‘I would’ve preferred to stay in Australia’: Katina Katakouzinou’s migration story

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By Kathy Karageorgiou

Katina Katakouzinou, now 88 years of age, lives in a peaceful seaside village in the Western Peloponnese. Originally from the island of Lemnos, Katina met and married her husband in Australia in 1958 and moved to his part of Greece in 1965. 

“I would’ve preferred to have stayed in Australia. I loved it, but my husband wanted us to return to Greece,” she reminisces.

Katina lived with her brother when she arrived in Australia in 1956, describing these early times as often lonely. 

A young Katina in Australia (front left).

“My brother worked all day. I cooked and did house work, but then I’d get bored and just go to the park across the road with swings, and swing myself. I was still a child,” she tells me smiling.

Her ensuing work life in Australia months later brought her much joy.

“My first job was at a big hotel in Melbourne where I would deliver washed sheets from the laundry to the rooms. I worked with only Australian women there and even though I spoke no English, they were so kind, helpful and always polite,” Katina says.

Good times at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia.

Soon after, through a matchmaker, she met her husband.

“We were invited to dinner at Greek friends of ours and he was there. I liked him, but didn’t want to get married. I said a stern “no way” to my brother, who was by then married and whose wife I think wanted me out of the house, which is natural,” Katina muses in her self-assured and down-to-earth way. 

“We had another dinner months later. My husband-to-be was there again, but this time so were two of his sisters, and they were lovely. We got on so well. He was quite suave himself, and something just kind of gelled.” 

Laughing half-heartedly, she says: “I still didn’t want to get married because I was enjoying my job and life, but when we raised our glasses of beer during the meal, the matchmaker said, ‘Here’s to the wedding of Katina and John’ and I just raised my glass too, and they took it as a yes!”

“I couldn’t be bothered saying no, as I guess I had already decided deep down,” she adds.

Wedding day.
Katina on her wedding day.

“We married, moved in with his sister and her husband, and bought that house all together. Then I went to a new job at an underwear factory and liked that job too. We sold our first house and bought a Milk Bar with a house on top and I worked there with my sister-in-law while the men were at their factory jobs… saving to return to Greece. I found out at the last minute almost. By then I had a five-year-old son and was more than content with my Aussie life.”

Katina’s husband (left) with his brother in law at their milk bar.
Katina’s last day at her factory job before moving back to Greece.

On her return to Greece from Australia in 1965, Katina was separated from her sister-in-law with whom she lived and shared their respective child rearing duties, and a great friendship. 

“Eleftheria’s husband took her to his village, over 200 kilometres away and I was suddenly stuck in a village with no electricity, with my in-laws, nice as they were, and with no stove to cook on, except an old wood stove outside,” she confesses, continuing stridently: “Well, I told my husband and father-in-law – ‘you get me a gas stove cooker or I’m out of here’ and they did.” 

Katina, a mother of a second child at that point, found life in the village very backwards and tried hard to adjust, while waiting for two years for electricity and a work permit for her husband to proceed with his business. 

Katina’s in-laws in the 1980s.
Katina issued her husband an ultimatum.

At this point in 1967, Katina gave her husband an ultimatum – that she’d be leaving with the kids and hoped he’d join them back to Australia. But, with tickets ready and awaiting at Piraeus port for them to sail away again, the electricity and work permit came through.

Katina tells me emphatically that although her husband agreed to go, even with the positive developments of utilities in the village, his ultimatum made her think deeply.

“He was a good man, a good father and said to me resolutely, ‘I don’t want you to be unhappy, but if we return to Australia, our life and whatever happens will be on you.’ I didn’t want this kind of responsibility and so I agreed to stay in Greece,” she says.

Katina and her husband John

“And we haven’t done too badly at all. Unfortunately, my husband passed away 15 years ago, but he’s close by in our cemetery near the church, on the little hill a ten-minute walk away where I go to light his candle and those of my in-laws and tend to their graves. I still live with my daughter-in-law and son. My children have wonderful partners and children – and I’m a great grandmother now too! 

Katina with her kids and grandchildren

“I never feel lonely, and I used to go to the beach daily in summer for years with a group of local friends, but now many have passed away. I help with the cooking and we have a lovely spacious house with a nice view, and visitors from Australia every summer. I guess it all worked out well. I gave it my best, and never complained when I decided not to be selfish and force my husband to return to Australia.” 

Katina radiates an earthy warmth and wisdom, as she adds with a gentle smile: “I’m at peace.”

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