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.
Christina Panos (née Kakulas) – Family, Identity, Community
The process of migration and settlement enforces challenges encompassing material well-being, personal family and cross-generational relationships, as well as perceptions of self and cultural belonging. Christina (Chrissie) Panos migrated, settled and raised her family as proud Kastellorizians. Concomitantly, she involved herself in a wide range of activities for both her [Greek] community and the broader Australian society into which her family had settled.
Christina was born in on 20 July 1923 on the Dodecanese island of Kastellorizo, the second youngest child of Evangelos and Triantafilia (née Mallis) Kakulas; her siblings were Stavros (Steve), Michael, George and Nina (who was born in Australia). Her father and eldest brother Stavros had departed for Fremantle in Western Australia a few months before Christina’s birth.
“The rest of the family came out in October of 1926. The primary reason was that the old fashion ‘caique’ [a sailing vessel used predominately for trade by the Kastellorizians] just became obsolete and there wasn’t sufficient money on the island to make them into steamers. So, that cut the livelihood of the island… the population was 14,000 and suddenly the livelihood wasn’t there. So they started to think of migration. My father’s brother was already here [in Australia]. So he [my father] decided that he would migrate to Australia. It was a pattern [chain migration] in those years. The father, or the males in the family, went out first. If they found that it was good, then they brought out the rest of the family.”
Evangelos and Stavros initially hawked fruit and fish and later acquired a fruit barrow outside Fremantle Railway Station. In 1927, Christina’s sister Nina was born. Two years later the family bought a grocery shop in William Street, Northbridge, near Perth’s business centre. During the late 1930s another shop was acquired in the same street. The original retail store is still thriving today (operated by the next generation of the family) specialising in Greek olives, peeled tomatoes, nuts, dried fruits, dried beans, a variety of herbs and species and an extensive range of coffee beans that are roasted on site; a wholesale warehouse was acquired in the 1990s at Wellman Street, Perth.
Whilst establishing their material well-being, the Kakulas’ Kastellorizian-Greek identity was firmly maintained right from the start of their new life in Australia. Christina explains:
“We did get quite a bit of flack in those years… that is the truth! I think because of the strong family background we all came from, we weren’t subjugated by the Australians [British-Australians]. We held our own. Although we were in the Australian schools – and tension did exist – it was quite okay, because… there were Jews there, there were Italians there. All we had to do was gang together and then they [British-Australian children] had no chance. Oh, we certainly didn’t consider ourselves inferior. No way! We weren’t intimidated by them either. No, we stood our ground. No, I have never experienced the conflict of living in two separate communities – definitely not! Nor have my children. We were given a strong identity… When you’ve… got a father who says, ‘You are going to speak Greek in this house or else!’, that was a firm rule. So therefore we came up. We loved our Greek school, we loved our Greek school concerts. We did excel in the Australian school, we were Duxes… So therefore, what was the conflict? There was no conflict for us. But in the neighbourhood that we lived in, my mother didn’t turn around and say, ‘You are not going to play with the “Afstraleses” [Australians]’. They were all our friends, we all played together, we grew up together. So, therefore, there was no conflict.”
In 1947 Christina married Leffy Panos (Lefteris Pitsikas) – who was also of Kastellorizian heritage – in Perth. She emphasises that their children, Margaret and Barry (passed away in 2008)… definitely benefitted from her assertive sense of identity without cultural conflict.
“I gave them a strong identity. But, you can’t bring up the next generation on the principles of the one before. Their identity was so strong in them that many times Barry used to be called to go on debates, and to go on panels, and it used to come out loud and clear: ‘I’m a product of two upbringings. But I’m happy in the one and I’m happy in the other, because I’ve chosen what I want from here, and chosen what I want from there. That’s what I am’. My kids are well adjusted, thank goodness for that.”
Over her lifetime, Christina has been involved in numerous community and social welfare groups: a member of the Hellenic Women’s Association since 1956 (President from 1967-1969); founding member of the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1956; a member of the WA Aged Care Committee, 1973-1975; a member of the Multicultural Education Committee, 1976-1982; selected as spokesperson for the Galbally Report on Multiculturalism in 1977; involved with ‘Meals on Wheels’, 1959-1973; involved in the formation of the Hellenic Women’s Auxiliary in 1979 and served as Convenor; chosen to represent Oceania in 2008 by the Society for Hellenes Abroad.
Christina states, “In many ways I was a social worker – I raised money for anything that popped up… I hope I also raised awareness”.
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.
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