Greek school teacher Stamatia Kyratzis. (1928-2021) was lovingly known to her Greek Australian students as Thia Toula even though she was no one’s real aunt.
The location of her class was held in various Anglican and Catholic church halls throughout Esternwick and Gardenvale as there was no Greek church in close proximity. Many of these churches and their halls have since been purchased by the Jewish community and converted into Jewish schools.
The Greek parents in these suburbs banded together at one time hoping to raise enough to buy and retain the Greek school at a permanent location but they were outbidded. And so students faithfully followed Thia Toula wherever she could establish herself after initially starting with only a few students in her home.
The following letter was collectively written by her ex-students:
I recently attended the funeral of a beloved Greek school teacher of many years ago, but was saddened by the number of attendees due to fear of COVID-19.
If our current situation was any different, the church pews would’ve been filled to capacity with past students, all in their late 50s, chuckling over childhood memories of Saturday morning Greek School.
We pay respects to an exceptional woman whose passion was to instill the Greek language to a group of young and often mischievous children in the ’60s. She was not a trained teacher, but unlike most of our parents, fortunate to have attained some form of tertiary education in Greece, during difficult times and before the great migration of the ’50s.
Children from surrounding neighbourhoods were gathered and numbers quickly rose as word spread of ‘someone who will teach our children to speak and read the native tongue’. Appreciative and overworked parents assisted in any way possible, sourcing the old and musty parish halls, in which lessons were taught for little or no rent.
Memories of the early Greek school education of first generation Greek Australians and of new books freshly shipped from the Motherland. The ‘Alphabitario’ and the ‘Anagnostiko’ being eagerly unpacked by children giggling, ‘Mi mi to papi’ and ‘Ka ka i kota’.
To many of us, it was a place to run amuck. After all, it was Saturday, a non-school day and the best time to fool around, much to the dislike of our teacher.
Looking back, we now all appreciate her tireless commitment in introducing us to some semblance of grammar and the Greek word….
Thank you Thia Toula.
Past students from Elsternwick, Gardenvale, Elwood and Brighton