At last the contribution of Greek migrants to Marrickville in Sydney has been recognised with a part of it being officially called “Little Greece”.
This is the suburb I grew up in during the ’60s and part of the ’70s. My schooling was there, in our street we were the first Greek family to live in it apart from a Greek Egyptian family that was already living there with whom we became close friends. Within a few years, there were about 20 families.
Every Saturday morning you’d hear Greek music blasting from some of the houses as wives cleaned the house or did the washing, or husbands did work about the house.
During the ’60s, before late night shopping was introduced, all shops closed at midday on a Saturday so nothing was open after that and during the morning you’d see a rush of Greek adults with a bundle of string bags heading for Newtown to do their grocery shopping getting the 428 from Addison Rd.
Back then, Newtown boasted two Coles department stores, Waltons and Brennans stores and a Flemings grocery supermarket plus a number of butchers and fish shops. Today there are no fish ‘n’ chip shops or butchers, everything is under one roof – so no more special service from those serving you as they all work for a corporation.
There were no cafes or Thai restaurants there then as there are today.
Walking along King Street back then you’d hear Greek being spoken everywhere.
Our family and many other Greeks rarely went to Marrickville Road for shopping as there wasn’t that much variety compared to Newtown but eventually it became the hub of shopping more so during the ’70s.
I still recall seeing a sign in a jewelry shop in Marrickville specifically advertising for Greek-speaking staff.
As the number of Greek immigrants flocked into Marrickville, the local RSL got busier until suddenly in about 1968 I think, they were in the papers for making the decision that only English could be spoken in the club. I recall it was a big story but don’t know how long that ruling lasted for. This was the first time I had witnessed some sort of ‘mass’ racism.
But there was also a growth of ‘kafeneia’ greek coffee shops where only men visited to meet friends, have a coffee, talk about the homeland, politics and or sport, plus for some to play cards to pass the time.
Unfortunately not all the men who went to the kafeneia went to play cards to pass the time but to gamble, many men became gambling addicts losing large amounts of money and their families becoming increasingly worried. The results were not happy with abuse, separations…
Marrickville also boasted a Greek nightclub as well at the top of Marrickville and Illawarra Road, and there were also nightclubs at the next door suburbs of Enmore and Newtown. All of these places were packed.
What else did the Greeks contribute to Marrickville? They replaced green lawns with concrete, no more mowing and dirt getting into the house….lol
They replaced beautiful lead light windows with easier sliding aluminium windows and got rid of the ornate California bungalow or Federation style ceilings and replaced them with a flat ceiling, that will make painting them easier…..
But many others found their back yards perfect for having vegetable gardens planting tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and of course getting rid of native trees and replacing these with olive, fig, and lemon trees. And suddenly you had all these magnificent back yards converted into veggie gardens.
Who remembers the Greek Cinema on Marrickville Road, though it didn’t last long as long as the one in Enmore, which I think is owned by the same Greek family and is a concert venue. I even saw the Rolling Stones there some years ago when they decided to do a small gig.
Marrickville also has a venue called The Factory which was converted from what used to be a steel factory called Malco, where my dad and godfather worked, so whenever I’ve gone to a concert there I know I am walking on the very same area, tracing those same foot steps where they walked on during the ’60s and it’s a strange sensation knowing that.
Greeks deserve to be recognised as contributing to the make-up of Marrickville and helping change it although I wish they hadn’t touched some of the magnificent old houses and modernising them with kitschiness but that is just my opinion.
Afterthought: Marrickville is also an upcoming area for small music venues and hip bars, which are most welcomed so we no longer have to travel into the city or Surry Hills and or Kings Cross.