This is a guest post (see previous here) from Tony Haritos.*

The book ‘I am Darwin’** was conceived with the intention of the Haritos and Harmanis families commemorating one hundred years since first setting foot on Darwin soil from their native Greece in 1915, writes editor Tony Haritos.

Eustratios Haritos arrived in Darwin in June 1915 followed by Eleni Harmanis and her brother Louis in 1917. Eustratios and Eleni married soon after.

Published on 5 June 2015, this story of migration and escape from conflict, persecution and hardship to a better world is a story applicable to many Australian families. Save for the indigenous people of this land, almost all new Australians families came by sea … our family to Darwin via the Suez Canal and Singapore

When Darwin-born George Haritos (in 1920) was once asked to describe his identity he said, “Well, I’m not English … I don’t feel Greek … I’m not a ‘Territorian’ … I am Darwin.

The much-admired quote summarises how his family who grew up in pre-WWII Darwin felt.

The book is a collection of writings by family members embellished with many dazzling photos. Moving the book from an idea to reality in just three months aligned contributors to focus not only on writing stories for the book to be produced in time for a huge Australia-wide family reunion we had on 5 June … but to take time to delve far deeper and discover the rich vein that underpins the family.

Reading what my relatives felt about the very same experiences was insightful. Grandmother (Yiayia) had a chookpen and won a contract to supply Darwin Hospital and the Leprosarium with eggs. Almost every writer contributing mentioned their memories of the chookpen. Could any chookpen be more evocative than Yiayia’s? That chookshit clearly sent everyone bananas, as did the banana-farming stories throughout the texts.

As family writers researched and wrote their texts, what for all initially was a collection of fragments, began to come together, and by the end we individually and collectively had a broad picture of what our forebears went through to finally set foot here, and why, and how they were buffeted by cataclysmic world events and successive wars. We also discovered important people in the puzzle we had barely heard of, and of their significant contribution to the now. And then we learnt what they did once here in Australia.

The individual stories are deeply-personal and incredibly-wrought with love and respect for our forbears, written by varied accomplished family members. It was a cathartic experience for all involved. Tears were shed.

The stories are rich. Grandfather (Papou) Eustratios Haritos fought in the First Balkan War, which is the conflict where the Ottomans began to be pushed back from their centuries-long hold on eastern Europe and Greece won back Thessaloniki and Ioannina. Eustratios was shot in the head and thrown atop a pile of corpses, however miraculously his uncle came by, saw he was still alive, pulled him from the corpses, and shipped him off to convalesce in a Russian hospital in Athen’s port, Piraeus.

Unable to return to Ottoman-held Asia Minor to rejoin his family at Moschonisi, just 45 miles south of Gallipoli, Eustratios made his way via the Suez Canal, where he was a powder monkey, blowing up the side of a mountain for rock to strengthen the Canal’s embankment, then via Singapore to Darwin.

In Darwin in 1918 he received a picture from his brother Kyriakos in Greek soldier’s uniform, titled ‘Reminder of War’. On the back was written the touching couplet: ‘The foreign land is glad but my own land is calling out. And the mother who gave birth to me cries and sighs’.

Eustratios never saw his family again, nor knows their fate, however his mother, sister and brother were probably slaughtered in Moschonisi in 1922, during what Greeks describe as the ‘Great Catastrophe’, when the Greek Army was pushed back to the Asia Minor coast and all Greeks were either evacuated or killed.

When Stratos was old and in a senile state, he would say to his granddaughter ‘Stavroula, you’ve come back to me after all these years’, Stavroula being the sister who was killed in Moschonisi. Very sad.

On the Harmanis side of the family the stories are just as amazing. One forebear dubbed ‘Tourkomanoli’ from Spetses likely fought with Greek national heroine Bouboulina when the Greeks rose up in 1821 in the Greek War of Independence, and Bouboulina’s ships laid siege on and captured future first capital Nauplion.

‘Tourkomanoli’ was later arrested as a political prisoner as he opposed the installation of a Bavarian Prince to the royalty. He was offered freedom if he would kill the national hero Kolokotronis, however declared ‘I will kill my brother and then myself – never will I kill my leader’.

‘Tourkomanoli’ escaped from an impregnable prison via a sewer, made his way to Hydra, abducted 15 year-old Eleni Traiforou, and fled to distant Kastellorizo, the easternmost of the Greek islands, where he lived, and died aged 103.

When his daughter Asimina’s husband Nicholas Harmanis died after being held captive on the Anatolian coast (now Turkey) for seven years after being captured running contraband, Asimina made her way with six children first to Port Said, then Singapore, then to Darwin, arriving in 1917.

One of her daughters was Eleni Harmanis, who that same year married Eustratios Haritos in the first Greek wedding in Darwin. And so began the tale of the family and Darwin.

The stories in the book abound with adventure and of the sea.

On the day of the first bombing of Darwin in February 1942, four male members of the family were in Darwin and had harrowing experiences escaping the bombing and strafing by Japanese planes. Louis Harmanis escaped by a small boat he had built, then trudged through swamps to Adelaide River, where he was enlisted in the Army.

In 1967, twelve year old Rodney Haritos spent six days in a dinghy in huge seas off Western Australia after his father Nicholas’ vessel suddenly sank. Five men floated about with little water and with sharks circling and were discovered when a RAAF plane returning to Darwin on the last day of the search had to bank to avoid a massive storm and so went outside the search area, and spotted them.

Eldest brother George was a croc shooter and appeared in several books and many TV shows later, having a huge croc in his suburban backyard. He and his three brothers–one of them my father–took the Duke of Edinburgh croc shooting when he was on his way to open the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and he shot one from a good distance. Four years later the Duke noted the four were not invited to a Government House function and so invited them down to join him for drinks the following morning in the drawing room aboard the Britannia moored at Darwin wharf. They made it after scurrying around town trying to pull together appropriate formal wear for the occasion.

The Nike approach to life – Just do it! – is a feature of the family. The brothers were catching thousands of tons of barramundi, so Nicholas decided to load them as back-freight on TAA to the southern cities, including Melbourne, in the lead-up to the 1956 Olympics, and so the now-famous ‘barra’ was introduced to southern and international palates and plates via his initiative.

Louis Harmanis developed an iron ore mine south of Darwin and a wharf was built here to load and ship the ore to Japan, a forerunner of other such Australian ventures. His son Kerry went one better and developed the massive Jubilee nickel mine in Western Australia, taking the share price from one cent to $24 before selling out just weeks before the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Talk about good timing!

George, Nicholas, Louis … three incredibly resourceful and intrepid men.

And while we were all devastatingly affected by Cyclone Tracy we all survived it.

Growing up in isolated Darwin was a rich multicultural and natural experience. ’Little barramundi black-bean stir-fry in Nowhere’, I dub it. Mark Twain noted in Darwin of Australian history in 1897: “It does not read like history but like the most beautiful lies; and all of a fresh new sort, no mouldy or stale ones.

Life was tough in Darwin in the 1920s. The Greek family homes were on the slope going down to the Gardens from the town. Helene Harmanis said: ‘There was a broken line of houses. There were several Chinese gardens where we lived. Ah Shu had one, down the bottom. There was a mixture of Greeks and Chinese, and coloured people at the top. There were the Quee Noys who had their piggery further down, then the Macrides, and above them the Wongs and the Moos.

‘The Moo boy, Willy-boy, he could speak Greek and we would give him the order for loaves of bread in Greek, then we’d go to the Chinese gardens in the afternoon and buy lettuce and cabbage. We’d go to the Chinese houses after school and chat with them. Then when they’d set the table for dinner, we’d go home. Martin had two cows across the road – the dairy.

‘We used to play rounders up on the hill. Walter Lew Fatt, his father had two wives – an Aborigine, Walter’s mother – and also his Chinese wife.

‘Our home was more a shed than a house … stones, not brick; no concrete floor, ant bed floor. We had a water tank to collect rainwater. It was harder here than in Kastellorizo because here we did everything ourselves. Back home, Dad would sail to Marseilles or Cairo and bring back china and pottery. As Dad had his own ship the family had people do things.

‘Here, in the Dry, Mum had go and collect water herself. She went down to the Chinese Gardens – there were two wells. She had to go about 4pm, when the tide came in at Mindil Beach and made the water level rise and flow. And Mum carried the water back on her shoulders. She had tough life, Mum,’ said Helene.

During the three-month production of ‘I am Darwin’, many family increasingly pitched in, their involvement growing to the point of obsession. I was amazed at the love all of the ensuing generations who contributed had for Stratos, Eleni, Louis, Helene and the others, and for their legacy … all of which has surfaced in the book.

One example is Michael Anthony remembering Eustratios: “I distinctly remember Papou standing on his East Point balcony watching out over the horizon for the ‘Kaiki’ (fishing boat) to return with his sons from a fishing expedition.

So evocative, so Biblical.

* Tony Haritos is father of three fine people, owner/manager of the Dili International School which educates future Prime Ministers and Presidents of Timor Leste, operator of remote location nautical logistics operations such as southern East Timor (when a south easterly is blowing in May) for multinational pigs, sailor, adventurer, writer, historian, publisher, layabout and lover of cold beer and Collingwood Magpie tragic.

** You can get your own copy of ‘I am Darwin‘ at The Bookshop in the Darwin Smith Street Mall and soon at Parap Newsagency and the Airport Bookshop.