In 1951, Pagona Giannatou arrived in Australia to marry a man she’d never met. Now 100 years old, she is the last of the old Greek immigrants living in Charleville, Qld.

Story and Photo Annabelle Brayley 

Pagona Giannatou was a 30-year-old tailor of men’s suits in Athens when her grandmother and her grandmother’s neighbour, Mrs Tsikalas, decided she should emigrate to Australia to marry Mrs Tsikalas’s son. Pagona had never met this much older man, however in post-war 1950 there were few young marriage prospects left in Greece. Although she could have refused, and wasn’t keen to leave her mother and sisters, Pagona was excited by the possibilities. She flew into Sydney aboard a Qantas Constellation in April 1951, then onwards to Brisbane where she lived with a Greek family, helping care for their children in exchange for her board. She met her husband a few days before they married in June 1951.

Dimitri Stratti Tsikalas anglicised his name to Jim Chicalas when he arrived in Australia in 1923 to work for his Andronicus relatives in NSW. By the time he and Pagona married, he owned his own cafe in Charleville, Qld. In the middle of the 20th century, the town boasted a significant number of Greek families, drawn there by the success of Harry ‘Poppa’ Corones and his opulent Hotel Corones.

Warmly welcomed by the matriarchs of the Greek community, Mrs Chic – as she is known to everyone outside her family and oldest Greek friends – settled in to make the very best of her new life. Supported by the women, she learned to speak enough English to communicate and began to absorb the ways of this outback town.

Determined to have income of her own, Mrs Chic invested in her first Singer sewing machine soon after she arrived in Charleville and taught herself to make women’s clothes. In between delivering and raising two sons, Stratos and Nick, she established a successful dressmaking business with an appreciative clientele throughout south-western Queensland.  

From balls to dinner parties and race days, there was rarely a function in the Charleville district that did not include several women of all ages wearing Mrs Chic’s creations. Her heavily accented English is punctuated by gales of laughter as she says, “I don’ know how many wedding dresses I make. Bridesmaids, ball dresses. Lotsa dresses. I work very hard.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #136

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2021