I am Susan Healy. I was born in Mareeba in 1951. This is the story of my grandmother and mother.
My grandmother, Zoulihr Bekir Demi, was born in Vriselli Greece in 1907. When she was 14 years old her parents and the parents of her future husband arranged a marriage between their children. Unfortunately, the marriage did not produce children and it failed. My grandmother returned to her family.
At 27 years of age, a second marriage was arranged for my grandmother with Bekir Demi, a much older man. My grandfather was a soldier, a herbalist and the owner of an olive grove in Greece which he leased out. Together they had four children, 3 girls, Louiza, my mother, Fay and Hava who died as a toddler in Greece, and one boy, Mehmet.
In the 1940’s, war ravaged Europe. Greece was occupied, first by the Italian Army and then the Germans. Many people found their livelihoods destroyed. Then, in 1944 my grandfather died and my grandmother was left with 3 children under 10 years of age. She was 38 years old. For a time, they were forced to live with neighbours. Just before the end of World War 11, the Americans liberated Greece, but this was quickly followed by civil war and poverty and hardship did not cease for the people. To add to the difficulties, the soldiers would loot the homes of the people and Zoulihr often had no food for her children. She would gather pigweed in the mountains and then boil it to feed to them.
In 1950, my father, Peter Ahmet, then 30, travelled to Greece seeking a wife. Zoulihr agreed to allow him to marry her oldest daughter Louiza, my mother. Louiza was 15 years old. After Louiza was accepted for immigration into Australia, my parents boarded a BOAC flight to Cairns via Darwin. By then my mother was pregnant with her first child, me.
Arriving in Mareeba was a huge culture shock for Louiza. She could not speak the language and was meeting her in-laws for the first time. In time, she befriended an Italian woman and she managed to learn English and Italian. But my mother persevered and with my father’s assistance was able to help my grandmother Zoulihr, my Aunt Fay and Uncle Mehmet to emigrate to Australia and they joined her in Mareeba.
Zoulihr began working on tobacco farms, saving her money. This was a tough road for her, because as a woman, she was limited in the work she could do and some of the better paid tasks were denied her. But eventually she was able to purchase a home in Byrnes Street Mareeba for £900. Life was tough. She struggled to master the English Language and in the early 1953 her son became ill. The Albanian Community rallied around her and raised money to send him to Brisbane for medical attention but he died in Brisbane at just 16 years of age. This loss never left her and haunted her until her death in 1987.
My mother Louiza, continued her life on the farm, helping out and raising her children. As a child I remember her doing the washing – prodding clothes in a big pot of water heating over a fire and rubbing at stains on a wooden washboard. I can remember my father coming home after watering the tobacco with the mud on his long trousers up to his knees. In those days he had to flood-irrigate the crops and often had to stand in muddy channels to shovel breaks in the drills to ensure each plant had enough water. My mother had to scrub those stains off on her wooden wash board.
My parents had 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys. Unfortunately, my father struggled to manage the traumas in his own life and Louiza felt she had no option but to leave. She and her four small children moved in with her mother, Zoulihr. My mother was pregnant with her fifth child.
Once my mother had delivered my sister she looked for work. She found it as a sales assistance with Young’s Drapery, a position which welcomed her ability to speak Greek, Albania and Italian. While my mother worked, my grandmother cared for her 5 grandchildren.
Zoulihr and Louiza faced disadvantage, poverty and violence and overcame them with hard work and perseverance. Two strong women, taking advantage of the opportunities they found in Mareeba and inspiring their younger generations to face their own challenges and overcome them.
Janet commenced work with the Mareeba Heritage Centre in July 2016. She had the vision to create this project and was instrumental in acquiring funds and putting the right people in place to bring this project together. Janet is passionate about community engagement and development.
We are a local app design company located right here on the Atherton Tablelands. Drop us a quick email and we will help you analyse what a new or improved app might mean to your business.
Angela was born in Mareeba but like most young people left to pursue a career in Corrections and then Community Services. On retirement, she returned to her home town and is happy to be contributing to progression and preservation.
© Mareeba Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre 2021