When 18-year-old Giannis Giorgatzis stepped foot in Australia, all he wanted to do was work to pay off his ticket and return to Greece. Little did he know it would take him 33 years to smell the fresh air of his homeland once again
Giannis Giorgatzis was only 18 years old when he left his beloved island of Rhodes with his parents and brother to migrate to Australia.
“My sister had already moved Down Under with her husband, and my father had asked that I also go, but just at the last minute I tore my travel papers up, as I really didn’t want to leave the island,” recalls the 67-year-old.
During his teens, Mr Giorgatzis worked in various hotels but eventually agreed to follow his parents to Australia so that the family could stay united.
In 1969, the family left their little village of Gennadi and boarded the now legendary ship Patris, which was on its last scheduled voyage to Australia.
Initially, the islanders settled in Brisbane where Giannis’ father and his two sons worked extremely hard in order to make a better life for themselves in Australia.
“I certainly did not fall in love with Australia, quite the opposite,” Mr Giorgatzis remembers. “Every day, I used to tell my father not to count on me staying, as I was planning to pay off our tickets and move back to Greece.”
But life didn’t quite go as he planned. Fast forward and a few months later, young Giannis met the love of his life, Faedra.
The young couple had two daughters and moved to Adelaide where they spent all their time working and looking after their growing family, while being very involved with the city’s thriving Greek community.
“I was finally home”, says Giannis Giorgatzis
The dream of returning to Greece started to slowly fade away.
As the years passed by, the financial struggles and responsibilities deprived the young couple the opportunity to visit Greece.
As a result, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that Giannis and Faedra were able to return home and introduce Greece to their two girls.
“Returning to our island after 33 years of absence was certainly an overwhelming, almost spiritual experience.
“Although a lot had changed, as soon as I climbed up the mountain, I could smell the fresh air from the pines and feel the summer breeze on my face. I will never forget that feeling.
“We were finally home,” says Mr Giorgatzis, who now never fails to visit Rhodes every couples of years and for the past decade has been President of the Pan-Rhodian Association of South Australia.
“As most of the migrants, we love our country of birth and there is no greater gift than to return after all these years and enjoy all that we were deprived,” he says.
“We must never forget the country where we were born.”