In her own image

Part one of a series looking at Greek Australian women from the 1820s to the present

‘What do you know about Greek women?
Not much, you say.
Some typical stereotypes, eh?
Let me set the record straight.
Oh yeh, you’ll be surprised.’
(Haitho Massala, ‘Greek Women’, 1994)

Stereotypes of Greek-Australian women continue to linger within the public consciousness. Black-clad Greek-Australian women, those at festivals and celebrations in traditional costume, and the public personality ‘Effie’ tend to dominate.

A socio-cultural division still persists within Australian society between British-Australians and ‘non-British ethnic groups’. The former is elevated as the ‘dominant cultural group’ and the latter as separate ‘minorities.’ Such marginalisation takes little account of the extensive diversity and hybridism that has, and continues, to actively change the socio-cultural make-up of Australia.

‘The other’ within Australian society is still considered as providing ‘difference’ to the dominant mainstream and possessing little else of significance beyond this. This ‘difference’ in the public consciousness takes tangible form in stereotypes, such as those of Greek-Australian women.

The Australian media, popular social commentators, anthropologists, sociologists and even those attempting to undertake historical research on Greek-Australians have assisted in cultivating and re-enforcing these stereotypes of ‘difference’ in regard to Greek-Australian women.

Collectively, they have provided perceptions of Greek-Australian women generally denuded of detailed and insightful historical context.

Arguably, the English-language media – both within capital cities and regional areas – has persistently depicted Greek-Australian women (together with Greek-Australian men) as ‘recent migrants in a new land’ rather than ‘settlers’ with a long and strong historical presence in Australia; a situation which reflects the prevailing attitude within the grand orthodox narratives of this country’s past.

Anthropological and sociological works are focussed, almost exclusively, upon the impact of the numerically pronounced flood of Greek arrivals after World War II. The diverse historical voices of Greek-Australian women consequently fail to be interwoven with those of today who have been able to articulate their stories.

This also generally occurs in the celebratory, ‘ghetto’ histories on Greek-Australians that have emerged, that look at Greek-Australians for their own sake without significant regard to the methodology or historiography of Australian historical writing.

One such historical publication – In the Wake of Odysseus: Portraits of Greek Settlers in Australia by George Kanarakis – does not present any Greek-Australian female voices at all, and whilst such information may be difficult to uncover, it certainly is not impossible to obtain – as we shall evidence.
Even Hugh Glichrist’s seminal research and publications on the history of contact between Greece and Australia suggests a serious gender bias. Although a ‘free’ (as opposed to ‘convicted’) Greek female settled in Australia in 1835, some two to four years before the earliest ‘free’ Greek males, the men have been given the title of the first ‘free’ Greek immigrants to settle in Australia.

Regrettably, the Greek-Australian female presence has been devalued and stereotyped. As such, their history in both Australia and even Greece – through return migration – is still to be solidly researched and written.

Greek women

Greek women have been settling in Australia since at least 1835. An earlier Greek female presence – Maria Barvides (Bartides) – has been suggested to have occurred in the Swan River settlement in Western Australia in 1830, but it awaits firm corroboration of ethnicity and was only fleeting in nature.
The stories of those Greek women who settled in Australia over almost the last two centuries are filled with successes, failures, hopes and dreams – of an Australia of challenges, a Greece of memory and a faith in the unfolding of a potentially unlimited future.

Unfortunately, though, their stories have often been submerged beneath the voices of their male counterparts.

Certainly, Greek migration to and settlement in Australia until the late 1950s and early 1960s was overwhelmingly male in terms of numbers, yet, those Greek women who did arrive before this time – limited in number as they were – equally provide strong evidence of pioneering purpose.

Significantly, the social status of two early Greek female arrivals contrasted sharply to the Greek men, who arrived principally as convicts, sailors or gold-seekers.

Katherine Crummer (nee Aikaterini Georgia Plessa) arrived in New South Wales in 1835 as the wife of a British army officer, Captain James Henry Crummer, who went on to hold various important positions in the colony, including Chief Magistrate in Newcastle. Katherine is the first confirmed ‘free’ Greek to settle in Australia and the earliest confirmed Greek female. Of Katherine and James’ eleven children, seven were girls, and five of those were Australian-born. One of the girls, Augusta Louisa, married Frederick Eccleston Du Faur in 1866; Du Faur later became a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales and President of the Board of Trustees of the New South Wales Art Gallery.

In 1859, Countess Diamantina Roma, of Venetian-Greek descent, arrived as the wife of Queensland’s first Governor, Sir George Bowen. After eight years in Queensland, Bowen was appointed Governor-General of New Zealand. The couple returned to Australia in 1872 when Sir George accepted the position of Governor of Victoria. Diamantina’s philanthropic work in Australia was widely applauded by contemporaries and her name is still celebrated through place names: Roma Street, Lady Bowen Park and Roma Street Station in Brisbane; Diamantina River and the town of Roma in Queensland; and Diamantina Falls in Victoria. The Bowens left Australia for Mauritius in 1879. Of Diamantina and George’s four children, three were girls and two of these were Australian-born.

During the gold-rush era (1850s-1880s) the number of Greek women in the Australian colonies was sparse. Traditionally, Greek migration was male dominated. Greek men, mostly young and single, would journey to foreign lands to seek material improvement for themselves, their parents and their siblings, particularly sisters, for whom dowries were mandatory. Given that a family’s honour rested heavily upon the chastity of its female members, that an appropriate marriage was customarily secured through the dowry system, and that the socio-cultural preference for Greek women was to marry a fellow Hellene, Greek female migration was certainly not popularly contemplated.

In the 1857 census of Australian’s leading gold colony of Victoria, only two Greek women are listed. Five years later the figure had risen to thirteen, and in the colony’s 1871 census, out of a total of well over 300 members of the ‘Greek Church’, twenty-seven were noted as female – nineteen of these women were born in Greece. Twenty-five of the 1871 Greek female tally were registered on the goldfields. The names of two of these twenty-five have been uncovered: Augusta Ammuretti and Maria Vlasopoulou.

Born in 1820, Augusta Ammuretti arrived in Australia in 1871 and although her name implies an Italian connection, when she registered herself at Mosquito Flat in the gold town of Maryborough, Victoria, her religion was noted as being that of the ‘Greek Church’. Maria Vlasopoulou (nee Lamberis) married Theodoros Vlasopoulos in Greece and migrated to Western Australia in 1870 before moving to Victoria in 1871. She died in Melbourne in 1911.

The personal identity of another Greek female who arrived during the Australian gold rush era has also been confirmed. In 1886 Maria Argyrou (nee Morou) appears to have either accompanied or immediately followed her husband, Dimitrios Argyros, to Sydney; they had been married in Greece in 1879.
‘Athina Florence’ may be the name of even yet another ‘golden Greek’ female arrival. In 1880 Athina married Efstathios Androulakis in Melbourne. She and her husband later moved to Newcastle in New South Wales. Athina’s suggested Greek ethnicity is still to be positively verified.

Maria Vlasopoulou, Maria Argyrou and Augusta Ammuretti evidence the pattern, of which Katherine Crummer and Diamantina Roma also form a part, that most Greek women arriving in Australia – even during the twentieth century – were doing so as ‘dependants’ (such as wives, daughters, sisters and mothers) rather than as socially and economically independent individuals.

The Greek male presence on various gold mining districts in both Victoria and New South Wales – such as at Ballarat, Maryborough, Tarnagulla, Castlemaine, Bendigo, St Arnaud, Dunolly and Talbot (Black Creek) in the former, and Tambaroora, Gulgong, Braidwood, Araluen, Young (Lambing Flat) and Parkes in the latter – reveal a number of Greek miners with Australian-born female offspring from mixed marriages (principally to British-Australian women).

‘Greek Town’ in Tambaroora, in the central western goldfields of New South Wales, was particularly prominent in this regard.

In ‘Greek Town’, over forty daughters of Greek miners have presently been identified. These include Mary Makriyannis; Evelyn Matilda Makriyannis; Aspasia Vasilakis (Williams); Anthea Vasilakis (Williams); Maria Doikos; Fanny Catherine Doikos; Maria (Marina) Christina Lalekhos; Florence Marie Lalekhos; Aphrodite Mahala Moustakas; Cassandra Moustakas; Helen Lambert; Aspasia Garyphalia Nichols; Sophia Emma Nichols; Mary Ann Dimond; and Ellen Agnes Manolatos.

‘Greek Town’ Tambaroora, together with Mosquito Flat in Marybourough on Victoria’s ‘Midland’ goldfields, appear to be the earliest ‘collective’ settlements of Greeks in Australia. At Mosquito Flat, records have currently revealed four Australian-born daughters of Greek miners: Angela Capitaneas, Mary Vasopolos (Vlasopoulos), Lucy Vasopolos (Vlasopoulos) and Alexandria Christie. Further research is likely to provide more.

Of course, some of the limited number of pre-1850s Greek male arrivals in Australia also fathered Greek-Australian daughters – Ghikas Boulgaris (arrived 1829) had five daughters, Samuel Donnes (arrived 1837) had four daughters, John Peters (arrived late 1830s) had six daughters, and George North (arrived 1842), just one. A few of the daughters of both pre-1850s and gold rush Greek male and female arrivals may have retained some cultural aspects of their father’s or mother’s Greek ethnicity. Most however, given the host society’s racial and cultural biases – which in 1901 became nationally and officially legitimised in legislation that was popularly known as the ‘White Australia’ policy – seem to have firmly assimilated into British-Australian life.

Interestingly though, from the early 1970s, with successive Australian governments (the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and then Keating governments) embracing and promoting a ‘multicultural’ Australia, it appears that some female descendants of early Greek settlers have attempted to regain parts of their ancestral cultural legacy which previous generations had been denied.

This is evidenced in the lives of Robyn Margaret Johnson (nee Lowry), a great-great-great-grand-daughter of Katherine Crummer, Doreen McTaggart (nee Field), a great-grand-daughter of convict Ghikas Boulgaris, Joan Clarke (nee Willmott), a great-grand-daughter of John Peters one of the earliest ‘free’ Greek arrivals, and Mavis Deards, a great-grand-daughter of gold miner Dennis Keys (Dionysios Korkoutsakis).

Precise Greek female population figures for the Australian colonies during gold rush period, the remainder of the late nineteen century, and even into the opening decades of the new century after Federation – may never be fully acquired. Names tended to be anglicised for assimilation purposes, and documents are often devoid of references to ethnicity, religion, personal characteristics, language spoken, and place of birth (and when place of birth is revealed, it is not always an indicator of ethnic origin, particularly for those Greeks born outside of Greece ).

Nevertheless, in the 1890s and early 1900s – with Greek men finding more stable income particularly in food catering and goods trades and their numbers continuing to grow through chain migration – the presence of Greek women in Australia notably increased. As such, the ratio of males to females born in Greece steady declined within Australia as the early twentieth century advanced – from, 16:1 in 1911, to 6:1 a decade later, and less than 4:1 in 1933.

*This article is an edited excerpt from the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ National Project Archives, by Leonard Janiszewski and Effie Alexakis. All the photos are part of the project.