IN SEARCH OF MY CASSIE HERITAGE
The marriage of my parents in 1942 went ahead despite resistance from both of their families. A successful marriage resulted and was due mainly to the fact that my mother was willing to assimilate and accept her adopted country and that my father valued and respected the beliefs and lifestyles of other cultures. They were willing to fight and oppose the religious, social and ethnic policies of their day.
Many Greek men had already married Australian girls from earlier days, due mainly to the shortage of Greek women. They also arrived in Australia alone and without family pressures nor an established ethnic community to demand cultural conformity. But by the 1920’s the Greek community was fully established in Western Australia and fewer marriages were now occurring outside their society. However Greek girls marrying outsiders had never been condoned or tolerated from the earliest days. The structure of courtship and betrothal for Greek women prior to marriage never provided for, or allowed, independence of thought. They were not even allowed to select their future Greek husbands. Their marriage partners were arranged by proxy and rarely was there personal choice. The opportunities to step outside these rules imposed by the Greek community were few. Most Greek women, pre 1950, had never contemplated an Australian husband let alone had the opportunity to develop a relationship and to fall in love.
My mother, Cynthia, broke all the rules. Contributing factors in my mother’s decision were:-
Her decision to marry an Australian brought shame to her eldest brother, Spiro. He considered that he had failed to provide the correct upbringing for his youngest sister, and many of his relatives and friends would have thought the same. He was the ‘man of the house’ but his wishes had been ignored and he had lost honour. His refusal to give away his sister or be involved in the wedding hurt him deeply, but it was an opportunity to save face by showing to everyone his non acceptance of her unorthodox and unacceptable behaviour.
But what of my father’s immediate family? They also showed their reluctance to embrace a union between two cultures and made that obvious to the couple. But through all of this there were many family members and friends, on both sides, that openly supported the marriage. I saw as a child the indifference displayed towards me, particularly by my father’s parents, who appeared disappointed at their only sons decision to marry a Greek girl. Later they were to reverse their attitudes towards my sister and I. But I also saw the genuine acceptance by many aunts, cousins and other family members.
The Greek community accepted the decision once the marriage took place. Uncle Spiro immediately became a great friend to my parents and was always very supportive to this Greek-Australian marriage. However, very few Greek girls, and particularly Castellorizian girls, followed in my mother’s footsteps. The families tightened the procedures, provided escorts for their daughters and continued to arrange marriages and supply a dowry. There appeared to be a stronger resolve to ensure that mixed marriages did not occur. Many families still apply these principles today, but multiculturalism in Australia, in recent years, has seen a greater acceptance by the Greek community of Perth to move away from these old traditions.
So despite many early problems in the assimilation of my mother’s family into the Australian way of life, it has been a success story. My mother and father made the hard decisions in the 1940’s. Many other newly arrived ethnic groups are coming to terms with the same problems here in Perth today in the 21st Century.
From a personal point of view I am always aware of the cultural importance and need to accept the ways of other ethnic groups. I also am proud of my heritage and have spent many years researching the genealogy and ancestry of all my parents family lines. I am also aware that I have been lucky to receive this upbringing but am disappointed that I never had the opportunity to learn the Greek language.
This article is not meant to offend anyone or any culture. It is written to enlighten family members as to the sacrifices made by our ancestors to ensure a better life for us. Even if they had to compromise some of their beliefs to achieve their aims, they did so for future generations.
Why was my grandmother, ‘mum-mee’, so happy and cheerful in a foreign country whilst being unable to speak the language, and totally blind? It was because she knew Australia gave greater opportunities for her family to achieve freedom from oppression, to obtain financial rewards for efforts made and a right to practice any religious or political belief in an uncomplicated and easy lifestyle. Something that Castellorizo attempted to achieve but never really attained in thousands of years of trying. Our ancestors now rest easy. God Bless all those who made possible this story to be told today.