Groundbreaking Greeks: Tracing Greek Australians in the National Archives

Author: Enid Woodley

Early starters

Generally credited as being the first Greek to migrate to South Australia in 1842, Georgios Tramountanas showed true pioneering spirit when he moved to the sparsely-populated Eyre Peninsula in the late 1850s.

According to documents held in the Adelaide office of the National Archives, in 1878, after more than 20 years spent farming near Elliston, George applied to become a naturalised settler in the Province of South Australia – but as George North, not Georgios Tramountanas. This seemingly unrelated choice of surname shows how difficult it can be to track Greek family history because of the tendency of both officials and migrants to anglicise names – ‘Tramountanas’ roughly translates as a Greek northerly wind.

While George North stayed put in South Australia, others moved around. After arriving in Sydney in 1905, 15-year-old Grigorios Kasimatis (later known as Gregory Casimaty) tried his luck in Queensland and New South Wales before settling in Tasmania. Gregory established the Britannia Café in Elizabeth Street, Hobart in the early 1900s and followed this with many other successful business ventures. Known for his charity and benevolence – including providing Christmas dinner for 200 unemployed single men in the Depression years – Gregory Casimaty was recommended for inclusion in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list by his local member of Parliament, Adrian Gibson, in 1964.

As an established member of the Hobart community, Gregory Casimaty applied for a number of friends and relatives in Greece to migrate to Australia, one of whom was George Gabriel Haros.

Trading on talents

George Haros arrived in Australia in the 1930s and applied his inventiveness to producing an efficient way of heating water for tea and coffee in cafés like the Britannia.

While George Haros is probably best known for the invention and subsequent establishment of the Haros Boiler Company in 1939, he didn’t restrict his inventiveness to the catering industry. In 1942, the Army Inventions Directorate in Melbourne was informed that he designed a new anti-aircraft shell using two shell cases, the inner one of which was magnetised.

Another George – George Lucas Adamopoulos – also used his scientific skills to good effect and, together with Sydney merchant Gregory Dimitri Michal, patented certain chemical solutions and processes for use in the manufacture of mineral water.

Building up business

Like George Adamopoulos, Peter Michelides chose to build on his previous experience. After arriving in Perth in the early 1900s, he established a business manufacturing cigarettes at 248 Murray Street, in the central business district of the city.

His business flourished over the following 40 years and included the setting up of a factory. Over time, the packaging of Peter Michelides’ products changed, which can be viewed in a register of many fascinating labels put together and approved by the Customs and Excise Branch.

By 1940 the Commonwealth Investigation Service (CIS) – precursors to the Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – had started a dossier on Mr Michelides after receiving reports that he had been ‘full of admiration for Fascist Italy‘ on his return from an overseas trip in 1939. This dossier includes later correspondence about Peter Michelides’ 1954 appointment as the Western Australian Greek Consul, by which time the CIS changed its tune:

… he is a man of substance, a person of excellent repute and in these circumstances no objection is raised by this service to his appointment.

Sadly National Archives also has records describing the demise of Michelides Ltd, including films of its closing down sale in 1960 and the later sale of Peter Michelides’ home on Mounts Bay Road.

Another Greek who built up a business from scratch was Eustratios (Stratos) Haritos.

According to his naturalisation application, Stratos arrived as a single man in Darwin on the Mataram in 1915 at the age of 27. By 1923 he was married with four children aged 5 and under, and was living and working at the Darwin Salt Works. Haritos did well at the salt works and, according to property records held by the National Archives, was able to buy land in and around Darwin.

His property included a block of land on the corner of Daly and Cavenagh Streets, where he built a grocery store. This building was later requisitioned by the Commonwealth Government for use as an emergency post office following the destruction of the Darwin Post Office in the bombing of Darwin in 1942. While the rest of the Haritos family were evacuated from Darwin along with other civilians, George Haritos enlisted and remained in the Northern Territory with the Army.

Serving Australia

While George Haritos was Australian-born, many Greek-born men were also quick to sign up and serve Australia in times of war. Constantine Aroney, born in Cerigo and living in Melbourne, was involved in both World Wars, first enlisting in 1915 and serving at Gallipoli, France and Belgium as a private in the 24th Battalion. In October 1939, he enlisted in the Commonwealth Military Forces and seven months later he transferred to the 2nd Australian Imperial Forces and the Headquarters of the 1st Australian Corps, serving in Palestine, North Africa, Greece, Crete and Syria.

While serving in Greece, Driver Aroney’s cultural background proved extremely valuable. Following the debacle on mainland Greece, when the Allied forces were overrun by the German Army, Aroney managed to escape to Crete in an open boat, taking 23 other soldiers with him, whom he cared for with the help of Greeks on Crete – a heroic feat for which he was awarded the British Empire Medal.

Like Constantine Aroney, Frank Notaras was also born in Cerigo and served for Australia in World War II, but he really made his mark in the restaurant industry in Canberra after the war.

Franziskos, or Francois, Emmanuel Notaras travelled from Greece on the Esperance Bay arriving in Sydney in March 1938. After settling first in Queanbeyan, and following a stint in the Army, Frank Notaras moved to Canberra. There he became the proprietor of the Liberty Café in Franklin Street, Manuka and his business went from strength to strength.

Family concerns

The strength of many Greek businesses in Australia was often due to family involvement. The Andronicus Brothers began trading in New South Wales in the early 1900s selling coffee and chocolates, and over the years the six siblings, and later two of their sons, built up a very successful business, which certainly lived up to their 1920 trademark 'AB – Always Best'.

The 1920s also saw the Morris Brothers’ Fish Café come into its own. Established by the Moraitis family at 38 Hindley Street, Adelaide, the café was run by Spyridon (Speros), Dionisio (Dennis), Nicolas, Kostas, Panayiotis (Peter) and Eustratios (Stratos), who all worked hard over the years to make it a popular spot. The changes in the partnership in the late 1930s and 1940s as some family members retired or took a different role in the business are reflected in the trading results file kept by the Deputy Prices Commissioner.

When Dennis Moraitis first arrived in Adelaide in 1929, he, like many other Greeks from the Italian-controlled Dodecanese Islands, was listed as an Italian – another pitfall to be aware of when searching for Greek family records.

That he was technically considered an Italian subject may well have contributed to Dennis Moraitis’s decision to play an active role in the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia. In a case file compiled by the Investigation Branch, Dennis was reported to be a councillor for the community in 1945 while Spyros, Nicolaos and Constantinos were listed as subscribed members.

At the same time Speros’ son Stratos was also making his name, but in a different sphere – he composed a number of songs, including Going out to Dine (perhaps to help advertise the family business?), The House Wife‘ and Your Lovely Blue Eyes.

After World War II, the Paspaley family began to make their mark in the pearling industry in the north of Australia. Theodosis Michael Paspalis had brought his family from Greece in 1919, and by the 1950s several of his children were leaders in the pearling industry, which Theodosis had first embraced in Port Hedland, Western Australia. His son Nicholas branched out from the pearl-lugging side of the business and established a pearl culture farm on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory, bringing in Japanese workers and importing specialised vessels and equipment.

Trail-blazing women

Mary Dakas née Paspalis also followed in her father Theodosis’s footsteps – although the path was far from easy. Following her husband’s death in an accident in 1948, Mary became a successful pearl lugger operator in Broome, no doubt using her knowledge and experiences of life in a pearling family.

Like her brother, Mary chose to use overseas specialists – mainly from China and Hong Kong – to help with her business, and the Archives’ collection includes many sponsorship files from the 1950s documenting the arrival of these workers.

Another Mary who has become one of the most recognised Greek women in Australia is Mary Kostakidis, a Special Broadcasting Service television journalist and news presenter based in Sydney. As a high-profile Greek migrant, Mary has been involved in several national immigration conferences over the 1990s. She also features in the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs’ photographic collection, which is held in the National Archives.

Gifted Greeks

Also prominent in this photographic archive is George Samios, the manager of the Australian wrestling team at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968. George was born in Kythera, Greece in 1916 and migrated to Western Australia when he was only 14. After settling in Australia, he developed an interest in wrestling and went on to win a number of state championships in the 1930s.

When World War II broke out, George Samios enlisted in the Army and in 1942 served for a time with the Western Command Physical and Recreation Training School – presumably putting his wrestling skills to good use!

Another talented Greek, Nicholas Lianos, who performed as a singer in New South Wales under his stage name Nick Leenos in the 1920s and 1930s, also composed his own ‘hit‘ song, Goodbye My Love, and was quick to register it for copyright.

Collection references

How to find records about family members

If members of your family migrated to Australia during the twentieth century, the National Archives will probably hold their migration records, as well as records documenting their other activities, including:

  • service for Australia in World War I or World War II
  • naturalisation as Australian citizens
  • working for the Australian government – perhaps in a post office or as a Customs officer – or selling land to it
  • applying to patent their inventions, registering their trademarks or copyrighting their creative work

To find these records, you should first do a keyword search on RecordSearch, the National Archives’ online records database, which is available on the Archives’ website (www.naa.gov.au).

Use variations of the surname of the family you wish to find records on.

Remember that names on official records may not necessarily be spelled as you expect, so try the following search techniques:

  • substitute 'c' for 'k', 'i' for 'y', and so on
  • think of possible English alternatives for names, eg 'Miller' for 'Miliotis', 'Peter' for 'Panayiotis'
  • end surnames with a different declension, eg 'es' or 'as' instead of 'is' (as in for 'Paspali'‘, 'Paspalis', 'Paspalas' or 'Paspaley')

As many war service record entries on RecordSearch list place of birth, you might also like to try a keyword search using the names of Greek towns or islands. You can also do keyword searches using the names of any businesses or organisations with which your relative was involved.

Once you have identified a record in the National Archives collection, you can view it in the relevant reading room or, if it is digitised, online through RecordSearch. Viewing the records is free, but charges apply for ordering copies.

To help those seeking their family's migration records, the Archives has recently introduced the Making Australia Home service, providing documents in a keepsake folder for $25.00. A brochure written in Greek explaining this service and including an application form is available.

The National Archives also produces fact sheets and research guides on topics such as immigration records, and these can be a great help in pointing you in the right direction. Both fact sheets and guides can be downloaded for free from the National Archives website.

A selection of records about Greek Australians used in writing this article is listed below.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014