Honour your Greek mum this Mother’s Day on the National Monument to Migration

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We all know the traditional story of Greek migration to Australia.

Young men and women left their families behind in Greece, boarded boats with only one suitcase containing the essentials, and headed towards Australia in the hope of having a better and brighter future.

Achieving this dream wasn’t always easy though as many Greek migrants struggled with the English language and faced persistent racism. But they still never gave up. Instead, they opened their own small businesses, integrated into society and contributed to building the foundations of Australia.

It’s this contribution which deserves to be recognised today, especially in time for Mother’s Day.

But how can you have a permanent record of your loved one’s achievements? The Welcome Wall, Australia’s National Monument to Migration is the answer.

Located at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, the bronze-panelled Monument faces Darling Harbour and Pyrmont Bay, and features over 34,000 names of migrants who made Australia their home. Currently, there are 2,343 migrants of Greek heritage on the Monument – amongst these, the first ten Greek migrants to Australia.

national-monument-to-migration
The National Monument to Migration.

One of these Greek names belongs to Hariklia Yiannakaros, later known as Shirley Jackson, the mum of Tina and Kaily Koutsogiannis

A mother’s migration journey:

Hariklia was born to parents Calliope and Yianni Yiannakaros in the coastal village of Platy on the north Aegean Greek island of Lemnos towards the end of World War II. 

In 1949, her father Yianni migrated to Australia, leaving his daughter and pregnant wife for what he referred to as the “unknown land” in search of a better life for his family. In 1954, the 9-year-old Hariklia along with Calliope and her 4-year-old brother Yiorgo sailed to Athens where they boarded the ship KYRINIA for Australia.

koutsogiannis

The 31-day trip concluded in Melbourne in December 1954 and the family reunited. Hariklia was beside herself with excitement at seeing her father after five years and going to live in the land of “milk and honey”.

The family eventually moved to Griffith, a regional city in New South Wales, and became known as the ‘Jacksons’ courtesy of a bank manager who struggled with the pronunciation of “Yiannakaros.” Hariklia’s dad also informed her that from that day onwards she would be known as ‘Shirley.’

koutsogiannis

Life in Griffith was a stark contrast to their quiet village in Platy. Shirley, as she was now known, found herself in a bustling environment filled with new experiences and challenges. She has memories of eating fish and chips strangely wrapped in newspaper for the first time and school lunches featuring her favourite corn beef and salad. Yet, she adapted quickly, aided by the guidance of a compassionate teacher who patiently taught her English, allowing her to communicate and integrate into her new surroundings.

As the Jacksons settled into their new life in Griffith, they were joined by relatives from Lemnos, further enriching their sense of community and belonging. However, fate had more surprises in store for Shirley and her family as they made the move to Sydney, where they lived above their ‘Arcadia Milkbar’ on Parramatta Road in Stanmore.

During this time, Shirley assumed the role of translator for the Greek community, accompanying local Greeks to various appointments and serving customers in the family shop whilst standing on Shelley’s drink crates behind the counter. Despite her academic prowess, Shirley’s education was cut short at 15, as she was required to assist her father in managing the business and caring for her ailing mother.

“She is a girl and it is her place to help look after her family,” her father said at the time.

koutsogiannis

Yet, amidst the challenges, love found its way into Shirley’s life through an introduction by her cousin George Bananis. She met Sozos Koutsogiannis, a fellow Lemnian migrant, and their romance blossomed, culminating in marriage and had daughters Konstantina (Tina) and Kaliopy (Kaily) in the years that followed. 

koutsogiannis

Their journey together took them back to Lemnos in 1973, albeit under restricted circumstances due to political unrest in Greece at the time. Shirley’s return to her homeland after 18 years only served to highlight the vast differences between her old and new lives.

Over the years, Shirley’s compassionate and friendly nature guided her through various roles, from a nurse’s aide to a retail worker. The Koutsogiannis family eventually settled in Cabarita in 1980, where they owned a delicatessen and café, becoming cherished members of the local community. 

Honouring a mother’s love:

Shirley and Sozos were registered on Australia’s National Monument to Migration in 2015, a testament to their resilience and contribution to their adopted homeland.

Their daughter Tina tells The Greek Herald why she, along with her sister Kaily, decided to honour their parents’ legacy on the Monument.

“Kaily and I knew that they would appreciate being honoured on the National Monument to Migration, but we didn’t realise how special it made them feel until the day of the ceremony. Mum felt so proud that her story of a little Greek village girl from Platy was recognised at the Australian National Maritime Museum,” Tina said.

Tina also encouraged others to think about inscribing their own parents or grandparents’ name on the Monument.

“As the children and grandchildren of migrants, we owe a lot for the sacrifices our parents and ancestors made in migrating to Australia, in many cases they were just children themselves.  This is a special way of honouring them,” she said.

The Australian National Maritime Museum requires a tax-deductible gift of $500 to etch the name of a loved one with Greek heritage on the Monument.

“The Museum then requests a brief story about each person being honoured on the Monument for publication on its online archive. The Museum is amassing a selection of stories from these migrants; stories that, in turn, build the history of modern Australia.

Honour your mum this Mother’s Day on Australia’s National Monument to Migration at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Register to be part of the next unveiling ceremony. To register please visit this website or call (02) 9298 3777.

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