|Country of Origin||Greece|
|Date of Birth||9/15/1933|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1957|
|Submitted by||Bill Kokkaris|
Maria Kellari was born in a little Greek village called Ellinohori, on the 15 September 1933. Ellinohori actually means Greek village and it is still very small. It is located about 10km from the coastal town of Kiato and has beautiful views over the gulf of Corinth.
Maria was the fourth child out of 12 and was the second oldest daughter. The Kellari family was very poor, surviving on the wheat and olive harvest and her father\’s tinkering trade. While Maria wanted to learn and go to school it was the ‘rule\’ that only the boys would go to school and the girls would help in either raising the children or working on the land.
During the famine and WWII, hunger and famine struck hard on the family. The civil war which followed had devastating affects on the village which split it into opposing parties with families and neighbours turning against each other. Maria\’s father was targeted but fortunately his life was spared. One day while taking the turkeys to the mountain to graze, Maria came across three female heads partly covered by snow.
When she was 10, in the height of the war, a rich uncle from Athens came to fetch her sister Argiro. He and his family needed a domestic in their Athenian home. Argiro, was 13 at the time and her new domestic duties would earn her some money to help her family.
Argiro however wasn\’t the domestic type and within a week she was returned home. Maria offered to go in her place, keen to help her family and to learn about the world outside the remoteness of Ellinohori. She was also very robust in her attitude to work Ð focus, do it well and do it quickly.
Unfortunately, life wasn\’t very pleasant under the new arrangements and Maria suffered years of abuse under her guardians in Athens. She did however manage to make some money and support her family.
At 19, Maria escaped and took up a position as a nanny at another well-to-do Athenian household. He was a leading surgeon with one daughter. The money she was able to save from this job went into the purchase of a beautiful olive grove in her village. Not only was the grove an investment for the future, it provided additional income for her parents and younger siblings.
In her early twenties she yearned independence and freedom. The temptation to migrate suddenly took hold of her once she received a letter from her older cousin Toula who had gone to Australia as part of the free passage program. It wasn\’t long after that she made her decision to follow.
The news of her leaving for Australia did not go down well with her family, especially her brothers who did not like the idea of a woman in the family migrating for the purpose of supporting them. But being headstrong, and having years of living away from her family, the choice was easy.
In 1957 she took the month-long journey to Australia on the Patris. Unfortunately, when the boat docked her cousin wasn\’t there to meet her. Toula had got the dates wrong and in a state of panic and despair, Maria was taken to a hostel where she remained for a few months until her cousin was able to track her down. She then lived in Marrickville, in a little terrace.
Maria went on to marry Michael Kokkaris on the 3rd of January 1960 and gave birth to three sons, Con, Bill and Nicko. She also sponsored he two younger sisters, Dianne and Vicki, who joined her in Australia.
Maria spent most of her working life in nursing homes taking care of the elderly.
When all her boys finally married and she was no longer mothering, she finally went to TAFE at 65 to learn English. Unfortunately, not long after, Maria was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in January 2000, aged 66.
Each year all of her family get together before Christmas Ð her children, her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews and all their children. We now number 28.
Maria was a pioneer; a single-young woman who came to Australia on her own and left behind a new colony that has its roots in a little Greek village called Ellinohori.