The amazing story of the 900 Greek brides who traveled to Australia over sixty years ago, in 1957, aboard the ship Begona to meet their future husbands was the subject of a mini-documentary by the Australian television network SBS.
Journalist Rhiannon Elston interviewed some of the women who courageously journeyed thousands of miles from their homes to start a new life on the other side of the globe.
Many had never even met their husbands-to-be.
Greece had just gone through a dark period in its history. After many years of Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the country was thrown into a bitter Civil War.
Many Greeks were left looking for a better future for themselves and their families abroad, especially in Australia and the US.
Greek brides left their homeland for a better future in Australia
Anastasia Tsiorvas was among the passengers of the Begona. She sailed from the port of Piraeus to meet a man she’d chosen to marry only by looking at a black and white photograph.
In her interview with the SBS she says: “I was a little bit uncomfortable, but so many girls, they come like me [sic].”
Tsiorvas was one of the lucky ones. After almost a full month at sea, she met her soon-to-be husband after the ship pulled into Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay. It had docked in Fremantle, Western Australia, four days earlier.
“I was on the top of the ship … he had some flowers and he called to me, ‘Anastasia! Anastasia!’ And I look at him and I thought, ‘Oh yes, he’s nice,’” she recalls.
“He was very good looking, and he was young,” she added.
Valerie Rentoulas was one of the youngest of the women on board, at the tender age of just seventeen.
“I came to find a husband later on, but I came to work, and have money, better than where I was,” she said.
“Because everybody… at the time, wanted to go away, you know, somewhere better,” she adds.
Rentoulas became a mother and a matriarch of a large family, and says she was very happy to settle and build a life in Australia. But it did come at a cost.
“We left Mum and Dad, we didn’t see them again for twenty years, that was the worst thing, but everything else was good,” she says matter-of-factly.
Some young women didn’t want to leave their home country
Peter Photakis has spent many years researching the historic voyage the young women took so many years ago, halfway around the globe.
“There were three categories: those who were engaged before they left, the ones who married by photo, (by proxy, without the couple being present together) and of course the others who came for, sort of, family reasons and found their husbands here,” he said of the women on the ship.
“There was an amount of money paid, the photos were sent here, the man selected out of the ten or so photos the girl that he wanted to marry; then a photo of him was sent back to the girl. She accepted and they got married. She went to the church and they actually got blessed by the priest, marrying them by photo,” Photakis explains.
But tragically, some of the girls didn’t want to leave Greece at all, and had no say in what was to befall them.
“They were virtually sold by their families to come here, to marry by photo, never to return,” Photakis says.