Yiasou Yarraville: Greek hub’s new chapter

Olympia Koziaris at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Yarraville. It was used in movie, The Wog Boy, as the church where Tony (Nick Giannopoulos) called bingo. (Joe Mastroianni) 243683_01

Goya Dmytryshchak

Stories from Yarraville’s rich Greek history have been documented in a new book, Yiasou Yarraville from Heartache to Heroes.

Author Olympia Kariss has compiled the first-hand stories of 20 local identities and institutions, including cinephile Peter Yiannoudes who owned the Sun Theatre, heavyweight wrestling champion Alex Iakovidis, acclaimed film director Ana Kokkinos and Victoria’s first Greek woman police officer Calliope Kwas.

Then there are the stories of local sport and businesses, such as Yarraville Doxa (now Glory) soccer club, Malamas Cake Shop and Andrew’s Butchers with their award-winning hams.

“It’s really about ensuring that our local history of the Greek immigrants was captured, said Karris, who was born in Footscray to Greek parents.

“They’ve been here for over 70 years, migration started about the 1950s.

“I’ve honed in and I focussed on Yarraville because that’s the Greek hub.

“The starting point for me was the Sun Theatre and how much I loved it.

“It was the most beautiful building I had ever been to as a child, and I remember being there as a child, and literally there would be 1000 people outside.

“The seating was for 1024 people and I remember it being full, packed.

“The Sun Theatre was Greek-owned … a lot of people used to catch the train and they would all gather to Yarraville on a Saturday, Sunday night to watch movies.

“The first movie was always Greek and the second movie could be Indian with Greek subtitles. There were some Turkish films as well. There were French … also American.”

Yiasou is a Greek greeting, which means both hello and goodbye.

Kariss said the Heartache to Heroes referred to tough conditions in the early days, such as girls and women working all day in factories.

“One story that I really, really loved is where there’s girls crying – they’re sewing, they’re crying in a factory – and one of them starts singing a sad song and they all start singing,” she said.

“They’re singing songs of heartache and they’re singing songs about being homesick.

“Then they also start singing happy songs, upbeat songs.

“At one workplace, there’s a boy who’s a cutter – he does the designs of the bathing suits – and the young German boy starts singing the songs as well.

“If you can imagine, almost like a flash mob occurring in the workplace.”

International heavyweight wrestling champion Alex Iakovidis also features.

“On Ballarat Street, he had a reception hall upstairs,” Kariss said.

“Downstairs was the largest coffee house and it was always full of men playing cards, smoking, drinking coffee, playing with their komboloi – flicking their worry beads in their hands, running it through their fingers – as they were contemplating work, life, being in a strange land.”

For details, visit yiasouyarraville.wordpress.com