The legacy left by Australia’s first wave of Greek migrants can be felt in all corners of the country. From the labour that went into building the iconic Sydney Opera House to the infamous cult-status milk bars, these migrants who came with nothing left their mark.
Today in a town in outback Queensland named Charleville, one of these legacies is being officially honoured, remembered and celebrated. The legacy is of Harry and Jimmy Corones, two penniless migrants from a fishing village in Kythera who found themselves in outback Queensland in 1909 and built a hotel empire from nothing.
Hotel Corones, the ‘Taj Mahal of the Warrego’, the first hotel to be owned by a Greek publican, will fittingly host the launch of the book “The Accidental Australians- Harry and Jimmy Corones,” lovingly written by Frances Harding who, along with her husband Gordon, were the owners of the hotel from 1985 to 2001.
The book chronicles almost a century of rich history. Harding conducted interviews with more than 60 sources, including Corones family members, hotel staff and patrons in order to recreate the vibrant stories captured within its pages. Thorough in her research, she has created a beautiful tribute to Corones, delving into the fine details of the family and their hotels, from the minutiae of different daily routines to the larger than life characters themselves, and tenderly imagining the Corones family, particularly Harry, reflecting on his life, his decisions and successes. Harding has masterfully created such a sense of intimacy in the way she relays the lives and experiences of Corones and his family that in many chapters of the book, it’s easy to feel as though you are eavesdropping on personal conversations. The book took almost two decades to complete and has poignantly been described as a love letter to Harry Corones.
According to Harding, the book was a project that seemed to choose her. “I have always been interested in stories. During our time as owners of the hotel, the incredible tale of Harry and Jimmy’s accidental arrival in Australia, then Charleville and all that came after got under my skin.”
As Harding and her husband set about slowly restoring Hotel Corones to its former glory over fifty years after it was built, she found herself connecting deeply with the rich history. “It wasn’t a case of if these walls could talk- they did talk, to me,” she says. “The more I learned about Harry, who became known as ‘Poppa’, and all the things he had done, the more I realised it wasn’t just a good story, it was an extraordinary story.
Harry, who was just 22-years-old when he set foot in Australia in 1907 with his 11-year-old nephew Jimmy, achieved many history-making firsts.
He was the first Greek to hold a hotel licence in Australia. His was the first hotel in the state (outside of Brisbane) to have ensuite bathrooms. He was also the first caterer for Qantas, and Charleville became the regular meal-stop for Qantas planes transporting passengers around Queensland. He was also awarded the MBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1965 for his enormous contribution to Queensland.
He got his nickname, ‘’Poppa’’ by the Americans, during the Second World War. At the time, Mrs. Harding says, Charleville was a major strategic base. Harry Corone’s hair was white at the time, so people affectionally called him ‘Pops’ which later turned into ‘Poppa.’
Construction of Hotel Corones began in 1924 and took five years to complete. It featured a grand silky oak staircase and custom-made furniture, marble floors, the biggest bar in the Southern Hemisphere, a Jazz Hall and a silver service restaurant. The opulent building was unlike anything Australia had ever seen and ran the length of an entire block in Charleville’s main street. It was the venue for balls and wedding receptions from the 1930s to the 1970s. It was said at the time that anything worth going to was at Corones.
By giving the hotel his name, Corones, he also bucked the status quo of giving hotels an English name. The hotel ballroom played host to royalty, rock stars and everyone in between. As Harding describes it, “Harry and Jimmy carved out a life for themselves that would rival any Hollywood blockbuster.”
“Harry didn’t just build a hotel,” says Harding. “He created a way of life that would never be seen again.”
The Accidental Australians- Harry and Jimmy Corones was launched at 10am in the foyer of Hotel Corones, Wills Street Charleville. Harry’s daughter, Nina Corones, who is 95 years old and lives in Toowoomba attended the event. Her nephew Harry Corones, son of her brother George, launched the book.
Copies of the book can be ordered on francesharding.com