submitted by George Poulos on 30.09.2004
Mudgee Regent Theatre.
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.
Chapter 1 of Kevin's thesis makes the importance of the Hellenic and Kytherian contribution very clear.
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 1: INTRODUCTION.
"In Australia we have tended to think primarily of the dullness, the peasant background, the smells and dirt associated with the primitive background and a tradition of long hard toil...it does no harm now and again to lift one's eyes [and] catch the occasional reflection of gold and beauty in their own patient struggles and achievements."
For one particular group of Greeks who emigrated to New South Wales between 1898 and 1949, their process of integration was made easier because of their preparedness to seize opportunities and involve themselves in the places where they settled. This thesis examines that group whose special contribution was the exhibition of motion pictures from c1915 to the early 1960s. People may remember the mass immigration of the 1950s-60s and recall the ethnic cinemas around Sydney and Wollongong that were run by Greeks and screened mostly foreign dialogue films. The exhibitors at these were small in number and contributed little to the history of this state when compared to the much larger, earlier group of Greek immigrants who screened English dialogue pictures to millions of British-Australians in the days before television. This latter group's role in our social, architectural and technological history has never been acknowledged or examined by those who have contributed to our knowledge of Greek immigration to this state.
By the late 1950s, when cinemas that screened English dialogue films were closing as television increased in popularity, the few Greek ethnic film exhibitors were able to buy cinemas in or close to enclave areas and screen foreign dialogue films to those who craved cheap entertainment in their native language. They relied on the large number of fellow countrymen who had migrated to Australia and were concentrated heavily in inner-city areas where there was "cheap accommodation, access to transport, and access to services offered by the ethnic community and the wider host community." Like their pre-war counterparts, the post-war immigrants were often without English and were semi or unskilled but, unlike the pre-war group, they tended to concentrate in urban manufacturing industries. This was due to the large numbers that arrived. Whereas in pre-war days earlier arrivals assisted the small number who followed via chain migration, in the post-war years the numbers were too large to be absorbed into existing businesses. Hence the growth of ethnic enclaves in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.
A negative aspect to the "enclave" exhibitors was that, knowing the low socio-economic status of their patrons, they were disinclined to service the cinemas which were allowed to deteriorate to a point where, in at least two situations, government agencies forced them to close. A third was closed until its safety standards were improved. As time passed and the immigrants bought television sets, then videos and/or moved away from the enclave areas, the ethnic cinemas lost their audiences. By the late 1970s, they were struggling to survive. Each took on an air of dilapidation and, one by one, they closed and were sold. Some were demolished; others were converted to other uses. One still operates, but as a live venue.
The Greek exhibitors who came to New South Wales before the mass immigrations of the post-war years were a different type of immigrant. They were not able to seek the security of enclaves and exploit their compatriots' lack of English and homesickness because they, themselves, were in country towns where usually no more than one or two Greek families lived. As exhibitors, they screened English dialogue films because their audiences comprised British-Australians. Yet, they did so not out of regret, but out of the desire to become economically independent and to break the peasant cycle from which they and their forebears had come. They could all claim an Hellenic heritage, but the areas from which they came were different in their local customs and traditions. What did bind them together was their peasant background and, if they wanted to break out of that cycle, they had to take some major steps during the course of their lives. It was in the taking of these steps, making decisions to move out of refreshment rooms and into motion picture exhibition, that broke the peasant tie and made integration in the host country more easily achieved.
The first step, and for many it was a matter of it being thrust upon them, was to migrate. Greeks had been doing this for many centuries so it was not an unusual occurrence. Secondly, they had to break away from the subsistence "tilling-the-soil" type of life to which they had been brought up. This meant finding employment in the new host country that was commensurate with their skills and abilities. For people with little or no English and who had few urban skills, this meant starting afresh in occupations completely different to what they knew or might be expected to know. The catering industry was most suitable for their needs as it required no experience (learnt on the job as an employee) and no capital (save as you went, then borrow from established compatriots or those sympathetic). Above all, it required limited English. As one became more proficient in one's job, language skills were acquired. Then, almost unexpectedly, as one became more involved with the business, one started to become integrated into the way-of-life of the town.
So it was that, soon after their arrival in Australia, the members of the subject group for this thesis went into the catering industry. This move set them on the path to economic independence. It was only later that they took the next bold step and became motion picture exhibitors. They did this because they were keen to further their financial futures and were prepared to put in the capital and long hours required to make a success of these new ventures. In doing so, they took a step up in the world - from being "the cafe Greeks" to becoming theatre managers, thus integrating further into the British-Australian communities in which they lived and worked. They had been prepared to tolerate discrimination and to weather the bad times (man-made and acts of God) and, determinedly, they set their minds on becoming accepted and respected members of their communities. Slowly, these southern Europeans began to find approval amongst the predominantly British-Australian population.
While, initially, they had no choice but to go to country towns, it was this particular move that allowed them to take the step to become cinema proprietors. The country towns were not subject to the development of cinema chains, as was the case in the cities and suburbs. Thus, the "Country Greeks" were in a more advantageous position than their "City Cousins" who, from about 1910 in Sydney, witnessed the growth of cinema chains (eg Waddingtons, Union Theatres, Hoyts, Western Suburbs Cinemas, Broadway Theatres) which acquired or built theatres in the city and/or inner suburbs, then spread outwards during the 1920s and 1930s as the city likewise spread. By and large, country towns were the homes of independent exhibitors and, because of this, the subject group members were able to assess local situations, make decisions that affected things locally, and act upon their acquired knowledge without having to be concerned that Union Theatres or Hoyts might move in and build just up the road from them. Having established themselves in their refreshment rooms (some also started complimentary businesses, for example, ice works, cordial factories), they were able to glean from what they saw and heard in their towns about what people liked to do for entertainment and they acted accordingly. A few enterprising men built their picture theatres to double as ballrooms, thereby allowing more flexibility and better utilisation of the buildings. The cafes, the complimentary businesses, and the cinemas/ballrooms brought these men into close contact with British-Australians on a daily basis. Serving in the shop, welcoming patrons at their cinemas, discussing film programmes and the weather, attending the balls in their cinemas, joining service and sporting clubs and lodges - all of these things helped to hasten their integration into their communities.
Out of the 1,433 country picture theatres identified in a recent New South Wales survey, 116 were operated at various times in country areas prior to the early 1960s by people of Greek birth. This figure of 8.1 per cent of the total country cinema venues that ever existed is significant and covered 57 centres of population. To this figure can be added four cinemas in Sydney that were controlled by Greek-Australians during the same time frame. Three of these were in then-outer suburbs: Fairfield (2) 1924 to 1928; Liverpool (1) 1947 - 1957. The fourth was at Rose Bay North (1946 - 1958). Thus, the total number of venues is 120.
This thesis is not a set of biographies. It present information and thoughts relating to the achievement through integration of the 66 Greek men. Chapter 2 provides information about their backgrounds and beginnings. Included is a case study of the Hatsatouris family. Chapter 3 examines how the subject group were discriminated against and how, because of the norms of the day, they were forced to discriminate themselves. It includes a case study on the three Greeks who built the Roxy Theatre at Bingara in the mid-1930s. Chapter 4 provides an overview of the cinema years for each of the subject group. Chapter 5, entitled "Parthenons Down Under", discusses the importance of picture-going in pre-television days and offers a brief overview of the theatres built by the Greek exhibitors. A short survey of Greek landmarks in New South Wales is considered and a case argued for the retention and placement on heritage lists of six theatres constructed for Greek exhibitors. Chapter 6 is a case study of an atypical country town, examining the history and contributions made to the town of Walgett by the six Greeks who ran five local picture shows at various times between 1915 and 1970. Chapter 7 is a picture gallery: photos of the men, their families, their cafes, their theatres. Captions provide additional information. Chapter 8 is an overview of the achievements of the subject group, and includes the contribution made by their wives. Two case studies are included, one on Anastasia Sotiros and the other on Theo Conomos of Carinda. A case is then presented to show that the members of the subject group integrated through their achievements rather than assimilated (the latter being the expectation of both government and general population for all immigrants prior to the 1970s).
Our Knowledge of Greek Immigrants to Australia to Date
In the Preface to her 1987 book on Sir Nicholas Laurantus, Jean Michaelides noted that in Australia's story, "the contribution of smaller groups - the Greeks or the Italians, for example - has gone largely unrecorded...After the British and the Italians, the Greeks are our third largest group of migrants from Europe." Despite the large number of cinemas and centres in which they operated, there is no record of this Greek connection. Available literature on Greek migration to Australia is of a general nature and there is a need for specifically oriented studies of migrant experiences. "The present need is for more studies in depth - of particular groups or classes of Greeks or of particular localities where Greeks abound..." In terms of the development of our post-1970s multi-cultural diversity, and with cinema having passed its Australian centenary in 1996, now would seem to be an appropriate time to examine the role of the New South Wales' Greek motion picture exhibitors of pre-television days and acknowledge their place in this state's heritage.
Our public culture should "...acknowledge and respect diversity...such as the migration experience...", yet for many years, Greeks living in Australia have been synonymous with food - cafes, milk bars, delicatessens and, older still, oyster-saloons and refreshment rooms. The Greeks themselves recorded little of their lives in Australia. Two early works by Greek immigrants do exist. The first, from 1915, I Zoi en Afstralia (Life in Australia) by J D Comino, contains over 200 short biographies with accompanying photographs of many Greek migrants. This book (written in Greek) was designed to encourage others who might have been interested in migrating to Australia by telling what earlier migrants had achieved. The second was written in 1920, the year that Australia lifted its ban on Greek and Maltese immigration that was imposed in 1916, during the uncertainties of World War I. Oscar Georgoulous opens this work with a short, encouraging poem.
"May health success and joy
Thy course through life attend,
And nothing sad destroy
Thy hours, my immigrant friend!"
Greek Guide To Australia was written in order to assist and advise Greek migrants who were thinking about coming to Australia, or who had already arrived. Many topics, including legal matters, were covered and doubtless proved helpful.
Charles Price is known for his work on migration, including Southern Europeans in Australia and Greeks in Australia. The former examines the migration to Australia of people from countries such as Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, Greece and Malta. It discusses the complex geographical, social and political backgrounds of the areas from which the migrants came, their migratory patterns, settlement in Australia, the rise of ethnic groups and assimilation. Price's book provides a general overview of southern European migration to Australia. The latter book is a collection of pieces written about Greeks in Australia and, as Price who edited the book states, it was not intended that it should be a definitive work. Most of it contains post-war studies, although the first chapter (M P Tsounis, "Greek Communities in Australia") examines the pattern of Greek settlement in New South Wales and discusses some of the problems that both pre- and post-war Greek immigrants had to face. Possibly because of space limitations, there are no case studies.
The most impressive work on Greeks in Australia has been the first of a set of volumes, published in 1992, by Hugh Gilchrist. His work traces the history of Greek migration to Australia from the early days when, in 1829, seven Greek males (transported for piracy) arrived in Port Jackson. Facts and figures relating to the Greek migration pattern to Australia until 1914 are presented. Life was difficult for the non-English speaking Greek migrant.
Of the thousand Greeks who inhabited Australia towards the end of the 19th century fewer than fifty had had a complete secondary education. Most were unskilled...as the century drew to a close many Greeks ceased to be gold-miners or shepherds or waterfront workers and became shop-keepers or cafe proprietors. They began to bring out brothers and nephews and cousins to join them in their enterprises, at first as cooks or waiters or shop-assistants, later as partners.
While he mentions in passing a few Greek migrants who were involved in the entertainment industry, Gilchrist wrote, "...I am not writing a history of Greek settlement in Australia...".
One of those whom Gilchrist mentions is Sir Nicholas Laurantus whose life story has been recorded in Portrait of Uncle Nick: A Biography of Sir Nicholas Laurantus, MBE. by Jean Michaelides. Commenting on the pattern of Greek migration to Australia, she says, "Others who followed did well and returned home to speak glowingly of the opportunities in far-off Australia, so starting a chain of migration from the same family or the same village, a chain which was to strengthen in the first half of this century." Laurantus operated a number of cinemas (although little detail is given about them), but he is best remembered for endowing the Chair of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney and establishing the Lourantos Retirement Village in Sydney.
An earlier work than Gilchrist's is Hellas Australia (Ελλάδα Αστραλ_α), by Josef Vondra, which gives personal observations of the writer and opinions on various topics by members of the Australian Greek community. Vondra notes a major difficulty associated with both pre-and post-war Greek immigrants.
In the pre-war period, and indeed early in the post-war years, those newly arrived, even if they had been sponsored by a relative or friend, could, by the constricting factor of the language barrier, only work for other Greeks, or for sympathetic Australians. Usually there wasn't much choice; the lowest of the unskilled jobs was often a starting point..Restaurants, apparently, were a special feature, a mark of respect and testimony that a particular person or family had finally 'made it'.
In a magazine article entitled Hidden Faces of the Greek-Australian (1990), the writers Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski make the comment that Greek immigrants became heavily involved in food catering but they also entered a number of other occupations.
The arising entrenchment of a popular stereotyped perception of this ethnic group as nothing more than a mere collection of fish-and-chip shop owners or cafe proprietors, has unfortunately overwhelmed and hidden the faces of Greek-Australians involved in a plethora of other occupational pursuits.
The article tells how these men turned their hands to viticulture, mining, market gardening, agricultural and pastoral work, animal husbandry, fishing, maritime work (including pearling and oyster farming), secondary industry (particularly for post-war migrants), itinerant jobs (such as timber cutting, railway construction, fruit picking, mail delivery), and sporting and artistic occupations (the last two areas having developed since World War II). The writers briefly touch on each of the areas and show that the Greek-born Australian was much more than simply involved with food catering. "As a wide sweep of the historical panorama of the Greek presence in Australia, this presentation is extremely limited. However, its aim was only to provide an insight into some of the 'hidden faces' of the Greek-Australian. Many more are still waiting to be discovered." No mention is made of Greeks as cinema exhibitors.
Another article written by the same writers two years' later expands upon the earlier article and tells of some of the difficulties that Greek-Australians had before World War II. Sydney's neglected Hellenic heritage, 1810 - 1940: an insight was published in 1992 and tells of Greek migration to Australia. It is interspersed with pieces from interviews with Greek-born people who tell of their experiences. In the Sydney metropolitan area, the writers claim that, "In 1916,...of the 76 Hellenes who appear to have been self-employed, a little over 84% ran food catering businesses... Additionally, those Greeks employed by such businesses totalled 73.", and by the late 1920s, little change had occurred to these figures.
Undeniably though, Sydney possessed a significant Greek presence well before the immense post-war wave of immigrants spilled upon the shores...an important insight into the city's Greek-Australian community, which deserves far greater recognition and detailed investigation to that which it has generally been accustomed.
Continuing their promotion of Greek-Australian heritage, Alexiakis and Janiszewski's 1995 book, Images of Home comprises photographs, taken by them while on trips around Australia and Greece, and lengthy captions.
The idea for this project began in Greece in 1985...Although I had already noticed many deserted houses throughout Greece, it wasn't until I saw a whole street of deserted homes and ventured inside them that I realised that many of the people had left their homes with the intention of returning.
The book, sub-titled Μαύρη Ξεvιτιά (translated "black foreign land"), examines migrant experiences. In a number of cases, the people returned to Greece and re-settled. The writers note, "...the lives and experiences of those Greeks who journeyed to the antipodes, and for any number of reasons, decided to return to Greece, has scarcely received anything beyond disregard." Although the reminiscences of Greek migrants are recorded and photographs show derelict houses, decaying bric-a-brac, streetscapes, and a variety of people, because of the writers' intention, it is an overview rather than a detailed study. Occasionally something appears in the book that is reminiscent of information from a member of the subject group for this thesis. One such example is from an elderly man.
Yes, I was the pioneer [from our village]...1913...it was a new country and you had more chance...Well, the old man, he sent me here and I have to obey...landed in Sydney with two shillings and sixpence - half a crown...The only thing, of course, we couldn't get a job...you had to go to the Greek coffee house [to find a job]. Third class citizens was us really...
The writers are critical of the way that the variety of occupations undertaken by Greeks has been, generally, ignored.
Whilst their firm establishment and numerical abundance in small catering businesses such as oyster saloons, restaurants, cafes, milk bars, fruit and vegetable shops and fish shops, in urban and rural centres, particularly eastern mainland Australian states, has been generously acknowledged within existing publications, their persistent presence in other occupational avenues has generally been overlooked. The arising entrenchment of a popular stereo-typed perception of this ethnic group as nothing more than a mere collection of fish-and-chip shop owners or cafe proprietors, has unfortunately overwhelmed and hidden the faces of Greek-Australians involved in a plethora of other occupational pursuits.
An example of this can be found in Ian McNamara's Australia All Over 2, a collection of his listeners' responses to various topics taken from his ABC Radio program. It is not surprising to find that the book contains a section on the ubiquitous Greek cafe. The reminiscences of McNamara's listeners about the cafes reveal the warmth and affection in which they were held by many country people. Only two mentioned a cinema - George Conomos (whose father ran the Luxury Theatre at Walgett and had the Barwon Cafe next door) and Keith Wilson who spoke about his days in Balranald. "The local picture theatre was next door and each Saturday night after the flick the cafe would be full to capacity with the locals having supper - anything from toasted sangos to mixed grills. Those were the days!" Going to the cinema was more than simply going to see a film. It was an important social occasion, especially for country folk, which has been forgotten over the years.
Radio National's Milkbar Dreaming relies on the reminiscences of the various proprietors and former employees of Greek milkbars and cafes of yesteryear. This valuable piece of oral history not only presents fond thoughts, it also shows the less-pleasant side.
...our own compatriots exploited us also, by the lack of not knowing English, and there was not many jobs around. It wasn't easy to find a job. I used to work one day from seven in the morning 'til seven in the evening, and the next day from twelve midday to one in the morning. Monday to Sunday. And I will have Wednesday afternoon off from two o'clock onwards.
And, the Greeks often had to contend with prejudice.
Man: "In little country towns there was often an Australian cafe and a Greek cafe. Ninety percent of the town would use the Greek cafe."
Lady: "Because, even though they were very - sort of prejudiced people in Australia in those days, they all knew that the Greeks ran a better cafe."
For the second generation, it "...was very important seeing how hard they worked. It made you feel they weren't doing this just for themselves. It was for us as well as for our future. They wanted us to go to university, to have a life that they didn't have a chance to live."
Gillian Bottomley, in After The Odyssey: A Study of Greek- Australians, claims that economic success for the Greek cafe operators came about because of the labour-intensive methods used by them. Keeping their cafes open for longer hours meant that they were able to attract more business.
Families were often organized as economic units, with a consequent reduction in overheads - outlay for wages might be minimal, and communal living on the premises further reduced costs. The establishment of cafes, mainly by the Kytherians, in country towns, typically followed this labour-intensive pattern. Two brothers might combine to buy the business, wives and children would help to run it, nephews, cousins or more brothers would be sponsored from Greece as trade expanded. Another shop might be purchased in the same town or nearby, one brother would move out with his family to run it, and so the pattern went on. Many of these shop-owners brought [sic] real estate in country towns or in Sydney and began to derive income from rent as well as from business. As the sons grew up, the aim was usually to send them to universities. The family then moved to a comfortable house in the city, either selling or leasing the business and perhaps expanding investment in real estate.
Bottomley draws attention to an important difference between pre-World War II and post-war Greek migrants. "The pre-war settlers are predominantly the owners of businesses, the post-war settlers are mainly factory workers and labourers." The 1947 Census shows that 7.7 per cent of Greek-born males were labourers or similar. This figure had risen to 59.9 per cent in the 1971 Census. "The recently arrived migrants have found self-employment more difficult. The Australian economy nowadays offers less scope for the development of small businesses. Chain stores and supermarkets have replaced corner stores."
In a nostalgic letter to the Nyngan Observer in mid 1996, a writer recalled the two Greek cafes in that town and their owners, one of whom became Mayor. No mention was made of the Greek cinema operator who, for over 30 years in his enclosed and adjacent open-air cinemas, probably entertained more people than the two cafes fed.
A recent media report on a New South Wales' rural Greek cafe stated that "The Elysian is part of a fading Australia." After mentioning the proposed sale of the Greek-operated cafe at Mendooran, the article tells of the better educational and employment prospects for the children of Greek-Australians. It also comments that, as fast food stores invade rural areas, Greek cafes will fade from the scene, thereby removing potential Greek landmarks.
Dolores Hayden in her The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History observes that "Place memory and urban preservation connects urban landscape history to memory rooted in places." She explains that urban landscape history is "...how places are planned, designed, built, inhabited, appropriated, celebrated, despoiled, and discarded. Cultural identity, social history, and urban design are here intertwined." To some historians, this concept may seem new. Writing from her American point-of-view, Hayden raises the question, "Centuries of neglect of ethnic history have generated a tide of protest [in recent years] - where are the Native American, African American, Latino and Asian American landmarks?" To understand our own multi-faceted social history, we cannot ignore "place" in the realm of things. One is entitled to ask "Where are the Greek landmarks in Australia, and particularly in New South Wales?"
The changing occupational opportunities for the large number of post-war Greek migrants "...resulted in ethnic differentiation and a degree of pluralism that allows immigrants some freedom to maintain alternative social and cultural frameworks." This takes the form of multiculturalism. Writing several years ago in a Sydney newspaper, Gavin Cantlon noted that "...this now redundant stereotype [of the Greek cafe proprietor] has hidden the multiple contribution they [the Greeks] have made to most other occupations and professions in the country...Business, commerce, politics, sport, the arts and education have all attracted the talents of people of Greek descent." As one Greek-born person commented in 1995, "This country has been very hospitable and very good to us. But...having said that, I think, that we have been very good to this country also, and we have given everything that we have, and everything that we could give. So, it was a good partnership!"
The body of knowledge about Greek migration to Australia continues to grow and will expand as new generations of Australians of Greek descent take more interest in Hellenic migration to these shores. This is more likely to occur as those who complete higher education acquire more leisure time and seek to know more about their families. Already, the proportion of second generation Australians of Greek descent who have attained post-secondary qualifications numbers 15 per cent, which is higher than that for all Australian-born, which is 12.76 per cent. The total Australian population with post-secondary qualifications is 12.8 per cent. It is surprising that, to date, only ad hoc work has been done to record the history and social significance of Greek food catering businesses that once proliferated in New South Wales. While the Paragon Cafe at Katoomba continues to operate (albeit with strong tourist support because it is noted for its architectural beauty rather than its Greek connection), part of Greek-Australian heritage will remain, even if obliquely. If the trend espoused in Stephens' Mendooran article continues, then we may see within a short time, the demise of a once-important part of our culinary history even though Greek cafes of yesteryear are held with some fondness in people's memories. A situation of even worse proportion has already occurred to the group of 66, pre-1950, motion-picture-exhibiting Greeks (the subjects of this thesis) and the buildings that they used to control.
Once they operated at least 120 cinemas at various times in this state between 1915 and 1963 and, of that number, they commissioned 34 to be built in country areas. When one considers the differences of function and scale between a cafe and a cinema, it is understandable that the number of cinemas would not equate with the possible number of Greek cafes. What is of concern is that most of the theatres operated by Greek-Australians have either been demolished or converted, and their internal fabrics destroyed. Apart from an occasional mention in a local history book or Jean Michaelides' work on Sir Nicholas Laurantus, nothing has been recorded of these Greeks or their cinemas that served the communities in which they stood. Thus, the tangible evidence of the social, architectural and technological input that these people made to the towns in which they operated has been removed. As older residents pass away, so will their memories and the relevance to our social history of these Greeks and their "Parthenons Down Under" will disappear. At present in New South Wales, pre-1950 Greeks were generally remembered by a cafe or two.
In mid-1995, the writer was privileged to interview Emmanuel (Hector) Conomos, aged 94, who was born on Kythera in 1901, came to Sydney in 1914, and moved to Walgett in 1919 where he remained until the early 1970s. From 1927 until 1970 (with the exception of two years in the late 1930s), he was involved with cinema exhibition in Walgett. His reminiscences and those of his wife, Elly (who arrived in Walgett in 1938) and their son, George, set the writer on a quest to find similar Greeks.
One result of the interview was an analysis of The Film Weekly Motion Picture Directory 1948/49 from which a list of New South Wales' Greek exhibitors was compiled. By searching the directories from 1937/38 to 1962/63 (the time when most country areas of the state received their first television transmissions), the list grew. Having ascertained those Greeks who were exhibiting films from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, the writer then sought those who existed prior to the commencement of The Film Weekly directory in 1936/37. While viewing newspapers to find more information about the Conomos' cinemas in Walgett, it was discovered that three other Greeks had operated cinemas at various times in the town. It was thought that if this had happened in Walgett, similar situations may have occurred in other places. As more people were interviewed and newspapers and film trade magazines consulted, this was found to be true.
Below is the list of known Greek-born men who were cinema exhibitors in this state prior to the introduction of television in rural areas. (Their names are presented as they were known in the industry, and not necessarily as per their original surnames which, in a number of cases, were Anglicised.) Included in the list are the locations covered and the names of the cinemas in their charge. (A list, by towns, is provided in Chapter 5.)
Andronicus, J and N J - East Moree Theatre and Open Air
Aroney, E, Feros, P and Psaltis, G - Bingara Roxy
Bylos, C - Wyalong West Rio and Open Air, Tivoli, Reo Gardens
Calligeros, P - Temora Star and Open Air, Crown, Strand
Comino Bros - Wee Waa Star (1st), Star (2nd)
Comino, T - Bellingen Memorial
Conomos, T & B - Carinda Megalo Theatre
Conomos Bros - Walgett School of Arts and Luxury Theatre
Conson, G (Riverina Theatres Ltd) - Leeton Globe and Open Air, Roxy, Roxy Garden Theatre; Yenda Regent; Griffith Lyceum, Rio (2nd)
Coroneo, A - Armidale Arcadia, Capitol; Glen Innes Grand and Roxy; Scone Civic; Rose Bay North Kings
Coroneo, S - Cessnock Strand (1st), Strand (2nd); Tamworth Strand
Coroneo, T - Scone Civic
Crones, A - Walgett American Electric Pictures (aka Walgett Picture Palace)
Fatseas, E - Condobolin Central/Renown, Aussie Open Air
Fatzeus, E - Maitland West Rink Pictures & Lyceum Hall
Hatsatouris, E and Sons / Bros - Port Macquarie Empire, Ritz, Civic; Walcha Civic; Laurieton School of Arts and Plaza; Kempsey West Roxy; Taree Civic, Savoy
Hlentzos, Peter - Cooma Capitol and Victor
James, Chris - Cobar Regent and Open Air, Empire and Open Air; Nyngan Palais and Open Air
Johnson, J - Gundagai Theatre
Kalligeris, C and P - Boggabri Royal, Lyric Open Air
Katsoulis, J - Yenda Regent
Koovousis, A and B - Bingara Regent and Open Air, Roxy
Kouvelis, A, J, P - Young Imperial Open Air, Lyceum Hall; Cowra Lyric, Palace, Centennial Hall
Kouvelis, J (J K Capitol Theatres Ltd) - Young Strand; Temora Star and Open Air, Crown; Harden Lyceum; Armidale Arcadia, Capitol; Tamworth Capitol, Regent; Wagga Wagga Capitol, Capitol Gardens, Plaza, Strand, Wonderland Theatre; Moree Capitol, Capitol Garden, East Moree Theatre and Open Air, Inverell Capitol
Laurantus, G - Cootamundra Arcadia; Junee Lyceum, Atheneum; Tumut Montreal; Liverpool Regal
Laurantus, N - Narrandera Globe (1st), Globe (2nd)/Plaza, Open Air, Criterion Hall; Lockhart School of Arts Pictures, Open Air, Rio; Gundagai Theatre; Junee Lyceum, Atheneum; Corowa Rex; Hillston Roxy; Tumut Montreal.
Limbers, P - Cowra Lyric, Globe, Palace, Theatre Cowra
Logus, H - Hay Federal Hall
Louran, P - Goodooga De-Luxe
Lucas, P - Walcha Civic, Theatre
Margetis, B - Fairfield Butterfly, Crescent
Mottee Bros (E, D, G P) - Kempsey Rendezvous/Macleay Talkies, Victoria; Kempsey West Adelphi
Nicholas Bros (S and G) - Merriwa Astros
Notaras Bros (J & A) - Grafton Fitzroy, Saraton; Woolgoolga Seaview
Paspalas, A - Walgett Olympia Pictures
Peters (Petracos), P - Walgett Victoria Theatre
Peters (Pizimolas), A - Mullumbimby Empire
Poulos, A - Warialda School of Arts
Rosso, G - Mount Victoria Pictures; Carinda Megalo Theatre
Roufogalis, A and A - Barellan Royal
Simos, J - Cootamundra Arcadia, Roxy
Sotiros, A - Lake Cargelligo Star and Civic
Sourry, C - Armidale Arcadia, Capitol; Glen Innes Grand, Roxy; Tenterfield Lyric; Rose Bay North Kings
Spellson, G - Condobolin Central Theatre; Lake Cargelligo Star
Spellson, L - Condobolin Central Theatre; Bogan Gate Picture Hall; Lake Cargelligo Star; Tullibigeal Hall and Public Hall; Ungarie
Spellson, N - Condobolin Central Theatre; Bogan Gate Pictures (at Tolhurst Hall)
Stathis, P - Tumut Montreal
Tzannes, J - Boorowa Empire
In the early stages of researching, it was thought that the thesis might encompass all of Australia. By the time that the above list had been compiled, it was decided to narrow the research to New South Wales where there was a worthwhile number of Greek exhibitors to examine and ascertain their contribution to the state's social, architectural and technological heritage to the early 1960s.
Research was undertaken concurrently on two fronts. Firstly, interviews with as many people as possible who were exhibitors, or family members of exhibitors. This also meant consulting a number of books to ascertain why so many people migrated from Greece in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Secondly, use was made of available primary sources (for example, archive material) to construct histories of the people themselves and their cinemas, thereby balancing oral histories with documented facts.
Qualitative researcher, Lindlof, states that
...one interviews people to understand their perspectives on a scene, to retrieve experiences from the past, to gain expert insight or information, to obtain descriptions of events or scenes that are normally unavailable for observation, to foster trust, to understand a sensitive or intimate relationship, or to analyse certain kinds of discourse.
Because archival material can only provide part of a picture, the above thoughts were kept in mind when the oral histories commenced.
Besides Emmanuel Conomos, two other exhibitors who could go back to the 1920s and 1930s respectively) were found and interviewed: George Hatsatouris (aged 89); Nicholas Andronicos (84). The wife of the exhibitor from Lake Cargelligo (from the early 1930s to the 1964), Anastasia Sotiros (aged 90) was also found and interviewed. She was able to provide an insight into the life of a Greek bride of about seventy years ago. Several men who had entered cinema exhibition in the 1940s and 1950s were also located. Where original exhibitors had passed away, family, friends or relations were sought. Many interviews were done face-to-face, the transcriptions or notes being returned for perusal and alterations, then amendments made. These documents, especially those with Emmanuel Conomos, George Hatsatouris and Anastasia Sotiros, provide exciting and vibrant first-hand accounts of Greek migrants who came to Australia with no English language and no money. Some interviewing was done by telephone where distance precluded meeting. Others completed postal questionnaires and follow-up letters were used when uncertainties arose. In their own ways, each of the tales was a story of adaptation and success.
There is an old saying: "When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground." Besides the contribution made to the body of knowledge by the early exhibitors, it was gratifying to speak with those who entered the exhibition field later on, in the 1940s and 1950s (for example, John Tzannes, Arthur and Bill Koovousis). Family members, those who were old enough to remember the 1930s, 40s and 50s, provided useful information but this was often tinged with a regretted response such as "Dad never talked much about why he did so-and-so." On the whole, family members and friends were willing to share their knowledge. They were proud that Greek migrants had made a distinct contribution to Australian history and way-of-life. There were times when the writer was able to assist in kind by supplying additional information.
A number of primary sources were used in order to substantiate and illuminate the oral histories. Documents at the Australian Archives (such as World War I Alien Registration Forms, and naturalisation records), the New South Wales State Archives (including Chief Secretary's Department and Board of Fire Commissioners' files on theatres and public halls), the State Library of New South Wales (for books, newspapers and magazines), the Mitchell Library (photographic collections, magazines and books), the New South Wales Land Titles Office, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics aided the research. In some cases, newspapers have not survived. A similar tale can be told of company and personal records. In her 1975 thesis, Diane Collins noted, as she searched for material on cinema-going, that archives of film distributors and exhibitors are "either unavailable or destroyed". More often than not, "destroyed" is the case. Once a cinema closed and/or the exhibitor passed away, there was no need to keep records. Even when a cinema was part of a chain, as the buildings were disposed of, so were the records.
The Australian Archives holds Alien Registration Forms that were introduced in 1916 and were maintained until the early 1920s. The Greek forms not only give physical and personal details, but include place of birth, date when entered Australia, then-current address and occupation. When an address changed, the person was obliged to report to the nearest police station and a form was completed. These alteration forms provided details of where each man went for a number of years prior to his involvement in cinema exhibition. Naturalisation records (those available for perusal) provided some personal details which either corroborated existing information or filled gaps. Public access to naturalisation records has a 60-year restriction placed on it. After 1937, only Archive Staff can view records, so the extraction of material was fraught with difficulties. Archive Staff were prepared to assist but had to work when their time permitted. Six weeks was taken to check through a supplied list. Although information (such as date of birth) was supplied at the outset, staff were unable to cross-check or make deductions based on knowledge acquired by the writer who was not present when the searches were made.
Of the primary sources available at the New South Wales State Archives, the Chief Secretary's Department files relating to Theatres and Public Halls proved to be valuable. While the content of files differs from building to building, in general they contain inspection reports, police reports, Fire Brigade reports, correspondence between exhibitors and the Chief Secretary, architects' reports, government gazettal notices, occasional newspaper clippings and other miscellaneous material. The Board of Fire Commissioners Theatres and Public Halls' files (New South Wales State Archives) contain similar items but not to the extent of the Chief Secretary, who was responsible for the licensing of all theatres and public halls from 1909. The files used for this thesis have not been used before by researchers. The New South Wales State Archives also holds gaol and medical records and registers of firms and company records which proved useful on occasion.
Both the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library have holdings of newspapers. Where they have survived, they provided a variety of information including dates, articles about openings, closings, deaths (obituaries), advertisements, and the occasional sketch (for example, proposed changes in 1935 to the Arcadia Theatre at Cootamundra) or photograph (for example, James Simos' car after it had been dragged from Middle Harbour in 1938 following the accident in which he drowned). In some instances, newspapers no longer exist (for example, for Lake Cargelligo in the 1930s) or holdings are incomplete (for example, Junee in the late 1920s). Occasionally, libraries misplace items. When these situations were encountered, it became necessary to seek other primary print material (for example, film trade journals) but the level of success varied. The importance of newspapers in historical research cannot be under-estimated.
Also held at the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library are a variety of film trade journals (such as Film Weekly, Film Weekly Motion Picture Directory - annual from 1936/37 to 1971, Everyones, Picture Show, Exhibitor, Australasian Exhibitor). These provide some details about exhibitors and cinemas through the years. Much of the information about openings and closings was provided to the journals by the exhibitors themselves and cannot be said to be a complete picture of events as it was not compulsory to forward such information. On occasions a photograph appears (for example, Calligeros' Strand at Temora). At times, incorrect captions have been given to photographs (for example, the so-called Palace at Cootamundra, which was Limbers' Palace at Cowra).
The Mitchell Library is the repository of many photographs. Two specific collections, At Work and At Play and the New South Wales Government Printer, contain photographs of many towns and the occasional one of a Greek exhibitor's cinema. Another collection of photographs existed at the Denis Wolanski Library, Sydney Opera House and contained views of Hoyts' cinemas in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Among these were some of the cinemas operated by J Kouvelis (for example, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga). What makes some of the views valuable, from the point-of-view of this thesis, is that they were taken in pre-Hoyts' days and showed the theatres before Hoyts attempted to modernise them. Besides the named collections, photographs were provided to the writer by exhibitors, their family members and others. Since these have come from private collections, it is unlikely that they will ever be seen by anyone outside the families concerned. The writer is fortunate to have been permitted access to them and they add an extra dimension to this work.
Certificates of Title and other documents at the New South Wales Land Titles Office provided information about sites, land transference, leases and mortgages. In some instances, this primary source proved expensive both in money and time when seeking information for more recent years. Most councils were pleased to assist with deposited plan or volume and folio numbers. Local councils and their planning departments who were contacted for heritage details of extant cinemas built for Greek-Australians willingly provided what details were extant.
There are only very limited secondary sources on cinemas and their exhibitors. While there are some local history books written about a number of the towns covered in this thesis, for the most they tend to ignore cinemas and their exhibitors. On rare occasions, the material presented is flawed and may be due to writers' inability to access archives in Sydney or their reliance on other secondary sources and/or the memories of residents. While secondary resources have been read, they have been used only where primary sources are unavailable (for example, in the event that newspapers no longer exist) and, when done, this has been noted.
A number of local historical societies were contacted during the course of the research and were asked about their local cinemas and the Greeks who ran them. Responses varied from nothing to a little. On rare occasions, a society was able to provide some photographs and material, often for a fee. A few seemed parochial and gave the impression that anyone from outside their areas was "poaching". A few seemed unconcerned about their former cinemas and indicated that they would "have to think about it", especially when asked about photographs. Some letters were ignored or, presumably, lost in transit.
When it was considered that sufficient material had been collected, a composite listing of exhibitors was created. This set out name (Greek and Anglicised), date and place of birth, date and place of death, date of arrival in Australia, the years in which the person was involved with cinema exhibition and the places and cinemas themselves. Sources for the information was marked "F" for family source or "A" for documented source. This list continued to grow as interviews and research continued. From the list it was possible to extract material and place it in categories. A list was made that showed place of origin and number of people from each place. While the majority of exhibitors were from Kythera, another 11 places featured in the list. The years of birth and the years of arrival in Australia were extracted and placed in separate composite lists. By comparing the two, it was possible to ascertain how old each Greek was when he arrived in Australia.
Using the interviews with people it was possible to construct a list that showed the level of English language with which each man arrived. This substantiated what other writers have said about the lack of English amongst Greek migrants. Other lists were compiled that showed the number of years it took to enter cinema exhibition, and the years in which the exhibitor commenced and finished his cinema operations. From these lists, it was easy to ascertain the duration of these men's involvement in cinema exhibition, showing that the first of subject group commenced in 1915 and the last commenced in 1957. The range for when they ended exhibition was from 1916 to 1984. An alphabetical list of all the cinema venues operated by Greeks was compiled. From this list a number of extant buildings was selected by the writer for possible inclusion on heritage lists, not only for their social, cultural, technological and architectural merits, but for their close association with Greek migrants. As a matter of interest for future researchers, a list of known architects who designed the cinemas for these men was compiled and shows at a glance that a number of well-known cinema architects were engaged.
From the interviews and other sources, a list of the men's involvement in their local communities was made. Six sub-categories were established: Lodges and service clubs; Sport; Balls/dances in their theatres; School involvement such as concerts, speech days and awards; War service, effort and recognition; Religious bi-partisanship; Other. When compiled, this listing presented an interesting overview of how these men sought integration into their communities. As a corollary to this, a list was made to show the Greek exhibitors' commercial involvement within the towns. For some, this was limited. For others, the towns benefited greatly. It would not be appropriate to exclude the input made by the wives and families of the exhibitors, so a separate list was created to show this. From the interviews, it was possible to work out that the majority of the men saw themselves as Greek-Australians. Those who could speak for themselves told how they strove to integrate into the predominantly Anglo-Saxon populations of their towns. When opportunities arose to assist their communities, such as to give their theatres gratis for school speech days, they did so. When business opportunities presented themselves, they rose to the challenge.
Two more lists were constructed from the main list: number of years involved with cinema operation; year of death (if applicable). The former revealed a wide range, from one to 52 years. For the 66 exhibitors, their involvement in cinema exhibition totalled 1,130 years (an average of 17.1 years each). When one considers that millions of people were entertained in their cinemas over these years, then it is appropriate that their contribution to our social history be acknowledged.
The lists thus provided a framework around which discussion could take place.
What has been assembled in this thesis has not been attempted before, the examination of the integration of a group from a single ethnic background and that group's contribution to cinema exhibition which was the major pre-television medium. To date, only limited work has been achieved on the contribution by British-Australians to the latter aspect, and this group formed the large majority of exhibitors. We do not possess easily identifiable Greek landmarks and one of the outcomes of this thesis is to identify a number of picture theatres as deserving of recognition for their social, cultural, technological and architectural merit and, more importantly, for their Greek connection. It is the latter reason that, in this age of multiculturalism, the necessity to have ethnic landmarks within our communities becomes more pressing. The pre-war Greek contribution to this state should be acknowledged more broadly than it has been. Official recognition of the suggested buildings as Hellenic landmarks would ensure their maintenance as reminders of those Greek men who, having migrated here many years ago, integrated into British-Australian society and built these "Parthenons Down Under".
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