100 years of Castellorizians in the west

Neos Kosmos explores the 100 year history of the Castellorizian Association of WA

It was 1890 when Arthur Auguste (Athanasios Augoustis) first stepped onto Western Australian soil. Although he was not the first recorded Greek in Western Australia, he was the first man from the island of Castellorizo to migrate to Perth. What this teenager faced at the time is inconceivable to the minds of us living in an era of internet, skype and a time where multiculturalism is celebrated in all its guises. His was a time when foreigners were frowned upon, language was a barrier – finding work itself was filled with trials and hardship. But through it all, he had the strength to go on, and develop an association for his fellow compatriots; a 100-year-old association that would form the backbone for all ‘Cazzies’ in WA.

His cousins – the Manolis brothers – soon joined Auguste in Australia, sparking off a classic migration chain that would see other countrymen follow suit. Some went east to the gold fields of Kalgoorlie, while others went into the outback. But many returned back to the city of Perth and took up shopkeeping – Auguste himself ran an oyster saloon – while others got involved in fruit and veg and fish and chip shops.

It was reuniting in the big smoke of WA that would see the first glimmer of the oldest regional Greek association in Australia.
By 1911, the census in WA stated that there were 335 Greeks living in Western Australia and a third of those were from Castellorizo. Many of those migrants – who were predominately male – were alone and faced a then hostile welcoming party to Australia, so forming this association was crucial.

“There was no social outlet, they didn’t know the language, they didn’t know the employment and legal systems of the society,” says Dr John N Yiannakis, Research Fellow and Lecturer; also on the WA Castellorizian Association’s 2012 Centenary Organising Committee.

The association started as a loosely based organisation in 1912, where members would meet in people’s houses, shops and businesses, but gradually started to take shape. It was the first regional Hellenic fraternity to be formed anywhere in Australia; and at the time was the only Greek association formed in WA, so it not only catered for the social and cultural needs of the Castellorizians, but showed concern for all Greeks. At that time, Auguste was the inaugural president and was uninterrupted in his term for over a decade.

“They formed as a response to things going on in Greece – the outbreak of the Balkan wars and the uprising on the island in 1913, so there was that desire to provide some sort of assistance to their compatriots at home,” Dr Yiannakis told Neos Kosmos.

“It acted as a staging post for people coming to Australia who needed to find out where they could go for work, where certain things were in the city, it acted as an outpost for them. And then it started to take on the other role as a club, where they got together and played cards, drank coffee.”
By 1919, the association become incorporated and was registered by the state authorities.

By 1922, the association had purchased its first piece of land and would ultimately shape the face of the Hellenic roots in Western Australia. A hall was built on that land that would serve as a venue for weddings, christenings and dances, and also served as cultural hub where members would go to recite poetry, play music, and engross themselves in the tapestry of Greek custom and tradition.
The Castellorizian’s were instrumental in the creation of Greek language after-hour schools but also in assisting the Greek Orthodox religion to flourish in the west of Australia. With money raised by the association, and combining their efforts with that of the Hellenic Community of WA (founded in 1923) they turned their attention on building the church Sts Constantine and Helene, which was finally completed in late 1936.

Getting incorporated in 1919, purchasing the land in 1922, then transferring that land to the Hellenic community in 1925, the opening of the church Sts Constantine and Helene and it’s consecration in 1937 are the landmark achievements of the association, says Dr Yiannakis.
“When they celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1987 – because there was a bit of uncertainty whether or not they would get there – was definitely a landmark for them.”
There were times when membership for the association was waning. Like other associations, the Castellorizian Association of WA fell victim to disputations over a political and personal nature that would directly affect membership numbers.

“In the early 90’s, they struggled to get a committee together, but they survived and got through that and their membership has grown significantly.”
All in all, Dr John says the membership has been reasonably active. Now with around 439 members, he says it’s a great feat as in Western Australia the Greek community is in the third, fourth and fifth generation cycle.

“There’s an interesting statistic in WA,” explains Dr Yiannakis, “that Australian-born Greeks outnumbered the Greeks born in Greece by the early 1960s, in Victoria that didn’t happen till 1986.”

In 1981, the association began renovations to ‘Cazzie House’ which would become the backbone of this association. The venue would house events, functions, book launches and even the infamous Friday night happy hour for its members. It was here that the association celebrated its 75 years and where they will showcase their centenary celebrations.
‘Cazzie House’ acts as a meeting place, a popular social spot for members. It is the physical figurative gesture for a community who has done so much not only for Castellorizians in Western Australia, but for Greeks all over Australia.

To mark their 100 year anniversary, a group of members from the association went to the island last year for a symbolic exchange of gifts with the local council in Castellorizo. But even though the foundations of the association were built on the relationship with the motherland, Dr John says that the ties aren’t as strong with the island as they used to be. In the past, the association was set up to help their island home, they even tried to arrange sponsorship of orphaned Castellorizian children in the 30s, but now – although there are degrees of communication – it isn’t as it used to be.

Today, the people of the association are looking towards the future. A future that is strengthened from generations before who gave the association it’s firm foundations, set to live on for another century more.
And so many prominent Greek Australians have a Western Australian Castellorizian connection, including; the 32nd Governor of Western Australia Ken Michael; former senator and Australian politician Nick Bolkus; news presenter John Mangos; and many more.

I asked Dr Yiannakis one last question, with all the regional associations you see now, how did the Castellorizians survive so many years; what’s their secret?
“There’s something about the people themselves,” he explains, “but I think their strengths – the strength of the association has been their ability to adapt – maintain their Hellenism … and adapt to the society they find themselves in. And seize on opportunities that the society presents itself with.”

For their 100 year anniversary, the Castellorizian Association of WA, has put
together a week-long celebration of events to mark this auspicious occasion.
Join the oldest Castellorizian Association outside of Greece in celebrating its
Sunday 20 May
Registration and Sundowner Barbecue (Tickets:
Monday 21 May
Church Service
Luncheon with Hellenic Association of
(Tickets: $35)
Tuesday 22 May
Speaking Forums – Morning
Speaking Forums – Afternoon Session

Wednesday 23 May
Speaking Forums – Morning Session
Forums – Afternoon Session
(Tickets: $45)
Civic Reception hosted by the
City of Perth and the Lord Mayor
Thursday 24 May
Free Day
Friday 25
Day Trip to Fremantle (Tickets: $35)
Evening at the Perth ‘Trots
(Tickets: $45)
Saturday 26 May
Centenary Gala Dinner (Tickets:
Sunday 27 May
Church Service

To register and for more info email Centenary2012@gmail.com