Thursday, 18 February 2010

Setting up shop and family




I have three photos of houses in Gladstone which cousin Spike sent to me some time ago and which are said to have been Ross homes at one time or another. But which time or another? This photo, is I think, of the house next to the Anglican Church where Charlie and Mary would have lived when their family grew too large for the home behind the shop.


It seems, according to Spike, that Charlie and Mary lived behind the shop in Port Street and also in the house alongside of the Anglican Church. Later on, probably after Charlie’s death, Mary lived just out of town on the Georgetown Road and also in the house next to the present-day Fire Station. So much movement means that houses were rented and not owned but I would have expected that.


It also suggests that when Charlie and Mary (I have decided to call her Mary because while she was known as Polly, I did not know her and Mary seems more polite) set up home they would have done so in the house behind the shop. This means that their children would have been born here ... at least the first two or three. Perhaps the move was made to the house alongside the Anglican Church when the brood grew to four and five and they simply ran out of space.


I had some help last year from a Gladstone historian, Marg Arbon, who kindly did some tracing and found that the 1890 township directory for Gladstone showed a Charles Ross listed as a fishmonger in Port Street, which is on the east side of the railway line. The 1898 directory showed him still selling fish and still renting the same shop. By 1898 there were four children aged from seven to one.


Constantinus John, known as Jack, was born on March 6, 1890; Charles Vangaleos Ross was born on March 24, 1892; Georgina Anastasia, known as Teeny, on July 7, 1894; Chrysanthous Christie was born on August 9, 1897 and Spiros Andrew was born on September 8, 1901. Spiros grew up to be a police superintendant and of course Charles worked at the Gladstone Gaol which is ironic given that their father was an illegal, a deserter who jumped ship! All of the children were born in Gladstone and one presumes at home and the births were recorded in Clare, the nearest regional centre.


It was two years before their first child arrived. In those times it was more likely to be chance rather than choice, but who knows, Mary was nothing if not canny. Charlie was nearly forty when they married and Mary nearly thirty. Perhaps Charlie was taking the train to Port Pirie early each morning to buy his fish and then falling into bed exhausted, at the end of a long day, knowing he had to be up early to do the same thing again.


Or did the self-protective Capricorn, Charlie, take time to settle in with the freedom-loving Sagittarian, Mary? They make quite a good mix in astrological terms. I have done their charts using the tarot to find out the time of birth, and, if it is right, they look like a good match. I’ve used tarot in the past to find birth times with people and had it validated when they have asked their ‘mums’ so I there is a good chance the aspects are right. Anyone who gasps at such concepts as astrology can just skip this bit. I happen to find astrology a valuable psychotherapeutic tool for the living and the dead and have compiled a comprehensive collection of family charts across six generations. It is interesting how often aspects in parents’ charts will be repeated in the charts of their children. Whatever the explanation there is always family inheritance, family karma or family tasks to be undertaken in this lifetime.


Both Capricorns and Sagittarians tend to be broad-minded and both share a mission to make the world a better place. Mary would have had the vision and Charlie the will and ability to bring them into being. The goat gets grumpy if it is all just talk.


The Capricorn sense of humour would have come in handy although apparently Mary had a quick, if dry wit as well. My grandfather, with Capricorn Rising, was also said to have a great sense of humour but my father, with markedly less significant Capricorn qualities, was more of a trickster and when he told jokes they were, well, a bit corny. I have a cousin who looks very much like my father and who has pretty much the same sense of humour. Nature, nurture or astrological inheritance, I suspect that in Charlie and Mary’s home there was a goodly amount of laughter and laughter oils the ‘wheels’ of any relationship.


Charlie’s Aries Moon, which is the same as my sister, Teena, would have been a match for Mary’s Taurean Moon in terms of how they related emotionally to themselves and to each other. With Charlie’s ascendant in Cancer and Mary’s in Taurus they would both have enjoyed the security and privacy of their own home. Mary, like me, also has a strong Eighth House placement which makes for heightened sensitivity to one’s environment and a life which challenges one to grow within.




It is hard to know how ‘Greek’ Charlie really was. At the age of 39 he may well have already spent 25 years away from his homeland, sailing and living around the world. He may have been based in England, or he may not. This I have yet to find out.


But if his links to Greece remained strong then family and religion would have been central to his values and his behaviour. The Orthodox Church, like most orthodox Christianity, advocates the traditional patriarchal family and this is specified in the marriage ceremony. In this ceremony, which was not the one that Charlie and Mary had, the wife accepts the husband as head of the family. But even in an Anglican ceremony in the late 19th Century the wife would still be expected to be subservient to her husband ... God’s ‘representative on earth.’ In fact, in England until 1879 a man could legally beat his wife and until 1882 all a woman's property, even the money she earned, belonged to her husband. Divorce was made legal in 1857 but it was very rare in the 19th century.I have a sense that Mary was the sort of person who kept her own counsel but went along with things for the sake of practicality and peace. Her life was unlikely to have been very different if she had married an English man instead of a Greek.


Of course I never knew her but I did see a lot of her daughter, my great-aunt Teeny, when I was growing up. She was a gracious woman with a discreet manner, a gentle sense of humour and excellent cooking skills. My father also loved to cook and while he lacked the knowledge and the temperament which would have disciplined his experimentation, he loved food and ate things which my Anglo mother and we children viewed with disgust. Prickly pear fruit, wild fennel by the side of the road, aubergine (eggplant), olives, feta cheese and blue cheese. He also loved to suck lemons and it makes my lips pucker to think of it, just as it did to watch him .... and he adored cumquats. These trees were quite common in gardens of the past but are less seen now.


Aunt Jessie tells the story of the English daughter-in-law, Alice, being introduced to cumquats and complaining that she did not really like them.


“You might like them more,” replied Mary Ross, ‘if you didn’t eat the stone.”


The foods which my father always loved so much, and no doubt his father and grandfather before him, were unusual and hard to find in 50’s and 60’s Anglo-centric Australia. I did however grow out of this ignorance in my late teens as did all of my siblings and all of us appreciate food with a passion and many of us love to cook. I became a food writer for many years and watched with relief and excitement as food in Australia became some of the best and most varied in the world. The term ‘foodie’ is no doubt an Australian invention as we embraced with a passion the best that every cuisine could offer.


There is no reason to not believe that Charlie Ross took the traditional role of a Greek husband and father. He would have been the main authority figure and the source of discipline in the family, leaving Mary as the focus of the home. The term nikokira refers to female family members, especially to the wife and mother who, traditionally, takes responsibility for the child-rearing and care of the house. The husband and father is, nikokiris, and this means he is expected to financially provide for the family and contribute to its progress.


These were very much the values by which my father lived although I suspect my grandmother, Hilda, was more of the disciplinarian in the family. I was six when my grandfather died and remember so little that I can only guess or draw upon the things my father and aunt have said. My only memory of Charles Vangalios is of him sitting by the fire in the small cottage in Leicester Street, Parkside, Adelaide... across the road from Benbows Hotel where my grandfather and father spent much of their time while meals were being prepared. There was an enormous step up from the kitchen where he sat, which led into the top of the house which contained the formal sitting room, which was never used, and bedrooms. We children would have to climb up onto this step and recite poetry or sing songs in order to receive our treat .... a sugar cube! Perhaps the step was not so much large as we were small but memory holds it to be enormous so it must have been high.


However, reading through Greek traditions I can only think that in the 19th Century and even until more than half-way through the 20th Century, these ‘traditions’ were not so very different to the norm in Australia. Mary was poor and illiterate and so was her family. It is unlikely that they lived any differently to the way in which Greeks lived ... particularly in terms of how they saw the roles of men and women. These attitudes would not begin to change until the 1960’s so Mary and Charlie were not likely to be arguing about who did what!


Family honour is apparently also a Greek concept although, again, hardly particular to the Greeks. One finds such attitudes, generally more powerfully directed toward the behaviour of women, common in many less developed societies. And, while the immediate family is important, so too is the extended family. Family obligations include participation in family celebration and religious occasions and in caring for the sick and elderly, according to one report I read in regard to caring for aged Greeks. But I would have thought this was pretty much a given for most people


It is not particularly Greek although perhaps the Greeks would argue that being one of the oldest cultures it began with them. Having lived in a number of third world countries, including India and Africa, it is easy to see that such connections are often more rigid and I would add, more necessary, in less developed societies but hardly unique to them. My family experience, in terms of how much we care about our immediate and extended families and how much effort we put into making and keeping contact, has been no different to that of the Greeks and neither has that of my friends, regardless of their ethnic inheritance. I think there is a belief that family connections are not so important in developed societies like Australia ... unless one happens to be ethnic of course ...and that we reject our old and ill and hardly bother to keep in touch with our immediate family.


The ‘strong sense of duty to parents’ which is said to be a part of Greek culture is also a part of Indian, African and countless other cultures. It is not, from my experience, so much a sense of duty but of necessity. Many Anglo-Australians have a strong sense of duty to their parents and many care for them in their homes, it is just that in less developed societies there are no other choices. Families become multi-generational because there families have no choice and my experiences in India in particular showed me that human nature makes some of these ‘shared living’ arrangements positive and some of them very negative.


And, in truth, the options were not available to many, if any Australians until the second half of the 20th Century. My mother, as a teenager cared for her mother who was sick for many years before she died at the age of 52 and then she cared for my father’s mother after she had a stroke. When my paternal grandfather died the decision was made, without consultation with my mother, that my grandmother would buy a house and our family would move in with her. Six months after doing so, my grandmother had a stroke and was paralysed down one side. My mother was given no choice. She was expected to become the carer. My father, like many men of his time, and apparently like a good Greek man, did nothing inside the house. My mother had three children under the age of seven and very soon another on the way but her duty was clear and would remain so for the next three years. I am sure her resentment and the massive workload that she carried contributed greatly to the nervous breakdown which hospitalised her six months after my grandmother died.


Greek values, like all tribal and patriarchal values, see the masculine as superior to the feminine and the community as more important than the individual. Identity is often tied to behaviour within the communal and public spheres. It is about how others see you rather than who you are. No doubt that made my father the ‘angel’ he was to others and the ‘devil’ he so often was in the home.


When I read about Greek values I am struck by how they are not so much Greek values as conservative, patriarchal, ‘village’ values which I had already defined as ‘old-fashioned’ by the age of twelve. But in truth, it is the values which separate, segregate and deny both men and women their freedom as individuals which I reject. Nothing is all bad and Greek society, like all societies, also had and has within it values which one can admire. But only when those values are expressed in a positive sense, and, the prevailing attitudes of the society will dictate how often or how easily that happens.


For the Greeks, Filotimo means the love of honour. It refers to the respect individuals have for themselves and for others. A person who has filotimo is hospitable, generous, considerate and has a sense of right and wrong. The downside of this is that it often translates into shame and honour. Behaviour and actions can reflect an individual’s filotimo in the eyes of his/her, but I bet it is more her, family and community. And, in the worst of cases, in some societies it leads to honour killings because when a person behaves in a certain manner shame or honour is cast on the entire family. This is a very, very Indian concept as well. However, for the Greeks, actions which do not become public knowledge are not described as honourable or shameful. Instead they are considered to be a matter of moral conscience. This brings the Greeks closer to the Western cultural framework and the Christian sense of guilt and innocence as one would expect. Although, Christian guilt can be a heavy cross to bear.


Filoxenia literally translates as the love of foreigners or strangers. This refers to hospitality. Since ancient times this value has been highly regarded in Greek society. In Greece’s villages and smaller communities travellers were welcomed into people’s homes where they would share a meal and be put up for the night. Nowadays it commonly refers to the hospitality offered to acquaintances, friends or relatives who are guests in one’s home. It is also hugely important in Indian and African culture. I suspect it is found in all ancient cultures because in times past one had few visitors and their arrival was both precious and rare. However, honouring the guest has been a part of spiritual practices, both religious and esoteric, since time immemorial.


Axioprepia refers to a person’s dignity. Supposedly, Greeks use this term frequently. They are referring to an individual’s acquired or earned honour or respect. A person is axioprepis if he/she behaves in a way regarded by the community as worthy of respect. I would have thought the Germans, Dutch and many other cultures would be right at home with this. I remember when we lived in Belgium , Dutch friends told us the reason why curtains were left open was so people could see inside and be assured that those within, had nothing to hide. A German friend in Bombay also told me how observant Germans were as to the habits and actions of their neighbours, judging them as often as not on how clean they kept their front doorstep. And once when we were staying in Switzerland, a Canadian friend who was applying for citizenship said that his application would not only be investigated at Government level but also at community level. His neighbours would be interviewed in order to ‘assess’ his behaviour and therefore his suitability. It all sounds very invasive to someone who grew up in 1960’s Australia. Some ‘values’ and ‘traditions’, are, to my mind, best left behind.


Ypohreosi is one’s sense of obligation or duty to another person for a special favour or service received. It also expresses the requirement or commitment to take some course of action, often as defined by custom or communal expectation. The downside of this is that it often translates into bribes, baksheesh, black market payments and corruption. I have not been to Greece so I have as yet no idea how corrupt it may be but the black market was and is a way of life in India and Africa and it was in Belgium in the late 80’s. Although ,I have heard that things have been ‘cleaned up’ since then.


The Greek view on life in general, as well as a person’s life experiences, is grounded in a belief in fate and destiny expressed as ‘God’s will’. There are terms and practices which tie this sense of fate with faith in the Christian God. Other practices link it to an evil curse or superstition derived from pagan or folk beliefs.


Tihi (Tyche) is a frequently used word meaning ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. It stems from the ancient Greek name of the deity of luck or fortune, Tyche. Greeks often use this word to explain the inexplicable or incomprehensible. It is especially used about marriage, wealth and health. If a person has either a successful marriage or a marriage breakdown, this would be attributed to their good tihi or bad tihi respectively. A person who is seriously ill or who has an incurable disease is said to be experiencing bad tihi.


This is a very common belief in Africa and like so many things which are said to be Greek, more common to the human family than one may think. When we were living in Zambia I was surprised to find that Zambians equate ‘good luck’ with evil forces and those who experienced good luck were at worst shunned and at best talked about and mistrusted. In India the common response to bad luck was, Inshallah! Which means, As God Wills. The Hindus, and Buddhists for that matter, also have particular teachings in regard to evil and in both cases, as it was in early Christianity, ‘evil’ equates with female. One Hindu teaching says that evil forces pass through women and forces for good pass through men. Now, that is convenient. This is why, in orthodox Hinduism, when a husband dies the woman is held ‘responsible,’ and from then on considered to be ‘bad luck.’ She is forced to wear white and will not be invited to many family or community gatherings because she is clearly a ‘transmitter’ of evil or her husband would not have died. In orthodox Buddhism the presence of a woman will ‘pollute’ a priest. The equating of evil with the feminine has, sadly, been universal. At least for the few thousand years that God has been a Man!


Mira (Moira) literally means ‘portion’ and refers to one’s destiny in life. Mira is often described as having been ‘written’ at birth for each person, implying that one cannot escape his/her destiny. This belief in the power of destiny, originating at birth, stems from the ancient Greek belief in the female figures (the three Fates or Moirae) who controlled the thread of life of all mortals and immortals. The Arabs would be very at home with this concept which is one with their belief: ‘ it is written.’ It brings to mind the scene in Lawrence of Arabia where he is forced to kill a man whose life he previously saved. ‘It is written,’ shrugs his Arab friend.


In modern Greek culture tihi and mira are sometimes used interchangeably. Mira mainly refers to the individual’s life journey, whereas tihi describes a particular event or incident in a person’s life contributing to their destiny (mira).


Mati or ‘the evil eye’ is the belief, dating back to antiquity, that individual misfortune is caused by the envy of another. Greeks refer to envious people as having the ability to cast the evil eye on a person with good fortune (wealth, beauty, good health, or beautiful and successful children) causing them ill-health or some other misfortune. The person who casts the evil eye may do so unintentionally, for example, by staring, gazing, or looking enviously at a person, their possessions, or their children.


I suspect that my father would have stood out in provincial Greece for his black, Scorpionic eyes, were very ‘evil’ indeed when he was angry or displeased. If I had known as a child that there were ways to handle ‘evil eyes’ I might have been less frightened.


Apparently, the curse of the evil eye is broken though a strict process. The healer recites a secret prayer received from an older relative of the opposite sex, performs the sign of the cross and spits in the air three times. The transmission of the secret prayer/s from one person to another must follow this sequence. According to superstition if the secret prayer/s is indiscriminately passed on then the healer loses his/her ability to cast off the evil eye. For the many Greeks who believe in the power of the evil eye, there are ways to determine whether in fact a person has been affected. When the healer and the affected person yawn as the healing process takes place, and when the healer places drops of olive oil in a glass of water and the olive oil sinks or dissolves in the water, naturally, this wouldn’t occur if there was no evil eye involved.


Spitting lightly three times on the admired or complimented person or object is the most common way for Greeks to prevent casting the curse of the evil eye. This is a very common and encouraged practice. Hmmm, I suspect if I had started spitting in the face of my father’s evil eye I would have been on the receiving end of a backhander. One wonders if the Chinese habit or spitting is sourced in such beliefs. Other ways to ward off the evil eye include wearing a blue bead with an eye painted on it (either on a pin, bracelet, or necklace) and hanging garlic close to the entrance of one’s home.


I adore garlic and always have a huge bowl of it in my kitchen. Perhaps I am unconsciously protecting myself.


Supposedly, many Greek Australians, both elderly immigrants and those born in Australia, believe in the power of the evil eye and continue practices that ward it off . Younger Greek Australians wear jewellery with blue eye beads. At the baptism of their baby children parents may pin a blue eye bead on the child’s clothing to prevent a curse being cast unintentionally by those admiring the young child.


I wonder if the wedding tradition of ‘something blue’ is related to this obviously ancient belief in the evil eye and the need for remedies? Then again, traditionally boys wear ‘blue’. Does that mean that they need to be protected against the evil of their mothers and sisters?


Katara is the Greek word for ‘curse’. Unlike the evil eye katara refers to a deliberate curse resulting in grave misfortune for another person. This word is used to describe a cursed individual, family, or community.


I have no doubt that more than one hundred years ago some, if not all of these beliefs would have been a part of my grandfather’s life. And no doubt his children. In reality, many of these beliefs were common throughout the world hundreds of years ago and given the age of Greek culture, one could suppose that this was where they originated. Unless of course, as with so many things, the Greeks also inherited or learned such things from those who had gone before and those who still remained, like the Egyptians. Perhaps such beliefs are more about human beings who lack experience and education than anything cultural.


I have no idea if my grandfather believed in Fate but he was supposedly a pragmatic sort of man. I remember little of him apart from his smile and his gentleness. My father was less pragmatic but he was very practical. When he faced death he did so with calm, gracious, wise acceptance as if he believed it was just the way it was meant to be. This was not how he lived his life much of the time.


We are all formed from the beliefs and sayings of our parents and ancestors. I don’t remember hearing any of the following Greek superstitions but they may well have been at work at an unconscious level.


• Handing a knife to someone could result in a dispute with that person. Instead the knife is laid down enabling the other person to pick it up. And the English tradition is that you can never give a knife or scissors without receiving a coin. They must be purchased or they will bring bad luck.


• Crows are considered to be omens of bad news, in particular, they are an omen for news of death. This belief is also found in Celtic, North American and Russian shamanistic mythology.


• Tuesday the 13th day of the month is considered a day of bad luck and is equivalent to Friday the 13th in Western cultures. Thirteen has been considered since ancient times to be a powerful number. The fear of it seems to have been taken furthest by the Americans who often omit the thirteenth floor in hotels.


• Shoes turned with the soles facing up are considered a sign of very bad luck. They are promptly turned back, accompanied by some spitting! There are similar beliefs in Celtic tradition but it may well have come from the Greeks.


• Touching a red-coloured item occurs when two people say the same thing at the same time. This prevents an argument occurring between them. I haven’t heard this one before. I wish my father had known about it.


• Using the same door when entering and leaving someone else’s home avoids bad luck. If you enter through the front door and leave through the back door you could invite bad luck on the inhabitants of the home – especially on a pending marriage proposal. There you go, the Greeks invented feng shui!


• Placing money in something new brings good fortune. Throwing coins into someone’s new car will bring safety. Placing money in a newborn’s crib will bring the child good fortune.This works on the principle of ‘like attracts like’ and is no doubt sourced in energy beliefs. Everything has its own energy. Similar energy draws together.


Again, many if not most of these beliefs can be found in a variety of cultures. But the Greeks because their history is so ancient, could no doubt claim that they were the first to think of them.


About the only Greek tradition which I thought was a good idea was the pinning of money to the bride’s dress at weddings. I first saw this in Port Pirie when we were invited to a wedding by some Greek friends. Then again, Indians also give money at weddings and the modern practice is now to have a ‘wishing well,’ where guests give money instead of gifts.


I doubt there was very much money pinned to Mary’s wedding dress, if indeed, she even had a wedding dress. Charlie had no family to provide such things and the Atkins family was poor. One likes to think she had a saucepan or two with which to begin married life. The Greeks do love their food and while I am sure the family ate a lot of fish, one wonders if Mary learned to cook some of her husband’s favourite dishes.

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