Cyprus is an island country in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey and west of Syria. Geographically it is part of Asia, but culturally it is southern European.
History of Immigration and Settlement
David Kitovich arrived in Adelaide in 1893. Although he was probably of Hungarian or Romanian descent, his naturalisation papers, dated June 7, 1893, described him as a ‘native of Cyprus in Turkey’. He was the first inhabitant of Cyprus to arrive in South Australia. Several other Cypriots followed him over the next few years. By 1900 there were approximately eight Greek-speaking Cypriots living in Adelaide.
In the period between 1916 and 1929 a larger group of Cypriots arrived in South Australia. There is evidence that in the mid-1920s about 20 Cypriots from the villages of Aradippou and Rizokarpaso in the Larnaca and Famagusta districts were living in Adelaide. At this time a Cypriot, George Nicolaides, published the state’s first Greek newspaper, the second in Australia. In 1926 he published a trilingual book, The International Directory, written in Greek, English and French, describing the lifestyle of Greek South Australians of the day.
During the 1920s and 1930s there were a group of Cypriots in Port Pirie. This group grew as Cypriot South Australians sent back favourable reports to relatives and friends back in Cyprus. Most of the Cypriots who lived in Port Pirie worked at the BHP smelters in the western part of the town. Others opened coffee shops, delicatessens or fish shops. Some moved on and worked in the region around Ceduna.
A well-known personality in the Cypriot community in Port Pirie at this time was George Haralampou Kokoti, from the village of Troulloi in southwest Cyprus. George Kokoti was over six feet tall and muscular. He was renowned for assisting his compatriots with labouring work. His alleged feats of physical strength included carrying two 80 kilogram bags of wheat at a time, one under each arm.
Most early Cypriot arrivals were single males, or married men who left their families behind until they established a new life in South Australia.
By 1947 there were 105 Cypriot South Australians.
The migration of Cypriots to South Australia began in earnest in the years after the Second World War in response to the lack of employment in Cyprus. Manufacturing industries in Cyprus suffered a slump after the war, and unemployment also grew because machinery was replacing skilled workers. Australia’s expanding economy in the post-war years and its ‘Mediterranean’ climate attracted many Cypriots to South Australia.
From 1947 until the mid-1950s a coffee shop at 129 Hindley Street, Adelaide, served as the centre of Cypriot community life in South Australia. The shop had two upstairs rooms where recent arrivals would stay, sometimes six to a room, while more established relatives and friends searched for employment and accommodation for them and helped with language difficulties. The coffee shop also acted as a ‘post office’. Mail from Cyprus to Cypriot South Australians of uncertain location was sure to reach them if it was addressed to 129 Hindley Street.
The largest influx of Cypriots to South Australia was during the 1950s and 1960s. Even before 1967, when the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was relaxed, it was relatively easy for Cypriots to enter Australia because both countries were part of the British Commonwealth. In fact, as British subjects, Cypriots were one of the few migrant groups to be permitted to work on defence projects at Woomera West. Other Cypriot South Australians worked as labourers at the Holden, Chrysler and Kelvinator factories, or at Perry Engineering in Mile End, or owned small businesses. Many Cypriots lived near their places of work, and there were also concentrations of settlement in Hindley, Waymouth and Halifax Streets in the city. A number lived in cottages in North Adelaide.
Up until the late 1950s it was common for single Cypriot men in South Australia to send letters of introduction to the families of young women in Cyprus. Photographs would be exchanged, the betrothal arranged, and eventually the young Cypriot bride-to-be would arrive in South Australia.
In 1961 there were 876 Cypriot South Australians, and by 1966 there were 1,119. Though some Cypriots came to South Australia in response to the political crisis of 1974, they were not significant in number. These arrivals generally came as refugees under United Nations and Australian government immigration policies.
For many years the predominantly male Cypriot community of South Australia met informally in coffee shops (Kafenia) but also cultural centres where men could speak Greek, play cards or Tavli a Greek game similar to backgammon, talk about politics and business, and reminisce. Cypriots who were literate in both English and Greek would often read or translate letters for compatriots who had literacy or language problems. Besides coffee, a popular Kafenia drink is Ouzo, a Greek aniseed-flavoured liqueur. Meze, hors d’oeuvres, are served with drinks. They include pickled octopus; marinada, small fish, eaten whole; tahini, a sesame seed, garlic and parsley dip; and tzatziki, a cucumber and garlic dip. Tahini and tzatziki are eaten with small pieces of bread.
Many Cypriot South Australians played a part in establishing Greek Orthodox churches in South Australia. Even after a distinctly Cyprian cultural organisation was founded in the state, there have been continued links between the Cypriot and Greek communities of South Australia.
On February 1, 1948, a group of 35 male Cypriot South Australians met at Dimitrious Sitarenos’ Kafenios at 122 Hindley Street, Adelaide, to organise their community into an official body. With the support of Cypriot Victorians, the Cypriot Brotherhood of South Australia was established. The foundation executive was president Chrisostomos Nikias, vice president Savvas Fantis, secretary Andreas Constantinides, and treasurer Christos Colocas. The Cypriot Brotherhood of South Australia adopted the constitution of the Cypriot Brotherhood of Victoria. The Adelaide-based organisation changed its name to The Cypriot Society of South Australia in the mid-1960s.
On March 29, 1970, Cypriot organisations all over Australia formed a federal body to co-ordinate the activities of all Cypriot Australians and promote Cypriot culture.
On September 15, 1975, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Cypriot Society of South Australia was established. The Women’s Auxiliary was initially formed for philanthropic reasons. Cypriot South Australian women wanted to help the cause of Cypriots caught in the turmoil of the 1974 military coup. Maria Cakoufa was the auxiliary’s first president.
The society moved to premises in Carrington Street, Adelaide, on February 9, 1978.
To celebrate the purchase of its first permanent location the community held an exhibition of Cypriot art and handicrafts. Included in this exhibition were items that migrants had brought with them from Cyprus. These included traditional embroidery, lacework, weaving, Cypriot coins, pottery, basketware, and vourka, traditional leather shoulderbags used by shepherds and peasants which are decorated with fringing and beadwork. Musical instruments such as pidgiavli, flutes similar to recorders, and a collection of Cypriot icons were also displayed. The latter consisted of small devotional pictures of Christ, his disciples or saints, often inlaid with precious metals and stones. From time to time the Cyprus Community of South Australia has staged further exhibitions of cultural artefacts.
In 2014 the society, now named the Cyprus Community of South Australia Incorporated, located to premises at Welland where it fosters and promotes Cypriot culture in a variety of ways including the occasional lecture and exhibition devoted to Cypriot culture and politics. Social gatherings where traditional food and wine are served, and where a band, including a bouzouki, a stringed instrument similar to a mandolin or lute, plays Cypriot music are also held. Senior members of the community get together to talk and play cards or Tavli, while younger members learn about their heritage. Both young and old participate in traditional dances.
There are a number of important occasions throughout the year for Cypriot South Australians. A major event is the Annual Cyprus Festival. This festival celebrates the Cypriot community’s place in a culturally diverse Australia. Besides traditional food, music and dance there are Tsatista performances. Tsatista is a performance art particular to Cyprus. Two people chant popular poetry or folk tales as a conversation; one person chants a phrase to which the other responds. The Cyprus Community of South Australia also holds an annual ball and traditional dance evenings. Often prominent public figures and members of other cultural groups are invited to these occasions.
The Cyprus Community of South Australia has a dance group who give regular performances in traditional costumes. Soccer is also popular among Cypriots. The Adelaide Omonia Cobras Football Club plays in the South Australian Premier League and has its headquarters at Weigall Avenue, Plympton. The Cobras also has a number of junior teams.
Cypriot South Australians have an active interest in their homeland. They have often organised financial and moral support for their country of origin. Students from Cyprus have come to South Australia under exchange programs. The Justice for Cyprus Coordinating Committee of South Australia works to publicise the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in an attempt to bring it to an end.
Organisations and Media
- Cyprian Community of S.A. Inc.
- Justice for Cyprus Co-ordinating Committee of S.A.
The 1981 census stated that there were 1,788 Cypriot-born South Australians.
The 1986 census stated that there were 1,769. Of these, 556 people said that they were of Cypriot descent. The actual number was probably higher.
According to the 1991 census there were 1,644 Cypriot-born South Australians. 2,807 people said that their mothers were born in Cyprus, and 3,060 that their fathers were.
According to the 1996 census there were 1,553 Cypriot-born South Australians. The second generation stood at 1911.
The 2001 census recorded 1463 Cypriot-born South Australians.
The 2006 census recorded 1,378 Cypriot-born South Australians, while 1,000 people said that they were of Cypriot descent.
The 2011 census recorded 1,333 Cypriot-born South Australians, while 2,069 people said that they were of Cypriot descent.
The 2016 census recorded 1,178 Cypriot-born South Australians, while 2,656 people said that they were of Cypriot descent.
Jupp, J (ed.), The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins, Second Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2001)