By Socrates Tsourdalakis
(Stories that were not included in the “History of Cretans in Oceania”)
From Athens, in 1981, Gabrielle Lord rang the telephone exchange in Chania searching for a distant relative, a great uncle, who must have been in his nineties by then, who knew her great – grandfather, Constantine Koukousakis, that had arrived in Australia on board the British steam ship Galatea in 1866.
She hoped that her sole surviving relative still lived in the village of Tsikalaria in the Kissamos district of Crete. The operator at the telephone exchange in Chania seemed to know her great uncle because, he replied: “Kaput, kaput 40 days”, indicating that he had died 40 days earlier.
Despite her disappointment, because she had not managed to see her great uncle, she decided to visit and see for herself her great grandfather’s village.
From Chania she takes a taxi for Tsikalaria. The curious taxi driver, with broken English, asked her why she was visiting Tsikalaria and she explained to him that her great grandfather was Constantine Koukousakis from that village. Koukousakis you said? He stopped the car suddenly at the side of the road and with great joy he said: “Kiss me, we are cousins! My mother was a Koukousakis before she married.” Truly, quite a coincidence! Only a mountain cannot meet another mountain, as the Greek saying goes.
At Tsikalaria there was a great reception and a feast was laid out in her honour.
Gabrielle, who lives in Sydney today, is a writer of some 14 novels. 25 years later, she visited Crete again. She was planning to write a novel, to be titled “the Woman Who Loved God”. It was to be about an Australian painter who came to Crete and lived in a village house that she had inherited from her grandmother.
Gabrielle had chosen Crete not only because of her roots but also because she wanted to combine the wilderness of the nature and the ancient monuments with a story of love for painting, about a woman disinterested in men but only interested in art, painting the sea, the god Poseidon, ancient temples, Byzantine churches, synagogues, icons, altars, and many other such things. She wanted to write while living in Crete, the island of her great grandfather, to gather all that information that was needed to make her novel alive.
Finally she didn’t manage to write this novel as she had to start writing a series of 12 novels that currently are being made into a television serial. She deferred writing her novel for 2010 when she was to return to Kasteli again.
I read about all these things in an article, in the newspaper The Australian a few weeks ago, and this prompted me to get in touch with her to search together with her for the great grandfather, Constatine Koukousakis, whom I had not come across during my research for my book, “The history of Cretans in Oceania from the 19th century”. How did this happen?
The first Greeks that came to Australia were prone to change their surnames, to Anglicise them, by changing their ending, to avoid the racial discrimination and deportation for those that were illegal. This unfortunately was quite prevalent those days. So her great grandfather from Koukousakis became Kookoosachi, Koosachi, Koosache.
Following extensive research in the Australian National Archives I established that Constantine Koukousakis left during the Turkish occupation, long suffering due to its many insurrections from Crete to Kythera, which during that period was an English protectorate . He worked initially on some British Navy steam ships and in 1866 arrived in Australia with the steam ship “Galatea”.
His great granddaughter, Gabrielle Lord, says that according to family tradition he initially went to Bendigo, in the state of Victoria, searching for gold. Unfortunately I was unable to find information supporting this view.
It is quite likely though, because in that area gold had been discovered in 1851 and hundreds of gold prospectors were searching for gold, amongst them also some Greeks. It is possible that he left the steam ship “Galatea” in Melbourne and from there went to Bendigo where he met other Greeks to search for gold.
Two years later we find him travelling on board the steam ship “Alexandria” from Maryborough of Queensland to Sydney on 24.8.1868 and a month later on 19.9.1868 working as a third cook on steam ship Wonga Wonga travelling from Melbourne to Sydney.
He stayed in Sydney from there on permanently and he worked as a cook at the “Australian Hotel” for a few years, according to family tradition. In 1873 he married an English woman, Elizabeth Ellen Binks, at the suburb of Waterloo in Sydney at a Catholic church, with whom he had 13 children. They were Ernest (1874-1945), Elizabeth (1876-1943), Thomas (1878-1944), Marigo (1880-1881), the twins Ethel and Blanche (1881-1882), Greta (1884-1950), George (1886-1889), Percy (1890-1966), Harold (1893- ?), James (1895-1956), William (1897-1897) and John (1899-1989) .
It should not be seen as strange that he married in a Catholic church, as during that period there were no Orthodox churches in Australia and the requirements of Orthodox people were being taken care of by Anglican, and in some cases, Catholic churches. From the dates above we can also see that some of the children died at a very early age. Quite a few survived though and today his descendants live in many areas of Australia and New Zealand.
One of his children was Percy Kookoosachi, who fought as volunteer during the First World War in Gallipoli in 1915 and in France in 1918. On September 18, 1918, the Australian 13th battalion, with which he was serving, took part in its last offensive action in France, this time around Le Verguier, in the Somme, where Percy Kookoosachi was wounded . He was awarded three war medals, one for his service in Gallipoli and two in France. He returned to Australia early in 1919.
Other Greek volunteers who fought in this war were Jack Marck, John Zavitsanos, Kostas Aronis, Robert Krokos, Atha Halkas, Leonidas Manousou, Nikos Rodakis, George Papas, Minas Alsanis, Anastasios Rembea, Peter Randos, who was killed, also the Cretans George Cretan (Bikouvarakis) who was wounded and also received three war medals, Joseph Voyatzis, and many others. (see Socrates Tsourdalakis’ book ‘‘ The Cretans of Oceania from the 19th century’’.
In October of 1876, Constantine Koukousakis was awarded British (Australian) citizenship and from then on he lived and worked in the Sydney suburb of Merrylands until 1934 when he died at the age of 85. He was buried at the Rookwood cemetery.
According to the obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald of 30.3.1934 he was one of the founders of the Granville Catholic Church. He was survived by 8 of his children
In 1951 his wife Elizabeth also died and was buried with her husband Constantine.