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Eleftheria (Elli) Katsigaraki – Full biography

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Eleftheria reflects on her NZ and Australian migration experiences, feeling at home in Australia and navigating multiple identities as a Greek, New Zealander and Australian.

Eleftheria was born in Kandanos, a small town in Crete, at the start of the war, in 1941. Her father, Theophanis, was a barber, and her mother, Argyro, was a housewife. Eleftheria had 10 siblings, four sisters, and seven brothers. She mentions that two of her sisters died at a young age. Her earliest memory is working on the family farm, picking olives, when she was seven years old. She comments on the strictness of her father, the dowry system, and the limited educational opportunities available at the time. She later decided to become a hairdresser and opened her own shop.

The interview also touches upon the impact of World War II on their village, with the Germans burning houses and causing food shortages. Eleftheria’s house was also destroyed during the war, and her family had to find shelter with friends in another town.

Eleftheria talks about her the decision to immigrate to New Zealand, and the speaker’s desire for adventure. She shares her experiences traveling on a plane for the first time, her initial lack of excitement about flying, her unfamiliarity with the experience and her subsequent journey to New Zealand. She mentions some of the stopovers she had in Singapore, Karaki, Australia, and finally New Zealand and describes her first impressions upon landing in New Zealand and her stay in Wellington, where she worked in a hospital laundry. She later moved to Hamilton and continued working in a laundry before transitioning to sewing. Eleftheria reflects on her life in Hamilton, the lack of Greek community, and how she met her husband through a match arranged by her parents back in Crete. The interview also touches on her wedding, her brother’s brief stay in New Zealand, and her experiences balancing work and motherhood.

Eleftheria also talks about her decision to move from Hamilton to Australia and explains that her husband wanted to move to Australia because of a cousin’s suggestion. Although she wasn’t initially happy about leaving New Zealand, she moved to Sydney with her husband. She worked as a hairdresser and later owned a shop selling women’s clothing. She also became involved in the Greek Community in Australia and enjoyed socializing with friends.

Despite the challenges, she found the Greek Community in Australia welcoming and made friends from various cultural backgrounds. She visited Greece twice, reconnecting with family and feeling a mix of emotions upon returning to Australia. Overall, Eleftheria considers Australia her home after living there for 30 years. Reflecting on her experiences living in Australia and New Zealand, she reaches the conclusion that she has three nationalities: Greek, New Zealand, and Australian, although she doesn’t have three passports.

She found the second migration from New Zealand to Australia easier and believes it was a good decision. She also mentions that her children did not mind leaving New Zealand at a young age and they have not expressed a desire to return permanently. However, her daughter had a harder time adjusting due to missing her friends. Eleftheria prefers the quiet and cleanliness of New Zealand but appreciates the Greek community in Australia. Her sister also migrated to Australia from New Zealand. Eleftheria attends school once a week to improve her English and her children are both teachers. Her daughter is a journalist but decided to pursue teaching instead, while her son is married to an Australian.

Eleftheria explains that they primarily speak English because they lived in New Zealand for many years where there weren’t many Greek speakers. However, she mentions that her son has improved his Greek after visiting Greece and plans to send his own son to Greek school. Her daughter, on the other hand, is not willing to speak Greek.

Eleftheria maintains some contact with her family in Greece through her older sister. When asked about differences between people in New Zealand and Australia, she notes that New Zealanders are friendlier, while Australians tend to be more reserved. However, she has formed close relationships with people from various nationalities, including an Australian neighbour. Eleftheria identifies as Greek, New Zealander, and Australian, and feels accepted by the Australians. She mentions that in the early years, Greeks were not well-regarded, but attitudes have changed as they have proven themselves through hard work.

Eleftheria reflects on her adventurous life since leaving Crete and mentions that she has lost contact with her friends from New Zealand. She does recall one friend, Despoina Psinari, who also moved to Sydney. The interview concludes with a discussion on language use, cultural identity, family dynamics, and social connections.