By Michael Kyriakou
In 1985, the Cyprus Community of NSW was located on the corner of Druitt and Kent St in the heart of Sydney, boasting thousands of members but with an uncertain future.
Without parking, large debt, paying 18 per cent interest, occupying a building that could not be redeveloped, and bruised after a painful split, it was the perfect storm.
The Community’s membership was dynamic, the legendary women’s and youth committees were active, the soccer club was strong, and Justice for Cyprus (SEKA NSW) led by its patron Gough Whitlam alongside Kipros Iordanou, Jim David and Nick Angelos amongst others, put the Cyprus issue firmly on the agenda. But the fact was that the Community could not meet its financial obligations, its revenue was poor compared to its expenses and the value of the property was not going up.
Sergios Argyrou – a young Cyprus-born member, smartly dressed, Bachelor of Commerce graduate, manager of a joinery – stepped up to the challenge.
Taking the treasury, Sergios – with the support of his fellow directors Sam Demetriou, Steven Stephanou, Con Koulouros, Themis Maxis, Philip Adamou, George Nicolaou, Lakis Ioannou, Michael Kyriacou and President Andreas Petrou – did what seemed impossible, kept the doors open, the bank and creditors happy, and the Community together.
Sergios kept working tirelessly in the background to convince everyone that the Community is bigger than the egos, the politics, ideology and agenda of the few.
Sergios, along with Philip Adamou, were instrumental in finding the Newtown Leagues Club at Stanmore for the Community to buy. Selling the city building, paying off the debt and buying this large Club was ambitious, but critical.
At the Extraordinary General Meeting, the members voted not to sell, only to sell a year or so later under a new board and pay a higher price for the Stanmore property. Luckily, a prominent Community member bought the city building far above market value and even donated a sizeable amount back to the Community!
Sergios may have been disappointed, but he did not show it. He, like his fellow directors Con Koulouros, Philip Adamou and others, did not abandon or attack the Community or its new Board. Sergios stood by his Community.
Thirty-five years later in 2019, the Community now in Stanmore was once again in familiar territory, with growing debt, poor revenue, falling membership, a rundown building and virtually no money to keep the doors open.
The only difference this time was that the Community was paying under 5 per cent interest and was sitting on almost 9,500 square metres of inner-city land. If rezoned, this would propel the Community to one of the wealthiest in the nation if not in the diaspora.
In March 2019, members voted not to sell, to stay at the Stanmore property, but the members did not consider how to keep the doors open, or how to keep the bank and creditors happy.
In November 2019, the members did just that. At an Extraordinary General Meeting, the members decided to fund their Community by setting up Cyprus Capital Limited, a member only entity with one herculean task – raise money from the members to keep the doors open, deliver the rezoning, keep the creditors and the banks happy and the loan sharks and other opportunists at bay.
At first, the founding board of Cyprus Capital Ltd, all volunteers with virtually no experience, found the task enormous. This had never been done before by any club or community. Soon there was no Board of Cyprus Capital Ltd and the situation seemed even more dire.
Again Sergios stepped up and with no fanfare he quietly spent what would have been hundreds of hours talking to members, visiting them and seeking their support to preserve the identity and language of his ancestral home, and his Community.
Despite COVID-19, Cyprus Capital Ltd attracted Community members to place often their modest savings to the cause, to save the Community and preserve its mission, a commitment that raised $6 million.
Sergios was highly regarded throughout the Greek and Jewish communities and many other segments of the great Australian family, as a successful businessman, a philanthropist, and dedicated treasurer to the Rose Bay Greek Orthodox Church.
Sergios’s legacy is not known to most. That is exactly how he wanted it to be.
The result of his legacy is there for all to see. The Club is open, the rezoning has been achieved and the members will make an informed reasoned decision about the Community’s next chapter without any looming fire sale or other pressure.
Sergios’ crusade to heal the late 1970s Cypriot community split, was relentless. He quietly pursued the sacred mission to unite all Greeks of Cypriot ancestry.
The Cyprus Community has lost a giant.
The fact many do not know of Sergios and his achievements speaks volumes for a man who did it all for the Community without the accolades.
It is a measure of the man – to do good deeds, recognise others worth and contribution, help those in need, step up and steer the great Cyprus Community through stormy weather – without expecting or wanting anything in return.
It is the least any Community, any member of the Community can do, in memory of Sergios. As Sergios would often say, “do it for the Community.”