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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 April 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 APRIL 2016 19 What ever happened to the brides of the Begona? A boy from Sianna reflects on his 59 years Down Under, and the young Greek women destined to marry unknown men waiting for them in Australia PETER M. PHOTAKIS I arrived in Australia on 12 June (Fremantle) and 16 June in Port Philip Bay (Melbourne) by ship (Begona) with my mother and my two brothers, and over 900 ‘brides’ in 1957. It took us about one month to arrive in Australia; it was not a very pleasant trip for some but we all managed to arrive at our destinations in Australia. For myself and my family, it was very pleasant, because we had a cabin, with all the comforts. For the brides, many of them were below deck with all the noise and odour, which made their journey long and unpleasant, as one can imagine. So many of them used to visit us, and some of them slept on deck for most of the journey. As a child of eight years of age I had many fond memories of the journey with so much happening, and having an inquisitive mind I was not bored at all, especially at mealtimes when the ship used to move from side to side; our plates used to move backward and forward on the dining tables and I played games with the other children on board, like who would finish their meals first. The best part was when we were given bowls of soup they most often ended up on the table, on us and on the floor and we would be told off by the sailors. The most unpleasant part was when we ran out of fresh water and they used seawater; many times we would find seaweed in our cups when we turned on the taps for a drink. The other thing I asked my mother many times was why there were so many young women on the ship - she would give me a different answer every time and it didn't make much sense. One thing that I noticed was that some were holding photographs of men. I couldn't accept my mother's different answers until one day near the end of journey she said to me that they were brides, who were married by photograph, and that confused me even more. How can someone get married by photograph? By the time I could get my head around this we had arrived in Australia and I had forgotten all those questions except for the fact of whether I would ever see the brides and the friends I made on the ship again. For many years I kept asking myself what ever happened to the brides of the Begona and where are they now? So I started to ask many Greek people about their backgrounds and their migration to Australia and I found their stories very interesting and fascinating. I had the urge to take my research further, so I started by looking for the passenger list of the ship (Begona), which led me to The Australian Archives, and also to visit their offices in Melbourne and actually hold and read the log book in my hands. Thus the journey back in time began. During my research I also found and met a few of the brides through my students, as I am an educator and had, without knowing, become good friends with them as well. Now I would like to take this research further and help the children and grandchildren of the brides to make case studies of their mothers and grandmothers experiences and eventually have a reunion next year (60 years), writing their stories in a book so that each family remembers the journey we all made so many years ago. Each bride will no doubt have good and bad memories of the odyssey they made 59 years ago. Through my research I have found some of the brides in South Australia have met a few times and even had a 40 and 50year reunion. All the brides had to choose a profession and most chose housewives and some chose dressmakers. The other passengers were listed as married, students or children. I was listed as a student and my brothers as children. The few men were listed as farmers. Other information given was their age and their addresses in Australia. Spelling of names and addresses were not written as we know them today but as the passengers remembered them from letters sent to them by future partners, in English. I would like the project to be very successful because the alternative is that all these stories and information will be lost forever, and the future generations will never learn about their Greek heritage. I would also like very much for all this to be added into the Australian history. As we are aware, Australia is very much a multicultural country, and we must recognise, accept and introduce these findings into the school curriculum to be taught as part of Australian studies. Greeks as migrants are found in every corner of the world and have made a great contribution to their adopted country and 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; but not all communities have as much passion about their place of birth. I have made a list of all the passengers and brides that came to South Australia, but most of their names have changed because they got married and I will be making requests through community television (CH 31’s Hellenic Presences) and Facebook. I would also like to put on a photographic exhibition with the title ‘Then and Now - Begona Many Years Ago’, and make a DVD about the brides now and share their stories while they are still alive and well. I am sure they will enjoy the project as much as I will. I also have the complete list of passengers and books of the migrant ships with all the history and information of the journeys they made, what happened to them and where they ended up. I hope that many others who have migrated to Australia have the same passion as I have and start collecting such information to make a family history folder, no matter which country they came from, and pass it down to their family members. We owe it to Australia because people like myself would not have had the chance to become better people and educated in our chosen professions. I love Australia very much but I love my place of birth just as much, and even more, its history and what Greece has given to the world. I would like to be known as Greek Australian and contribute to both countries in the field of education, my chosen area of expertise. * Greek-born Peter M. Photakis is a teacher, lecturer, instructor and tutor in secondary and tertiary education. He is also the president of the South Australian EKEME, a life member of Glendi Festival and writer.
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