The fig tree Evdoxia Malios planted in her son’s new GP clinic 50 years ago is still there.
But, the sunroom where she met other elderly Greek women is long gone. It was knocked down to make way for parking.
Retired GP Dr John Malios needed all the parking he could get as he ran his busy Oakleigh practice from an impressive brick Edwardian house, at 139 Warrigal Rd, for nearly half a century.
“Ninety-nine per cent of my patients were Greek,” he said.
It was the 1970s and other young doctors, whose Greek parents and grandparents had migrated to Australia decades before, where also setting up clinics to treat the diaspora.
Also in Oakleigh, in Melbourne’s south-east, were Dr Jim Drakopoulos and later Dr Stanley Savvas who had come from Western Australia. Dr Athanasios Gouras was in the the inner-Melbourne suburb of Prahran. Before these doctors was the well-known Dr Spiros Moraitis, who started his St Kilda practice, in 1958 and even Dr Malios’s late elder brother, Thomas. But before all these doctors, Dr Malios remembered the first Greek physician in Melbourne being the overseas-trained, Dr Paroulakis, who had a Collins St clinic, in the city.
The late Dr Thomas Malios graduated from Melbourne University in 1956 and soon opened his own GP practice in Carlton. Thomas Malios was one of the few Greek-speaking, locally-trained GPs in Melbourne.
Dr John Malios remembered as a teenager accompanying his brother, Dr Thomas Malios, on Sundays, in the 1960s as he did home visits to newly-arrived Greeks living in multi-family houses, in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
Dr Thomas Malios then joined Dr Peter MacCallum at his practice, in 1 Blyth St, Brunswick. (Dr Peter MacCallum was the son of Sir Peter MacCallum whom Victoria’s eminent cancer hospital, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, in 305 Grattan St, Melbourne, is named). Dr Thomas Malios was also a doctor at Australian embassies.
Medicine continues to run in the family, as Dr John Malios’s nephew, and his sister, Helen’s granddaughter and grandson are also doctors.
FROM NORTHERN EPIRUS TO WILLIAMSTOWN
Dr John Malios’s parents Theodore Malios and Evdoxia (nee Stavrou) migrated from the village Haskovo, near the lower Dropolis valley in what is now Albania. The region’s Greek villages were incorporated into Albania in 1921 following Greece’s defeat in the Greco-Turkish War between 1919 and 1922.
Theodore Malios (known as Malo on his Albanian passport) left behind his pregnant wife Evdoxia and travelled alone to Australia, as passenger number 527 out of a possible 552, on the SS Commissaire Ramel. He arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia, on 18 September 1927. A few days later he disembarked in Melbourne staying at 354 Lonsdale St, which is thought to have been a Pan-Epirotic brotherhood. He began work in a café, in inner-city Melbourne, in Newmarket.
It would be nine years before he saw his wife Evdoxia again and met his son Thomas for the first time. They arrived on the SS Mooltan on 2 June 1936 and the family lived in a small room above a shop at 318 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Theodore Malios also sponsored his brother, Chris and nephew Gregory. Chris later returned to Albania.
Dr Malios was born in the western Melbourne beachside suburb of Williamstown in 1945 and his sister, Helen, in 1939. They were both baptised in Melbourne’s only Greek church, The Annunciation of Our Lady or Evangelismos, in Victoria St, East Melbourne.
His father bought a fish and chip shop, at 60 Douglas Pde, Williamstown. His father would travel in those early years, sometimes with his daughter Helen, in a horse and buggy at 3am to the city fish markets, situated at the current Melbourne Aquarium, in King St.
BECOMING A DOCTOR
Dr Malios’s brother ,Thomas, was 17 years older than him, was studying medicine and had a big influence on his career.
“I grew up with medical books around me with my brother,” Dr Malios said.
“I had a very good school friend and all we wanted to do was medicine.
“I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.
“At Williamstown High School, not many students got past what we call HSC – it was matriculation then.
“I must have been influenced by the fact my brother was a doctor.”
Dr Malios said he remembered as an 11-year-old reading his big brother’s medical text books.
“I remember looking at the pictures and reading them,” he said.
“The anatomy books, they were very interesting.
“I’ve still got his medical text books including Gray’s Anatomy.”
School was difficult in the beginning. Greek was mainly spoken at home and Dr Malios started school at North Williamstown State School with little English.
“My first day at school, I left school and ran home,” Dr Malios said.
“I told my mother: ‘I don’t understand what they are saying.’
“Of course, I went back to school after that.”
But where learning his mother tongue had caused him grief on that first day of school, it would make him indispensable during his medical residency, at the Queen Victoria Hospital, in Lonsdale St.
“I’d get woken up in the middle of the night and told: ‘Malios, go down to the labour ward and we need you to interpret,” Dr Malios said.
“Interestingly, my Greek came back to me.
“The language sits in your memory and it all came back.
“To the point that I remembered and learnt medical terms in Greek.”
His Greek became so good that patients thought he had trained in Greece.
Dr Malios said one highlight of his residency was delivering twin girls to a Greek couple who lived in Oakleigh and who later became his patients.
Dr Malios married Julie Vassis in 1970. Her father was Jim Vassis who joined and served with the Royal Australian Air Force in New Guinea and Borneo, during World War II and her mother was Antigone Vassis (nee Alexiades). Antigone’s father, Hercules, settled in Broken Hill in the 1920s having fled Constantinople after it fell. Dr Malios and Julie have three children and two grandchildren.
FROM OAKLEIGH GP TO MEDICAL PANELS CONVENOR
The young married couple lived in Caulfield in Melbourne’s south-east and Dr Malios wanted to open his own clinic.
“I lived in Caulfield,” he said.
“I put a dot on the map and drew a circle.”
That was designed to help him choose a location for his clinic. He considered the inner-city suburb of Richmond with its large Greek population, but decided on Oakleigh which was 6km away from Caulfield and also had a large Greek presence.
“Oakleigh came up and I was walking one day with my late mother and this house was up for sale,” Dr Malios said.
“It was the residence and clinic of an eye specialist for many years.”
The couple bought the period brick house, at 139 Warrigal Rd, Oakleigh, in 1972.
Ms Malios, who worked as a receptionist, practice manager and “Jack of all trades”, at the Oakleigh practice, from 1972 until Dr Malios retired in 2018, remembered the 12- hour days in the early years as Dr Malios alternated all day between his brother’s Brunswick practice and his newly-established Oakleigh clinic. Dr Malios soon went full-time at his Oakleigh clinic and employed his sister, Helen Lolatgis, as a receptionist in 1974.
The early 1970s were innovative years in medicine.
The then Whitlam Labor Government had a holistic approach to medicine and started promoting community health which focused on the social, environmental and economic impacts on health as well as prevention.
Dr Malios could see the potential in taking part in this innovative approach.
“There was an obvious need for social assistance for newly-arrived migrants and non-English speaking background(NESB) people,” he said.
“Pap smears, breast examinations.
“The sort of stuff we talk about as second nature now wasn’t known.”
He applied for a grant and nurse and aged care specialist Prue Mellor was seconded from Chadstone Community Health to work in Dr Malios’s clinic in 1975 for one day a week. She stayed at the practice until 1979 then returned as a nurse practitioner in 2012.
Chadstone Community Health, situated near Oakleigh, was Victoria’s second community health centre and opened in 1975.
Ms Mellor remembered those pioneering days of community health at Dr Malios’s clinic.
“He (Dr Malios) understood community health,” she said.
“He was really the beginning of really extended services.”
The initiative grew and a Greek interpreter, Greek-speaking welfare worker and a part-time Greek-speaking female GP also started working at Dr Malios’s clinic.
“A lot of these women would do night shift in the factory and the husband do day shift,” Ms Mellor said.
“They would come home, get the kids ready for school, do cooking.
“These very women who came from villages, there was not a lot of people to teach them. There was not a lot of literature.”
Ms Mellor said because the women worked night shift, they were out in the community, in the shops, and at the schools during the day, and spoke more English than their husbands.
Ms Mellor said the clinic talked to the women about family life, how to manage the school system, thalassaemia support, family planning, diet, breast examinations and Pap smears.
“There was nothing for migrants in 1975 out there,” she said.
“There was no literature. Nothing.”
Dr Malios’s sister, Helen Lolatgis , served as his medical receptionist for 30 years.
Ms Lolatgis, now 83-years-old, remembered her mother Evdoxia Malios’s important role at the clinic in the early days.
“My mother planted the fig tree,” she said.
It was Ms Lolatgis who inadvertently started one of Melbourne’s first Greek elderly citizens clubs.
Ms Lolatgis remembered how she would bring her widowed mother to the clinic and she would stay in the sunroom out the back. Word got out and her mother’s friends, many of whom where Dr Malios’s patients, would join her.
“They (the women) would come out from the clinic and go straight to the back and have coffee there,” Ms Lolatgis said.
Ms Lolatgis said there might be up to 30 women in the sunroom per day.
Ms Malios remembered that nurse Mellor saw the sunroom as an important meeting place and formalised it.
A leader at the Australian Greek Welfare Society (now PRONIA) and the organisation for the care of elderly Greeks (Fronditha), Marika Bisas, went to the clinic, reviewed the model, saw the sunroom was now not big enough and organised for the women to meet at the Oakleigh Scout Hall.
But Dr Malios was to involve himself further and be recognised as a trailblazer in the early 1970s.
Patients who worked at the APD Samboy chips factory, in nearby Huntingdale, and Repco Parts, were presenting with the same shoulder problems resulting in overuse.
So a young Dr Malios invited himself to the factories and observed the workers were using the same arm all day.
He suggested workers alternate arms and rotate their duties to alleviate the problem.
Dr Malios said the factories were very open to his suggestions.
“Because it (the injuries) cost them money,” he said. “All these claims.”
He then worked as a medical advisor at the plastic manufacturer, Nylex Pty Ltd, in Franklyn St, Huntingdale.
The focus was on treating injuries early and trying to improve work conditions.
“What is now normal practice was only beginning,” Dr Malios said.
“Occupational health was a whole new concept.”
Seeing the need, Dr Malios then teamed up with his brother Dr Thomas Malios and surgeon Mr Peter Mangos and set up an occupational health clinic, in South Melbourne.
Dr Malios’s expertise grew and he became well-known. This coincided with the state government starting the WorkCover Conciliation Service and he served as a sessional conciliator.
He was invited to apply and was accepted to be included on the “List” of doctors eligible to be appointed to a Medical Panel which is a tribunal established to resolve disputes under the workers compensation legislation and the Wrongs Act. Dr Malios would go on to become Convenor of Medical Panels – the first person of Greek background to hold that position.
THALASSAEMIA AND SICKLE CELL AUSTRALIA (TASCA)
It was Dr Malios’s ability to speak Greek and his residency at the Queen Victoria hospital that started his decades-long interest in the inherited blood disorder, thalassaemia, which most often affects people from the Mediterranean, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
“A senior doctor said: ‘You should do something about these Thalassaemia kids,” Dr Malios recalled.
“At this time, there were no screening or counselling services for patients at risk of the genetic consequences of the disease.
“Basic treatment at the time was only the need for regular blood transfusions for thalassaemia major patients.”
Dr Malios became a founding member of the Thalassaemia and Sickle Cell Australia(TASCA) in 1976. He worked in clinics providing counselling and screening for the disease at the Queen Victoria, Royal Women’s and Royal Childrens’ hospitals. He also wrote papers on thalassaemia and he and distinguished paediatrician, the late Dr Rae Matthews, were invited to speak at the New York Academy of Sciences, in 1978.
Dr Malios is a TASCA life member and continues to work at the organisation as a medical advisor and volunteer.
REFLECTIONS AND THANKS
Dr Malios praised his patients of nearly 50 years.
“I’d like to thank the loyalty of my patients and the opportunity to be part of their lives,” he said.
“The patients led me to things I wanted to do.
“Their shoulder arm problems led me to become interested in injuries.”
The prevalence of thalassaemia in the Greek community led him to decades of work with TASCA.
“My greatest satisfaction is that I know that I helped people,” he said.
“I also learnt a lot from some of the patients.
“My Greek patients taught me about life, family, respectability and reinforced my Greekness.
“It’s a lesson in itself.”
*Disclaimer: Dr John Malios was the Houpis family’s GP for 46 years. Dora, her parents and two siblings migrated to Australia, on 18 March 1971. Within months, her parents rented two rooms of an Oakleigh house at, 163 Warrigal Rd, for $20 per week. That house remains. It is 11 houses away from Dr Malios’s former clinic, at 139 Warrigal Rd.