IN SEARCH OF MY CASSIE HERITAGE

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COURTING AND EARLY MARRIAGE YEARS

My mother talks of courting days........I went for a walk on Rottnest Island with the boy Rodriguez and his cousin, whilst they were on holidays, it was at night, December 1939. We heard this little kitten meowing and I heard someone say, “Is this your kitten?” We looked up and saw these two soldiers, one was your father. He other was his friend, he later died up in Darwin. Your father wanted the kitten. You know how he is about animals. I told him that he could have it and the kids started saying, “We know your boyfriend”, and started slinging off at me. The kitten was a stray, so they took it back to the Army Camp on the island. I saw your father the next day. When we found out we had the same birthday, although he is two years older than me, he said, “I’ll see you on your birthday, on the mainland”. It then went on from there. Most probably if our birthday’s hadn’t been on the same day nothing further would have happened.

Cynthia Pamela Karasavas 16 years old - Rottnest Western Australia 1939

Photograph courtesy Allan Cresswell

From there I went back home to live. I had still been visiting my mum whilst living away, it was not a total break from them. From home I went into town to meet your father on our birthday and we made arrangements to meet again. I was seventeen then, in 1940. He bought me a pair of keeper earings. I hadn’t had any earings in my ear since the time I was 6 years old. By this time earings were fashionable and everyone was wearing them. I had to tell mum that I was seeing your father and that I had met this boy when I was living away from home. I explained it all to her and asked if I could go out with him. She said, “No, I don’t mind. You are in Australia and you will do as the Australian’s do. As long as you won’t let me down.” This was her way of looking at things. She had a very modern way of looking at it.

Sergeant Ronald Wallace Cresswell WX29415 - Perth Western Australia 1943

Photograph Courtesy Allan Cresswell

Your uncles paid to have an air-raid shelter built for my mother when the war broke out. It was in the back yard, a real air-raid shelter. It was a real room, there were a couple of bunks, mattresses, blankets, towels, and sheets. There was a basin with tin food, soaps, toothbrushes and what have you. I used to practice with her so she could find her way down there on her own. She was totally blind. It was just like home to her, she knew where everything was. In those days the buses finished about eleven at night and if your dad and I had been to the pictures in Perth, he couldn’t take me home or he would miss his bus to get back to Cottesloe. He was on leave from the Army. Mum-mee had a brainwave, instead of Ron missing his bus or leaving me to come home alone, she suggested he sleep in the air-raid shelter. Unbeknown to your Uncle Spiro and Uncle Geoff your father slept there many times. I used to go down about one a fortnight and clean it and change over the tin foods.

I did my brothers a good turn by marrying your father. There was no dowry to worry about as was for your Aunty Mary.

Later on when I married, Spiro would not give me away, so Geoff did. I do understand the situation for Spiro. He said to my future husband when we were courting, “You realise that I have nothing against you Ron, but if you do not marry my sister, no Greek man would. She is tarnished goods”. “Well I respect Cynthia”, replied Ron. “That well may be”, replied Spiro, “but Greeks don’t know that”.

The day that I married, as I came out of the church, I saw this soldier, it was Spiro, then he ducked his head behind a tree. He really came to see me get married, he couldn’t stay away from the church, although he didn’t give me away on the day.

Marriage Ronald Cresswell to Cynthia Karasavas December 19 1942 Perth Western Australia

Groomsmen: Zafiris Karasavas, Dudley Hanson and Ray Reynolds Bridesmaids: Joy Cresswell and Unknown Flower Girl: Despo Anastasakis

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Photograph courtesy Allan Cresswell

During 1948 and at a function, a Cassie girl who had married a brother of a sister in law of mine in Perth said to me, “I would like to know why you ever married an Australian? I’m sure there was someone from a decent family from the Greeks to marry? You have got to remember that you come from a very good family, you married beneath you, you know?” I replied, “Well that’s your opinion.”.

After we were married the family accepted your dad. Every one of them. Your Aunty Cynthia’s father, just loved dad. Aunty Cynthia’s mother, everyone, they always looked up to your dad. Uncle Geoff and Uncle Spiro, if we went to any Greek weddings, they were the first to say, “Hey, you people, you speak in English, there is a non Greek amongst us.” If they couldn’t speak English they would apologise to your dad, but would try to bring him into the conversation in some way. They were very, very good. He was definitely accepted.

I think my family accepted your dad more than his did towards me. Just before the wedding when your dad and the best man, Dudley Hanson, were about to go off, your Nana said to dad, “You can still change your mind son, please son, change your mind”. Your dad said, “No I’m not.” He didn’t tell me that. It was someone else that was there.

 The wedding went off well. We got married at the Wesley Church in Perth. In the Greek custom the boy’s parents pay for the wedding and the girl’s parents a bedroom suite. The girl’s parents give an engagement party. We had a bit of a problem as to what was going to happen. I said to my mother, “What’s going to happen?”. Mum said, “Well you cannot expect Mr and Mrs Cresswell to pay for the wedding with three daughters to marry off, under the Australian custom. Instead of us giving you a bedroom suite, how about we pay for the wedding?” That worked out all right. We had the reception at Stirling Rooms with Geoff and Spiro paying for it. Although we had two hundred attend, it was not in the same category as a Greek wedding. Uncle Spiro had four hundred at his and Uncle Geoff seven hundred.

I was pregnant with you whilst your dad was in Geraldton, with the 44th Battalion, He asked me to come up and I arrived by train. No-one was there to greet me at the station in Geraldton, so I went to the hotel that I knew I was to stay in. This man came to the door at the hotel and said, “Are you Cynthia? I’m Bert Campbell. I’m sorry I have just got word from Ron that he could not meet the train. He said he would be over tonight. Come on you better come with me, you are not going to stay here”. Later I found out why he didn’t want me to stay there, it was a brothel, with call girls, screaming and all sorts of carrying on. So I went to live with Bert and his wife for about three or four weeks. Just as I was about to leave Geraldton the Stavros brothers saw me in the streets. “Aren’t you Xanthi?” They made such a fuss of me. They lived about a mile away from your dad’s camp. They begged me to go and stay with them. So I cancelled coming home and went and stayed with them. Then I found out that my cousin, Katie Geronimos, lived in Geraldton, only about two miles away. They took me to see her and I stayed with her. I left Geraldton when I was eight months pregnant. You were nearly born there, the doctor advised me not to travel, but I wasn’t having the baby up there, not with your Dad liable for transfer at any time.

I came back to Perth and went back to Aunty Leila’s house waiting for your birth. I was two weeks late in having you. We stayed at Albion Street Cottesloe until you were eleven months old then moved to Chester Road Claremont. Leila’s house was too small for us all even with her two daughters sharing a room. We then moved to Goderich Street in Perth, to be closer to my mother. From there we moved to Fremantle, whilst your dad was in the Police Force. The war had finished. I was pregnant with Stacey at Fremantle. We then moved to the Cresswell home in Cottesloe before your dad brought the Kathleen Street home, where you grew up.

I was pregnant with your sister when Aunty Betty came on the scene. She came over here to marry Bill Manifis. Her brother’s, Bill and Max had come through Perth and we had met them, but they did not stay, and lived in Sydney.

We were never left out of any of the Greek shows, they still accepted me fully, everybody accepted me. They all accepted you, they came with presents when you were baptised at the Greek Orthodox Church.

I didn’t marry in the Greek Church because of my mother’s suggestion. She said, “ Mary has been married in the Greek Church and Ron’s family haven’t had a marriage yet, so you should get married in their church. So long as you are married in a church it doesn’t worry me. So I went to see the minister and he wanted me to get dad to change into Greek Orthodox, but I wouldn’t go along with that. I decided to get married in the Methodist Church but invited the Greek Minister to come along. So the minister and his wife came both to the church service and the reception.

Mr Mandalis was as the wedding as a father figure and Mrs Gravis, who was Australian but could speak Greek, stood at the door and assisted. Mrs Gravis knew all the Greek people and met the visitors with Mr Mandelis and my mother. It was all done so beautifully. There was no language problems as Mrs Gravis conducted conversations with all the visitors and my mother understood all that was going on.

During the years I went to many Greek marriages. They were always big affairs. Mary had a large wedding, I think at the church hall, both her and mine had about 250 people. Mary was the second bride to marry at the Greek Church in Parker Street. The first was Theo Palassis’ mother-in-law. Spiro and Angela had their wedding at Anzac House, with over 400 attending. Geoff and Kopie’s wedding was at The Embassy, with over 700 guests. I went to all the Xanthis family weddings, Michael Lazarakis wedding and many others. They were always big affairs.

I was married eleven months when you were born. Mum was not able to come to the hospital because of the transport situation. The day I came home from hospital, the first thing that I did was to go and see my mother. I took you too. She gave you a fuss, then I fed you and put you down. I then heard the front door open and it was Spiro. I said to Mum, “Oh! It’s Spiro.” I hadn’t seen him for eighteen months, it may have been even two years. Mum said, “Sit where you are, don’t do anything, just stop there.” He walked in and it was as if I had seen him the day before. He said, “How are you going kid, so this is the son and heir.” He then ruffled my hair, picked you up and gave you a kiss. He said, “Let’s see if he’s going to be a Scotsman.” He then took a ten pound note out of his pocket, folded it up, and put it in your hand. Like all kids you hung onto it. “No, he is not going to be a Scotsman,” he said, and that was it!

From then on Spiro could not be better, everything was forgotten, he was always very nice to me. It was only because your dad did the right thing by me. I could understand it all, it was the way they had been brought up. But then again, my mother wasn’t like that. She understood. I don’t know why she did.

When you were born “mum-mee” gave you an “Evil Eye” with a gold sovereign attached. This came from the ancient tomb of Jerusalem. My grandmother, Maria Karasavas went to Jerusalem and was blessed by the monks over there. People who go are given the title “Hadji”. My grandmother was then named “Hadji Maria”. I always told my mother that I would take her there one day, but it didn’t happen. Maria would go to all the services at the ancient tomb of Jerusalem and that’s where she brought the sovereign back and gave it to my mother. That would be a hundred years old. The wooden Holy picture I have comes from the Xanthis side and would be over four hundred years old, at least, more in fact. The Holy picture that your Aunty Angela has, it all gold and framed, well that is Saint Spiro. That’s the same Saint Spiro picture that smiled at your Uncle Spiro when he was very sick. My Holy picture is starting to fall to pieces, I don’t know what I can do with it, it is so old.

All of your dad’s family accepted me. There were no prejudices at all, except for Wally and Mona. All of dad’s aunties, cousins and family couldn’t have been nicer to me. My mother told me to bring you up as an “Aussie”. When I discussed with her about talking Greek to you, she would say, “Why do you want to teach him Greek for? He’s Australian, don’t insult your husband by not talking their language.” I don’t know why she was like that, she was so understanding.

NEXT CHAPTER - AFTER THE WAR YEARS