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Biloela’s Pioneer Greek Immigrants
This is the story of young migrants from small villages in South Rhodes (Rhodes Island, Greece) who came to work in the sugar and cotton fields of Biloela, Queensland, Australia. These early immigrants were devastated by the boredom of their native villages, the families they left behind, and their church. However, they took the opportunity to improve their lives by working in the harsh, rural environment of the cotton and sugar cane fields of Queensland’s Biloela.
By 1934, 40,000 hectares of cotton were planted in the Callide Valley, and in 1936 an oil mill opened.
In March 1934, The Courier-Mail reported: “Among the cotton farmers of the Biloela district are a former Ural Cossack general who fought in the Great War (WWI) and a Russian Orthodox priest.”
The Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Timotheos Evangelinidis (1880 – 1949) Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand from 1931 to 1947, visited Biloela from time to time to baptize children, introduce the Orthodox believers and preach the Holy Gospel.
In the early post-World War II years, Biloela’s population was about 1,000, making it the largest town in the Banana Shire.
After gaining significant savings, many of these early immigrants started businesses in the city such as cafes and restaurants.
Phillip Hagi-Diakou was born in the seaside village of Gennadi, Rhodes Island, Greece. In 1936, at the age of fourteen, he said goodbye to his mother, sister and village and joined his father on the Italian ship Romolo bound for Queensland, Australia to seek their fortune.
Phillip worked with his father on the cotton and sugar plantations of Biloela and had to deal with hot and humid conditions as well as dingoes and snakes.
However, he succeeded with his hard work and started learning English by reading a Greek-English dictionary.
He was nineteen when World War II began, so he joined the Australian Army and was sent to Darwin where he served as a cook. That was to be the beginning of a lifelong career in the kitchen.
When the war ended, he moved to Adelaide, South Australia and bought the Gouger Cafe – the cafe that changed his life.
The close-knit, hard-working and dedicated Diakou family have made their Gouger Cafe an icon of Adelaide seafood restaurants led by Phillip and his wife Anastasia in the kitchen and their three children, Maria, Steve and Bill. Gouger Cafe was a pioneer in seafood dining in Adelaide and Gouger Street was to become the hub, boasting South Australian seafood restaurants.
The Stilian family
Stylianos (Steve) Stiliano (née Matsi) said goodbye to his mother and his small village of Mesanagros, Rhodes Island, Greece in the mid-1930s and went with his father and brother Yianni and Marko to the sugar and cotton fields. work in Rockhampton and Monto in Queensland, Australia.
In 1944 Steve met and married his wife Erini in Biloela who had also moved with her family from Lahania, Rhodes Island, Greece.
They had five children – twins, George and Anna, Philip and Gary who were born in Biloela and Stella who was born in Adelaide in 1957.
Mixed Agriculture – Cotton and Livestock
The Stiliano family owned a complex farming enterprise on the outskirts of Biloela that cultivated cereals (cotton was the main cash crop) as well as raising livestock (mainly dairy) for meat and milk.
Cotton seeds were planted in the spring and the crop had to be harvested before the weather damaged its quality or completely spoiled it and reduced the yield.
Their cows had to give birth to a calf before they could produce milk.
Some of their calves were raised for mutton and three-quarters of the bees replaced their large dairy cows.
Long working hours lead to fatigue and exhaustion. And the family faced many safety and environmental hazards, including snakes, heat exposure, falls, injuries and medications.
Cafe in Monto
The Stiliano family farmed in the cotton fields, working hard to earn enough money to build a cafe in Monto, 96.2 km from Biloela, offering fast service, long opening hours, and delicious food seven days a week. does
Their cafe offered traditional English-style steak and eggs, a mixed grill, chips and sausages, fish and chips, as well as hamburgers, ice cream, sandwiches, milkshakes and American sodas that could be purchased as sit-down meals or take-out. .
Every Tuesday was to be a popular social past time at the cafe with farmers from the surrounding areas taking time out from their daily chores in the fields to enjoy a cafe-style meal with family or friends.
Nick Frossinakis, along with his father Manoli and brothers Philip and Tom, left the small village of South Rhodes, Lahania, Rhodes Island, Greece in 1949 from the poverty and economic instability of Post-War Greece in the hope of a more peaceful life. Australia.
They moved to Biloela where they worked in the cotton fields and struggled to earn enough money to buy their own small farm.
Nick’s sister Eleni (Helen) stayed behind in Lahania, Rhodes Island for about three years, then moved to Australia with another female immigrant from Lahania to join her family in Australia.
In those days, horse hoes were used to till the soil in the fields for planting seeds or for tilling or turning the soil.
They lived in houses made of iron sheets on dry mud floors and during the hot and long tropical summers.
There was no electricity in their homes, they used sulfur lamps with wicks for lighting.
Cleaning and using the toilet in those early days was not as easy as it is today.
The bathroom and toilet were a stark contrast to the suites we know today.
Despite the heat and cold, many migrants had to stuff themselves with a portable metal pan to wash themselves and where they could find privacy outside was their toilet.
And, straw water bags were a necessity in those days as the availability of clean and cold drinking water was essential for survival in remote rural areas. All farmers had to rely on sunshine, warm conditions and 4-5 months of frost-free temperatures to produce fluffy white cotton.
Later, the family acquired about 120 dairy cows and they milked them every morning and sent them to the factory to produce milk products such as milk, cream, butter, yogurt and cheese for human consumption.
Christos and Zaharoula Arnas
Christos Arnas was from the village of Katavia and Zaharoula Diakomihalis was from the village of Lahania, Rhodes Island.
In the late 1930s, the two decided to leave the island of their birth in search of a more peaceful life in Australia, taking with them the virtues of rural life – of farms and villages working the old-fashioned way.
Christos moved to Biloela, Queensland, Australia in 1936.
Zaharoula was brought to Australia by her father, Phillip Diakomihalis in 1937.
They met and married in Biloela in 1937 and together they bought a farm in the rural area of Callide on the outskirts of Biloela where they grew cotton and raised livestock.
Their children Irene was born in 1938, Phillip in 1943 and Mary in 1944.
Every morning, before going to school, Irene, the eldest daughter, ate 32 calves and then, after school, she ate pigs.
When the Arnas family went shopping in the town of Biloela, they traveled in an 1800s style, horse and buggy (an old reminder of a simpler, slower era).
Mixed-Agriculture – Cotton and Livestock
The Arnas family’s mixed farming enterprise involved growing cereals (cotton was the main cash crop) as well as raising livestock.
It reconnected them to the traditional, self-sufficient rural lifestyle they were returning to in their homeland of Southern Rhodes.
Milk, meat, cotton, grains, vegetables and fruits were all produced on their farm.
Seven days a week, under the heat of the sun and under the rain, they watched their crops and cattle silently and without complaint.
In the cotton fields, the family painstakingly plucked the white, fluffy cotton from a bush while trying not to cut their hands on the sharp spikes, and they had to bend down to pick the cotton because the cotton plant the average is three meters high. .
Cows needed grass, hay and grain and adequate pasture to graze while newborn calves were milked every three to four hours or an average of 7 to 10 times a day with 1 to 2 pints of milk per milking. were drinking
Their pastured pigs presented additional challenges as poor nutrition would slow pig growth and affect meat quality as well as pig welfare.
The Arnas family feed their pigs a varied diet of corn, corn, soy meal, bread, vegetables, fruit and pig pellets to keep them alive.
Banana leaves also made a good feed for pigs due to their high energy content.
Each pig was required to eat an average of 6 to 8 pounds of feed per day and was free to roam the Arnas farm, in the sun and fresh air.
One Room School
Callide Primary School was a one-room school built on stilts with a single teacher teaching academic fundamentals to several primary (primary age) grade levels to boys and girls from rural areas around Bilolela.
Nick and his brother Tom and Philip were the first Greek immigrants to attend Callide Primary School. Nick would ride his brother Tom on the handlebars of his bike to ride the 3km to school every day on a rough road. Irene Diakos used to go to school on her bicycle.
Anna and George Stiliano were young farm children who first glimpsed a schoolroom with rows of desks and a large teacher’s desk in the front.
That walk from their home to this strange new world was very different from their old familiar homes, pastures and fields.
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