«To preserve our Karitsa identity and foster our love for the village"

Karitsa, a mountain village with folk chiefly involved in sheep and goat herding, in olive growing and in land tilling has always had a lot of people emigrating in search of better life opportunities and living conditions.  Early on that search lead them to more prosperous nearby villages and then to larger provincial centres and places further away.  Thus all people by the name of "Karitsiotis" living in the rest of Laconia and in neighbouring Arcadia have ancestry originating in Karitsa and over time have become known by this surname.  They took on this new surname because that is what the locals in the new villages they moved into called them; "Karitsiotis", meaning "one from Karitsa."

The first specific group of emigrant Karitsiotes that can be traced is believed to be that of the Triandafilos Family.  Members of that family, which no longer exists in the village, began leaving as early as the 1720's and 1730's. The first group went to the island of Spetses, a second group headed for Astros Kinourias and a third group went to Gramousa, present day Ambelohori.  A later group settled in Molaous, some fifty kilometres from the village itself.  This type of internal emigration, to nearby villages and larger provincial centres, has continued ever since.

The first notable wave of emigrants from Karitsa to places outside of Greece began around 1890 when many left for the United States.  This continued until the 1920's when the economic decline in the United States reduced the flow of Greek immigrants there.  The most rapid overseas emigration of Karitsiotes, however, occurred in the post war years when within a period of 20 years 40 percent of the villagers left.  Whilst some took the familiar route for the United States, others sailed the North Atlantic bound for Canada and a few packed their suitcases and boarded the train for Germany. For most emigrating Karitsiotes, however, a new door was opening up, that of far away Australia. 

With tears in their eyes and a heavy heart they bid farewell to their beloved village and travelled to the port of Piraeus to board the awaiting ocean-liners.  They sailed through the legendary Aegean Sea and the calm Mediterranean before moving through the Suez Canal and the Read Sea.  After that the vastness of the Indian Ocean awaited them and then the storm and tempest of the Southern Ocean; all this in a trip of some 20 or so days to reach their final destination.  In Australia most Karitsiotes settled in Adelaide which is often called "Athens of the South".  The first Karitsiotes to arrive in Adelaide were Katsambises; 29 year-old Yannis Katsambis together with his 26 year-old wife Hristina and one-year-old son Dimitri.  They arrived in 1954.  Very soon they were followed by many others.   

What are the reasons that drove so many Karitsiotes to breach the tyranny of distance and to settle some 12 000 kilometres away from their homeland on the other side of the world?  Whilst a lot is often made about the Greek sense for adventure and discovery the more real and basic reasons stem from the impoverished socio-economic conditions that have burdened Greek society ever since the domination of the country by the Ottoman Empire.  Though Greece was liberated in 1821 it was not able to make significant headway in developing an independent national economy.  By the time Australia launched its immigration program in the late 1940's Greece was economically on its knees.  Following the Great Depression of the 1930's it was also to endure the misery and evils that proceeded the war ravaged forties.

Many Karitsiotes sought a way out.  Most left with the intention to return within five years.  They wanted to find well paying work to save enough capital to buy a house and land on their return, or to pay family debts, or to provide for the dowry of girls of the family.  One thing for certain however was that in the overwhelming majority of cases emigrants left with the firm intention to return once they had accumulated a reasonable capital to better their life and status in the village. In reality for most this was no more than a five-year dream that never become a reality.  Soon enough most were reasonably happy with their life in Australia, but most importantly with the prospects for their children. 

This, despite the fact that they were brought over chiefly as factory fodder for rapidly expanding manufacturing industries.  Thus in most cases migrants took on the heaviest, dirtiest, most dangerous and least paying jobs in steel foundries, car making plants and appliance factories.  As an example Karitsiotes in Adelaide were employed in the assembly line of General Motors Holden, in the foundries of Perry Engineering and Kelvinator as well as Rubber Mills.  Rubber Mills were particularly popular because workers were expected to work four hours overtime daily which of course meant a higher wage packet on a regular basis.  During the holidays to build up their savings they would often go fruit picking as a whole family, including children, along the Murray Valley.  For the rest of the year whilst the men were working in factories women from Karitsa would join women from Geraki and other Laconian villages working in the orchards and market gardens of the Adelaide Hills.  On the back of a small truck managed by Nikos Mitris from Geraki they would go to pick cherries, apples, peas, broccoli and other produce grown in the Adelaide Hills.

Emigration from Karitsa continued and was to peak even higher from 1961 to 1966.  During that time most Karitsiotes in Australia had settled close together in Goodwood, an inner Adelaide suburb which to this day has many descendants from the village living there. After 1970 the migration tide to Australia began to ebb. 

"Australia is an island,
Where you can sail with ease.
But once you go and settle there
It's difficult to leave."

So goes a laconic lament composed and sung early last century by the emerging Greek community in Australia.  The lament captures in a nutshell so many feelings that Greek immigrants to Australia have felt from the very early days.  In time a few Karitsiotes attempted the return home but with varying degrees of success.  Some happily settled back in the village, others emigrated once again to Australia whilst some went back and forth for a while.

Karitsiotes in Australia today are very different from the migrants of the fifties and sixties. They are now represented in many walks of life including industrial workers, primary producers, tradespeople, retailers, taxi owners and operators, public servants, managers, teachers, lawyers and other professionals.  The overwhelming bulk, though nostalgic about their place of birth or ancestry, are happily settled in Australia but like to return to holiday in Greece and to spend some time in Karitsa whenever they can.  They maintain strong ties among other Karitsiotes in Adelaide and enjoy getting together for baptisms, weddings and family functions.  They also enjoy entertaining and socialising as a large group at activities organised by the Brotherhood of Karitsa, an association that was specifically formed to bring them all closer.

Brotherhood of Karitsa

The Brotherhood of Karitsa was founded in 1986.  Diamandis Rozaklis and the late Kostas Malavazos are acknowledged as the prime movers in establishing the brotherhood.  Their plan was both sentimental in nature as well as a means of extending a charitable helping hand to those in need.  "To have the money to help out Karitsiotes in need including the village itself when need be," declared the founding members.

The first meeting of 34 founding members was held in August 1986 in Goodwood, a suburb of Adelaide with a high concentration of Karitsiotes.  Diamandis Malavazos was elected the first president of the Brotherhood.  Other members of the first management council were: Diamandis Rozaklis (vice president), Con Katsambis (secretary), John Stavrianos (treasurer), Peter Antonis, Con Antoniou, Dimitri Katsambis and Vangelis Malavazos.

Preserving our Karitsan identity and fostering our love for the village are considered to be the main objectives of the Brotherhood.  Other aims include contact with the village and provision of every assistance towards it and fellow Karitsiotes in need.  Karitsiotes of Adelaide are an inseparable part of the Laconian community.  The Brotherhood maintains close co-operation with the Pan-Laconian Society of South Australia "Leonidas" and sees it as the overarching organisation for all Laconians in Adelaide.

The Brotherhood holds three main functions every year, two dances and an outdoor barbecue.  The first dance is held in February.  The second towards the end of August is a grand occasion and recreates "Ayianniou" the main festival of Karitsa.  Towards the end of each year the Brotherhood organises a free outdoor barbecue for members and friends in a neighbourhood park in Goodwood.

To date the Brotherhood has been involved in many significant activities:

  • Of primary concern has been financial assistance towards the water supply of Karitsa.

  • Considerable financial assistance has been extended to needy Karitsiotes in Karitsa and in Australia

  • Assistance has been provided towards ethnic community and national needs such as aid for earthquake victims of Egaio and Athens, Excavations in Macedonia and support of the Institute of Hellenic Studies

  • Donations to numerous charities in Australia.

In the future the Brotherhood will continue to promote the maintenance of our mother tongue, the Greek language in Australia; it will continue to foster love and unity among Karitsiotes and all Laconians and Greeks of Adelaide in general.  Above all it will nurture our love for the village and provision of assistance for public works in Karitsa and needy Karitsiotes.

Present management council:
John Stavrianos (president)
Michael Malavazos (vice president)
Con Malavazos (secretary)
Con Katsambis (treasurer)
Jim Rozaklis (assistant treasurer)
John Antoniou
Peter Vlahos
John Katsambis
George Katsabis
Peter Stavrianos
Diamandis Hagias

Auditing Committee
Diamandis Malavazos
Dimitri Katsambis

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