GREEKS IN TASMANIA

Our proud history. From Greece to Australia.
Words and research by Helen Kalis (1936 - 2017)
compiled and shared by her grandson Andrew McMaster

THE EARLY YEARS

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Trifon Kelestioglou, a licensed victualler (alcohol merchant) aged 28, was naturalised in Hobart in 1878, and may have been the first Greek to settle in Tasmania. Athanasius Kaparatos was the first Greek in Launceston, arriving in 1884. He worked for thirty years as a wharf labourer, and was awarded a medal for saving a number of people from drowning in the Tamar. He later opened the Continental Café.

Like Athanasius, many early Greeks opened cafés. Grigorios Kasimatis (Gregory Casimaty) was probably the first to settle permanently in Hobart, in 1914. He established the Britannia Café, and with his brothers started Casimaty Bros Fish Shop in about 1918. In 1930, when George Haros arrived from Greece, there were fourteen Greeks in Hobart. In 1936 George opened the Green Gate Milk Bar, and began to manufacture his invention, the Haros boiler, which has been exported Australia-wide and overseas.

In the 1916 Secret Census the noted historian Hugh Gilchrist stated there were 7 Greeks residing in Tasmania; 5 in Hobart and 2 in Launceston. By 1931 there were 14 Greeks including including children, all were members of two families. 

​In the late 1940’s the Greek Community was relatively small numbering about 100 people.Greek families travelled to Sydney and Melbourne to christen their children as there was no Greek church at this point in time.There were occasions when a Greek Orthodox priest was brought from Melbourne to perform weddings and christenings that were held at Holy Trinity, North Hobart,and at St. David’s Cathedral. On one occasion, six weddings took place on the same day.

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Britannia Cafe, Elizabeth St Hobart c1920 
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The Mercury Mon 26 Oct 1953

THE FORMATION OF THE HELLENIC ASSOCIATION

Post-war migration saw the major increase in the Greek community. Many were brought out as assisted migrants to work at Hydro-Electric Commission power stations. On the 26th of October 1953 the Hellenic Association of Tasmania was formed, with Gregory Casimaty as president; a school, hall, club and welfare centre were established; and the Olympia soccer club was also a focus. The Launceston Greek Community was formed in the early 1960s. The aim of the association was the fostering of cultural and social relations between the Australian public and members of the association.

Most Greek people have been self-employed. Many bought small grocery shops and ran corner stores. Most of the shareholders of Saveway Foods, a grocery warehouse (1970–88), were Greek. Some Greeks moved on to property development and other business ventures. Hundreds of Greeks and their descendants now play an important role in the Tasmanian economy and community life.

FUNDRAISING

The first priority for the committee was to fund raise in order to build a church alongside the hall. Dances were held at the Continental Ballroom in Macquarie Street, the RSL clubrooms at New Norfolk and Macquarie Street, Hobart, The Burgundy at Sandy Bay Beach, the Blue Moon in Moonah and the Polish Hall in New town. On several occasions a bus load of Greek workers from the Hydro camps attended the dances. In the early days there were four single girls to dance with all the men. In later years ferry picnics to Bruny Island were a yearly occurrence. The church service was held onboard during the trip

A PLACE OF OUR OWN

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St Georges Orthodox Church, Antil St (2021)

Building a church of their own was a major aim of the Hellenic Association of Tasmania (1953). A hall was built to generate income to finance the building of a church alongside at a later date.  After successful fundraising, the foundation stone of St George's Church of the Martyr in Hobart was laid on 25 March 1957, Greece's Independence Day, and the church was built on land donated by Gregory, Anthony and Basil Casimaty. Labouring and concreting was done by volunteers from the community.

The official opening of the hall was held on 5 December 1957 followed by a reception. The oldest Greek, Mr George Casimaty aged 95 cut the ribbon. Father Antonios Adamantidis, an Orthodox Priest visited Hobart late in 1957 and conducted a church service in the hall.

 

The hall was later converted into a church in 1958. Archmandritis Damianos Karavanatzis was appointed as Parish Priest to the Church in June 1958. The first services held at the church include the christening of Anneza Castrisios, daughter of Ilias (d) and Litsa Castrisios on 8 June 1958. The first wedding was Stelios Keskeridis (d) to Maria Papazoglou of Launceston on 15 June 1958. And the first funeral was for John Karagianis on 20 January 1959, aged 25. 

 

The distinctive building with its hemispherical dome on an octagonal tower, with blue glass windows, is situated at Antill Street, South Hobart. In 1992 a Greek Orthodox Church, the Dormition of Our Lady, was built in South Launceston beside the Greek Orthodox Community Hall.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

In the early years of settlement into Tasmanian life, there prevailed an overwhelming spirit of mutual support between the members of the community. Litsa Castrisios’ wedding dress was loaned to Marika Klonaris, Katina Aspradakis, Sofia Best and Voula Meleti, Many brides were dressed at the home of Manty Casimaty. For wedding receptions family and friends assisted with the cooking and decorating the venue often over an entire week. The altar boy’s robes and altar cloths were made at various times over the years by ladies from the community.

POST WORLD WAR II MIGRATION

During the 1950s many Greeks came to Tasmania under the assisted passage scheme, 'DEME'. They were the Greek ‘tenpounders’ who left their country of birth after the ravages of the war and subsequent civil war in Greece. They came to find a better way of life bringing ‘half a suitcase of clothes’.

 

Family reunion also played an important role in their decision to settle in Tasmania as is evident owing to the fact that there is a concentration of people from some areas of Greece and a total lack from other towns and islands. Some started their Australian life at the Bonegilla migrant camp near Wodonga in Victoria and were taken to Queensland to cut sugar cane.

 

When this seasonal work ended some found employment in Geelong at the Harvester International Plant. Others were brought to Tasmania to work for the Hydro Electric scheme at Bronte Park and Tarraleah. When the works were completed many Greeks left for the mainland, however a considerable number decided to stay and still reside in Hobart.

 

Initially they found employment at the IXL jam factory, the Electrolytic Zinc Company, Cadbury’s and the Hobart City Council. When they became established, many opened the ‘corner store’ and were self employed. SavewayFoods, a grocery warehouse, was established in 1970. It was financed by shareholders, the majority of whom were Greek. They also served as elected directors of the board. During its 18 years of operation three Greeks numbered amongst its managers–Emmanuel Klonaris, Canellos Loucopoulos and Alex Aslanis.

AN EXPANDED OPERATION

The Greek Community purchased a block of land in Risdon Road, with the intention to build another hall. It was part of what is now the Kmart complex. In July 1969 a proposal was put forward that this piece of real estate be exchanged for the old Maidstone Guest House in Federal Street, North Hobart. Under the presidency of Jim Fiotakis drawings were made to extend the existing Guest House into a social hall but it was never finalised. In 1971 a new committee was installed and the proposition to extend was scrapped.

 

A plan was approved by the Hobart City Council for a function hall with a capacity of 500 including a commercial kitchen, an allocated area for dancing, and a stage. In 1973 the foundation stone was laid, and work began on the hall and the car park underneath. The guest rooms at the building in front were converted into offices, a board room, a kafenio, and a function room for smaller occasions. The Hellenic House we know today has seen dances, fairs, weddings, theatre, school functions, and meetings of all occasion

Upon purchase of 67 Federal Street, the cottage on the corner of Federal and Argyle Streets was renovated by the Tasmanian Government. It was officially opened by the Minister for Education, Harry Holgate on the 27th of January 1980. The Greek School from that moment forward was known as the Centre for Hellenic Cultural Studies. The Education Department of Tasmania employed. Mr Nicholas Tangasin1980, a qualified teacher from Melbourne who taught in Hobart for three years. He was assisted by Mrs. Roza Roussos who had been a member of staff since 1976, and after Mr. Tangas departure acting Headmistress, and is still currently employed at the school. 

The 67 Federal Street complex has provided much-needed meeting place for the Greek Community of Tasmania to come together and celebrate our rich heritage, and will for generations to come. 

THE GREEK COMMUNITY TODAY

From humble beginnings, the Greek Community has grown and is now a vibrant force that encompasses all aspects of life in Tasmania. Over the years our members have volunteered their time to ensure the success of various events and initiatives over the calendar year. We encourage you to explore and connect with our community. 

"The skills that have been handed to the first generation Greek born Tasmanians by their parents must be preserved and taught to the next generation–such as prosforo (church bread) and artos .koliva (the wheat served at memorial services) how to dye red eggs and make Tsourekia ( Easter bread) lenten foods, Vasilopita ( the New Years cake) and the regional recipes that have been handed down from the previous generation, how to make the crosses for Palm Sunday. The method for the production of sweets, biscuits, pies and speciality foods that are showcased for the broader Tasmanian community at the Estia Festival.

 

The future of the Greek Community is in their hands."

Helen Kalis (2013) 

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

The Executive Committee of the Greek Orthodox Church and Society of St George Hobart has many umbrella organisations under is auspices, namely:

The St Georges Church Committee

The Centre for Hellenic Cultural Studies

The Hellenic Women's and Philoptohos Association

The Hellenic Community and Welfare Association

The Greek Senior Citizens Association 

and The Estia Greek Festival of Hobart

The Committee's works ensure the strategic direction and preservation of our community in Hobart. Their contributions over the years ensure the ongoing operation of the communities events and facilities.

CENTRE FOR CULTURAL AND HELLENIC STUDIES

Since it's opening, the Centre for Cultural and Hellenic Studies has offered language classes to all ages to Greeks and non-Greeks. Current classes run of an evening and can cater to any experience level, from fluent speakers to beginners interested in learning the language. Anyone interested is encouraged to enquire about how we can help you learn our language!

ESTIA GREEK FESTIVAL

The inagural Estia Greek Festival began in 1994 with Con Tsamasirros as the Chairman. Now 28 years running, the aims is to present the unique Greek-Australian culture, heritage and tradition to the wider community. Develop, foster and new and upcoming Australian artists. The word ESTIA means home or focus and widely interpreted as hospitality. Every year, Federal Street in North Hobart is transformed for a day into a Greek village in front of the heart of the Hellenic Hall of the Community. The festival has quickly become one of Hobart's landmark cultural events. 

THE HELLENIC WOMEN’S AND PHILOPTOHOS ASSOCIATION

Formed in 1974 during a time when women could not serve on the community committee (revised in 1983 to include women). Their contributions over the years have been described as the "right hand" of the community. Their fundraising has helped purchase benches for the kitchen, stage curtains and National costumes just to name a few. This group of incredible women have, and continue to work tirelessly for our community. Their work is integral and never goes unnoticed. 

THE HELLENIC COMMUNITY WELFARE OF ST. GEORGE

Set up in 1997, formed to create a meeting place for the elderly to have lunch fortnighly. It is inclusive and open to all Tasmanian's. It also provides a forum where the Tasmanian Government can bring new services to their attention and advise about health and other issues. The lunch is made possible by a group of volunteers from the community who work in the purchasing, preparing and coordinating of meets. 

HELLENIC DANCERS OF HOBART

The Hellenic Dancers of Hobart meet every Friday evening for a beginners, junior and advanced class. The classes are a chance for people to get together and learn the National dances, often shown at events and often competing interstate. 

GREEK SENIOR CITIZENS 

Formed in 1997, under the presidency of Con Styl and the help of John Anagnostis. The seniors have enjoyed many interesting day, overnight and interstate bus trips, picnics, afternoon teas and lunches. Trips have included Hong Kong, Stanley, Adelaide, Byron Bay. In 2011 the seniors donated 100 Liturgy book and 70 Little Golden Children books to St. Georges Greek Orthodox Church. They have also presented encouragement prizes to Greek School students.

We encourage you to get involved and engage with our rich culture and heritage.