A Man of all Tribes
The Life of Alick Jackomos
By Richard Broome, Corinne Manning
Aboriginal Studies Press Copyright © 2006 Richard Broome and Corinne Manning
All rights reserved.
Growing up Greek
Castellorizo is a small island with a turbulent and colourful history. This Greek Dodecanese island in the Aegean Sea, located approximately two kilometres from the Turkish coast, was for centuries conquered in succession by France, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey. Despite being occupied, Castellorizians identified themselves as Greek and maintained Greek values and customs. From the seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries Castellorizo grew into a dynamic and prosperous trading island, giving many of the 9000 Castellorizians a high standard of living. However, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the economy floundered due to a downturn in maritime trading. Poor economic conditions encouraged many Castellorizians to migrate to countries such as America and Australia. After the First World War the island was transferred from the control of the defeated Turks to Italian rule. Living conditions on the island worsened and a second wave of migrants left in search of a better life for their families.
The initial members of the Jackomos family to arrive in Australia were part of the first wave of migration. Alick's paternal grandfather Alexios (or Alexi as he was commonly known), and his two great-uncles arrived in Perth in 1912. Between 1914 and 1917 Alexi assisted the migration of his wife Panayota, his two sons, Andreas (Andrew) and Yakomi (Jack), and his daughter Megthalia, and her husband Steve Pallaras. By 1920 all of Alexi's family, his brothers and sisters Areti, Angelo, John, Basil and Mick, and their families migrated to Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne. Coming from a country with a rich tradition of cultural and economic exchange, the Jackomos family embraced the new opportunities offered to them in Australia, although they maintained Greek values and customs within their new homeland.
Andrew spent his first years travelling and working in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. During this time life was an exciting adventure as he was exposed to new environments and cultures. He worked as a railway worker, helping in the construction of the Darwin to Pine Creek railway line, and then became a sponge diver and also a fish seller. Through his employment Andrew met other migrants, especially Chinese railway workers who taught him to speak a few Chinese words and phrases. He also met many other Castellorizians, mostly young men, who were forging a new life for themselves in Australia. With entrepreneurial vigour Andrew worked alongside his father Alexi in Perth. They started an independent business selling fish door-to-door, a venture reminiscent of traditional Castellorizian enterprises. Before the economic downturn on the island, Castellorizo had been a vibrant fishing and trading port. With baskets of freshly caught fish in their arms, bought from the local fish markets, you could hear Andrew and Alexi's calls 'fisho, fisho' echoing through Perth's streets. After building up a reliable clientele, Andrew and his father earned enough money to purchase a horse and cart. By his mid- twenties Andrew had a steady income and regular work in his adopted homeland.
By this time Andrew craved more than travel and business adventure; he wanted to share his newfound life with a wife and family. It was during this period that he and his parents relocated to Melbourne where a small Greek community flourished. A number of Castellorizians lived in the city including the Mangos, Spartels, Fermanis, Conos, Augustes, Kanis, George and Adgemis families. Andrew became friendly with two Castellorizian brothers, Peter and Manuel Augustes, who owned a fruit shop. The Augustes brothers worked for many years in order to raise enough money to enable their mother, three sisters and younger brother to travel from Port Said, Egypt, to Australia. In 1922 their efforts were successful and after a long and arduous six-week voyage, the family was reunited in Melbourne. It was not long before Andrew and Asimina Augustes were engaged. It is unclear whether their marriage was pre-arranged, as their families were acquainted in Castellorizo, or if they fell in love when Asimina arrived. Shortly after her arrival in Melbourne, on 1 April 1923, they were married in the Greek Orthodox Church 'Evangelismos' in East Melbourne.
On 24 March 1924 an olive-skinned, brown-eyed, baby boy was born in a small private hospital in Canning Street, North Carlton, to excited parents Andrew and Asimina Jackomos. Proud of their Greek heritage, they named their son in the traditional Greek manner, after the paternal grandfather Alexios, although they were aware that some Australians were intolerant of peoples from non-Anglo-Saxon and Celtic backgrounds. Racist attitudes were encapsulated legislatively in the White Australia Policy of 1901 and in the imposition of annual quotas and a landing tax on those from Southern Europe. Andrew would have met abusive and intolerant Australians during his adventures up North and the Augustes family also knew of the social marginalisation of migrants and Aboriginal Australians. Andrew and Asimina were determined to assimilate themselves and their children into mainstream Australian culture and decided to use a more Anglophile version of Alexios — 'Alick'. The willingness of Andrew and Asimina to accommodate Australian mores into their lifestyle signalled the manner in which Alick was raised. His parents ensured that he acquired a combination of Australian and Greek cultural traits, which later equipped Alick with the skills necessary to work and socialise confidently within many sectors of Australian society. As they cradled Alick in their arms, little did they know that their first born child would become a successful entrepreneur, soldier, boxer, wrestler, historian, genealogist and civil rights activist.
Andrew and Asimina worked tirelessly to ensure that their children had opportunities to succeed and live a secure life in Australia. From his early days in Melbourne, Alick's father, like many other Greek immigrants, worked in the food sector. In Andrew's case he worked in a business that he knew well — fish. His first fish and chip shop was situated on the corner of Park and Station streets, North Carlton. His decision to remain in the fish industry was partly due to his expertise, his individualist streak, and because it was difficult for many Southern Europeans to find other employment. The problem was due to language difficulties and to racist attitudes held by those Australians who refused to hire 'Dagos', as Southern Europeans were termed. Alick noted:
What else could migrants do when they came here in the 20s? It was either a fruit shop, a caffy or a fish and chip shop ... it would be hard to get a job in a factory ... as most Southern Europeans, not only the Greeks but the Italians, any dark skin was a Dago.
Alick recognised the economic advantages of running a fish shop: 'You didn't need big capital ... a couple of coppers, scales and a counter and an icebox, and that made a fish shop ... and you didn't need a lot of skills, you just cooked fish and chips'. From 1922 to 1965 Andrew and Asimina owned fish and chip shops in succession in Collingwood, Balaclava, Northcote and Carlton. The investment in this type of business proved to be a success as it supported the Jackomos family even through harsh economic times, particularly during the 1930s Great Depression.
The fish and chip shop was a central feature of Alick's childhood, as the family home was often perched above it. The long hours needed to support the business meant that Andrew and Asimina were both required to work. Unlike some other migrant families who were able to take advantage of free childcare through living in extended family situations, Andrew and Asimina lived independently. Consequently, from his birth Alick was a regular fixture within the family business, propped in the corner of the shop, strapped into his pram for safety. Perhaps this constant exposure to customers encouraged his gregarious nature. Over the next eighteen years the Jackomos family grew steadily, and Alick was joined by five siblings — Mary, Angelo, Christella, Maisie and Michael. Being the eldest child, Alick held a special position as mentor, provider and protector of his siblings. He took these responsibilities very seriously as he grew, and always endeavoured to support members of his family. This protective influence came from his mother, who was the primary carer in the Jackomos household.
Andrew and Asimina were often torn between their desire to be considered 'good' Australian citizens, while holding on to their Greek culture. The commitment which Andrew and Asimina felt towards their adopted homeland prompted their decision to become Australian citizens in 1928 (about one third of Greek immigrants were naturalised in the interwar years), although Greek culture remained vital to the family's sense of identity, and Greek traditions and customs were manifest in their daily lives. Asimina had very little time to cook many traditional Greek dinners for her family. Most evening meals consisted of fish and chips — gummy shark and barracuda were most popular. She did, however, make some Greek favourites such as the tender vine leaves stuffed with savoury rice known as dolmades, and lamb was a Sunday staple. Greek was the language spoken at home, as Asimina did not have a strong command of English. From a very young age Alick and his siblings were bilingual: speaking Greek at home and English elsewhere. The mixture of Greek and Australian lifestyles helped prepare Alick to live in a culturally pluralistic society.
In 1928, at the age of four, Alick commenced primary school in Faraday Street, Carlton, a strong working-class suburb. It was likely that he was one among forty or fifty students in his class, so opportunities were limited. Alick's education was also interrupted by the family's relocation to Balaclava, Northcote and Collingwood. Between 1929 and 1934 Alick attended Brighton Road, Northcote and Cromwell Street (Collingwood) primary schools. In his recollections there is very little mention of the academic nature of Alick's education, aside from his self-deprecating comment: 'I wasn't really smart'. At Cromwell Street Primary School in Collingwood he learned to print but not to write in copperplate, a method which he preferred to use as an adult.
Deprived of much formal education, Alick possessed a keen intelligence, a photographic memory and a superior level of recall. These intellectual skills were evident throughout his memoirs and oral testimonies in which he gave vivid descriptions of his working-class childhood experiences. For example, Alick fondly recalled the fun of playground games and childhood friends. While the girls were playing hopscotch and using knuckle bones as jacks, the boys were in the corner fighting to be the cherry-bob or Tooleybuck champion. Alick remembered:
Now a cherry-bob is the stone out of a cherry. In those days you'd walk around the gutters around the streets pickin' up cherry-bobs that people had eaten and spat, isn't it unhygienic?! They'd be white. Or you'd collect the red ones if Mum'd cooked some cherries ... Now, you had a little bag made of canvas, like a little money bag, maybe about 4 inches by 3 with a string on the top ... [At school] you'd dig a little hole in the ground, about three inches [in circumference]. Then ... you'd stand back about six feet and you'd throw your cherry-bob, and if it landed in the hole you got a bonus, you won a cherry-bob. That was the easy way. But then a lot of us made what they called a Tooleybuck. This was a piece of stiff cardboard about 24 inches [in circumference]. You'd put a hole in the middle and a cotton reel where that hole was. Then you'd put a meat skewer in the middle of it and some string around the skewer and the bottom of the cotton reel, so that you could pull that string and it'd turn around ... [like a] Roulette [wheel]. Instead of being numbers, we'd have ... famous horse cup winners of the '30s, Pharlap, Wotan, Shadow King ... Peter Pan, and you'd gamble ... you'd say ... 'Four to one Pharlap, three to one Shadow King' etc. [We] started gambling at the age of six and seven and eight!
Alick would often play these games with his schoolmates: Adams, 'Digger' Whitburne, 'Bubby' Thomas and 'Wally' Gully. Throughout his childhood, there were very few migrant children at Alick's schools, so most of his friends were Anglo-Australian. At the age of eleven Alick transferred to Collingwood Technical School, but before two years had elapsed Alick told his mother that he was no longer required to attend school. This misinformation was unquestioned by Asimina, and Alick ended his formal education before completing eighth grade.
Alick did not evade Greek school so easily. His parents considered Greek school to be vital to his education as it encouraged the maintenance of Greek culture within an Australian context. Therefore, like many Greek parents, Andrew and Asimina were willing to pay for this supplementary education. The Greek school was situated in central Melbourne where Alick was required to attend classes three times a week: on Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. The type of Greek learnt by students was a blend of Greek and Australian. Alick recalled, 'We learned a Greek that included a lot of Aussie words ... You know for the tram we'd say "trammie" in Greek ... for bank we'd say "banka"; the Greek word is trapiza ... so we mixed this bit of Greek with Australian and made our own [language]'. While important to parents, Greek school was a trial for children. Alick's cousin, Theo Conos, recalled, 'every young child of that age [was] terrified of being cast as foreigners'. Alick often resisted such an education. According to Theo, 'Alick was a rebel ... he used to get into arguments with the teacher and get thrown out [of class]'. His resistance may have been due to the nature of education and teaching at Greek school, his not being academically inclined or simply youthful rebelliousness.
Throughout his childhood, religion was an inherent part of Alick's upbringing, under the influence of his mother who was a deeply religious woman. The importance of religion in Asimina's life can be seen in her claim that Alick was born on 25 March, Evangelismo or Annunciation Day — the day that Christ was conceived. It was not until adulthood that Alick obtained his birth certificate that listed his birth date as 24 March. In the family home religious icons were placed in each room, illuminated by the flickering light coming from homemade oil lamps. Every Sunday Asimina marched Alick and his siblings to the Greek Orthodox Church in East Melbourne for the morning service. This church was the spiritual centre for Melbourne's Greek Orthodox community. It was also where Asimina and Andrew were married and their children baptised. Around the age of nine, Alick served at the church as an altar boy, and in later life he chose it for his own children's baptisms. Religion always played an important role in Alick's life, although the focus of his spirituality later moved away from the Greek Orthodox Church and more towards Western Christian groups such as the Church of England. Even as a child, when he lived in Collingwood, Alick attended two churches. In the morning he went to the Greek Orthodox Church, while the afternoon was spent at the non-denominational, Children's Church in Harmsworth Street. It was not the place of worship that mattered to Alick, but the general ethos of religious doctrines and the sense of community it instilled.
Unlike Asimina, Andrew was not an outwardly religious person. In Alick view, 'Dad wasn't so much for religion, his religion was backin' horses and playing cards ... and drinking grog, you know! He was a good Dad, but that was his religion'. The behaviour of Alick's father was typical of many Australian men of this era, especially those existing in a working-class culture, who regarded women as responsible for homemaking and the moral upbringing of the children. Despite his reluctance to participate in formal religious ceremonies, Andrew recognised and celebrated Greek religious holidays. Alick noted, 'Easter time was a big thing ... on Easter Sunday we'd go visiting families, all the cousins and relatives we'd ... have the Greek eggs ... and a little Greek cake'. Andrew and the family also celebrated Name Days. In the Orthodox tradition, if a person is named after a saint, a celebration is held on his/her Name Day. Many Greek people consider Name Days to be more important than birthdays and organise open house parties for relatives and friends. Alick recalled, 'you'd always go and visit somebody [on his/her] Name Day. You'd go and visit them and they'd bring a little tray around with first of all some grapefruit or orange boiled in sugar and then a glass of water and a little whiskey or ouzo ... that's for the men'. Andrew's willingness to participate in this form of festivity was increased by the location of these gatherings in the homes of family and friends, rather than in a solemn church. Greek Easter and Name Days were also celebratory events with lots of eating, drinking, dancing and frivolity, which the gregarious Andrew enjoyed.
Andrew similarly emphasised involvement in events organised by the Greek community. The Castellorizian migrants established a social club in the city centre, the 'Cassie Club', where members socialised among countrymen. Gambling, drinking and chatting on weeknights and weekends was a popular attraction for many men. The Club also organised more family-centred activities such as an annual picnic, festivals, dances and other social events. Alick recalled:
We'd go to the 'Cassie Club' and there'd be all these old Cassie songs and dances where you form a ring and hold each others hands ... Dad was good at that. He'd take the lead and instead of holding hands with the next person, he'd hold a handkerchief in between ... he'd jump over it, do a bit of a somersault or jump and clip his heels.
The Club was an important focal point for migrants as it gave them an opportunity to relax and socialise with fellow 'Cassies'. It also served as a sanctuary where members were protected from the possibility of racially-motivated abuse by people who disliked migrants. The Club sustained familial and social networks within Melbourne's wider Greek community. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Man of all Tribes by Richard Broome, Corinne Manning. Copyright © 2006 Richard Broome and Corinne Manning. Excerpted by permission of Aboriginal Studies Press.
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