I was like Olive Oil. So thin

Perth community history 1950s

This amazingly brave and frank lady, born in the 1920s, spent the day with us telling us about her past.  Here is a glimpse of what she described.

"You could only come over to Australia if you were invited.  My father had a call from the government of Western Australia to come over in 1907.  He was a Cypriot and when the Turks took over he shot through from Cyprus to Greece, where he met my mother.  It was from there that they applied to come to Australia.  Australian authorities told my father ‘If you are not happy here we will pay for your fares to go back but you can never come here again’.  But my father stayed.  He earned on the mines with my oldest brother and sent money home to Greece.   They worked very hard.

We were very lucky.  Our family all lived happily.  We never had any problems or nothing.  Our family was quiet, no mischief, no out of order.  Clean life. 

In 1936, this Greek gentleman came to Northern Territory because he had a cousin there.  I was only 18.  He first saw me when I was taking my younger brother to the hospital to get a clearance to return to school after he had had the chicken pox.  In the houses in Northern Territory at that time the kitchen was separate.  My 2 brothers and I were washing up and heard people talking.  The boys said ‘Hey sis, they’re marrying you off.  That Greek man who came to Darwin, he’s asking dad for you to marry him’.  I asked my dad later why he was marrying me off.  He said ‘He can give you more than we can’.  Things at that time were very bad – you had to work very hard all the time.  It was not like it is now. 

My husband, he was a very good man, 10 years older than me.  He was a gentleman, he looked after me.  He knew I was only young.  I was like Olive Oil, I was so thin.  Only 6 stone.

I helped my husband in the shop down in Claremont, Perth.  Later I got a job at the asylum.  I had a very good job.  Because I had been in business with my husband I had a lot of clues.  I used to look after the matron and the deputy matrons.  I had to answer their phones.  I had 2 girls under me.  I was in charge. 

My 2 older brothers joined the world war from Darwin in the Northern Territory.  One was in Timor, the other in Waratah.  I was very good to them.  I used to send them things.  I used to buy a loaf of bread, or a double loaf.  Take the guts out of it.  Put a beer in it.  Or cigarettes.  Or soaps.  Or greek food I had made.  I mean we didn’t know where they were, we weren’t allowed to know; ‘Address unknown’.  We just sent the parcel to a standard army address.   My brothers always wrote to say they’d received the parcels.  When they came home from the war they weren’t the same people.  They had a very bad time.  They both came home sick. 

Later, there was tragedy in the family. 

The government in Northern Territory at that time would ship whole little houses on trucks to new land.  My youngest brother was a carpenter.  The chap he was working for always reminded them to turn the electricity off before shoving the houses off the truck.  But this time there’d been an accident and the electricity wasn’t turned off.  My brother was at the top of a house, a wire touched him and he was gone.  He made one somersault and he was burned.  He was only 24 years of age."