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Biloela’s Pioneer Greek Immigrants
This is the story of young immigrants from the small villages of Southern Rhodes (Rhodes Island, Greece) who came to work in the sugarcane and cotton fields of Biloela, Queensland, Australia. These early immigrants were overwhelmed with homesickness for 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 Biloela’s Queensland cotton and sugarcane fields.
By 1934, the Calide Valley had 40,000 acres of cotton planted and a butter factory opened in 1936.
In March 1934, The Courier-Mail reported: “Among the cotton growers of the Biloela district is a former general of the Ural Cossacks who fought in the First World War (WWI) and a Russian Orthodox priest.”
Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Timotheos Evangelinidis (1880 – 1949) the Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand from 1931 to 1947, visited Biloela from time to time to baptize children, give communion to the Orthodox faithful and to preach the Divine liturgy.
By the early post-World War II years, the population of Biloela was about 1,000 people, making it the largest town in the Banana County.
After gaining considerable savings many of these early immigrants started town businesses such as coffee shops 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, his sister and village and traveled with his father on the Italian ship, Romolo bound for Queensland, Australia to seek their fortune.
Phillip worked alongside his father in the cotton and sugar cane fields of Biloela and had to deal with the hot and humid conditions as well as dingoes and snakes.
He was determined to succeed, however, through hard work and he began to learn the English language by studying a Greek-English dictionary.
He was nineteen when World War II started so he enlisted in the Australian Army and was sent to Darwin where he served as a cook. It was to be the start 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.
Gouger Cafe Adelaide
The intimate, hard-working and dedicated Diakou family has made their Gouger Cafe an icon of Adelaide’s seafood restaurants led by Phillip and his wife Anastasia in the kitchen and their three children, Maria, Steve and Bill. The Gouger Cafe was a pioneer in seafood dining in Adelaide and Gouger Street was to become the hub, boasting the cream of South Australia’s seafood restaurants.
The Stilian Family
Stylianos (Steve) Stiliano (nickname Matsi) said goodbye to his mother and his small hilltop village of Mesanagros, Rhodes Island, Greece in the mid-1930s and traveled with his father and his brother’s Yianni and Marko to work in the sugar cane and cotton fields of Rockhampton and Mount in Queensland, Australia.
In 1944 Steve met and married his wife Erini in Biloela who also migrated with her family from Lahania, Rhodes Island, Greece.
They had five children – the twins, George and Anna, Philip and Gary who were born in Biloela and Stella who was born in Adelaide in 1957.
Mixed Farming – Cotton and Cattle
The Stiliano family had a mixed-use enterprise on the outskirts of Biloela that integrated the cultivation of crops (cotton was the main cash crop) as well as the breeding of cattle (mainly dairy) for meat and milk.
Cotton seeds were planted in the spring and the crop had to be harvested before the weather could damage or completely ruin its quality and reduce yield.
Their cows had to give birth to a calf before they could produce milk.
Some of their calves were bred to calf and about three-quarters of the heifers became replacements for their adult milk-producing cows.
The long working hours lead to tiredness and fatigue. And the family was exposed to many life-threatening safety and environmental hazards that included snakes, heat, falls, injuries and pesticides.
Cafe in Mountain
The Stiliano family farmed, worked and endured in the cotton fields to earn enough money to establish a cafe in Monte about 96.2 km from Biloela offering fast service, long opening hours, and delicious meals seven days a week.
Their cafe offered the traditional English-style steak and eggs, mixed grill, chops and sausages, fish and chips as well as the American burger, ice cream, sundaes, milks and sodas could be purchased as sit-down meals or takeaways. .
Every Tuesday was to become a popular social past time at their cafe for farmers from the surrounding areas who took time out from their daily chores on their farms to enjoy a delicious cafe-style meal with family or friends.
Nick Frossinakis along with his father Manoli and brothers Philip and Tom from the small, southern Rhodes village of Lahania, Rhodes Island, Greece, left the uncertainty and economic instability of Post-War Greece in 1949 in the hope of gaining a more stable life in Australia .
They migrated to Biloela where they worked and endured in the cotton fields to earn enough money to buy their own farm.
Nick’s sister Eleni (Helen) stayed behind in Lahania, Rhodes Island for about three years, then traveled to Australia with another female immigrant from Lahania to reunite with her family in Australia.
Horse-drawn plows were used for the cultivation of soil on the farms in those days to prepare for sowing or planting to loosen or turn the soil.
They lived in houses made of sheets of iron on hard dirt floors and sweltering through long, hot tropical summers.
Their homes had no power so, kerosene lamps with a wick for burning were used for lighting.
Keeping clean and using the toilet was not as easy in those early days as it is today.
The bathroom and toilet were a stark contrast to the suites we are familiar with today.
Whether freezing cold or sweltering hot, many immigrants had to make do with a portable metal tub to bathe in and wherever they could find privacy outside was their toilet.
And, linen canvas water bags were a necessity in those days because the availability of clean, cool drinking water in remote rural areas was essential for survival. All farmers had to rely on plenty of sunshine, warm conditions and 4-to-5 months of frost-free temperatures to produce the fluffy white cotton.
Later, the family acquired approximately 120 dairy cows that they milked every morning then sent it to the factory so that dairy products such as drinking milk, cream, butter, yogurt and cheese were produced for human consumption.
Christos and Zaharoula Arnas
Christos Arnas was from the town of Katavia and Zaharoula Diakomihalis came from the town of Lahania, Rhodes Island.
During the late 1930s both, 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 that work the old-fashioned way.
Christos immigrated to Biloela, Queensland, Australia in 1936.
Zaharoula was brought to Australia by her father, Phillip Diakomihalis in 1937.
They met and were married in Biloela in 1937 and together, they bought a farm in the Callide rural area on the outskirts of Biloela where they cultivated cotton and raised cattle.
Their children Irene was born in 1938, Phillip, was born in 1943 and Mary in 1944.
Every morning, before going to school, Irene, the eldest daughter would feed 32 calves and then, after school, feed the pigs.
When the Arnas family went shopping in the town of Biloela they traveled in 1800s style, horse and carriage (an old fashioned reminder of a simpler, slower era).
Mixed-Agriculture – Cotton and Cattle
The Arnas family mixed farming enterprise incorporated the cultivation of crops (cotton was the main cash crop) as well as the raising of cattle.
It reconnected them to the traditional, self-sufficient rural, lifestyle they were used to back in their homeland of Southern Rhodes.
Milk, meat, cotton, cereal, vegetables and fruit were all produced on their farm.
They worked under the heat of the sun and under the rain to guard their crops and livestock seven days a week, silently and without complaint.
In the cotton fields the family struggled and endured to pull the white, fluffy string from the boll trying not to cut their hands on the sharp ends and they had to bend down to pick the cotton because the average cotton plant is less than three feet tall. .
The cows needed grass, hay and grain to feed them and adequate pasture to graze, while newborn calves required nursing every three to four hours or an average of 7 to 10 times daily and consumed 1 to 2 pints of milk at each nursing.
Their pastured pigs presented other challenges because poor nutrition will slow the growth of a pig and affect the quality of the meat as well as the welfare of the pig.
The Arnas family fed their pigs a varied diet such as corn, barley, soybean meal, bread, vegetables, fruit and pig pellets to stay healthy.
Banana peels also made good feed for pigs because of their high energy content.
Each pig had 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.
The Callide Primary School was a one-room schoolhouse built on stilts with a single teacher who taught the academic basics to several grade levels of primary (elementary age) boys and girls from the surrounding rural areas of Bilolela.
Nick and Tom and Philip of his brother were the first Greek immigrants to follow the Callide Primary School. Nick would sit his brother Tom on the cross bar of his bike to ride the 3 km on a gravel road to school every day. Irene Diakos also rode her bicycle to school.
Anna and George Stiliano were young farm children who first saw a schoolroom with rows of desks and a large teacher’s desk at the front.
That walk from their home to this strange new world was so different from their old family estate, pastures and fields.
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