GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: MARY COUSTAS - Actress, Comedian and Television Personality

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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.

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Mary Coustas, actor, Sydney, NSW, 2004. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Mary (Maria) was born in Collingwood, Melbourne, in 1964. Her parents, Sterios
and Theofani (nee Efthimiathis), both from Florina in northern Greece, were
married in East Melbourne in 1960. Her mother migrated to Australia in 1958 and
her father in 1956. She has an older brother, Constantinos. Mary received an
Australian Film Industry Nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1988 for her
performance in Mull, but it is for her Greek-Australian character, ‘Effie’, that she is
best known.

‘My father was the most important figure in my life. He still plays an enormous
role even though he’s been dead for sixteen years… I was blessed [with] two
great parents. I had no desire to rebel against them. Instead, I communicated
what I needed in a way that was honest and in a way that was accepted by them.
So I was able to live the life I wanted to live without it being at a price for them…
I’m still waiting to get in trouble for things [from my parents] and I’m nearly forty…
there must be something in their DNA… that makes them so pioneering… My
Dad always wanted me to have boyfriends - “that’s part of being young” [he
would say]… He trusted my judgement. He said: “I don’t understand why you
haven’t got a boyfriend”… and this was when I was sixteen, seventeen,
eighteen… I think it [father’s attitude] was because we [my brother and I] were
so affected by his illness our whole lives… he was always about to die. I think he
felt guilty… that darkness that was looming all the time… My mother… was trying
to hold me back with a father that was so encouraging. I didn’t really have a great
relationship with my mother until my father died, only because I had such a great
relationship with him… As far I as I was concerned it worked out really well as my
brother and Mum were really close and me and my Dad were… He set me up in
many ways to do what I needed to do in the world… [but] he didn’t see any of my

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We featured Mary’s story in a travelling exhibition we produced called ‘In Her Own Image, Greek-Australian Women’ that was shown at the ACT Legislative Assembly in 2004. The photo exhibition highlighted the images and statements of past and present, both known and not so well known, Greek-Australian women. The stories of Greek-Australian women have often been neglected in the grand social narratives of Australia’s historical and contemporary development, yet their experiences offer significant and often diverse insights into major elements of this nation’s collective attitude towards women over almost the last two hundred years.

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Fani Coustas

We interviewed Mary’s mother Fani in 2018. She was visiting her son’s iconic retro milk bar, the Rowena Corner Store in Melbourne. ‘I married at eighteen, but my husband, he died very young. But we had a great, great life together the four of us. When he died, Mary was 23, Con was 26. I lost everything. It was very hard. I help my children as much as I can. I am here for them.’

A large scale photograph of Fani Coustas is on permanent display at the Australian Embassy in Athens.

Historical Research: Leonard Janiszewski
Photos: Effy Alexakis
© In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project Archives


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