The uncrowned Greek Australian king of the West
The first Qantas planes were named after Greek mythological figures. We look at how one man Hellenised Australia’s flying icon
On 14 June 1965, people poured into the Hotel Corones in Charleville, Queensland.
"The barmaids were run off their feet, the telephones ran hot and the local telegraph boy nearly wore out his bike".
Everyone was celebrating as Harry Corones (or "Poppa" to all who knew him) had been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for "his remarkable services to the people of Western Queensland".
Harry (Haralambos) Corones was born in the village of Frylingianika, Kythera on 17 September 1883 to Panayiotis Coroneos, a fisherman, and his wife Stamatia, a member of the large extended Frylingos family.
After some years of basic education and two years' military service as a first-aid-orderly, the family agreed that Harry should emigrate as there were few opportunities on the island.
So on 10 August 1907, without knowing any English and with his twelve-year-old nephew Demetrios (Jim), he landed in Sydney for a better life.
Harry's immediate concern was to find work. Leaving Jim to look after the luggage, he went to find a Kytherian, Mr Aroney, who gave him work in his fish shop. It was a hard life in Sydney with Harry working extremely long hours cleaning fish and opening oysters, with Jim working there on the weekends.
After a year, Harry and Jim moved to Brisbane where there were relatives from his mother's side.
The Frylingos (Freeleagus) brothers gave Harry a job in their oyster saloon. Harry was determined to start his own business and decided on Charleville, an inland town in southwest Queensland, 670 kilometres from Brisbane where an empty cafe, owned by a Greek named Theo Comino, was for sale. With a loan from the Freeleagus brothers, Harry bought the cafe and in l909, he and Jim set off for Charleville which was a remote, hot and dusty thriving town with saw mills, a meatworks and a few small factories.
It was an important rail terminal and a main stopping point for bullock trains, camel caravans, and the many drovers who were moving stock.
Harry's cafe needed work, but he offered good service, good food and warm hospitality. He soon went into partnership with a fellow-Greek, Megalocominos, in a cafe where he met Paddy Cryan, a salesman from a Brisbane brewery. Paddy urged Harry to take on the lease of the vacant Hotel Charleville. He was reluctant because he had no hotel experience and little money, but Cryan assured him that the brewery would finance itself and train him in the business.
On 7 October 1912 Harry signed a five-year lease at £6 per week, marking the beginning of his career as a hotelier - the first Greek hotelier in Australia.
In 1914, Harry married Eftyhia Phocas in Sydney, but his joy was mixed with misfortune, for in his absence the hotel burnt down. He returned to Charleville with his new wife and rebuilt the hotel, with a ten-year lease at £540 per year.
The new hotel was bigger and more luxurious but not without its unusual aspects. For example, boundary riders used to ride their horses into the bar and at times there would be almost as many horses as people, until Harry changed the doors making them too narrow for a horse and rider to pass through!
In 1915 with three Australians, Harry opened Charleville's first cinema, the Excelsior, at the rear of the hotel. They brought silent movies, vaudeville acts from Sydney and Brisbane, and an electric lighting plant Harry had imported from London - an amazing innovation for the outback in those days.
In June he took a ten-year lease on the Paris Cafe in the same block, which he eventually sub-let to his cousin Peter Locos in 1921.
Over the years Harry's hard work and popularity were recognised by invitations to serve on the Charleville Hospital Board, the Ambulance Centre Committee and the Fire Brigade Board, yet he wanted to do more to help end the town's isolation. His inspiration came in 1919 when, on a flight from England to Australia, Sir Keith and Sir Ross Smith made a landing at Charleville for fuel and repairs. Harry entertained the aviators while repairs were made.
The spectacle of a plane landing at Charleville fired Harry's imagination and he became passionately interested in Australia's aviation industry.
When Sir Hudson Fysh and others formed an airline named Qantas (Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services), several meetings were held in Harry's hotel. It was at one meeting that Harry suggested, inspired by the classical Greek mythology, they give the Greek names Perseus, Pegasus, Hermes, Atalanta, and Hippomenes to five of their first seven aircraft.
In 1920 Harry Corones became one of the original shareholders of the airline with one hundred one-pound shares. Qantas' first scheduled service was from Charleville to Cloncurry on 2 November 1922, and picnic hampers sent out to the planes became a regular part of Harry's life. Later in 1971 Sir Hudson Fysh wrote to Corones: "I want to see you again, great and long friend and supporter that you have been, and to recall some of the old times long passed when the world was younger, simpler, and you used to bring out the morning tea. Yes, Qantas' first caterer".
In 1921, Harry and Jim bought a single-storey wooden hotel for £2,935 in Quilpie a small rail terminal town with a few shops, police station, court house, small hospital and some houses, 210 kilometres to the west in opal country. Jim ran it and his brother, known as "young Harry", came over to join him.
After the Hotel Charleville lease ran out in 1924, Harry and Jim purchased the Norman Hotel, a ramshackle place from the 1890s. Harry had the prize-winning architect William Hodgen help him transform it into the Hotel Corones, the fulfilment of Harry's dreams. Using local labour, the grand hotel took five years to complete. 1929 proved to be a year of success and disappointment in Quilpie, however.
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