In some aspects, the story of Mario Georgaras, who passed away on Friday 5 October, 2018, aged 88, is similar to every migrant who came to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. What makes him extraordinary though, was that he left a promising career as a pilot – and he did this twice, both in Greece and in Australia.
Born in Chalkis, Evia on 8 May 1931, Mario Georgaras was the youngest child of Kosta and Katerina (nee Baou). He was only eight years old when he lost his father.
Times were hard, as Greece had been invaded by Germany during WWII and the family struggled to get by, so young Mario would hunt birds with his home-made slingshot and gather fruit and nuts to help put food on the table.
Despite the hardships, Mario was a fun loving, cheeky child, respected and popular amongst his peers who was determined to succeed. After finishing school, he pursued his dream of becoming a pilot for the Hellenic Air Force.
He was selected amongst 1500 applicants and was trained to be an exceptional pilot, flying Spitfires, Hell-Divers, Tiger Moths and Beaufort Bombers whilst breaking a number of records at his air force base.
In the meantime, the young man continued to send most of his income back home to help provide for his family, but soon realised that circumstances in post-war Greece were not improving and decided to seek better options and opportunities overseas.
“He joined a merchant ship, leaving his savings with his family so that they could buy a block of land to build their first house on,” says his son Con.
Mario began life as a sailor and travelled around the world for a while before he settled in Australia in 1959.
After working in factories, he wasn’t satisfied with the income and decided to try his hand at piloting again. He applied and easily qualified for his Australian pilot’s license, however, he was convinced by a number of Greek friends that the income of a professional fisherman far exceeded what he could earn as a pilot. So once again, he quit flying for the sea, pursuing a career in fishing.
His quest landed him in Bairds Bay, a remote village on the West Coast of South Australia where he learnt to fish under the guidance of his new friend Christopher Roussos.
“He eventually saved enough money to buy his first boat, which was a life boat from the sunken vessel (Yalata), and a block of land where he began building his first residence, a corrugated iron shack. He had not built before, but dad had grown to be a very independent, brave and resourceful person who was not afraid to try his hand at anything,” says Con.
During this time, Mario continued to send money back to Greece to support his family who eventually built a fine home with his assistance, but also made sure he kept in touch with his childhood friend Eleni Markou who he was trying to convince to come to Australia.
Eleni eventually arrived in Melbourne in January 1963 and the young couple married shortly after. Their first child Con was born in November 1963 and four years later the couple welcomed their daughter Katherine to the world.
Despite times being hard in the early days, settling in Australia became easier for Mario and Eleni with the help of the local Greek community who became their extended family.
“My father was a hard worker and although his first love was flying, he became an exceptional fisherman and a good provider for his family,” says Katherine.
Mario’s day of fishing started at 5am where he would pull 32 cray-pots at first light by hand until he purchased a winch.
The crayfish were delivered to the nearest town (Streaky Bay) which was 45 km away by dirt road.
Eleni often did the deliveries while her husband rested at midday for a couple of hours. Then he would go back out until the sun set to fish for whiting with handlines.
“My mother and father were a team. They were inseparable up until Mum passed away five years ago.”
Like most immigrants, the couple had every intention of returning to Greece but that never eventuated simply because Mario and Eleni decided that they could provide a better life for their children in Australia.
After losing his beloved wife, Mario retired from fishing at the age of 80.
“Our dad had a fulfilling life. He experienced extreme hardships, but his strength of character helped him develop the life skills that led him to create a better life for himself and his family. He overcame many challenges, experienced travel and adventure, made many good friends, had plenty of fun times with us and spent many great years with his soul-mate.
“He taught us the Greek way of life, how to work hard and how to be grateful for the goods life gifts us. The legacy he left behind is priceless,” concludes Katherine.