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THE FIRST GREEKS THAT CAME IN AUSTRALIA

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On the occasion of 180 years of Melbourne and honoring the Greeks, lets make a reference to the past and lets see the first Greeks that came in Australia and in Melbourne.

According to the oral tradition, the first Greek that came to Australia was Damianos Gikas, that was transported to the Sydney as a convict in 1802. It is said that Gikas was a captain from Hydra, was arrested unfairly as pirate by an English vessel and was condemned in exile to Australia.However, this history cannot be confirmed with certainty, while there aren’t any proves in the files of Australia or Greece.It appears however that this history emanated from the real history of the first Greeks in Australia.These first Greeks that landed in Australia were seven young men from Hydra, that arrived there in 1828, condemned as pirates from the English Justice.According to the historical sources, five of them were repatriated in 1836, showing that they were rather patriots than common pirates.

The first free Greek emigrants that came to Australia were possibly some marine named John Peters, and came to Sydney in 1838, while the first reek woman was named Ekaterini Plessa, and came to Australia in 1853.Thus,a little before the discovery of the rich deposits of gold in Australia, there must have been no more than 4-5 Greek living there.This discovery did not increase particularly the migration tendency from Greece to Australia, as it happened with immigrants from other countries.The result was that in 1880 roughly 150 Greeks lived in Australia, even if the total population of the country had almost been tripled – mainly because of the new emigrants.

The main immigratory current from Greece to Australia the 19th century began after 1880.The 1891 census reported the existence of 482 individuals being born in Greece.That number, as all the others that were reported in census or estimates, is somehow conservative, while it does not include the Greeks that were born in Australia, as well as those who, for some reason, did not want to be recorded as Greeks.These emigrants were mainly from Cythira, Ithaca and Kastellorizo, and they were those that set the foundations of the Greek – Australian community and caused the phenomenon of the continuous migration, which led to the increase the number of Greeks in Australia to 878 individuals in 1901 and 1.798 individuals in 1911.The increase of the Greek population in Australia continued with the same pace even after 1950. Thus, in 1921 the Greek population of Australia counted 3.654 individuals being born in Greece, while in 1933 there were 8.337 Greeks in Australia and in 1947 12.291.
After 1952 the increase of the Greek element in Australia was rapid.Indeed, from 1953 until 1956, almost 30.000 Greeks came to Australia as immigrants, increasing thus the hellenism of Australia to 25.862 individuals in 1954.The migration from Greece escalated from 1961 until 1966, a period at which roughly 69.000 Greeks were installed in Australia.The Greeks were 77.333 in 1961 and 160.200 in 1971.After 1970 the immigratory current was decreased once again drastically, while had already begun a reverse transfer of emigrants back to Greece, a fact that (with the deaths) had as result the reduction of the Greek -Australian being born in Greece to 152.908 individuals in 1976, 146.625 in 1981, and 137.611 in 1986.Naturally, these numbers do not correspond to the total of the Greek element of Australia, since they concern only the individuals that had been born in Greece, that is to say the first generation immigrants. Without fall they give a relatively precise sense of mobility of Greeks to Australia and an estimate about the total of the Greek element in Australia.

 

melbourne

The Greek’s immigration to the State of Victoria began with the discovery of gold (August 1951) to the new established British colony.  According to one of the first census conducted in Victoria in 1854, there were 65 men from the ”Greek Orthodox Church” that were living to this colony.  The first wave of Greek immigrants adopted the mentality of «Eldorado» seeking the easy enrichment. The majority of these Greeks seeking for work, were signing agreements with shipping companies in various ports of England.  Most of them were registered as sailors and were forced to make tough and tyrannical work  blatant violation of their conditions of employment..

Thus the idea of escape from the martyrdom and inhuman work and the desire to seek a better life made them to escape and search for a better life in the newly discovered goldfields of Victoria.

These temporary migrants characterized the idea of a community spirit.  Some of the first migrants stayed in Victoria because of a wedding and others created small businesses benefiting from the big economic growth that followed the discovery of gold.

These that choose to continue as gold diggers are the larger number of the first Greek migrants who settled permanently lin provincial Victoria and moved within the boundaries of the areas with gold.  A second group, mostly fishermen, settled in the area Rosebud (area of Peninsula) since the beginning of 1870 and a third group of Greeks residing in Central Melbourne, the area that we call today CBD, as small business owners.  From these a small percentage were ex gold diggers that decided to settled in the city center by investing  to small businesses. .

 

 

Article sources: sae.gr and diasporic.org

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