Despina Sahinidis was only 18 when she left her village, Agioi Anargyroi in Kozani, with a one-way ticket, to Australia.
In May 1957 she travelled alongside 900 brides on the old Spanish ship Begona but she was not coming to Australia to get married. Rather, to reconnect with one of her brothers who had settled in Melbourne a year earlier.
“There were no jobs in the village and my mother was bringing up six children. She encouraged us to leave the country to escape poverty. She wanted us to progress and do better than her and our father.
“I didn’t know much about Australia. From the letters my brother used to send us, I only knew it was a country far away with many snakes. He was always writing that life in Australia was good and this is how I made up my mind to follow in his footsteps,” Mrs Sahinidis, 81, tells The Greek Herald explaining how difficult it was to leave friends and family behind.
“My brother, who at the time was an Army Officer serving in Athens, accompanied me to Peiraeus. I can’t forget how much I cried as I was getting aboard Begona.
“I was sharing a cabin with an older girl who was engaged and was coming to Australia to get married. She was looking after me during the journey. She was scared as she didn’t know what to expect in Melbourne, but I wasn’t. I enjoyed the journey. The ship was clean and the food delicious. I can vividly remember the desserts. This is what I spent all my money on,” Mrs Sahinidis remembers.
Begona, docked in Melbourne, a month later.
“My brother and his friends were throwing chocolates to greet me. I had a good time”.
The first years in Australia
Although the Begona journey had come to an end, another one was about to begin. Upon her arrival, young Despina had different obstacles to overcome. She didn’t speak the language neither had she an appropriate education but she was determined to work hard and rebuild her life.
“I used to live with my brother for the first 5-6 months. Then I met my husband, we got married and soon we had our first girl. Within the next few years, we had two more and at the same time we had our own shops that we used to run. This is where I learned the language. I never went to school but I was always eager to learn,” Mrs Sahinidis says.
“Things were not easy in the beginning. Australians didn’t want us immigrants. They called us ‘wogs’ and we couldn’t find houses to rent but there were jobs and this is what was most important. We were focused to succeed and we worked hard. Our kids grew up in our shops, with us,” she reminisces.
If she could turn back time Despina Sahinidis would still come to Australia. She would change nothing.
“We went through good and bad times. Greece is first in my heart but Australia is where I created a family and brought up my children. I love Australia too,” Mrs Sahinidis concludes.