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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 09 September 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 9 SEPTEMBER 2017 21 CULTURE (L-R) Tony Savidis, with his father Peter and mum Katina (holding his baby sister Athina). The shop was in Albion Street, Brunswick, photographed circa 1971. being mortified when I saw school friends at our shop. If they hadn't seen me I would hide out the back until they left. I was embarrassed because we had to work, our parents spoke bad English and yet my friends would say how lucky we were that we could eat fish and chips any time." Effy said. Savidis says that when he looks back on his time growing up in the milk bar environment his biggest regret was that he never had a proper bedroom that he could call his own. "We always lived behind the milk bar and to be honest the residences were never very big. My bedroom was the stock room for the shop so it was full[ed] with cartons of cigarettes. "I can remember waking up every morning to the sound of the manual cash register. I came to hate that sound. It wasn't until after I came to Greece that I got the sound out of my head. "My schoolmates would talk about their bedrooms at home and it just made me sad. To be honest I cried a lot in those days," he revealed. "Brunswick was quite a tough place. There were a lot of Italians in the area and we Greeks would argue with them." "The British Australians didn't like us at all. We spoke funny and ate weird food. I got into fights. One time I was running away and a knife was thrown and landed in the grass next to me." "Now Greeks and their food are celebrated in Australia," Savidis said with a wry smile. FAMILY IS EVERYTHING The importance of family can never be underestimated in Greek culture. Working together to run milk bars and cafes bears witness to this. However owners and families sacrificed much-needed social and relaxation time. In their book Alexakis and Janiszewski have documented these recollections of sac- rifice. Evanglia Dascarolis, whose family ran the Popular Cafe in Cootamundra, said, "we never went on a family holiday …. we rarely celebrated events - everyone had to work." Katherine Paxinos' family had the Red Spot Cafe in Port Adelaide. She felt confined by her responsibilities saying, "I wanted to be like the other young girls, but it was my duty to help." Savidis explains that this was just the life they had when he was a child and he never knew any different. "Our milk bar was open from early in the morning until late at night seven days a week. Even on public holidays like Christmas if my father tried to close the shop for a few hours there would be someone knocking on the window after cigarettes or soft drinks or something else. It meant we never had dinner together or visited extended family because someone always had to be in the shop," Savidis recalls. "My dad was a good person. He taught me to drive on the streets after midnight when the shop was shut. Even though all he wanted to do was go to bed after a long hard day he still took the time to do that." "My sister Athina is 11 years younger than me, I have memories of Mum pushing her pram back and forth behind the counter in the shop with one hand while she served a customer with the other. Other times I would be entrusted to take her to the park so Mum could work." "I played team volleyball in high school. The guys would go out after our matches and have something to eat or drink. I would always have to go back to the shop instead. That upset me a little bit." HEALTH CONCERNS The extraordinarily long hours, arduous work, and lack of rest time took its toll on owners and families, leading to future health issues. "I remember that my father's toes would be bleeding. A result of the hours he spent in the milk bar working on his feet," Savidis said. "The hours were very very long. There was money to be made but it was a hard life." "Six months after selling our North Melbourne milk bar and returning to Greece my father passed away." "My mother had lung problems that had been attributed to the air conditioning that was constantly operating in our milk bars. The weather in Greece was seen as a good option to help her recover so we returned," he recalled. ALEXAKIS TELLS A SIMILAR STORY "From my own family my father had a fatal heart attack in his mid-50s while his parents in Greece lived long healthy lives into their late 80s." "There have been studies that confirm this - that migrants change eating and so- cial behaviours which impact on their health," Effy said. TURN BACK TIME While many look on the 1960s as a golden period for childhood in Australia, not everybody was living the dream. "If I had my childhood again I wouldn't want to grow up with my family in milk bars," Savidis said. "Unless of course they could have 9.00 am to 5.00 pm operating times. Somehow I don't think that would work," Tony says with a chuckle. Cafes and Milk Bars of Australia Part 2 Alexakis and Janiszewski describe their first ‘Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia’, which has gone into reprint, as an overview: an introduction to the theme, and historical background. The second, (due to be published in 2018), will delve deeper into themes and stories.
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