Greek Australian photographer Effy Alexakis and her husband, historian Leonard Janiszewski, took a stroll down their own history as they stumbled unexpectedly into Virginia Lowe, who shocked them with the photograph of a goldminer they had researched decades prior: Demetrius Carra.

The pair met Virginia Lowe by chance at a recent event at Wheelers Hill Library wherein they gave a presentation exploring the historical presence of Greeks from 1810s to the present.

It was at the end of the event that Alexakis and Dr Janiszewski engaged with Virginia Lowe, who introduced herself during question time and produced a large framed original photograph of her great-grandfather.

“Leonard and I were both surprised as we did not see her when she had arrived with the photograph,” Alexakis told Neos Kosmos, as they then took the photograph to show the rest of the intrigued audience in attendance.

The pair quickly realised they were already familiar with the man in the photograph, Demetrius Carra, having actually researched him for their book ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ that was published in 1998.

“We told Mrs Lowe that we recognised his face and knew his story, in fact we had also met Mrs Lowe’s mother, Joy Paddle, along with other relatives that had provided the information that had gone into our book,” Alexakis said.

John and Virginia Lowe holding the photograph of Demetrius Carra. Photo: Effy Alexakis

“It is a beautiful photograph in an original frame, which we had not seen before. I had rephotographed Demetrius’ portrait from a smaller version so it was special that she brought it in for us to see it.”

Who was Demetrius Carra?

Alexakis explained that she and her husband’s research on Carra dates as far back as 1987, wherein they drove around Australia looking, photographing and collecting information.

“We first corresponded with a very helpful descendant, Bill Batten from Cooma (NSW) who referred us to other relatives, one of which was Joy Paddle (VIC) who is Virginia Lowe’s mother,” the photographer said.

Alexakis said that Carra was born on Hydra in the early 1830s and arrived in Victoria during 1857 to try his luck on the Australian goldfields, adding a sidenote that he allegedly had abandoned his position as ship’s captain on a vessel trading in the lucrative Dutch East Indies.

The official marriage certificate of Demetrius Carra and Elizabeth Ann Pope. Photo: Effy Alexakis

She stated that the total number of Greeks in Victoria during the gold rush period (1850s-1890s) has previously been estimated to have been around 350, and just under 300 in NSW during the same period.

She added however, that recent research, together with the inclusion of Australian-born offspring and those of Greek ethnicity who were recorded as non-Greek foreign nationals, could arguably elevate the collective figure to conservatively well over one thousand.

Regardless, Carra does serve as an example of one of the earlier Greek migrants to come to Australia, building a family with Elizabeth Ann Pope (whom he married in 1862) that included 15 children.

“Demetrius appears to have been educated, not only evidenced by his initial position of employment, but also by the fact that he spoke a number of languages, attempted to instruct his two eldest daughters in them, and signed his name in English upon documents,” Alexakis said.

A photo of the double page spread on Demetrius Carra from Alexakis’ and Dr Janiszewski’s book ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, including Demetrius Carra’s Remembrance Card. Photo: Effy Alexakis

The photographer revealed that their research found he was naturalised in 1896 before dying five years later and being buried in Great Western cemetery.

She and her husband did manage to get a written quote from Joy Paddle, the daughter of one of Carra’s children, Ada (his tenth born), and also the mother of Virginia Lowe.

The photographer provided the following quote as written by Joy Paddle:

“My mother (Ada) spoke of her father with great affection, said he was a gentle loving man, a most caring husband and father. Most of the children were born at their house in Great Western where Demetrius had his mine. But later they moved to Stawell (nine miles), working his mine during the week and spending weekends in Stawell with his family,

“Mother said he was a most industrious hard-working man, maintaining a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. She recalled (him) sitting up a cherry tree and eating luscious cherries. He always made sure his wife had sufficient wood cut and stacked to last her through the week. One of his highlights of his homecoming was to all sit around the table to watch him weigh his gold, the week’s findings,

“He was an educated man and spoke a number of languages which he enjoyed teaching his two eldest daughters to speak. He left behind at his death much love. I never remember mum ever mentioning Greek friends, I guess he had little time for socializing and evidently preferred to keep aloof.”

Alexakis stated that Virginia Lowe has carried on from her mother Joy in taking an interest in the family history, and that she brought with her original documents, a Certificate of Marriage of Demetrius and Elizabeth, and other important papers.

“Virginia writes poetry and was published last year. She sent me this poem she wrote about Demetrius to his wife Elizabeth,” she said.

Demetrius Carra (third from right) with his family outside their Stawell Home in 1891. Photo: Effy Alexakis

Demetrius to Elizabeth

Virginia Lowe

The donkeys of Hydra

are sure-footed, reliable

taking goods from the harbour

up steep cliffs to town

Kangaroos in Australia

will not carry loads

their convenient pockets

hold nothing but babies

These unlikely animals

at unbeatable speed

leap yards at a bound

but only on plains

Without animals to harness

or bear our loads

how can we farm?

We’ll get rich with children!

We’ll get rich with gold!

(Virginia’s poetry collection is The Myopic’s Vision : a Poetic Memoir, Ginninderra Press, 2023)