‘The Greek Herald was family to us’: George Constantinidis shares his family’s migration story

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When I ask 60-year-old George Constantinidis what the colour of his family’s first car was, he answers “mustard” and quickly recalls three specific letters and numbers: “HFJ 032.” 

“That’s it, I remember it,” he notes proudly.

When I ask where his father Constantinos worked in the 1970s, he says “Broadway” and immediately recites the office’s seven-digit telephone number.  

“6602033,” he says with a smile. “I still remember it.” 

Unbeknownst to me, this was the landline of The Greek Herald’s Sydney office at the time.

The Greek Herald’s offices in Broadway, Sydney, 1972. Photo: The Greek Herald (TGH) Archives

1964 Egypt: Greeks in Exile

This exchange began with a simple question where I asked George to tell me about his family’s migration story. It’s a story he says begins in 1964 in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

George and his brother Harry were born in Alexandria to Greek parents, Constantinos and Aristea. 

Aristea worked as a seamstress and Constantinos worked as a linotype operator for the Greek newspaper, The Taxydromos. 

“Alexandria was a multicultural city. My parents obviously knew Greek from home but they learnt French in school, picked up Italian because mum worked with Italians and had to learn Arabic so they could buy groceries,” George says.

Between 1956 to 1970, a post-revolution Egypt was ruled by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Under his laws of nationalisation, middle-class Greeks, Italians, French and Britons became socially mobile throughout the 1960s. In 1964, an interim constitution was introduced and government policy was focused on ‘Pan-Arabism’: the establishment of a single Arab state.

Gamal Abdul Nasser, May 1958

For the Constantinidis family, this meant they needed to flee the country. 

“After the changes in government in the early sixties, all the Greeks were basically exiled, we were almost refugees,” George says. 

“Our extended family had completely dispersed, some went to Canada, others to Greece and some to Melbourne.” 

Typing the path to Australia

The Constantinidis family ended up migrating to Australia. George says it’s a journey that would not have been possible had it not been for The Greek Herald.

A three-year-old George Constantinidis with mother Aristea, father Constantinos and brother Harry travelling to Australia, 1964. Photo: Supplied

“My father was in his fifties in 1964 and because of his age, it wasn’t looking promising that we’d be able to get citizenship or be able to migrate anywhere,” he says.

The Greek Herald found out that dad was available as a linotype operator, and they sponsored him. If it wasn’t for The Greek Herald, we don’t know where we would have gone.

“We arrived on the 21st of September 1964 and on the 22nd, dad went to Elizabeth Street in Sydney and started working.” 

From 1964 to 1995, Constantinos’ unrelenting work ethic never faded, working six days a week for 31 years with The Greek Herald, following the paper from its Sydney CBD office to Broadway, Glebe, and later Marrickville.

By his side every Sunday was a young George who would run the proof machine as “something to do”.

As a linotype operator, Constantinos would enter text on a 90-character keyboard which would eject single line moulds. Each line mould was then arranged on a plate and later pressed on paper to form the contents of the paper’s articles.

The Greek Herald printing press at Glebe. Photo: TGH Archives

Known around The Greek Herald offices as “Barba Costa”, George says his father never took a day off. 

“He was very loyal, but at the same time, The Greek Herald was family to us. I don’t think work culture is the same today as it was then,” George says admiringly.

The Greek Herald was family to us’

In amongst reciting his fond memories of witnessing the late publisher of The Greek Herald, Theo Skalkos “put on festivals” with lambs on the spit, “calling in favours” to get Constantinos his first car at 60, George’s trip down memory lane then takes us to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. 

“I worked for customs for many years and I remember one night at the airport, an Olympic Airlines flight came in and someone had given me some newspapers that had been left behind,” he says.

“I gave them to dad, and he took them into the office the next day. Ordinarily, they would get that news a week later so when they got it on the Sunday, it was ready to hit the paper on Wednesday. They were ahead of the pack and it was a real scoop for them.”

Constantinos with his team at The Greek Herald, 1990. Photo: Supplied

Just last month, George’s daughter, Elisse Alexander, launched a dating app and spoke with The Greek Herald about her desire to lead a ‘dating revolution’. 

READ MORE: How Elisse Alexander’s new app is leading a dating revolution

When I ask how this full-circle moment made him feel, he says: “I was really excited. There is a lineage, you’ve got this third-generation Greek embarking on this digital platform and her roots run back through the newspaper. 

“I spent my childhood around the newspaper, throughout my adulthood I assisted with training when they moved to computerisation and now my daughter is chatting with them about her app. For me, it was great to see two big parts of my life interacting,” he concludes.

A young Elisse pictured with her grandfather Constantinos. Photo: Supplied

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