GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: Bill Florence


Greek City Times is proud to present a weekly historical snapshot
from the archives of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek Australians’  national project
by photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski.


 

GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: Bill Florence 1
Bill Florence (Vasilios Florias) being welcomed to Australia Melbourne, Victoria, 1922.  (The photo of Bill Florence is also the masthead of this weekly section.)

We interviewed Bill Florence’s wife and daughter in 1997. Sadly we never met Bill. The historical image of ‘Welcome to Australia’ is symbolic of the migration process in many ways. Bill stoically stands as a well-dressed young man with his life ahead of him, he was in fact a teenager wearing his best clothes upon his arrival.

Bill arrived in Melbourne as a young teenager with the initial intention of working 5 years, saving some money, and then returning to Greece. He became part of the chain migration of his family to Australia.

His father Georgios Florias had journeyed to Australia in the mid-1870s, and eventually established a fruit stand business in Perth. He anglicised his surname to Florence because of racial prejudice. Georgios initially brought out his other two sons John (Ioannis) and Bob (Haralambos), and his daughter, Androniki. By the mid-1910s, John and Bob had become café proprietors in Melbourne. Bill’s maternal grandfather, Efstathios Raftopoulos, also migrated.

Bill entered the food-catering industry in Victoria working in a number of Greek cafés, including the Spot Sundae Parlor in Mildura, and the Golden Key Café at Red Cliffs. In 1939 he purchased a shop, Quality Luncheon Service, in Manchester Lane, off Collins Street, in Melbourne. Marrying, and raising a family, Bill ran the business until 1969.

Bill died in 1991, aged 84. He never returned to Greece.

Platrithia, the Ithacan village of his birth, is almost deserted due to migration. The few residents who remain utilise the numerous abandoned homes as shelters for goats and donkeys – the Florias family residence being amongst those put to such use.

 

GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: Bill Florence 2
Joyia and Anastasia Florence, Melbourne, Victoria, 1997. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Joyia (née Raftopoulos) was born in 1926 in the village of Kioni on Ithaca. She arrived in Melbourne in August 1949 and married Bill Florence soon after her arrival in Australia in 1949. They had three children: George, Anastasia and James.

Joyia: ‘My future mother-in-law saw me in Greece. She said, “If my son wants to get married, this is the girl”. She wrote to Bill, then I sent a photo. He sent the money out for me ¬– so he brought me to Australia…I was about twenty-three…not knowing anybody…though my mother had a brother here…Bill was forty-two, he had no hair. I said, “I don’t care, as long as he has brains”… I knew before I came here what it was like to migrate. My father had been in Romania for twenty years and I knew that when you leave your country, it’s not easy.’

Anastasia: ‘Our parents didn’t place unrealistic demands on us… as long as we worked to the best of our ability at school… We all did very well. We were very lucky that Dad decided to come to Australia, and that Mum came out, and that they had us, their children… Dad loved the island. He knew what had happened to his village. He was devastated by that. It was very sad for us that Dad didn’t ever go back.’

 

– by Leonard Janiszewski


ABOUT EFFY ALEXAKIS & LEONARD JANISZEWSKI

Since the early 1980s, Effy Alexakis, a photographer, along with historian researcher Leonard Janiszewski, have been travelling around Australia photographing and collecting stories. They have also photographed Greek-Australians in Greece and documented some amazing histories. The images and text provide personal, diverse and powerfully moving insights, about opportunities, hopes and challenges. Collectively, these stories provide personal perspectives of a diasporic Hellenic identity. Their archive encompasses photography, both historical and contemporary, taped interviews and literary materials.

They have published 3 books and numerous articles, and their projects are ongoing. The photographs have been widely exhibited throughout Australia and in Greece.


VISIT THEIR LATEST PROJECT:  Greek Cafés & Milk Bars of Australia | Facebook

 

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor