GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: The Pappas Brothers find their Ithaca

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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.

Chris and Nicholas Pappas (Papadopoulos)

The process of migration, settlement and perhaps even more so, remigration, enforces difficult challenges encompassing material well being, personal and family relationships, as well as perceptions of self and cultural belonging. Brothers, Chris and Nicholas Pappas, both born on Ithaca in the last decade of the 19th century, provide personal insights into the issues confronted.

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Chris Pappas (Papadopoulos) Newcastle, NSW, 1912 and 1986. Contemporary photo © Effy Alexakis

Chris was born in 1898 in Stavros, Ithaca, and came to Australia in 1911. He then worked in Greek cafés in both Newcastle and Melbourne. The earlier photo was taken not long after his arrival, aged fourteen — ‘when I had saved some money I bought these clothes’. But appearances were not what they seemed:

‘I had an uncle in Newcastle, and he had a shop [a café] in Hunter Street... Most of the Greeks had relatives to work for them then. My family didn’t want me to leave [Greece to go to Australia to work for my uncle]... those days the “slavery market”, relatives wanted someone to work for them who they trusted. The police were called in when my parents tried to stop me leaving.’

Quite a substantial number of young Greek boys (ranging in age from ten to their mid-teens) were brought out from Greece during the first-half of the twentieth century to work in Greek cafés, usually by relatives. Some, like Chris Pappas, were exploited. The initial café experiences for young Greek boys were very much a lottery, the result of which was heavily dependent upon the attitude of their sponsors. Suffering under such a peonage system had also been experienced by young Greek males in America’s food-catering enterprises.

Overcoming his initial personal hardships, by 1935 Chris was in a position to purchase – with another Ithacan, Jerry Comino – Red Funnel Fisheries, a local frozen food business that was based in Newcastle. Under their direction, the enterprise grew from a small four-man operation into a major supplier of both Greek and non-Greek owned catering business along the New South Wales coast and inland. During World War II the business ‘supplied fourteen out of sixteen Greek ships which had been hired by the Australian government to move coal and iron ore’. Chris remained with the business until the 1960s and Jerry Comino until the early 1980s. Despite his professional and financial success, Chris’ retirement was not what he had hoped for:

‘My intention was to go to Greece to finish my years, but I have no partner [Chris’ wife, Poppy (Penelope)] had passed away]… Our program, with my wife, was to stay there… I’m not happy. My son is with me. He’s not married. That’s my bad luck too. It’s different without a woman around.’

Chris passed away in 1989.


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Nicholas Pappas (Papadopoulos) Stavros, Ithaca, 1990. Photo © Effy Alexakis

Born in Stravros in 1895, Nicholas initially migrated to South Africa in 1910 at the age of fifteen. Two years later he joined his brother Chris in Australia who was working for their uncle in Newcastle. Nicholas eventually returned to Greece to marry, but his wife didn’t want to live in Australia – ‘she was satisfied here [in Ithaca]’. In 1960, after doing a number of trips back and forth between Greece and Australia, Nicholas finally came back to Ithaca for good. For Nicholas however, Australia had become a significant part of his sense of identity and belonging:

‘I love Australia, I still do… If I were young again, I would emigrate again… I’m a Greek-Australian’.


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Ioanna Papadopoulos (née Raftopoulos) and her family. Ithaca, Greece, c.1902

Nicholas is standing on the right and his younger brother Chris is on the left.
Their sister, Anjelica, is standing below Chris. The young woman standing on the right is unidentified.


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