Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Matters of Interest

The Greek Brides of the Begona

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:39): Like other people in this place, I am immensely proud of my Greek heritage and culture and the influence that it has had on my family, especially in this wonderful country and state. So it was an absolute privilege to be a part of a special day earlier this year, when I joined retired educator and my former teacher, Peter Photakis, at the launch of his book The Greek Brides of the Begona. The book preserves a very special and unique part of history for generations to come.

Who were the Greek brides of the Begona? Sixty-five years ago, more than 900 Greek would-be brides boarded the ship Begona at the Port of Piraeus in Athens. They were destined for Australia, betrothed to marry husbands they had never met or had already married by photograph. As Peter explains:

There was an amount of money paid, the photos were sent here, the man selected out of the ten or so photos the girl he wanted to marry; then a photo of him was sent back to the girl.

She accepted and they got married.

She went to the church and they actually got blessed by the priest, marrying them by photo.

Peter was on board that very ship as an eight-year-old boy with his mother and brothers. Though his mother was not herself a bride, Peter has dedicated more than 40 years to researching and documenting that historic voyage and the stories of its passengers, culminating in this fascinating book.

Some did not see their families again for 20-plus years. These women courageously boarded a ship destined for the other side of the world, in search of a better future without any idea of what that future looked like and, in many instances, with just a photo. Some of them did not want to leave Greece but did not have any say because they had families who had already made that decision for them. At the end of the journey, some were fortunate enough to meet the love of their life.

The book keeps the stories of our Greek heritage alive for generations to come. It is an absolute testament to Peter that so many women and families opened their hearts to share what is otherwise a very private life story for the book.

At the time, I had the opportunity to share my own family story—my mum and dad's story—one that is not dissimilar to many others who emigrated to Australia and one that I proudly recounted in this place in my first speech. I said at the time that even though mum made the trip alone to Australia she always did so thinking that one day her family would follow, but that never eventuated and she remained here and eventually married my father in what became a wonderful and committed love affair that lasted for over 52 years.

The proudest part of that love affair, I suppose, was that, unlike their brothers and sisters and hundreds of others who came on that bride ship, theirs was a genuine love story. She was not a Greek bride, but her story is not dissimilar in any way to that of many of those Greek brides and to many that I had the privilege of meeting at that launch, who made the long and difficult trip to a foreign country, young and alone, in the hope of forging a new life for themselves. It is a story that I am exceptionally proud of, and a product that I am exceptionally proud of.

Like many immigrant families today, and I have said this before in this place, mine is a true reflection of the melting pot that Australia has become, as are those families that I had the privilege of meeting at the book launch. The stories recounted in The Greek Brides of the Begona paint that very same picture. They are courageous and inspirational, and I am terrifically honoured, humbled and privileged to have been a part of that, together with Peter. I thank him for his labour of love over so many decades. It is a wonderful book that I highly recommend, and I give it five stars.