The Macedonian Community of Crabbes Creek grew from the singular influence of Krsto Pazoff / Peter Kitzos/Kitsoi, (Macedonian/Greek names respectively), aka Peter Steve, who landed from the village of Statitsa (Melas), between Lerin (Florina) and Kostur (Kastoria), in Greek Macedonia in 1928, aged 25. Around 1935/36 he made his way to this region and teamed up with Andrew Alidenes to work on farm properties around Murwillumbah, including those of the Anthonys, and by 1937 had saved enough money to purchase his own plot at Crabbes Creek where the nursery now stands. In the meantime, about 1936/37, he had been able to send for his three older sons, Tony, Cecil and Johnny and, in 1938, his wife, Yianna, and youngest son, Jimmy.
On the same boat as Yianna and Jimmy Pazoff were Trena Pavloff/Pavlovich and her children Chris, Angelina and Patsina, who remained in Brisbane with their husband and father, Norm George Pavlovich. Norm/Naum, 23yrs old when he first landed in 1924, had spent many years working alone in Melbourne and Lithgow prior to venturing into Queensland looking for work during the Depression. In 1936, after stints in a variety of occupations, including cane cutting, timber getting and shearing, he came to Brisbane to work in the timber mill of Hancock & Gore, but, in a piece of unfortunate timing, suffered a serious sawmill accident just as his family arrived. The next few years were a tough period for the Pavlovich family as they all sought work in any available occupation until rescued by Peter Pazoff, who eventually tracked them down in 1941 and convinced them to come to Crabbes Creek to try banana bending. With a loan from Peter, Norm bought a small plantation at Upper Crabbes Creek and in 1942 his son Chris could claim the distinction of being the first Macedonian to attend the Crabbes Creek School.
In 1940 Peter Steve’s sister, Petra, came to the Creek with her husband Jack Vane (Stojan Milankov / Theophanis Milianis), and the following year were joined by their daughter, Sofia, and her husband Tom (Mick) Michael (Tanas Jengalov / Mihali Tsakalos, aka Mick Chakaloff) and two children Maria and George. Jack and Petra had been in the country for a fair period, while Mick and Sofia had landed from Melas in 1939. They all initially lived in a 2-bedroom shack and worked a banana patch together until Tom and Sofia bought the place in 1944. A year later Jack and Petra purchased their own property near Peter Pazoff, where they lived until retiring to Queanbeyan. Mick and Sofia however, remained at Crabbes Creek. And now adding a multicultural flavour to the Kingscliff High School curriculum, their son George Michael (Tsakalos) teaches alongside Terry Mitchell (Tsicalas) and Tony Mentis (nephew of the Lismore/Ballina/Kyogle Coroneos).
The Michael’s plantation was a substantial one, with a separate large building for accommodation of a number of workers. In 1953 five of these were his nephew Johnny Steve Michael/Tsakalos, Paul Armenakis, Nick Nauma, Vic Misios and the Bulgarian Nick Nedellkoff.
Mick’s nephew Johnny landed in early 1950 and worked for him for 3 or 4yrs before getting his own patch at Crabbes Creek. His marriage to Shirley Shirley Elioff/Ylias of Wauchope in 1956 was a grand affair and celebrated in traditional Macedonian style, managing to score half the front page of the Tweed Daily to satisfy the curiosity of its Murbah readers about the rituals of New Australians. The reception at Crabbes Creek drew over 200 friends and rellies. The following year Shirley's brother, John Ylias, married Maria Peter Geles of Burringbar and became a banana grower at Crabbes Creek.
Another early arrival at Crabbes Creek was Athanasios Theodore Zakas. He landed at Fremantle from Melas in early 1938, aged 37, and made his way to Crabbes Creek a couple of years later. He initially worked on Peter Steve’s property until acquiring a lease on Mack’s nearby property at some stage, and commuting from the pub at Mooball. His daughter, Sofia, and her husband Elia Gertzos, joined him at the Creek in about 1944. His wife, Catherine, 14yr old daughter, Johana/Vana, and 9yr old granddaughter, Helen, arrived in late 1950 and lived on Peter Steve’s property for 2yrs while he completed a house on his own lease. In early 1953 the house was destroyed by a mysterious fire, nearly taking them all with it. Vana married Johnny Steve/Kitsoi at Murbah in 1955 and later moved to Queanbeyan, where Johnny died in 1984, aged 54.
[Also arriving with the Zakas family in 1950 were Elena Kosta and daughter Stoina to join husband and father Sotiri Kosta, accompanied by Bill Ousilins, the son of Vane of Blindmouth, Ivana and Zia Kotronis, the wife and daughter of Lazaro of Main Arm, and rellie Miss Anastasia Kochova. Anna Sultis, the wife of Velo of Mullumbimby Creek, and Stioana and Arthur Tallis, the wife and son of George of Crabbes Creek, also arrived about this time and may have been in the same party. From early 1950 each new group was welcomed with a bash at the recently built Macedonian Hall.]
From this nucleus the community grew rapidly as Peter Pazoff influenced more friends, relations and compatriots to come to the district. By 1949, as the historic group photo published in the Crabbes Creek School’s centenary booklet indicates, the community numbered about 100 with wives and children. The Macedonian commune developed south of Crabbes Creek Road at the bottom end of the valley as the Italians had started to claim the top end.
By the end of the war the community was well established and dominant in quality banana production. At the Tweed River Agricultural Society’s ‘Victory Show’ in late 1945 Peter Steve took out the banana championship and next year won the ‘Most Successful Exhibit’ award as well as a heap of other prizes. And again in 1947 P. Steve & Sons won the ‘Champion Bunch’ award and many more prizes. That year was a good year for the Greeks and Macedonians; the Steves and Norm Pavlovich took out most of the awards at the Tweed show while Jerry Arcouzis, Ernie Pascal, Velo Vassel/Soulis and the Pippos Bros almost swept the pool at the Mullum show. In 1948 P Steve & Sons took out 'The Most Successful Exhibitor Award', with prizes in almost every category, leaving a few of the remainder for N. Pavlovich & Son. In 1949 Steve Bros and N. Pavlovich & Son almost swept the pool.
Through to the 1960s they continued to be successful exhibitors at the Tweed Banana Festival and Agricultural Show, with their champion bunches often making the front page and becoming the talk of the town. One such photo in 1957 showed 2yr old Lexi Steve dwarfed by a giant bunch grown by her uncle Cecil, who won many prizes for the size and quality of his bunches over the years. He was also a champion packer, regularly sharing a place with the Macedonian Albanian, Myftar Hasan of Dunbible. For the 1959 Banana Festival it was Tony Steve’s turn to star when his bunch weighing in at 135lb made the front page.
Cecil bounced back in 1960 when his 150lb monster bunch of bananas was proclaimed the biggest bunch of bananas ever produced from a Tweed district plantation. There were 22 dozen bananas on the bunch, some of which were bigger than the ‘King Banana’ of last year’s Tweed Banana Festival. A photo of Cecil and his bunch then featured regularly in adverts for the rural supplies company J.H. Williams & Sons, with the interesting statement that the bunch had come from a 28yr old plantation.
Peter Kitzos/Kitsoi allegedly made a heap of money from bananas during the war years, fully embraced his anglicised name of Peter Steve and moved on to property development in Melbourne and Canberra in the late 1950s, leaving his sons to continue the love affair with bananas. Tony (Done) Steve, a horse racing fanatic, bought the Victory Hotel at Mooball in the early 1950s. He could also be the bloke who acquired Denny’s Deli near the Roxy café in Murbah in early 1947 and traded as Don Steve’s Deli for a few years, perhaps with a manager installed. It morphed into a fish n' chip shop with a delivery service as far as Uki and Tyalgum. He married Helen Nana at Murbah in 1946 and shortly afterwards sponsored out her father George, who lived with them for a fair period until moving to Queanbeyan in 1954. Cecil (Sotiri) married Sophia Divitcos at Mullum in 1951 and also is believed to eventually have settled in Queanbeyan.
[And by the bye, the Mooball pub, the most up-to-date in the region when opened in 1934, has the distinction of being the largest boarding house for Greeks and Macedonians in the Brunswick district. Over the years it was the base from where many growers commuted to their patches at Burringbar, Crabbes Creek, Yelgun, Cudgera, Billinudgel and surrounds. One such, the Ithacan Manuel Cassis, called the place home for about 10yrs.
And for the record, in early 1948 Stavro Petros Kitsoi, more than likely Peter Steve, owned assets of £7000 at Crabbes Creek and was earning £2000 per year, suggesting that the banana game was still very lucrative despite the increasing gluts. At this time he sponsored his 18yr old nephew, Petros Trandifilious Theoffani, from Melas to Crabbes Creek with an offer of £4 per week for banana labouring.]
In late 1958 the Murbah Daily News ran an article on successful migrants and described Norm Pavlovich as the oldest ‘new Australian’ in the Tweed District…who had seen more of Australia than many Australians. During the Depression years he walked hundreds of miles looking for work in the outback as a shearer. Eventually he was able to put his savings and £200 he borrowed into the Crabbes Creek plantation. He developed a highly productive 30 acres, half of which he sold recently. [Also winning accolades in the same article was Cad Zdravkovic of Dunbible who developed an irrigation system free of running costs when he tapped into a spring at the top of his property and used gravity feed in an ingenious arrangement of pipes and tanks. He was a captain in the Yugoslav Air Force before coming to Australia in 1951, but at the time of the article he was still not joined by his wife and family. He had an 8-acre plantation for which he paid £2000 but was now worth £5000. Another Yugoslavian, 38yr old Milan Trtanj with 15 acres at Dungay, was also applauded for his inventiveness. He used a bullock team to cut 18inch contour trenches, which was much faster than digging separate holes for each banana stool and had the added bonus of solving the erosion problem. He had recently knocked back £8000 for his plantation.]
Some of those who followed include:
Alexander Athanasios Zaicos of Atrapos, Florina, the farming neighbour of Arthur Zakas. He was in the cafe game at Murbah until coming to the Creek in the late 1940s, probably after his marriage to Elsie May Smith at Murbah in 1948. He is the same Alex Zackos who purchased his plantation, inclusive of a hut/packing shed, at Crabbes Creek sometime in late 1950 from George Railis, who had in turn purchased it from Anastas Geshiff in early 1950 for £600. For some smart operators trading banana leases was more lucrative than growing bananas.
Paul Armenakis, another son-in-law of Arthur Zakas, was sponsored out by Arthur in 1952 and lived with him for 6mths or so before going to work for Mick Michael (Tsakalos). At the height of the glut of the mid 1950s Paul gave up banana growing to become a pineapple grower, and later a sawmiller, at Crabbes Creek, in which occupations he remained into the 1960s.
Paul’s wife, Kiratsa, was another of the many Macedonians displaced during the Greek Civil War. Whilst Paul was off fighting in the Greek Army she had been taken to Czechoslovakia, where she spent 8yrs in dam building amongst other things, before she was located and brought to Australia in early 1956 through the agency of the Mullumbimby Red Cross. Their 8yr old daughter, Christina, a 4mths old baby at the time Kiratsa was taken, arrived shortly afterwards. All this time she had been in the care of an aunt at Melas, Kastoria. Her 4yr old cousin, Vicki Gertzos, led the welcoming party at Coolangatta airport. Kiratsa, born in 1929, saw her father for the first time in 18yrs.
Kiratsa’s release was the second secured through the efforts of the Mullum Red Cross. The first was that of 11yr old Maria Tallis who rejoined her parents at Crabbes Creek in late 1955 after 7yrs lost in one of the Iron Curtain countries. Theofanis Elia Talis was a banana grower at Bungebeebra Creek near Casino in the late 1940s until coming to Crabbes Creek to join George Nikolas Tallis. In late 1950 George was finally reunited with his wife Stioana and son Arthur whom he hadn't seen in 22yrs. George died at Crabbes Creek in 1967 aged 69.
The communist forces are reckoned to have taken about 25,000 children during the course of the civil war, especially from the districts of Florina, Kastoria and Kozani, and distributed them throughout the communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Many young women were also taken to act as ‘majki’ (mothers). It’s a tricky one; the communists claiming the children were simply being removed from harm’s way during the civil war, while their opponents claimed forcible removal. Either way, many of the children were never reunited with their parents.
Others located through the efforts of the Mullum Red Cross included Para Mankou and Eleni Kaliagiannis who both arrived in 1959. Para joined her mother and stepfather, Mr and Mrs Dimitrios Rimpas, at Burringbar after 11yrs in Hungary and, as Para Tanas, was the centre of interest at Upper Burringbar’s Commonwealth Day Celebrations in mid 1959. Dimitrios Athanasios Rimpas, came from the village of Atrapru, Florina, in 1929, and was farming at Eungella by the end of the war, moving to Upper Burringbar in the late 1940s. Georgeoz Athanazioz Rimpas landed from Florina in 1937 and had a plantation at Upper Burringbar by the end of the war, but relocated to Upper Dungay in the late 1940s. He and his wife, Atina/Athenia, subsequently moved to Crabbes Creek and finally left the district around the mid 1950s.
Eleni Kalogianis joined her husband and two children at Crabbes Creek after 13yrs in Tashkent where she had spent the major portion of her stay in a factory assembling radio valves. She was taken by guerrillas when her children were 3mths and 13mths old. Petros Christos Kalogiany/Caragianis/Kalaynoff (aka Chris Peter) landed from Melas, Florina, in 1936, aged 35, and had a banana plantation at Blindmouth at least by the end of the war. He moved to a patch next to Cecil Steve at Crabbes Creek in the late 1940s and was later joined by his wife Christina and sons Arch, Vic and Tony. His daughter, Sofia Bridoroza, settled at Queanbeyan. He died at Crabbes Creek in 1963.
Chris George Pandel (Tsakos/Zakas/Zaicos) of Wauchope married Angelina Pavlovich at Port Macquarie in 1943 and came to Crabbes Creek shortly afterwards. It’s believed Chris landed from Florina sometime in the 1930s to join his father, George, who was one of the original NSW Macedonian pioneers in the Dorrigo district (but maybe connected was Chris Chakos running a cafe at Ballina during the late Depression years, perhaps an ex-navvie on the Ballina-Booyong rail line?) It’s also understood that George accepted his Greek citizenship but elected to adopt the Pandel name to differentiate himself from other unrelated Tsakos/Zakos in the district. Chris's mother, Vasiliki, who apparently landed from Lerin in 1929, died at Murbah in 1951.
Chris and Angelina acquired a 60-acre farm on the Pacific Highway about 100 yards from the Crabbes Creek Railway Station where they ran cattle as well as growing bananas. In late 1948 Chris initiated the collection for a large donation to the Murbah Hospital, which won the Crabbes Creek Macedonian community some very favourable publicity in the Tweed Daily. In 1952 they sold up and moved to Newcastle, where Angelina recently died. All their children, Peter, Elizabeth, Margaret, Marie, Elena, Olga and Viki, were born locally. Peter later returned to Crabbes Creek to grow bananas, while his aunt, Chris’s sister Maria Pandel, came from Wauchope in 1958 to marry Bill Ouslinis at Mullumbimby.
Thirty seven year old Johannis Nicolaou Petsinis (Vane K. Pechinoff) landed from Vevi, Florina, in 1927 and made his way to the Tweed district sometime in the early 1940s. He initially had a patch at Upper Burringbar but moved to Crabbes Creek in 1947 to acquire a plantation in partnership with his son Jimmy and Mihali Yofchevich on part of M.A. Robb’s property, about 400yds from the Zakas plantation. Disaster struck in early 1948 when he died in a freakish flying fox accident. It seems he, Jimmy and Mihali had just finished tensioning a new wire when it snapped, releasing a heavy iron roller that struck Joannis a fatal blow to the head. He left a wife and four daughters in Vevi.
His son, Mitre Vane Perchinoff, aka Jimmy/Dimitrios Stogianis Petchini/s, was 14yrs old when he landed from Banitsa, Lerin, in 1939. Jimmy’s betrothed, Morfia/Morva Vane Volchinova, arrived from Banitsa in mid 1949 and 2mths later theirs was the first Macedonian marriage celebrated at Crabbes Creek, with Mr and Mrs Stoijan and Petra Milenkoff/ov as best man and first bridesmaid. Jimmy and Morfia moved to Queanbeyan in 1952 and 2yrs later migrated to Canada, where Morfia’s family had settled, and now operate a fish ‘n’ chip shop in Toronto.
Amongst the early Yugoslav Macedonians was Traitch Ristich who came to Crabbes Creek from North Queensland around 1948. He was 44yrs old when he landed in Adelaide from Monastir (Bitola) in 1926. He was labouring in Sydney by 1929 and sometime later began his long meandering journey north in a search for work in the Depression. He was still bending bananas into the late 50s, aged in his late 70s. He is probably connected to Vasil Naumoff Ristich who had a patch in partnership with Peter Lazar Yofchevich at Crabbes Creek at least by the end of the war. (And maybe connected was Michael Ristich, aka Mirchie Ristich Kotchevich of 'Rufftse', District of Krulevo, Yugoslavia, who landed in 1925 and was ensconced at Terranora at least by 1932, perhaps another navvie laid-off from the Ballina-Booyong rail project.)
PetrePetre/Peter YofchevichMihali/Milan Yofchevich landed from the village of Bukovo near Bitola in 1939 and came almost immediately to Crabbes Creek. He seems to have laboured for Cecil Steve before acquiring his own patch nearby.
Vane Velevitch also landed from Bukovo in 1939 and had a patch at Crabbes Creek by the late 1940s, somewhere near that of Vipan Tase Velevitch. One or the other is possibly the same V. Velevitch recorded as the leader of the Sydney branch of the Macedonian Australian People’s League (MAPL) in 1947.
Jimmy Tarsevich, 15yrs old when he sailed into Fremantle from the village of Cupratavo in 1937, enlisted in WA and came to Crabbes Creek upon discharge. He is probably the same Dimitrije Travesic/Tarsevic who has the distinction of being the first ‘foreigner’ naturalised in Murbah’s new Court House naturalization ceremonies in late 1949. ‘Foreigner’ became the interim term for non-British migrants after ‘alien’ went out of vogue, but before ‘New Australian’ took hold. The magistrate made a point of congratulating him on his ability to read and write English and said he was fine example to all ‘foreigners’! Jimmy still lives at Crabbes Creek, where his wife died in 1966.
Shortly after selling his Ocean Café in Murbah in 1948 the Macedonian and Albanian national, Shefit Ismail, came to Crabbes Creek to grow bananas, possibly with his uncle, Ali Yahya. One of his cafe employees was John Henry Zako who was later a banana grower at Billinudgel, where he had a building application for ‘men’s quarters’ approved in early 1948, probably implying he had a substantial plantation warranting workers’ accommodation.
Other early Macedonians at Crabbes Creek and surrounds include:
Con Arthur Armbis
who acquired a patch just after the war. He was born in 1905 at some place
called Planeleran in Greece and enlisted at Charleville in 1939.
Despite the loss of manpower everywhere else in the district due to the war, Burringbar went against the trend and grew very rapidly during 1941, due entirely to an influx of opportunists into the banana game as word of quick profits spread. The population of 255 recorded in 49 dwellings at the end of 1940 became 472 in 100 dwellings at the end of 1941, although a lot of the increase may be due simply to redrawn boundaries that embraced Upper Burringbar and surrounds. Nevertheless, Burringbar was the fastest growing area in the Tweed-Brunswick district, overtaking Main Arm to become the largest population centre after the established towns of Murbah, Mullum and Tweed Heads. By 1947 Upper Burringbar had outgrown its lower namesake and together they mustered a combined weight of 727 people, in an expanded cluster of 178 houses. Electricity arrived later that year and the hall subsequently became the main venue for social mixing with the Greeks of Murbah and Mullum. By the end of 1953 however, Burringbar, with a population of 605, was on the slide and had slipped behind Bruns and Kingscliff in the smaller towns hierarchy. Similar population shifts happened in other banana growing arrears due to then prevailing theory that the land ‘wore out.’
Athanasios Traico Duketis arrived from Tirnovon, Florina, in 1935. He acquired a banana farm at Upper Burringbar around 1946/47 after selling his patch at Eungella, west of Murbah, sometime after the death of his best friend, 35yr old Evangelos Athanasios Stavritis. They lived in the Park View boarding house at Murbah and commuted daily to the Eungella plantation by taking the morning cream lorry. In mid 1945 they and two female friends took a taxi to a Macedonian party at Ma Ring’s pub at Billinudgel, but on the return trip in the early evening light the driver failed to see a slip had taken away half the road at Dunbible. The car went over the side and fell 50ft into the creek drowning Stavritis, the driver and the two women. Duketis survived, albeit injured, concussed and disoriented. At this time the district had just suffered the worst flooding and heaviest rainfall since 1921. There were landslides all over the place causing the destruction of many plantations and heavy financial losses to others unable to get fruit to market in the best economic environment the banana industry had ever experienced.
Bill (Boshe/Bozinis) and Peter (Petros) Gellis/Geles/Gelas were amongst the early Macedonians who arrived through internal migration after being enticed by Peter Pazoff to come to the area. Bill landed in 1927, aged 22, from the village of Klabucista (Poliplaranos), Florina, and initially settled in WA before moving to Queensland, probably with Petros who arrived in 1938. Sometime in the early 1940s they came down from Brisbane to try banana bending at Burringbar, where they are now immortalised with 'Geles Road', Upper Burringbar. They seem to have had some initial hassles in acquiring a lease; first making a submission to the Capital Review Board in mid 1943, again in early 1944 and again in mid 1944.
They were able to bring their families out in 1947, remaining through the decline in the banana industry and finally settling in Brisbane in the late 1970s. Their mother, Christina, died at Murbah in 1965, aged 92. Peter's Australian-born son Vic attended university in Sydney after schooling at Upper Burringbar and Murbah and is credited with being the first local Macedonian to gain tertiary qualifications. Bill's son, Arthur Gelas, became president of the local branch of MAPL in the late 50s and is probably the same Atanas Geles honoured with the Queensland Multicultural Service Award in 2001 for lifelong dedication to the Macedonian community, particularly for helping new arrivals settle in and understand the Australian way of life. Mr Geles is also one of the founders of 4EB's Macedonian Radio Program, which he currently convenes. Theo Gelas was also prominent in local Macedonian affairs.
From the same village as the Geles brothers was Pavlos Nicolaov Agis/Atzis who landed from Florina in 1939 and spent 2yrs cane cutting in North QLD before coming to the Tweed. He initially spent a year or so at Eungella before settling at Upper Burringbar, where George Varela staked him to a farm. This seems to have been a large dairy farm, causing him a few hassles in attracting dairy hands at a time when all labour was flowing to the better paying banana growers. Sometime in the late 1940s he divided the place and leased out patches to various Macedonians, Yugoslavs and Greeks. His wife Vasiliki, daughter Christina and son Louis arrived sometime in the late 1940s. Pavlos died at Upper Burringbar in 1955, aged 65. Christina married Jack Pantell, another early arrival at Crabbes Creek but later at Burringbar, and farmed at Condong before retiring to Brisbane.
Another who landed in Melbourne from Florina was Petros Anastasiou Langos who came in 1925, aged 25, and was growing bananas at Dunbible at least by the end of the war. He sponsored out his son-in-law, Vic (Vasilios) Misios, in early 1952, followed by his wife and daughter in early 1955. Misios later had his own plantation at Crabbes Creek. Peter now lies in an unmarked grave in the Anglican section of Bangalow cemetery.
Nicholas and Madeline Tzitzeovitch/Sisovich grew bananas at Blindmouth from at least the mid 1940s until coming to Upper Burringbar around 1950. They moved onto Smiths Creek, Uki, around the mid fifties, thence Clothiers Creek and finally to retirement in Mullum about 1960. Nick was born in Yugoslavia in 1902 and landed in WA sometime in the 1930s, subsequently moving to Queensland and enlisting in Brisbane in 1940. He was a member of the Mullumbimby sub-branch of the Legion of Ex-servicemen and through their efforts was able to sponsor out his daughter whom he had last seen as a 2yr old. She and her husband, Alexso Spaseva, and two children, Viado and Snazanna, arrived in Mullum just after Christmas 1960.
Dimitrios Vasilios Pillios was born in the village of Sofratika in Albania in 1884 and landed in Sydney in 1924, leaving his wife Alexandra and 1yr old daughter Karofila. He seems to have spent many years cane cutting in North Queensland before coming to Upper Burringbar in the early war years to acquire a plantation in partnership with Dhimitri Raidos.
Also amongst the Albanian class of ’24 was 30yr old Vasilios Soutzios/Stoupis from the village of Georgoutsates. He and his wife Cleopatra were amongst the large Macedonian cotton growing community at Biloela pre WW2 and made their way to Upper Burringbar just after the war. They were unfortunate to lose their house to a fire-bombing Australian employee on Christmas Eve 1954. The bloke was as mad as a hatter.
Haralampos Gazgas (aka Harallam Gazhga, Hari Gosgas and Harallam Gazga), another Albanian who landed in Sydney in 1924, was a banana grower of Dunbible when he died in 1958.
Harry’s Albanian-Macedonian compatriot, Myftar Hasan, aka Muftar Hassen, was also a Dunbible banana grower from at least the late 1940s and starred in many banana competitions over the years. In early 1950 he was also the star performer in what became known as the ‘League of Nations Case’, and heavily headlined as such because of the Yugoslavs, Albanians, Greeks and Australians involved. A truck owned by Dmitar Kesic, with Sam Dinastas and a couple of Australians in the front and Milan Trtanj and Charlie Tsalis in the back, was coming down from Dunbible to the main road when they came abreast of Myftar walking up the hill. Charlie yelled something unrecorded at Myftar who replied with a volley of rocks at the vehicle, one of which struck Trtanj. And then it was on, after which Myftar spent the next seven days in hospital. The magistrate admonished them that now you are in Australia you must observe Australian laws, and if you must fight, you should fight the Australian way, not with stones, sticks, bottles and the like, presumably meaning that assault/self defence is okay as long as Marquis of Queensberry rules apply.
Later in the year Milan Trtanj, born in the village of Nova Kapela, Yugoslavia, in 1920, who had arrived on the Tweed to cut cane only the year prior to the incident, acquired his own plantation at Dunbible for £2500 on a small deposit. Within 3yrs he had paid off the plantation, built a house and got married. These were the good times in the industry. In early 1954 he moved to Dungay and bought another property where he diversified into dairying and small crops as well as more bananas. He also built himself another house, put in a large dam and installed irrigation, and at the same time was sponsored for a short course at the Gatton Agricultural College by that wonderful organization, Murbah Rotary, which did much to help the ‘New Australians’ settle in. The gesture paid off as Milan later became one of the innovative growers in the region, introducing many new techniques adopted by other growers.
Dimitar Kesic/Kessic, born in Vaganac, Yugoslavia, landed in 1928 and seems to have acquired his Dunbible farm before the war. He died at Doon Doon in 1975, aged 76. He was connected to Joe Ivanuscha, who came from the Yugoslav village of Slatina in 1951.
Another Yugoslav was Alojs (Alec) Verhovsek, who landed as a 25yr old in 1950 and later moved to Main Arm. Yet another was Tvica Udovicic who farmed at Yelgun and was one of the stars in Mullum’s ‘United Nations’ Soccer team.
Others around Burringbar and Dunbible include:
who was 26yrs old when he landed from Dendrohori, Kastoria, in 1937, leaving a
wife and two sons. He enlisted at Claremont, WA, and came to Dunbible upon
discharge, acquiring his own patch around 1947. He apparently was joined by his
family around 1950, his father or brother Alex in mid 1951, followed by a bloke
named Charlie Zissis in 1953.
Elia Apostoloff was another of the early internal migratees who was enticed across to the Mullumbimby area in the early 1940s by his brother-in-law Christos/Risto Panderi Zigalas/Digala. Elia had landed in Perth from the village of Vombel in Albania in 1924 and returned temporarily in about 1930 to marry Kalina Digala. They were reunited when Kalina and son Norm landed in 1937. Elia was amongst the first to join the ‘Civil Aliens Corp’ formed in 1942. Service in this organization, under the control of the Department of Labour, was compulsory for some categories of ‘alien’ and voluntary for others. In early 1942 all aliens over 18 not already serving in the AIF or Militia had to register for national service, and the nature of their service was governed by whether they were ‘allied aliens’, ‘neutral aliens’, ‘refugee aliens’, ‘occupied aliens’, ‘un-interned enemy aliens’ and a few other obscure categories. He got his own banana patch at the end of the war.
In late 1951 a fair chunk of Elia’s banana patch, as well as his neighbour’s shed, was destroyed after a fire he had started to create a firebreak at his Middle Pocket farm got out of control. Apparently this leased patch was on Nilon’s property. More fire problems struck in early 1960 when his house was burnt down while he was on holiday in Melbourne, leaving him out of pocket to the tune of £2400. He died at Crabbes Creek in 1980 aged 79.
Norm Apostoloff was 6yrs old when he and his mother landed in Perth. They were all working as market gardeners there when they decided to head east, initially trying banana growing at Crabbes Creek before settling at Coopers Lane, Main Arm. Norm married Elsa Wyborne, a nurse at the Mullumbimby hospital, in 1952 and 4yrs later moved to Crabbes Creek where they worked bananas for 32yrs before retiring to Myocum. He died in 1998 aged 72 and was still a fluent Macedonian speaker.
Chris Zigalas landed at Fremantle in 1937 and made his way to the area in the early 1940s. He initially bought a lease at Upper Crystal Creek in the Murbah district but came to Middle Pocket sometime in the late 1940s, although he seems to have retained his Crystal Creek plantation at least into the early 1950s, probably leasing it out. He was unfortunate to have his wife die in Macedonia just prior to his being able to send for her. More tragedy struck in 1957 when he was fatally shot in a freakish accident by one of his two Ithacan plantation employees, Frank Vlismas and John Kondelles, while they were all out on a duck shooting expedition. In a twist of fate his sister, Kalina Apostoloff, had died a month earlier in Brisbane, aged 48, but was buried back in Murbah.
He was a well-educated man, schooled in Greece and fluent in both Greek and Macedonian. He was the foundation secretary of the local branch of the Macedonian People's League in ~1945/46 and served on and off in that position for a number of years. He was one of 2 official NSW representatives to the second national MAPL conference in Sydney 1Apr1948 and Crabbes Creek rep for the 24Aug50 Melbourne conference, at which time he was treasurer of the local branch. He was also a colourful, larger than life personality gifted with the Midas touch and accumulated a bag of gold and property during the heyday of the banana industry. And was also the world’s worst driver, invited to court many times over the years by his great mate Constable Fletcher. Chris appeared one last time in the courts, in spirit if not in body, during the inquest into his death following the duck shooting expedition.
The settlement of his estate was an interesting exercise. His daughter, Antula Digala, a Yugoslav partisan fighting in Greece during the civil war, having been tracked down somewhere in Romania by a Sydney based bunch of solicitors, appointed Norm Apostoloff and Peter Digala as her ‘duly constituted attorneys’ to administer the estate pending her ‘Grant of Administration’. Norm and Peter continued to work Chris’s farms at Middle Pocket and Yelgun for about six months after the death, but gave the game away when they found all the profits had to be poured into the Public Trustee’s bottomless pit. At that time bananas were riding high again and they had earned a heap of money in that six-month period. The farms eventually became overgrown and degraded during the trustee’s long drawn-out administration and were finally sold in 1960, right in the middle of a banana glut.
Peter Digala, a nephew of Chris who had arrived as an 18yr old in 1951 after a stint with the partisans in Yugoslavia, was banana growing at Upper Burringbar when he married Kathie Mangos, the daughter of a Greek Orthodox priest, at Murbah in early 1959. The Daily News proved to be geographically challenged when it reported the wedding with the headline ‘A Bride From Italy’ over a photo and story of the couple! They shifted to Melbourne, Australia, a couple of years later.
Philip Demiris arrived in the early 1940s and married Sofia Naoum at Port Macquarie in 1949. Soon afterwards they sponsored out Sofia’s father, Nick Naoum, who in turn eventually brought out his wife, Kristina (nee Mitris) and remaining children. Phillip, believed to have had a brother lost somewhere in Russia, did a stint as president of the Macedonian People's League in the mid 1950s. They all farmed bananas at Middle Pocket and stayed following the collapse of the industry. Nick died in 1967, aged 62, and his wife Christina in 1993, aged 88, after living alone for many years at Inner Pocket.
Son George Naoum was a star at Middle Pocket School all through his primary. He became President of the School Children’s Council and President of the Junior Red Cross Circle in his last year in 1959. Arthur and his wife Vicki were still growing bananas at Yelgun in the early 1970s, but shortly afterwards acquired Bill Chrysostomos’ Corroborree Coffe Lounge in Murbah. Bill Naoum and wife Ann acquired Uncle Toms at Everitt’s Hill where it became de rigueur for those transiting the highway to stop for one of the famous pies. Bill went on to be owner and trainer of Bold Personality, which he sold to the bungling syndicate that used the horse as the ring-in for Fine Cotton in the hilarious racing scam.
Philip and Sofia and three of their sons, George, Chris and Arthur, settled in Melbourne in the late 1960s where Sofia died in 1997, aged 69. She was buried back in Murbah, where Phillip had been a regular donor to the hospital over the years. Son John was the only one to remain farming at Middle Pocket, but in the mid 1970s he moved to Murbah to become a real estate agent. Philip and Sofia’s two daughters, Christine and Katy, married and settled on the Gold Coast.
Lazaros Ioannou Kotronis was from the Greek-Macedonian village of Vevi (Banitza/Banica), the site of a major engagement by Australian forces in April 1941. At this time the village was about the size of Mullumbimby, but the population fell to about 1000 with postwar migration. Lazaros landed at Freemantle in 1927 and worked as a farm hand around Bridgetown until making his way to this area in the mid 1940s. He was initially a banana labourer at Mullumbimby Creek until purchasing his own patch at Coopers Lane, Main Arm, in the early 1950s.
He worked alone for over twenty years before being able to bring his family out; 25yr old son George arriving first in ~1949, followed by his wife, Yianna/Ivana (Janar), and daughter, Zia/Zoia (Palagia) in late 1950. Lazaros died in Mullumbimby in 1957, aged 57, and shortly afterwards Yianna returned to Greece to join Zia, who had already returned in 1953 and married there. Son George (Gorgi) died at his home on Main Arm Road in 1997. His wife, Helen, who arrived in about 1952/53, still lives at Main Arm while their children Joanne, a school teacher, Les, a geologist, John, a psychologist, and Peter, a lawyer, have moved on. Helen continues to be a fluent Greek speaker.
Paulos Notas was another of the early Macedonian arrivals in Australia who eventually made his way to this area from Brisbane in the early 1940s to grow bananas at Main Arm. He had landed from the village of Polypotamos in the early 1920s and was growing cotton at Biloela when his 12yr old son Peter arrived in 1936. A huge number of Greeks congregated in the Biloela district during the Depression. By 1934 there were 70 registered Greek cotton growers in the Callide Valley and about 500 engaged in other occupations such as share farming, land clearing and retail businesses. His wife Vasiliki (nee Ouslinis) and son Jimmy arrived shortly before the war.
Peter attended High School at Biloela but in about 1940 moved to Brisbane where he worked for Bobby Bond (Bombonidis), the famous Greek chocolate maker, until joining the army for a 4yr holiday in New Guinea. Upon discharge he came to Mullum to join his parents and appears to be the first Greek game enough to join the Mullum RSL in early 1948. And interestingly, the Mullum RSL toned down its alien rantings about this time. In the late 1940s he married Claire Miller (Maliaroudakis), born in Brisbane to parents from the island of Chios, who had a couple of early connections with Mullum. Her cousins were the children of Con Specis who had The Mullumbimby Café (Empire Café) during the Depression years, while her old school friend, Elefteria Nicholaides, was the wife of Theo Lambros, proprietor of the Empire just after the war. Claire’s mother was the sister of Kitsa Specis (nee Caristinos/Caris).
Peter and Claire moved in and out of the banana game, spending some time in Brisbane in the early 1950s before returning to Mullum, but eventually settling permanently to Brisbane in 1960 when the writing was on the wall for the banana industry. Their daughter Marianne (Gayton) was born in Mullum in mid 1951, while their daughters Vicki (Varthas) and Christine (Bouldery) were born in Brisbane. Peter died in Brisbane in 1995.
Jimmy Notas later married the niece of Philip Demeris and in the 1970s moved to Melbourne with his father where he died about 18mths ago.
Paul Notas and his nephew Bill Ouslinis were unfortunate to lose part of their leased patches to a fire at Coopers Lane in late 1953. A devastating bushfire, which burnt out 50 acres in the area and threatened 200 acres of bananas, took a combined 2 acres of their separate patches. This fire was the biggest since the war and had Andrew Alidenes and Tony Conte of Mullumbimby Creek starring when they drove their trucks around the clock delivering water from Mullum. At the same time there was another fire at Middle Pocket, while at Yelgun 100 acres were burnt out. It was a very busy weekend for all concerned.
Paul’s wife Vasiliki was the sister of John Ousilinis/Ushlinoff who signed up with Paul’s son Peter and was amongst those involved in pioneering the tourist walking trail through Kokoda and over the Owen Stanleys in 1942. Twenty seven year old John, allegedly trained as a doctor, enlisted at Rockhampton in 1940 and upon discharge in 1946 came directly to Mullum with Peter. Shortly afterwards John’s son, John Jnr, came down from Brisbane where, like Peter Notas, he had been peripherally connected to the cafe game, and joined him at Blindmouth. His other son, Bill (Vasilios) Ousilinis, landed in Oz in 1950 and eventually had his own patch at Blindmouth. He has the distinction of winning the Biggest Banana Competition at The Tweed Banana Festival in 1966, producing a 16oz monster crowned by Doug Anthony MHR. Bill married Maria Pandell of Wauchope, the sister of Chris, in Mullum in 1958. Like many others they had their 8ac banana farm at Coopers Lane on the market in 1960, but they stayed in the game until 1970 when they lost everything in a cyclone and subsequently moved to Victoria to start a new life in a mixed business. They have since retired to Brisbane.
John Ousilinis’s wife, Christina, and his son, Chris, arrived from Florina in 1955. He and Christina retired into Mullum the late 1960s, but in 1971 moved onto Melbourne where he died aged 85. Christina still lives in Melbourne and is still spritely into her 90s. Chris and his wife Irene had their plantation wiped out in the 1971 cyclone and moved on to Brisbane.
Ionis Nichola Stefanidis, born in the village of Ydrousoi, Florina, landed in 1927 and by the early 1940s had a patch at Upper Burringbar. He moved to Mullumbimby Creek sometime in the late 1940s, but by the early 1950s had a plantation at Coopers Lane, Main Arm, next to Lazaros Katronis and Paul Apostoloff.
Also at Mullumbimby Creek in the late 1940s was Krsto Chalvarevitch who landed from Bitolya (Monastir), Yugoslav Macedonia, in 1929.
The Sultas (Sultanis/Soultin/Soultis) story is a compelling one. Velos Sultas was born in Polypotamos (aka Nered/Niret), Florina, in 1903 and joined the embryo Macedonian colony in WA in 1926. [At this time Nered had a population of 1700, but postwar migration, mainly to Australia, saw it reduced to a village of about 650.] A few years after landing Velos moved east in a search for work during the Depression, and is believed to have ended up in the Dorrigo area as a timber getter and railway sleeper cutter. In the 1930s he moved onto North Queensland working as a cane cutter and timber getter with Naum Pavlovitch and in the late 1930s went to Brisbane with Naum. In about 1944 he came to the Brunswick and chose to settle at Main Arm where his association was necessarily more with the southern Greeks. After a year or so working for Andrew Alidenes, under the name Vello Vassell (Soulis), he acquired his own patch at Mullumbimby Creek.
In 1950 Velos was eventually in a position to bring out his wife Anna, whom he hadn't seen in 24yrs. His son George meanwhile had become a partisan against the Germans during WW2 and later, sometime towards the end of Greek Civil War (1946-49), found himself in Taskent, Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union, where he remained for 12yrs. His wife however, after much searching through the Red Cross, assumed he had died so she and her 3yr old son Arthur migrated in 1950 to Manjimup in WA to join her parents. From there she remarried and moved to Melbourne, but due to economic circumstances her son Arthur went across to join his grandparents, Velo and Anna, in Mullumbimby.
As fate would have it, George resurfaced in 1960 and eventually made his way to Mullumbimby, where he too remarried and established a plantation on a lease up Fraser’s Road, Mullumbimby Creek. Upon George’s premature death his new wife moved to WA and Arthur was reunited with his mother, whom he hadn’t seen for 20yrs.
Anna Sultas died in Mullum in 1961, George in 1969 aged 45yrs, and Velo in 1983 aged 80. It was Arthur who, after hassles at school over the pronunciation and spelling of his name, persuaded the family to adopt the standardised spelling of Sultas. Many other Macedonians with their dual Greek and Macedonian names, and corrupted phonetic equivalent in English, adopted a simple anglicised name for easier assimilation purposes. [Said the Commonwealth Employment Officer at Murbah in mid 1950: Not many New Australians on the Tweed are changing their foreign sounding names to something more Australian.]
Arthur now lives at Ocean Shores in semi retirement after working on and off in the banana industry for 30yrs. Their unfortunate story is similar to other Macedonians whose families, after the collapse of the communist resistance in 1948 during the civil war, were displaced separately into Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslavika, Russia and such places.
The Greek community established at Tashkent by political refugees after the Civil War became one of the largest in the then USSR. In 1956 conflict broke out between the hard-line pro-Stalinists and the ‘Revisionists’ supporting Khrushchev’s liberalization, resulting in the death of some and the emigration of others to everywhere but Greece. They weren’t allowed to return home until 1982 when Greece ended its run of right-wing Governments/Juntas/Generals and the Andreas Papandreou Government finally recognised the enormous contribution of their wartime resistance efforts. However, Greek political refugees still live in Tashkent today, maybe because they are still wary of the Greek Government, which in 1948 had taken a leaf out of the Nazi’s book and began the execution by firing squad of some 3000 communists found guilty of the uprising of Dec44.
Petre (Peter) Vasilevski/Vasilovitch and his brother arrived in Australia in the late 1930s from one of the small villages around the city of Bitola. They initially grew bananas with an Italian partner in the Richmond district before making their way to Mullumbimby sometime in the early 1940s to take up a patch next door to the Kotronis in Coopers Lane. There they lived a solitary life and worked for many years before Peter had accumulated the wherewithal to bring out his wife, Stoianka.
In 1960 their daughter Dancia, her husband Rade (Ray) Stojanovski and 9mth old son Dimce joined them on the farm. Ray and Danica ran contrary to the experience of many others who were abandoning the industry at this time as it lurched from glut to glut and generated very little return. They started on a small banana patch labouring for a compatriot and within two years were able to save enough to get a loan for their own small plantation. In that 2yr period they had also mastered English. But 5yrs later, in 1967, everything they had built up was destroyed in a cyclone. Nevertheless, they replanted and 3yrs later were able to buy a larger 15acre lease at lower Coopers Lane at Main Arm. Here Ray was one of the first to venture into avocadoes and got good yields in the early period. Over the next 20yrs he started to venture into real estate development, buying up larger farms and subdividing after sensing the trend for hobby farms by the early alternate lifestylers. He moved into town in the late 1960s and in the seventies created the town subdivision near the showground. In 1979 he bought the rundown Nelson Buildings in Burringbar Street, which stretch around the corner into Stuart Street, and refurbished the building shop by shop. In 1984 he demolished the old timber Mullumbimby Star office in Stuart Street and built a new block of shops, offices and flats. In 1988 he and Danica retired to Sydney, but he still makes regular return visits to Mullumbimby. Their son Dimce elected to stay in Mullumbimby and pursue his career as an artist and musician. His art has become quite well known in the local area as well as Sydney and Melbourne where he has held exhibitions of his work. He now has an agent in the USA, and is also busy recording CDs.
Peter Vasilovitch died in Mullumbimby in 1991, aged 91, surviving Stoianka who passed on in 1981, aged 75.
Macedonian migration beyond the confines of the Balkans, specifically to North America, began during the 1890s when the liberation movement to remove the Turkish yoke disrupted the traditional seasonal migration, which had a long history through the ‘Pecalbari custom’ (~‘working away from home’.) By 1920 there were reckoned to be only about 50 Macedonians in Australia, but after 1923, when America imposed immigration restrictions, Australia, along with Canada, became a more favoured destination. In the late 1930s migration from Greek Macedonia stepped up with refugees from the excesses of the fascist dictator Metaxis, the same motivation that prompted a lot of our local Italians to wave goodbye to Mussolini.
With their agrarian background most of the Macedonians, mainly from the Florina and Kastoria districts of Greek Macedonia, bypassed the cafe game and began to settle in the rural areas of Western Australia and Victoria. Queensland settlement began in early 1925 when Christy Freeleagus, the Greek Consul in Queensland, assisted a large group of stranded and distressed Macedonians in Melbourne to head for the Biloela cotton fields. This coincided with the Australia-wide Union agitation over the influx of Southern Europeans and the drying up of jobs through the formation of such groups as the 'Tweed anti-Foreign League'. In NSW the agitation mainly was directed at desperate and destitute 'Yugoslavs', but at this time the Macedonians were an insignificant part of this umbrella group. Nevertheless, two main Greek Macedonian camps developed – one around Dorrigo and the other around Queanbeyan.
The first into the Queanbeyan district appears to have been Lazaros Kozaris from the village of Kottas, Florina, who turned up in 1922. By 1926 he had been joined by about 50 of his compatriots, mainly from Melas and Trivouno, all of whom were generally employed in construction of the new capital. With the onset of the Depression however, these jobs dried up and they headed for the surrounding countryside where they were mainly involved in the mines, market gardening and construction throughout the region. (In debating the '44 Hour Repeal Bill' in May 1930 it was mentioned in Parliament that NSW's unemployment rate was 22%, but in the country districts the position was even worse... the municipality of Queanbeyan stating that 50 per cent of the breadwinners in the town and their dependents were in very distressing circumstances.) Over the period 1928-32 many of them were employed alongside the Italians, Yugoslavs and Albanians in the construction of the national highway from Bodalla to Eden, but after the completion of this Depression project a lot went on the dole in Queanbeyan while many more continued wandering the countryside looking for work and formed permanent enclaves in such places as Forbes, Griffith and Braidwood. Post war the Queanbeyan community was still a lot smaller than Crabbes Creek/Burringbar, but eventually grew to be one of the larger Macedonian enclaves in NSW. The Macedonian stonemasons and construction labourers went on to play a large part in the building of Canberra, where those from Greek Macedonia formed their own association, The Florinian and Kastorian Association, in 1974, with familiar names like Pavlos Armenakis, Demetrios Tsakalos, Ioannis Milianis amongst the committee.
The Dorrigo community was formed by Petros Fratsalas from the village of Monopyplo in the Kastoria region. He left Sydney in 1925 in a search for work during the freezing of job opportunities for Southern Europeans and after wandering around Grafton and Coffs Harbour subsequently established Dorrigo as the main base for his following compatriots. The community eventually consisted of both Florinans and Kastorians, but the Kastorians, mainly from the villages of Monopylo and Giannohori, predominated. Many of the Florinans, mainly from the village of Polypotamos, gravitated towards Wauchope where they worked as market gardeners. [The census of 1933 sprung 25 Greek males and 6 females in the Hastings Shire (Wauchope) and only 10/1 in the Dorrigo Shire, but perhaps some Macedonians were hiding under the omnibus 'Yugoslav' umbrella.]
The Kytherian Mick Nick Feros, first cousin of the Feros of Mullumbimby and Byron Bay and builder of the magnificent Hotel Dorrigo in 1925, introduced the young Macedonians of the Dorrigo district to the local rangers and the wood-chipping industry authorities. Feros also acted as guarantor for the purchase of their necessary tools, tents, utensils, groceries, and so on, from the local general store.
During the 1930s the Dorrigo and Wauchope communities continued to build through internal migration as people left WA and VIC searching for work during the Depression. While many quickly moved on, Wauchope retained a viable community and by 1954 the place still comprised 24 Greek born males and 15 females. Dorrigo had faded away by this time. Some had formed a Newcastle enclave while many others trekked onto north Queensland, timber getting and cane cutting, before subsequently making their way to the Tweed-Brunswick district where Peter Kitsoi began fulfilling the same role as Peter Fratsalas. The others who followed, initially through internal migration but directly from Macedonia post WW2, helped to build one of the larger Macedoslav, if not Greek-Macedonian, enclaves in the State. Estimates vary widely, but the Crabbes Creek centred Macedonian community, encompassing the whole Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah region, including Australian born children and itinerants, could have numbered over 300 in its heyday in the 1950s, making it the biggest ‘alien enclave’ in the Tweed-Brunswick district, certainly bigger than the Ithacan community centred around Mullumbimby Creek.
Macedonia, made up of assorted cultural and language groups, had been more or less a separate state within the empires of various alien land grabbers for centuries and thus the early Greek Macedonian settlers around Mullum and Murbah, nearly all of whom had been born prior to Balkan wars of 1912/13, didn’t suddenly see themselves as ‘ethnic Greek’ simply because of the carve up of the state and the arbitrary redrawing of boundaries, and despite some harsh assimilation policies of the Greek Government. The ethnic mix of the western half of Greek Macedonia, mainly the Florina and Kastoria districts, began to change after 1922 when many thousands of Asia Minor refugees were repatriated there following the infamous population exchange.
In 1946, in Manjimup, WA, the left-leaning Makedono-Australiski Naroden Sajuz (Macedonian Australian People’s League - MAPL) was formed to gain Australian support for the establishment of a united Macedonian State, which would include those parts of Macedonia then under the separate sovereignty of Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria. The Crabbes Creek branch, dubbed 'Freedom' and 'Sloboda', was formed the same year and by 1951 was one of 53 established Australia-wide. Krsto Pazoff was elected foundation Pretsedatel i Kasier, Stoyan Milenkoff as Pot. Pretse, Christo Pandoff as Secretar, Naum Pavlovich as Pomoshtnik Secr, Boiyan Geleff as Pomoshtnik Kasier, Christo Digala and Tarpo Tsaleff i Done Pazoff as Kontrolna Komisia, and Nick Karadzhoff Depisnik za Organizatsiata. (You figure it out.)
Twenty two year old Done Pazoff, Peter’s eldest son, was the local representative to the First Australian Macedonian Congress in Melbourne on 7Mar1947 and informed the meeting that the Crabbes Creek district had 63 Macedonian immigrants, 50 of whom were members of MAPL, making the enclave the largest group of Macedonians in NSW at the time. He also delivered £300 collected by the locals for the erection of a hospital in 'Free Macedonia', which ASIO reckoned would be erected in Skoplje in Southern Jugo Slavia, the idea being that the hospital will be beyond Greek influence. Done also passed £18/10/- to Stoyiannis Vasilion Serbinis, aka Stoyan Sarbinoff/Sarbin, the 27yr old editor of 'Macedonian Spark', the official organ of MAPL, as a contribution to keeping the newspaper running. Over the years the locals were the largest group of Spark subscribers in NSW. Sarbin, who seems to have settled in Newcastle ~1950, was one of the driving forces behind the formation of MAPL and possibly has some connection to the Sarbins of Dunbible. [And a mystery: A bloke named Paul Steve was the foundation treasurer of the Victorian branch of MAPL in 1946?]
By mid 1947 NSW had contributed 30% of the Australian total towards the hospital appeal and was the second largest donor after WA. And within NSW Crabbes Creek was the second largest contributor (£524) after Sydney. Based on these results, for the second appeal a pro rata quota system was introduced, with Sydney on £100, Crabbes Creek £70, Richmond £50, Newcastle £50, Port Kembla £50, Captains Flat £40, Beechwood (Wauchope) £20, Forbes £20, Bonnyrigg £10, Katoomba $10 and Queanbeyan £10, but only a few of these Macedonian enclaves had formed official MAPL branches.
By early 1948, when Australia was home to about 7000 Macedonians, the Crabbes Creek branch had raised £270, the highest amount of any community in the country, probably suggesting that the banana game was the most lucrative source of Macedonian employment anywhere. For the third appeal in late 1948 Crabbes Creek was given a pro rata quota of £100, the third highest in Australia after Melbourne and Perth. Within NSW Sydney was also given £100 to raise, Newcastle £75, Richmond £50, Queanbeyan £30, Forbes £30, Port Kembla £25, Braidwood £15, Wauchope £15, Captains Flat £10, Griffith £5 and Bonnyrigg £5. Brisbane, closely aligned with Crabbes Creek and now appearing on the radar, was given a quota of £10.
Despite the reduction of income due to the glut of 1949, Crabbes Creek contributed £819/5/- to the third appeal, coming in just behind the large communities of Perth, Geraldton, Sydney and Melbourne. The next nearest competitor in NSW was Port Kembla with £420/12/-. Katoomba was back on the radar with £115, ahead of Captains Flat, Bonnyrigg, Queanbeyan and Wauchope.
In 1948/49 MAPL underwent a bit of dissention within the ranks as the left-leaners split between support of Tito's independent form of communism and Stalin's uncompromising variety, but each continued to express horror at the terror perpetrated on the Greek peoples by the Monarcho-Fascists. Locally the Macedonians and Greeks started to distance themselves about this time, probably because each was forced into taking a stance over the civil war. This was demonstrated in the events of late 1948 when the Greek communities of the Tweed and Brunswick districts combined to raise money for the ‘United Nations Appeal for Children’. A committee was formed, with Denis Raftos of Murbah as secretary, and a well-organised campaign got underway, even involving regular spots on 2MW with Greek music. The Macedonians however, split and separately collected under the auspices of MAPL.
Shortly afterwards a couple of Crabbes Creek Macedonians had a very public altercation. One was running a combination banana and dairy farm with a portion of the banana plantation rented out to the other when it seems they had a messy falling-out. The landlord, upon finding 14 head of cattle dead and discovering empty cans of arsenic on his tenant’s patch, had him charged with ‘malicious killing’. The tenant was found not guilty, but the case was prominently reported under the conspicuous headline Greek Discharged On Cattle Poisoning Count and heard with the public gallery and the court precincts crowded with Greeks. A couple of days later the strange coincidence of another prominent headline, Self-Styled ‘Greeks’ Hope For Leniency, with a story apropos of nothing much, suggests that the image conscious Greek community had gotten the ear of the editor and were into damage control. Every thief, vagrant and drunkard who appears to have any Continental ancestry immediately claims Greek nationality when arrested - and the Greek community here is hostile about it. Italians, Jugoslavs, Bulgarians, Rumanians and Macedonians mostly insist they are Greeks as soon as they get into trouble… Murwillumbah police attribute this ‘flocking to the Greek colours’ to the average Australian’s friendliness towards this nation because of its role during World War II…… ‘We have no trouble with the Greeks in the Tweed district and find them good types of citizens.’ Blimey. That most of the Macedonians were officially Greek nationals, as far as Australian authorities were concerned, wasn’t mentioned, but thereafter the Daily News generally referred to all Greek Macedonians as Macedonians. Conversely, Yugoslav, Bulgarian and Albanian Macedonians, with odd exceptions, mostly continued to be referred to under their official national identities.
Things started to get a bit out of hand a year later when someone put arsenic in the water tank of the newly married Jimmy Pechinis. This incident brought detectives from Sydney to sniff around the place, but they never found the culprit. An analysis of a water sample found three grains to the pint, which could easily have caused fatal results had the water been drunk. Luckily Jimmy got suss after just a sip and only suffered a short illness. Nine months later he was beaten up and figured it was safer to live in Queanbeyan, from where he moved to Canada 2yrs later.
For the most part the various local Macedonian factions got along without too much strife. Elsewhere, with the defeat of the Greek communist forces during the Civil War (1946-1949) the morale of the Macedoslav community was shaken and their struggle for the recognition of their ‘ethnic identity’ became more difficult. The Tito Fascists were on the outer, as the Greek Macedonians became a touch miffed with Yugoslavia's withdrawal of support.
The early Macedonian immigrants were mostly married and worked alone for many years before being able to bring their families out. The subsequent arrival of families allowed a greater opportunity for social life, which was assisted by the official opening of The Macedonian Hall at Crabbes Creek in an Easter service conducted by Canon Rowe of Mullum on 9Apr50. At the festivities afterwards the speechmakers, Peter Steve (who donated the land) and N. Christoff, expressed appreciation of the cooperation of all Macedonian factions in helping bring the project to fruition, while the then President of MAPL, Chris Dimakis, proposed the ‘Toast of Loyalty to Australia.’ Peter Steve had been replaced as President a couple of years earlier and shortly after the opening went to live temporarily in Queanbeyan. Towards the end of 1950 his son Cecil took over from Dimakis (aka Risto Dimoff) and managed to hold onto the position for at least the next 3yrs despite this period of turbulence. By early 1954 however, Peter Steve was briefly back in the chair, with the heavily left footed Nick Karashais (aka Karadzas/Karazhov/Karadgoff/Karajas) back as secretary.
[For the record, Chris Dimoff took over as president in early 1948, with P. Noteff vice Pres, D. Pazoff Sec, N. Apostoloff asst sec, Chris Digala 'Kaiser', and M. Zhangzaloff, M. Pejchinoff and P. Geleff on the 'knotrolna komisia'. Karadzhoff/Karadgeff, seems to have taken over as secretary in 1949 and handed over to Norm Apostoloff in late 1950, while Mick Michael gradually withdrew from League affairs but remained prominent in community affairs. By mid 1956 the secretary Phillip Demiris/Dimirov was elected president, with N. Apostolov vice-president, P. Gelis and J. Pazov secretaries and K. Pazov, V. Sultin and C. Digala as committeemen. In 1957/58 Dimiris was still president, Tanas Geles vice-president, Chris Pavlovich secretary, J. Steve asst sec, P. Geles treasurer and P. Steve and V. Vassel served on the committee.]
In early 1953 the fire that destroyed the Zakas house and almost killed the family again brought detectives from Sydney, but once again no culprit could be found. This investigation was extended to cover a number of past incidents and stretched into the Queanbeyan community. The subsequent coroner’s inquest, attended by reporters from all the regional rags and the metropolitan newspapers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as representatives of the Immigration Department, publicly opened a can of worms, although ASIO had been observing events for some time. It transpired that the community was divided into two factions, one led by Peter Steve (Kitsoi) and the other by Mick Michael (Tsakalos), which had evolved from some minor personal differences between the two. Back in ~1943 the two friends had parted company over a business deal that had gone wrong, and gradually their altercations extended to the running of MAPL and finally to political differences, which saw the community lining up behind one or the other.
The coroner couldn’t get to the bottom of the matter, being confronted by lies, obfuscation and a wall of silence, and failed to make a firm determination. He figured that there were huge cultural problems because Zakas intended to deal with his enemy himself, rather than …adopt Australia’s rule of law. His emphasis that the persons or person responsible need not feel any sense of security…because the matter is certainly not closed from the police point of view, and that conviction for attempted murder brought the death penalty, seemed to sober them up, as thereafter incidents were few. (But the wall of silence remains, and outsiders are still baffled by the complex Macedonian machinations.)
He also made this strange utterance: I think it behoves the Greek community, particularly of the Tweed, to do what they can to assist their former nationals at Crabbes Creek to wipe out the stigma of this incident.
The census of 1954 didn’t allow the Macedonians to nominate themselves as such, so they had to opt for being Greeks, Yugoslavs, Albanians, Bulgarians or whatever. The record shows that there were 123 Greeks and 45 Yugoslavs in the Tweed district, with around half the Greeks being Greek Macedonian while nearly all the Yugoslavs were Macedonian. There were 58 ‘other non English Europeans’, about half of whom were probably Albanian and Bulgarian Macedonians, giving a rough total of ~150, inclusive of those Macedonians in the Brunswick district. Anecdotally however, the numbers were greater than this figure. And anecdotally a few of the more paranoid ducked the census taker, being suspicious of Government officials wanting to take their details. And some of the Romanians, Czechoslovakians, Hungarians, etc, could have been Greek Macedonian refugees who were displaced during WW2 and/or the civil war.
Whatever the make up, Crabbes Creek came in with a growth of 37% since 1947, earning the distinction as the fastest growing population centre in the Richmond-Tweed region, discounting Evans Head (37%) whose growth was distorted by the expansion at the RAAF base, and Kingscliff (118%), whose growth was given a great boost by the influx of sandminers.
By Macedonian Christmas Day the following year (7Jan55) they were all playing happy families when a huge party was organised. This event brought Macedonians from as far as Sydney, with many local ‘New Australians’ of various persuasions joining in. Taxis did a roaring trade transporting people from Murbah and Mullum to Crabbes Creek. Festivities kicked off at 10am with suckling pigs and goats on the spit and ‘ethnic’ food of all varieties. Communal singing, folk dances and toasts went on into the wee hours. The only odd note was that it was hailed as a ‘Yugoslav occasion’, with Mrs Voga Mirkovic credited as the chief organiser.
Shortly afterwards the local MAPL branch was reconstituted as a purely social organization and renamed The Macedonian People’s Friendship League (MPFL). It was non-party and non-sectarian …and its main objective was to promote the cultural and social well-being of Macedonian people…and extend moral and material support to newcomers, and to strengthen their loyalty to the country of their adoption by facilitating their membership of Australian organizations and institutions. It’s membership extended from Grafton into South East Queensland.
ASIO however, continued to keep an eye on things and continued to file reports under the heading of MAPL, although conceding that Australia-wide there had been a softening ...in the former militant attitude of the Macedonian Australian People's League... and has done its best to eliminate open Communist propaganda and associations. In mid 1956, when the National Headquarters of the League was based in Melbourne, the NSW sleuths reported that The League is not very active in this State. The main group of Macedonians, who show any interest, are residing in the Crabbes Creek area of NSW... The Sydney branch of the League ie 'Vesela Makedonia', is virtually defunct.... And again in late 1957: Crabbes Creek district appears to be its (MAPL's) main area of activity in this state, although Macedonian numbers in the Queanbeyan enclave had reached 220 at this time, but still not as organised as Crabbes Creek with its own church and hall. (Nor was Manjimup with a community of 600 by 1956.) ASIO's resident spook carried on attending local meetings and filing reports on activities and prominent personalities for a few more years.
MPFL, later simply known as ‘The Macedonian League’, acted in a similar fashion to the ‘New Settlers Leagues’ at Mullum and Murbah and did much for the benefit of ‘Macedonian New Australians’ in the district. They held regular functions at the Macedonian Hall, raising money for the Mullum Hospital amongst other causes. And in late 1957 managed to score almost the whole front page of the Murbah Daily News when a photo of a group of merry makers appeared with the caption: Members of the Australian Macedonian People’s League celebrate Macedonian Day at Crabbe’s Creek. A little earlier a troupe of 20 dancers in national costume had been a hit at the Tweed Banana Festival with a demonstration of folk dancing.
In early 1958, long after peace had broken out, the two-faction scenario was resurrected, but with an unfortunate twist via the attention-grabbing headline Crabbes Creek ‘Divided By Strong Red Element’. In Cold War Australia this was a very touchy subject. Lawyer McDonald in representing a Yugoslav in a charge of assault against his Macedonian neighbour, creatively argued that the incident had arisen because in the past ‘a strong communist element’ had succeeded in dividing the (passionately capitalist) community into two sections, ‘one pro-communist and the other not’ and the two were still in opposite political camps. It turned out that they had been good friends for 5yrs, sharing a packing shed on their adjacent plantations, until one implied the other was knocking off his passionfruit. The Yugoslav lived in a lean to hut near a packing shed on a passionfruit farm, while it seems his neighbour was living and commuting from Mooball. The magistrate thought it was all petty stuff and suggested that with the help of mutual friends they should go off and try and settle their differences amicably…and… try and regain their former friendship. McDonald’s comments and the nature of the reporting however, drew some resentment from the Crabbes Creek community, particularly by the President of the Progress Association, who wrote a long letter-to-the-editor expressing the view that the two-group scenario was a load of nonsense when it came to community solidarity. He gave examples of mutual cooperation, one of which was the self imposed banana case levy to raise funds for various community projects, that included amongst other things the expenditure of £4000 to construct four concrete bridges. Even in low-market periods, when the levy amounted to the net profit of their produce, not one person thought of discontinuing the levy. Crabbes Creek, Main Arm and Mullumbimby Creek were amongst the leading ‘self help’ communities in the Tweed and Brunswick districts.
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards A meeting of the Macedonian Peoples League was held at the Macedonian Peoples Hall, ...which ...excluded all Yugo-Slav people and allowed in only Macedonians. Office bearers were elected and these were Arthur GELAS, President, Bill GELAS, Treasurer, Johnny STEVE, Secretary. PAVLOVICH Jnr, who was the previous secretary did not submit his name for nomination. ... Cecil STEVE was nominated as a delegate to the Sydney Conference.... (In late 1955 the National President of MAPL, by then Melbourne based, in congratulating his fellow travellers, the Melbournian Greek Democritus League, on their twentieth anniversary, proclaimed that the Macedonian Australian People's League is comprised almost 99 per cent of Macedonian Slavs from within the borders of present-day Greece, therefore our League has always stood and still stands by the side of progressive and democratic Greeks in Australia, for we regard ourselves first as Greek citizens, and second, we deem it as our duty to stand together with the people of Greece for the common good for all of us, which 'common good' meant continuing opposition to the Greek fascist government. Meanwhile the Crabbes Creek Macedonians continued to proclaim that 'We are not Greek'.)
But community solidarity was to the fore a little later for the funeral of 68yr old Christos Georgioy Dimakis (Risto George Dimov), once prominent in MAPL affairs: …the cortege was exceptionally large, being attended by almost the entire Crabbes Creek community, as well as many friends from Murwillumbah. Mrs P. Steve, snr, on behalf of the family, carried the family wreath….
A few months later the Federal elections saw Doug Anthony romp home in Richmond with 65% of the primary vote. In the Murbah subdivision he got 69% overall, but at Crabbes Creek, one of 27 polling places in the district, he achieved a 78% margin, one of his biggest majorities in the whole Richmond electorate and indicating a unity of conservative political views amongst the capitalists at the Creek. The ALP candidate only took 17% of the vote at Crabbes Creek, one of his poorest showings anywhere. Nation-wide, MAPL was firmly behind the ALP.
The Hall continued to be the social hub of the community and, as well as religious services, dance nights were a regular feature through the 1950s and 1960s, attracting people from all over the district. The dance band was made up of a surprisingly musical bunch of banana growers. The hall was also the venue for weddings, wakes and baptisms and the focal point for the celebration of festivals, Holy days and Macedonian National days. Their deprivations during WW2 and the civil war were horrendous, with the loss of many family, friends and rellies, and these frequent social interactions gave their spirits a lift and joy in their cultural heritage of folksongs, dances and dress, and expression of their rich history, myths and fables in their own language.
However, in the 1960s the community started to split-up as bananas and other crops became less and less viable and by the 1970s most of the families had moved out to distant places such as Perth, Melbourne and Queanbeyan. A few remained closer in Brisbane, and a handful retired to the local area. Many delayed leaving till later than they would have wished because of children’s schooling. And past personal disagreements were never entirely buried.
In the early 1990s the hall was sold for $37,000 and the money donated to a new wave of Macedonian arrivals who used it to form a commune on the Gold Coast. The hall is now a private residence, but those who have now retired in the Mullumbimby area speak with nostalgia of their old days at Crabbes Creek and the social life centred on the hall.
One of the stalwarts of the hall was Chris George Pavlovich. After his pioneering first year at Crabbes Creek School he moved on to Mullumbimby and Murwillumbah institutions, and managed to survive the gauntlet of his ocker classmates with good humour. In his third year at Murbah High in 1948 he was a star of track and field, winning a ‘football blue’ as well as academic awards, while still helping out on the farm. At the same time and subsequently he was an interpreter for his compatriots, Yugoslavs and Czechoslovakians. Upon leaving school he became a full-time banana grower and, like many others in these early years of the 1950s, did well. On Boxing Day 1952 he watched and wept as his new pride and joy, an uninsured £1100 Nash, was completely destroyed by fire on the notorious Burringbar Range. He and his two mates escaped from the car before the fire spread and looked on from a safe distance with the other occupants of cars caught in the two long lines of holiday traffic held up on both sides of the burning car.
He became a Director of the Banana Growers Federation as well as serving as long-term secretary at the hall. He finally left to become licensee of an hotel in Nyngan, but returned to retire at Ocean Shores in 1990. His wife, Nell (nee Bonakey, aka Bosnakis and Boshnakov), has the distinction of being the first NSW born child of Macedonian parents. Her father, Naum, who had arrived from Kastoria in 1923, aged 25, eventually settled at Wyong and was able to send for his wife earlier than most in 1930. He formed a Katoomba branch of MAPL in ~1946, but managed to stay off the ASIO surveillance radar. Coincidentally, he had an association with Peter Fratsalas, the brother of Petros of Dorrigo and Grafton, from whom he bought his fish ‘n’ chip shop at Katoomba in 1946. Peter, who returned home to Monoplyo in Macedonia 1932-36, was largely responsible for encouraging his fellow villagers to emigrate. His village was destroyed during the civil war and by 1950 was completely deserted. Chris and Nell married in Murwillumbah in 1953. Their second youngest daughter, Virginia (Pav), is now Principal of Main Arm Public School.
[For light entertainment: In late 1946 ASIO's ancestor, the Investigation Branch of the
Attorney-General's Department, tried to confirm the
existence of the Katoomba branch of MAPL through ...discreet enquiries by a
reliable member of the Greek Community, ...but had no luck. ... It was
learned that if a Branch of the League existed or was contemplated in Katoomba
probably two of its foremost members would be ...(not Bonakey)... and Peter Poulos, proprietor of the Niagara
Cafe. It is known that these two men have Communist sympathies.
The price of banana land at Crabbes Creek had started to escalate in the late 1930s. In early 1937 a dairy area suitable for bananas consisting of 155 acres of grass with main road frontage, 1½ miles from the school and 2 miles from the station, was advertised for £1100. Three years later the real estate agency of the Finn, W.A. Back, had a nearby 214ac freehold with a six-room house and main road frontage, bails, piggery, 100 cattle and 50 pigs still going relatively cheaply for £3000. Thereafter things took off and in mid 1951 Crabbes Creek grabbed everyone’s startled attention when a 198acre farm was sold for £16,000, the highest price ever paid for a property in the Tweed district. This was at a time when dairy farms elsewhere were going for give away prices. Arguably, the huge influx of Macedonians was driving up the market. Into 1953 land at Crabbes Creek, at an average of £80/acre, remained the highest priced in the Tweed Shire. Next was North Tumbulgum at £65/acre.
And then in early 1954, 2mths after the worst cyclone in memory, prices rocketed to the stratosphere when Tony Steve sold his 8 acre plantation for a mind boggling £8,500, representing £1,062 an acre …and making it… the highest price per acre ever paid in NSW for banana land, and finally surpassing the peak prices of the post WW1 banana madness. It bettered a recent record price at Coffs Harbour of £8,000 for 12 acres by more than £400 an acre. It also more than doubled the average price prevailing on the Tweed for best quality banana land. Speculators were again entering the market, giving the BGF a serious headache.
The Star’s reporting of banana loading figures gives a misleading picture of Crabbes Creek banana production, eg, in Mar1940 Crabbes Creek railhead only despatched 1259 cases of bananas verses 21,382 from Mullum (and 671 from Mooball and 490 from Yelgum). Production was in fact very high, but where the southern regions of the Brunswick Valley were committed to BGF marketing, a lot of the Crabbes Creek growers, or at least those with trucks, took their bananas directly to the Brisbane markets. These they transported and sold in bunches, saving a lot of time, effort and money in eliminating the need for packing the hands in boxes. For some odd reason the Brisbane Markets had a long tradition of taking bananas in bunches whereas all other markets insisted on cased bananas. In the latter war years when the price of bananas was fixed on a weight basis a special provision had to be made for those sold at the Brisbane markets. In Sydney the wholesale price was set at 7d per lb but in Brisbane was 5½d. Anecdotally, in the period 1952 to 1956 the Crabbes Creek growers were getting consistent returns of £2 to £2/10/- per bunch from the Brisbane markets.
Nevertheless, the BGF prevailed in late 1956 when a meeting of the local growers elected Chris Pavlovich as President of the new Crabbes Creek Branch, the first ‘New Australian’ to fill such a position in the Brunswick Valley District. At the meeting Mr. T Crabtree, President of the BVD Council of the BGF, commented on the spirit of co-operation shown by growers, who included Italian, Macedonian, Yugoslavs and Australians. By mid 1959 the Crabbes Creek branch, one of nine making up the BGF’s Brunswick Valley District Council, was the leading proposer of new initiatives to improve marketing and distribution of bananas.
Fifty percent of the banana plantations at Crabbes Creek and Upper Burringbar were wiped out in the 1954 cyclone. A year later, with one of those selective torrential downpours, Crabbes Creek suffered 18 inches of rain in a few hours causing major flooding and landslides all over the place. In one location a whole acre of bananas slid down the hill intact. Banana growing remained a chancy business.
By 1958 Crabbes Creek was also a major sugar cane growing area and in that year five gangs, comprising 32 men, cut just under 29,000 tons of cane, almost 17% of the Tweed district harvest. At this time the banana industry was going through a bad patch and work on the cane fields helped supplement income, but all industries were in trouble that year, including the collapse of the sand mining industry, leading to a surplus of cutters. Nowadays sugar cane is still a thriving industry with about 1000 hectares planted out in the Crabbes and Marshall Creek valleys.
The best money from bananas was made during the war years when they were fetching up to £8 per box at times, but by the 1960s there were 30,000 acres under cultivation in NSW, causing a lot of competition and hard work expended for little return. Moreover, at that time bananas were being produced more cheaply, and of a higher quality, in Queensland. The North Queenslanders continued to exploit their advantage and by 1980 were again Australia’s leading producers, with the bonus of being able to plant on frost-free flat ground that provided easy cultivation, maintenance and harvesting.