John Mitroussidis: The migrant who devotes his life to the Greeks of Adelaide

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By Doris Falidis Nickolas

This is the story of an aspiring patriotic young man from Flambouro, Greece, who immigrated to Australia, devoting his life to the Hellenes of Adelaide. 

Coming from a plethora of education, when 29-year-old John Mitroussidis arrived in Australia in 1960, his intentions were “to serve the Greek community.” 

63 years later, the vibrant 92-year-old kept his word, upholding his involvement and contributing to the vast Greek community in Adelaide. 

“When I first started teaching [in Greece], my aim was to help students believe in themselves,” John recalls. 

“I wanted to instil good values and courage so that the students knew they could achieve anything they set their mind to. I wanted them to have a good chance in life with a trade or diploma in their hands.” 

Being around John is like being around a speaking encyclopedia and rightly so.

John in his beloved office proudly holding his certificates.

Initially purchasing a set of World Book Encyclopedia for his family back in 1972, John found himself encircled by his passion for literature and went on to become a successful salesman for the company, spanning over 16 years. 

John (always wearing a smile) became known as the familiar ‘Encyclopedia Man,’ visiting and selling a set of Encyclopedias to almost every Greek household in Adelaide. In 1981, he became the highest selling salesman and recruiter in all of Australia and New Zealand, earning him the position of a Division Manager. This new role took him to the National Conference in Washington DC, travelling to Tokyo, Japan, New York, Canada, and Honolulu. Not bad for a little Greek boy from Florina!

This is where John lives by his motto, “If you put your mind to something you want, you can achieve it!” 

When walking into John’s home office, amazement sets in at the number of framed certificates sprawled all over, not to mention the hundreds filed away in neatly presented folders. 

To give just a tiny insight into John’s extraordinary volunteer work and cultural contribution since he first arrived in Australia, he has received certificates of recognition for: Service rendered to the Members of the Pan Macedonian Association; Outstanding services towards Pavlos Melas Committee of South Australia as President for twenty years; Honourable Life President of Greek Macedonian Brotherhood of South Australia, Alexander the Great; Appreciation of good services to the Greek Ex-Serviceman Association of South Australia. (marching every year on Anzac Day); Commonwealth Recognition Award for Senior Australians 2001; and the list goes on.

In 1979, along with the committee of Alexander the Great, then-secretary John organised the first-ever Greek Macedonian festival in Adelaide – the Dimitria Greek Festival held annually until recently, due to the impact of COVID-19. The festival will continue to be celebrated every October, though on a much smaller scale. 

A man of many talents, including journalist and radio announcer for Radio 5EBIFM (1975 – 1990s), John founded the newspaper, Hellenic Macedonian Voice, in 2005. He has held the role of Chief Editor since. 

On most days you will find this admirable man in his office, enthusiastically preparing the paper, covering a varied range of topics such as multicultural events and community news ready for its monthly print. With the ongoing support of the Honourable Simon Birmingham MP, John is able to distribute the paper to the people of South Australia free of charge. 

One of the many highlights throughout the years was collaborating with the Museum of South Australia, presenting an exhibition titled Ancient Macedonia in August 1989. Once again, John was acknowledged by the Government of South Australia for his profound efforts.  

“Nothing makes me happier than enriching the education of the young Australian Greeks,” John says cheerfully. “Including my six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, I want to keep the culture and traditions alive for them.” 

Early years:

Born on November 28, 1931, in the small village of Flambouro, Florina, north-western Macedonia, Greece, John submerged himself into the world of education as early as he can remember. Sadly, John was only four years of age when his beloved father, Dionysius, passed away. His young, widowed mother Panagiota was left to raise John and his three siblings alone. 

“Like most families in the village, we were very poor,” John’s voice lowers as he recalls the difficult years. 

“I remember being so hungry I would look around for a scrap of bread to eat. I had to survive.” 

Eleven-year-old John, an avid reader, always with a book in hand.

Fortunately, John was able to continue his studies and completed Year 6 comfortably. He valued his education more than anything. Although his primary school years had ended, he chose to continue schooling. 

“I would rather be at school learning the same thing over again than be home doing labouring jobs,” John said. 

Diverse times:

With the onset of the Civil War in 1946, fear and trauma had come into sight and unsettled life for the villagers. Along with her four children by her side, Panagiota anxiously packed up what she could and by foot they set off to the neighbouring village, Ammochori. 

The family found themselves moving again, this time to Florina where they lived as refugees until 1949. John attended Pethopoli (technical school for young adults) and one of his many tasks was to deliver letters from the school principal to the Governor. 

In time, noticing the potential in this young bright student, the Governor asked John if he enjoyed studying. Taken aback John replied, “Pios then theli matia Sir Nomarhis” another way of saying, “Who doesn’t love to learn Sir!” Upon hearing the enthusiasm in John’s voice, the Governor sent him to the local high school.

In 1950, after graduating, John was given an opportunity to study Agriculture and moved to the island of Rhodes, receiving a diploma at the end of his studies.  

“In the year I was at the agriculture school, I learnt so much more than I did in high school,” John affirmed. 

“When working at Holdens in the 1960s, I was given the job of greenkeeper maintaining the grounds. I was so happy when given this job as agriculture was a passion of mine. I did this for ten years.” 

1952, John with his mother before joining the Greek Army.

In 1952, duty called and John found himself moving once again this time to Thessaloniki, serving in the Greek Army for the next two years. 

Fresh out of the Army, 23-year-old John was thrilled when he was given a position at the Agricultural school in Idroussa, a village nearby. He taught an array of subjects from theory and practical studies on grafting and pruning. 

An elated young Kaliopi and John in Florina 1956.

During this time, with the help of relatives, a proxy (arranged marriage) was organised for John and he met his graceful future wife Kaliopi, who was living in Florina with her family. After a short courtship, the young couple married on August 12, 1956. 

Life was moving along pleasantly and in October 1957, they welcomed their first-born child, a girl Konstantina. 

Family photo.

Life in Australia:

In the 1950s and 1960s Australia was recognised as the land of new beginnings and opportunities. Consequently, in 1960, when John’s older brother Yavril (who had immigrated to Australia a year earlier) offered to sponsor and bring the young family out, there was no contemplating.

After just over a month travelling onboard the Greek ship Patris, and along with hundreds of other young hopefuls, John and his family finally stepped on Australian soil on November 7. From here they made their way to their new home in Adelaide, South Australia.

The Mitroussidis family was growing and with the addition of daughter Zoi in 1962 and Dionysius (Danny) in 1966, John found himself plummeting into hard labouring work to help his family. Coming from a teaching background, he found the work more challenging than he thought.

“I often found myself so exhausted I wanted to collapse and cry,” John remembers. “However, I was too embarrassed, so I held it all in and just kept going.”

With continuous support from Kaliopi and their three children, John eventually went on and owned and worked in retail businesses. Whilst working here he found himself drawn profoundly towards his passion for the Greek community. 

John with his students at Fulham Gardens Greek school.

Giving back:

In 1969, a great opportunity arose. With co-operation from the Greek Cultural Club, John founded the after-hours Greek School in Fulham Gardens teaching language, culture, and Greek tradition. 

John’s gratitude for the Australian way of life often shone through his teachings and for many years to follow, he implemented this to his students. 

The enormous amount of community and volunteer work often meant John was absent from his family. Kaliopi also devoted her time in various committees, as well as supporting her husband. With the assistance of their three children helping whenever possible, the family drew in together and made a wonderful team. 

“My father’s life has been dedicated to promoting and fostering the Greek culture, heritage and language. To recognise and understand the Greek history, which has shaped and made us proud,” Danny Mitroussidis says.

“Essentially, we have a greater understanding and appreciation of our roots, heritage and culture. I want to pass this onto my two children, Carla and Jon, and for them to recognise their pappou’s achievements.

“Education and knowledge are so important. Oh yes… and reading the World Book Encyclopedia!” 

The Greek paper John writes and distributes monthly.

Dedication:

How do you put 92 years onto paper? 

Certainly not easy – though I hope this short story about one humble man’s love and passion for his culture and philanthropic nature has given some small indication of how a legacy can live on. 

Passing on the values and morals, John’s daughter’s Konstantina (Connie) and Zoi have carried over their father’s role and are heavily active in both the Pan Macedonian and Vergina committees in Adelaide, with their own children being enveloped in the importance of their Greek culture as well. 

Although life has thrown obstacles into John’s family’s path – his loving wife a cancer survivor – he always chose to remain positive. 

This is where you will find John most days working on his paper, Hellenic Macedonian Voice.

“When things got tough and out of my control, I picked myself up and just kept going,” he says. 

Today, John, who says he feels sixty-years young (and has the energy to accompany it), is still involved in many aspects of the Greek community and is often seen with a camera in hand at various Greek social events. 

When I asked John for the secret to a fulfilled life he replied, “Every morning when I wake up, I say thank you God for giving me another day to live.” 

“I am happy for that,” he says wearing his big smile. 

Gathered with family.

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