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Family the fabric of life

SOME of the State’s biggest and longest running businesses were born out of turmoil on the little island of Castellorizo in eastern Greece.

Professor Reginald Appleyard and Dr John Yiannakis have recently released a book, Greek Pioneers in Western Australia, which details the plight of thousands of Greeks, including the first migrant from Castellorizo, whose community had lost significant trade and later endured severe bombings during the Great War.

The pioneering traits of the Castellorizian migrants have created a formidable legacy for the State’s Greek family businesses including, MG Kailis and the Kakulas Bros.

“In the early 19th century, Castellorizo had a very important role in the Mediterranean as a trading post. They built a lot of timber ships and traded with a lot of people from across the world,” Professor Appleyard said.

“In the 1890s the advent of the steam ship started the demise of Castellorizo. They couldn’t compete with the steam ships and later, in World War I, the island was badly damaged.

“The combination of war and the decline in industry meant a lot of Greeks looked elsewhere.”

He said many Greek traders chose WA as a result of the popularity of Cairo as a travel destination and the imposition of the American Quota Act.

“Many travelled to Cairo where they liked the idea of travelling the Suez Canal,” Professor Appleyard said. “In 1924 the Americans restricted immigration with the Quota Act. They restricted people from Southern Europe and encouraged people from Northern Europe to immigrate.”

The often-hostile reception many Greeks experienced upon arriving in Australia did not deter their ability to conduct business and the Castellorizians began setting up small businesses, often fish and chips stores, even going door to door selling fish.

The name MG Kailis is now synonymous with seafood, although the business has expanded to include pearling and processing and, of course, what the Castellorizians did best – shipbuilding.

Managing director Alex Kailis, whose father established the business in 1960, said the success of many Castellorizian businesses emerged from a desire to restore the family name and pride.

“My grandparents came from a very successful trading island ... it was a very progressive society and very wealthy,” Mr Kailis said.

“For my father I think it was about restoring the family pride.

“There was a very strong sense of community and needing to survive together, be it to survive the streets, survive school or survive professionally, and ultimately [there was] a sense of camaraderie,” he said.

“It’s interesting that there are so many success stories, and it’s not just in business, but in education and in the professional sphere.

“Why is that? A lot has to do with pride and being a very driven people and coming from a successful culture.”

Professor Appleyard said stories such as that of the Kakulas Bros were also an example of business ingenuity.

“The Kakulas brothers came here in the 1920s and landed in Fremantle and set up a fruit store at the railway station,” he said.

‘They then moved to Northbridge, in William Street where they are still operating, and set up a goods store for foreigners who were yearning for home favourites like olives. They were catering for the demands.”

Kakulas Bros is now in its fourth generation and is operated by Evan Kakulas and his nephew George, who were the recipients of the Fourth Generation Family Business Award last year.

Mr Kakulas said certain characteristics of his culture had contributed to, and would continue to make, the food supply business a success.

“Business is not easy but you need a hands-on approach. There are no slackers in this family,” he said.

Professor Appleyard said that, after World War II, migrants came to WA from all over Greece, not just Castellorizo, Ethica, and Kythera. They gradually realised the importance of education so that now the third and fourth generations are succeeding in professions such as law and politics, as well as owning business empires.

Mr Kakulas agrees that education is an important part of life.

“I’ve told my daughters they will go and get a tertiary degree, something on the legal and commerce side, work a little and see what it takes to live in a nice area, and then they can come and join the business,” Mr Kakulas said.

Mr Kailis said the Castellorizian community bond remained strong.

“We did not go through the same life experience,” he said.

“We see each other at weddings, christenings, and Easter. It’s the fabric that holds it together.”

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