My parents were Greeks that came from Istanbul to Australia in the early 70s.
My dad, an accountant with gentle hands who felt more comfortable in a suit and tie than with overalls, found a job on the production line at Holden like so many other Greeks.
He’d come to our 11th-floor apartment of a housing commission flat in Redfern, all greasy with chapped hands, and he’d rush straight for the green soap that his friend, Bill, also on the assembly line had recommended.
It was a different life to the one he was used to. Grittier. More physical rather than intellectual. And I’m not sure my Sinatra-loving tango-dancing dad with his expensive Anargyrios and Korgialenios boarding school education ever did fully embrace this lifestyle as he always made it clear that he was only temporarily a factory worker.
The job had its perks of course. I remember a day at the amusement park for Holden workers and their families. “We’re with Holden,” my dad said at the door before the gates of heaven opened before us. It was a happy day in my young migrant kindergartener’s life, and I felt so proud of my dad, the Holden factory worker.
Looking back, most days were cheerful because as children we aren’t privy to the worries of our parents, and migrant woes seemed natural because we didn’t know any better. At least, they did not consciously affect us at the time. It was only looking back that we remember dangerous details that were imprinted in our innocent souls: a teacher’s racist comments; a patronising look; or some other injustice that we swept away as children but made us feel inferior at the time, nonetheless.
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Regardless of this, we were a migrant success story in my young eyes. We had good food, friends and every house we moved to was better than the one before.
We even got a car from some dodgy dealer – a white Holden of course, a Kingswood, I think, with a cross that would bop up and down under the front mirror. Others had furry dice, and some had both.
Mum would cross herself at the start of every journey and make me do the same that I continued to do so long after I lost my belief, because surely it was a miracle that we survived all those drives without seatbelts. Sometimes we’d pile up more people than could fit into the car – old and young – with us kids loosely bouncing on our mothers’ laps on our Sunday ‘volta’. And the back boot would be so jam-packed with picnic baskets that the driver would not be able to see.
On Saturday ‘date’ nights, my mum would fill the thermos with coffee and make some koulourakia. The three of us would drive down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and watch the sun slowly set over Sydney’s botanical gardens. Was there music? I think 2EA had just been launched. But I don’t remember. I do remember feeling bored as a third wheel in the back seat, and following my parents’ suggestion, I’d gently lay my head on the pillow, wrap myself in a blanket, and mum would pull the kitsch green curtains she had proudly made. Even then, I knew they did not make sense but I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents that it was just plain embarrassing driving around with curtains in our car, though I thanked my lucky stars we didn’t also have doilies like some people.
Different thoughts would float in my head as I gazed at the stars while dozing off. Later, my dad’s gentle arms would carry me to bed, and more likely than not he’d rub his chapped hands on my forehead and whisper ‘goodnight’.
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In my mind, these were the Holden years. Sweet and salty at the same time. These days are long gone, killed off long before General Motors announced the death of the brand itself in 2021, ending a 72-year legacy. All that remains are priceless memories and their overpriced vintage shells that are now fetching the highest prices on carsales.com.au.
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