Greek matriarch reaches major milestone in a long life

She turned 99 this month and Eleni Xydias  has big progeny to sing her praises: Six children, 17 grandchildren, 28 greatgrandchildren, and three great great grandchildren and a several lifetimes of experience.

Vassiliki Flessas, the eldest of Mrs Xydias’s six children said her mother had been born in Melitsa, a village near Messinia in Peloponnisos. She was orphaned when she was eight years old. She met her husband, Ioannis (John) and married him in 1945. The couple lived and farmed in Soulinari in the Pylos area.

By the time they decided to leave for Australia, 10 years later in 1955, there were four children, the youngest was a 16-month baby. Mrs Flessas who was the eldest at 9 years old, remembers well the month-long journey on the Tasmania, the ship that brought them to Australia.

“Mother was seasick all the time,” said Mrs Flessas with a laugh. The family went on to Queensland where they stayed in a migrant hostel with other migrants from Greece, Italy and Germany. The camp was not close to any town and the authorities helped to ease anxieties that the Greek families felt by arranging a field trip to a Greek Orthodox church service in Townsville.

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Her father worked on a project which involved digging trenches and all he could see was a piece of sky above him. He hated it and contacted cousins in Melbourne to see if there were work opportunities in the city.

“We came to Melbourne just before Christmas and it was very cold. We had become used to the heat of Queensland,” said Mrs Flessas. Their first home in Melbourne was a four-bedroom house that the Xydias family shared with three other families.

“There were six of us in one bedroom. My parents slept on one double bed and the four of kids on another double bed,” she said.

The family saved enough money to buy a bungalow in Newport West. Once they paid it off, they bought the family home in Newport.

By this time, Mr Xydias had found work for Victoria Railways in North Williamstown and was to remain there until he retired in 1981. Two more children were born to the Xydias family and Mrs Xydias went to work to help the family.

“I used to go with her and line up outside the work places because I could speak better English than her and often we would be passed over.

“We even went to work picking fruit and vegetables for the Italian growers at Werribee where we were paid byweight of what we picked for them,” she said.

Mrs Xydias looked after her husband for the last 10 years of his life and continued to live in the family home for 10 years on her own before she consented for her children to step in and take care of her.

“The family has been looking after her for the past four years in her own home. Her independence is important to her.”

“Mum has never complained or carried on, she worked hard,” said Mrs Flessas. “She did whatever she could and nothing was for herself.”

Eleni Xydias holds a portrait within portraits of the generations of progeny who look up to her. She is holding a portrait of her eldest daughter, Vicky, granddaughter Katie, and her great granddaughters Kikki and Mia.
The late Ioannis Xydias, left, with Mrs Xydias and the three of their grandchildren in Australia.
Mrs Xydias enjoying a cruise with eldest daughter Vicky and granddaughter Evvie.