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Thoughts and Memories: Peter Gavalas

24th September 2021

Like many young men in the 1950’s, Charlesbrook resident, Peter Gavalas had to grow up quite quickly in order to help support his family. We thank Peter’s son, Bill, for sharing his dad’s story.

 

At just sixteen, Peter migrated to Australia with his father in 1951. It took two months to travel from their home in Cyprus to Melbourne via the Suez Canal.

When they arrived to Melbourne, Peter and his father went to live with family in South Yarra. Peter began working in a refinery in Richmond, saving money so he could bring his mother and four younger siblings to Australia.

Back in Cyprus, Peter’s family showed a photo of him to a woman named Kay. It wasn’t long after that the family arranged for them to be married and Kay embarked on her journey to Australia, by herself, to start her life with Peter.

 

After Peter served in the Defence Force from 1954-1955, his father returned home to Cyprus, and shortly after, Kay arrived to Australia. Peter went to greet Kay on her arrival, bringing her a beautiful bunch of flowers. He spotted her on the deck of the ship and because he was in his soldiers’ uniform, he threw a rock with her photo wrapped around it towards her so she would know it was him – Peter’s son Bill said, “Only my father would think of this.”

Peter and Kay married in 1955 and soon after bought their first home in Richmond.

They both worked at various jobs – Peter continued to work in the refinery, then as a plumber. Peter was known to be quite a handyman – always fixing things.

Peter was very athletic and had a great passion for all sports, especially soccer. He played for South Melbourne Hellas in its early days.

In 1956, Peter was very excited to attend the Melbourne Olympic games – “He always told the story that he competed in the wrestling, but really, he didn’t – wishful thinking maybe. We always went along with it because he was actually a wrestler. It was one of the sports that he participated in,” Bill said.

Peter and Kay had 2 children, Maria in 1958 and Bill in 1959. In 1965 they moved to the north-east Melbourne suburb of Templestowe, or “the sticks” as it was known back then. Peter was very proud of his new home and his new car – a blue Ford.

In 1969, Peter decided to return to Cyprus with his family, hoping to call it home once again. Life in Cyprus was disrupted by war in 1974 and they were forced to evacuate from their home amidst very traumatic circumstances. Peter and his family left their home with only the clothes they were wearing and a bag that contained their Australian passports.

They made their way to the English army base in Larnaka and were evacuated to England. From there, via the Australian embassy, Peter contacted family in London, who supported them with somewhere to stay and provided fresh clothes. Eventually, after a few weeks they travelled back to Melbourne to start over again. After losing all their belongings, their home and precious photos, they returned with only a suitcase of clothes.

Once again, Peter and his family were supported by family and friends to get back on their feet, and eventually they settled in East Doncaster.

Peter and Kay worked tirelessly and made many sacrifices to build their life again, educate their children and create a new home. Peter began working as a petrol station attendant, before opening small family businesses – at first a fish and chip shop in Forest Hill – where according to Bill, “He made the best fish and chips.” He then established several fruit stores with his wife and family.

Peter loves his garden – although Bill tells us that Kay is the one with the green thumb. He takes great pride in his veggie patch and fruit trees and before retiring, he sold plants at various markets around Melbourne. Peter is still “Mr. Fix-it” if anything breaks down. In retirement he spent much time in the garden, looking after his boat and fishing gear and enjoying his fishing until his legs became too sore, and of course watching sports and spending time with his mates and family.

Peter adores his four grandsons and great granddaughter, and who all love him dearly.

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