The Day the First Greeks Arrived in Australia

Coal miners in Hill End-Tambaroora, New South Wales, early 1870’s. Among them are “Jeremiah Williams” (Jerasimos Vassilakis) in the center of the picture. Copyright: Holtermann collection of the State Library ΝΝΟ.

It was a day much like any other, on August 27, 1829 when the first-ever recorded Greeks set foot on the continent of Australia. They were seven convicted pirates who had plied their trade in the Mediterranean sea and had been forced to serve their sentences on this continent on the other side of the world.

Later on, despite the fact that the Greek authorities granted them an official amnesty, two of the men decided to stay there, thereby beginning the long history of the Greek presence in Australia. Their names were Antonis Manolis and Gikas Voulgaris.

Bill Florence (Vassilios Florakis) traveled from Ithaca to Melbourne in 1922. Copyright: In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’, National Project Archives, Macquarie University, Sydney

The name of the ship that brought them there was also duly recorded. It was the British ship the Norfolk, and it brought a total of 192 other criminals, mainly from the United Kingdom, to the harsh continent to serve their sentences. The voyage, which must have been a type of punishment in itself, lasted between 91 and 93 days and the captain was assumed to be Alexander Greig.

The Potiris family from Kythera, outside the “Canberra Dining Rooms,” a family business owned by them, in 1914. Copyright: N. George for ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’.

Greeks gradually and sporadically began to migrate to Australia later on, but the main wave of migration didn’t happen until after the Second World War, resulting in the large numbers of Greek communities in Australia we know today.

By any measure, the Greek presence on the continent has been a great boon to the country of Australia. We today must truly admire the courage of the two founders of its first Greek colony — even if they were ex-pirates — who so courageously chose to stay there, half a world away from home.