives in Brisbane. John Tzannes, although "an absentee landlord" at his Boorowa cinema until he sold the business in 1960, continued to operate milk bars until the late 1960s. With that he took a position at the University of New South Wales, as did his wife. Both have since retired and live in Sydney. After helping at Carinda in the 1950s, George Rosso returned to Sydney where he remains, too busy to retire. Peter Kalligeris left Boggabri in 1954, took over a milk bar in Parramatta, then bought a liquor store at Clemton Park. Now retired, he still resides in Sydney. Arthur Koovousis, after leaving Bingara around 1960, operated a delicatessen in Concord for 28 years. With the sale of the business, he retired and lives in Sydney. His brother, Bill took over a delicatessen in Inverell in the early 1960s, travelling between that town and his Regent theatre at Bingara until the theatre business was disposed of in 1965. Some years later, he moved to Brisbane and operated different businesses there before retiring.
Obituaries provide a glimpse of the esteem in which a person was held by a community. While researching, a number of obituaries were found. Whereas, in the past, country newspapers have tended to view deaths as news-worthy, the same cannot be generally said of metropolitan newspapers. Of those Greek-Australian exhibitors who have died, few did so in the towns where they operated. Earlier in this thesis, it was stated that the Greeks sought recognition and acceptance. From the following extracts, it can be seen that the men about whom they were written did achieve that which they sought. While the examples have been randomly selected, they only come from rural newspapers, for the aforementioned reason.
[Peter Mottee]...possessed of a very happy and agreeable nature that endeared him to all who knew him...In common with his brothers he was markedly generous in regard to all charitable and patriotic activities, and no call of such a nature was disregarded...His passing is deeply regretted by the whole Macleay community...The casket was deeply laid in innumerable wreaths, symbolical of the high regard in which deceased was held.
The late Mr. Stathis was highly respected by all sections of the Tumut community...
Through his business association and as a successful and widely-known bowler in the Southern Slopes, Mr. Bylos made many friends during his long residence here.
The death of Mr. Emanuel Fatseas at his home on December 26 shocked the town...
Kempsey and Macleay folk were shocked and saddened yesterday afternoon to learn that Mr. George Mottee, well-known and respected member of the Mottee Bros. firm of this town had passed away...
A resident of 25 years' standing in Hay Street and well-known identity in the person of Mr. Evangelos Hatsatouris died in the Hastings District Hospital on Saturday night...
Hastings Municipal Council observed one minutes's silence on Monday night in memory..."Mr. [Peter] Hatsatouris was not only a respected citizen and member of the council but he also played a significant role in the development of this area...
...well known and esteemed personality...Lambros [Conomos] had a wide circle of friends in this town and district. Many, who had enjoyed his company... and his hospitality and happy nature...will certainly mourn his demise. Let us be thankful that monuments to his industry and knowledge of many kindly acts will always remain to bring him to mind.
[Jim Conomos]...became affectionately known as the Father of the Greeks in Walgett and was always willing to help and assist them in every imaginable manner...His passing leaves a gap...
[Nick Spellson] The late Mr. Steelson[sic] was a highly respected resident of Bogan Gate... ; Deceased has been well known in Condobolin and was much respected.
[James Simos] A very fine type of man, indeed, esteemed by all who knew him, the community will miss him very much...
Only two acknowledgments to Greek-Australian exhibitors have been found in secondary sources. The first is about Theo Conomos of Carinda.
In paying tribute to Theo, the thought occurs of what would have happened to the village of Carinda without the forceful drive of this fine man.
The second is about Nicholas Laurantus.
'When Nicholas Laurantus came to Australia at eighteen, he brought as his contribution the best years of his life - years that proved to be a wonderful contribution to Australia, for although he came with nothing, through his enterprise and hard work he achieved a great deal.' (Mr J M Samios speaking at Laurantus' funeral on 29 July 1980.)
Accolades all. The above speak only for a portion of the 66 men who exhibited films in this state. If what has been written above is taken as representative, then perhaps the spirit of it all can be applied to each of the Greek-Australian exhibitors, including those who are still alive.
In an earlier chapter it was recorded how each man saw himself with regards to his nationality. Although 10 could not be categorised and four returned to Greece, 52 saw themselves as Greek-Australians. That is, people who had accepted an Australian way-of-life, who had assimilated but had retained their Greek origins and cultural heritage. This acknowledgment was an important achievement for those men and something of which both they and Australians generally can be proud. Australia had offered them a chance that their home country could not. They grasped the opportunity offered, made homes for themselves, learned the language, raised families (in the majority of cases) and, while many took visits to Greece at different times in their lives, looked upon Australia as their home. Nicholas Laurantus, sometime before his death in 1980, is recorded to have said, " 'I've been lucky...But then this is a tremendous country. And you can't make a successful Australian out of a bad migrant...The only way to get on in this country is to learn the language - and learn it as well as the next bloke."
George Hatsatouris has similar thoughts, although he also raises the issue of lack of support at the time he and his family came to Australia.
And I had two ambitions. Either become a captain or become a lawyer. The war come along. I was uprooted, see...come to a foreign country with different language. By the time you've mastered the language, by the time you've mastered how to make a living, and all kinds of things, well, it's not like how it is today, because in those days there was no - you had no support. If you were an Englishman, you are amongst English-speaking people. If you're a Scotchman, you are the same thing. If you're an Irishman, the same thing. You see. If you're an Italian, you've got the Catholic Church to give you some sort of support. Being a Greek Orthodox, you're on your own.
Starting in refreshment rooms, and managing to gain a "toehold" in the commercial world, 30 of the Greek migrants built their own "Parthenons Down Under". When it might have been easier to stay with galvanised iron sheds in the country areas, these visionaries chose to build better. A commercial decision that, for the most, brought benefits not only for themselves, but also for the communities in which they were built. "Nothing is too good if it is going to bring in any income. See, that's where you put your money. You say, 'Now I'm going to build this and make it a paying proposition.' It's not too good for Walgett or North Sydney or Coonabarabran."
Sometimes, there were tinges of frustration.
"They [charity collectors] used to come and collect from the theatre, from the cafe and the wine saloon. When we left, I don't think anybody came say goodbye to us...after fifty years..."
Then there is the reflection on times past - that it really was worth the struggle.
I've been in Australia since 1925. I done a lot of things. I've had me ups and my downs. I like Australia and the people and I never regret anything I've done in my life. Thank God, I've got a couple of good kids, three grandkids, and more than pleased with them. And this is all that counts. This is Australia - my country. I love it. That's it.
The cinemas were important places and served their towns for many years. The theatres did not desert the people. It was the other way round. People are notoriously fickle, especially when its comes to seeking entertainment. Yet, for the first six decades of this century, the country cinema provided people with a place for social interaction and entertainment. The place of the country picture theatre of times past has been captured by one former exhibitor.
The interesting thing about the picture show in the small country towns in those days was this. It was the social place where the people would gather. And from about - the pictures started about 8 o'clock - from about 7 o'clock we used to put all the lights on [ie under the street awning]...Now that was the time when the girls wanted to show themselves ...surprising how well-dressed they were then because they knew they were meeting their friends. Once a month there was a little local band and they used to come and play before the pictures started. And the payment for that was free entrance to the picture show. Now, the most pleasant thing of those days was how well the girls and the people were dressed. Properly dressed. The girls wore always the gloves, even the working class girls. And I remember when we were passing them the change from the little box, they had a bit of a trouble to pick up the change and we used to pick them up and put it in their hand. And after the pictures, there was three cafes very close to there. I'd say between them they would have about 100 seats. And it was then that they would all go for a cup of tea or coffee and meet there and talk there and discuss about the pictures...It was the night of their pleasure. Such was Boorowa in the late 1940s and 1950s.
How then are the 66 Greek-Australian exhibitors to be remembered? As previously stated, most of them are deceased and although obituaries speak of being 'highly-regarded', 'well-respected', these are nothing more than pieces of paper filed in libraries. Archival material, such as Alien Registration Forms, tells little more than dates and places, and certainly not about the men and their achievements. There is the strong possibility that the ten former exhibitors who are still alive today will not be by the year 2017 - a mere twenty years away. As the population grows older, their contributions made to our social and architectural history will be forgotten. Country town populations constantly change so we cannot rely on people's memories.
These Greeks who dared to migrate, open businesses, become successful (remember "success" is a relative term), who entertained millions - how will we remember them? Their families will. For one or two generations their memories will be clear. After that, it is impossible to predict. During the course of researching, it was found that the children of these exhibitors have left the refreshment room trade far behind, if they were ever involved in it at all. Many of the children of the former exhibitors are professional people - doctors, optometrists, solicitors, accountants, company directors, teachers, business men and women. While they take an interest in their parents' origins and careers, their generation will fail to pass on the material to the next simply because we are not a nation of story-tellers. We do not pass on our histories by word-of-mouth. It has not been uncommon for a child of a former exhibitor to say, with regret, that they did not ask sufficient questions while their parents were alive. The writer, himself, has similar regrets. We are part of the age of the written word with visual accompaniment. Few of the children interviewed for this project have bothered to write down about their fathers. In some cases, it was only through the intercession of the writer that this was done. In a similar way, it has been noticed that, frequently, when photographs have been loaned to the writer for this project, nothing has been written on the backs of them, thus rendering them useless for the next generation.
If we are to remember these Hellenes for their contributions to Australia's social, architectural and technological advancement, then it is imperative that there be Greek landmarks which are acknowledged at local and state level - ones that point to the achievements of the Greek-Australian cinema exhibitors who are the subject of this thesis. We cannot allow their histories to be forgotten, not when they provided services that positively affected millions of people, firstly, through their refreshment rooms and, secondly, through their picture theatres.
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