This year marks the 60th anniversary from the day 900 Greek single women known as nyfes (brides) landed in Australia after leaving their homeland and embarking on their journey to Australia in a quest for a better future. Greek-born educator Peter Photakis is hosting a special commemorative event which will pay tribute to those women who left their families and homes to come to Australia on the promise of a new and better life.
“We have scheduled a special event which will take place on Sunday 18 June at the Migration Museum of South Australia, and my aim is to reunite as many brides of 1957 as possible to share their migration stories and shed some more light on a post-World War II era that saw a stream of young women migrating to Australia to start their own families with their future husbands. Husbands whom they had never met before,” says Photakis who, together with his mother and two brothers, was also onboard the ship Begoña that arrived at Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay in 1957.
“Although I was young, I have many fond memories of the journey and I distinctively remember wondering why there were so many young and beautiful women on Begoña. I actually thought those women were neraides and that’s what I used to call them until one day near the end of the journey, my mother told me that my neraides were brides, who were married via a photograph. That confused me even more,” recalls Photakis.
The memory of those young women holding photos of their future husbands stayed with him for years. Photakis often wondered what had happened to them, and 42 years later he began his own research project in a quest to locate those brides.
“I started by looking for the passenger list of the ship, which led me to the National Archives of Australia. I also visited their offices in Melbourne and actually held and read the ship’s logbook in my hands. The journey back in time had commenced.”
During his research, Photakis found and met some of the brides and started documenting their stories in a book, so that each of their families could be reminded of the arduous journey they had made so many years ago.
“Greeks, as migrants, are found in every corner of the world and have made a great contribution in their adopted countries. But we never forget our place of birth. The word diaspora means living away from your homeland. There are approximately 11 million people living in Greece and about five million in the diaspora.
“Each bride will no doubt have good and bad memories of the odyssey they made so many years ago. Through my research, I have found that some of the brides in South Australia have met a few times and even had a 40th- and 50th- year reunion.
“I would like the project to be successful because the alternative is that all these stories and information will be lost forever, and our future generations will never learn about their Greek heritage,” explains Photakis.
Julian Stefani AM and Steve Georganas MP will be guest speakers at the event, while Peter Photakis will share his own migration story which started at the age of eight, when he left from the village of Sianna in Rhodes to come to Australia.
“We will have the opportunity to hear directly from some of the nyfes about their adventures during their 30-day journey and their arrival in far-away Australia, where they finally got to meet their future husbands,” explains Photakis.
“The first few years were really hard. A foreign country, a foreign people, and the whole world upside down for us young women who did not even know how to speak the language,” recalls Harikleia, one of the brides.
“All I remember is everyone saying to me is that it will take time, but eventually, I will get used it. The years went by and Australia which started as our stepmother, then became our mother. Thank God for that!”