Katerina Nikolia, from Kymi, was still a young girl when she made the journey to Australia on 7 May, 1948, to be reunited with her father who had migrated to the country eleven years earlier.
Ten years later, on the exact same date in 1958, Asian student Robert Oon, arrived in the country to continue his medical studies and pursue a career in biochemistry.
At the time, Ms Nikolia and Mr Oon were oblivious to what the future held for them.
Falling in Love
Ms Nikolia’s uncle, Angelo, owned a fish-and-chip shop in Adelaide where the young girl used to work. Her presence drew a number of young Greek boys who hoped to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Greek shop assistant, but Ms Nikolia was simply not interested in romance.
After settling in Adelaide, Mr Oon also became a regular at the fish-and-chip and became friends with its proprietor. In passing conversation, the biomedical student mentioned that he was boarding at nearby lodgings where boarding fees were too expensive and food was scarce. Angelo kindly suggested that the young man board with his other sister, Angela, and her husband, who happened to be looking for boarders as another source of income.
Mr Oon moved into Angela’s house and continued to visit the fish and chip shop to see his friend. Soon enough, a budding romance began and Ms Nikolia and Mr Oon started dating in secret. It was a matter of time before the couple fell in love.
You are not marrying a ‘kinezo’
When Ms Nikolia’s family found out about the relationship, they tried to break the young couple up.
Mr Oon moved out of the aunt’s house as he didn’t want to cause more trouble for the family, but he continued to secretly see Ms Nikolia every Sunday.
“They were two young people in love, but times were different back then,” Alison Papadopoulos, the couple’s youngest daughter, told Neos Kosmos. “And for a Greek girl to date an Asian was frowned upon and certainly considered ‘taboo’ within the Greek community.”
Despite her family’s objections, Ms Nikolia knew that Mr Oon was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
At the same time, the young student, who had lost his father at a young age, was also having a hard time dealing with his mother’s discontent. In a series of letters sent to him from Singapore, she made it clear that she did not welcome the idea of him dating a Greek girl, She sternly asked him to complete his studies and return to Singapore.
“I think, at the time, my grandmother was in a way holding my mother responsible for her son’s change of heart and desire to stay permanently in Australia,” Ms Papadopoulos said.
READ MORE: Cross-cultural love and Christmas tidings
‘Change of heart’
Struggling to come to terms with their daughter’s decision to choose a ‘kinezo’ as a life partner, Ms Nikolia’s parents felt ashamed and tried to convince their daughter to meet and marry a Greek man instead.
The young couple succumbed to the pressure and split up for a while but got back together a few months later. This time, they were even more in love and determined to take their relationship to the next level.
Mr Oon wanted Ms Nikolia to be his wife and he kept telling her to stay positive and have faith in their love.
After five years, Ms Nikolia’s father couldn’t cope seeing his daughter suffering and agreed to have Mr Oon come over to the house to meet the family.
“It was mainly my grandmother who was against this relationship but after meeting my father, my pappou saw the great man my father was and gave his blessing to my mum.”
Ms Nikolia was thrilled to get engaged to Mr Oon but was adamant that the wedding take place in a Greek Orthodox church as she didn’t want to cause her parents any more heartache.
The couple were joined in holy matrimony at St George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Hobart on 5 July, 1964, in the presence of Ms Nikolia’s parents and their best man.
Since then, they have both devoted themselves to each other and their three children. They have also done all they could to support and understand each other’s culture and traditions.
Mr Oon has learned to speak Greek and can converse with Ms Nikolia’s parents while Katerina, a stay-at-home mum, has mastered the art of Asian cuisine.
All three of the children were christened in the Greek Orthodox church.
The first holiday to Greece
In 1987, the family went on their first holiday to Greece.
After visiting the Monastery of St Nektarios in Aegina, the 48-year-old father of three decided to join the Greek Orthodox religion.
“To this day I am still of two minds as to why my father renounced his Catholic faith to embrace Orthodoxy. Sometimes I think he did it for us, his children, other times I think the spirituality of the Monastery, and his discussion with one of the monks there, were the reason behind his decision,” Ms Papadopoulos said.
She states that although things ran smoothly for the Greek-Asian family at home, she and her two siblings often fell victims to bullying at school due to their mixed, non-Australian origin.
“Back then, there was racism against the Greeks and against the Asians so looking Asian while also being Greek was certainly an interesting combination that resulted in us being an easy target. Thankfully, we grew up in such a loving and accepting family environment, that we didn’t really care how others saw us and what they thought of us,” she said.
Alison is proud of her mixed heritage and feels lucky to be able to speak Greek, visit the country and enjoy the positive aspects of her two cultures and civilisations which have brought so much wisdom to the world and offered so much to humanity.
“Above all, I am extremely proud of my parents who maintained a loving and respectful relationship between them throughout the years,” she said.
“At the end of the day, they were two people who fell in love and are now counting over half a century together. To me, this is truly remarkable.”