GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: MARY DAKAS - Australia's first female pearl lugger operator

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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.

Mary Dakas, who went into pearling in her own right in 1949, has been acknowledged as ‘most probably Australia’s only Greek female pearl lugger operator’.

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Mary Dakas (Courtesy Broome Historical Society and Museum 2006-349d)

Left with boats and a marine workshop in Fremantle after the accidental electrocution of her second husband, Christopher Dakas, in 1948, Mary quickly resolved to enter into the staunchly male domain of pearling. Her father’s experiences in the industry during the late 1910s and the early 1920s, coupled with the pearling activities of her brothers (Michael Paspalis and Nicholas Paspaley), and the potential commercial resurgence of the sea-based enterprise, possibly tempered her decision after the war (World War II). She was soon operating luggers out of both Broome and Port Hedland. As Mary explained:

‘I had four boats pearling. I started with the ‘Swallow’ in 1949. My son Manuel built the ‘Kestrel’ on the beach at Broome, and we added the ‘Jedda’ and one other to the fleet. We did well while the price of shell held up.’

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Mary Dakas (née Paspalis) and the Kalymnian crew of the pearl lugger, ‘Postboy’, pay their last respects to their chief diver, Hristos Kontoyiannis, tragically killed when his air hose became entangled whilst diving for pearl shell. Broome Cemetery, WA, c. 1956

When the pearl shell market plummeted in the very late 1950s, Mary was unable to sell her original lugger, ‘Swallow’, and it was left to rot on the beach amongst those vessels abandoned by other lugger operators – the sands were a graveyard for the last vestiges of a passing era. Mary died in 1985, aged seventy-six, and was buried at Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery. A Dakas Street in Broome commemorates this unique Greek-Australian pioneer pearler who has been described as ‘a fascinating lady… [of] very strong character… [because] to take over the running of her luggers as she did... was against all the conventions of a very class conscious Broome of the 40s and 50s’.


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Kalymnian pearl lugger crew aboard the ‘Postboy’ Waters off Broome, WA, 1956 (Photo courtesy Papadonakis family)

Photos:  Effy Alexakis
Historical Research: Leonard Janiszewski

© 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