Sophie Anthopoulos was born in Anodorion, Messinia, Greece in 1936 and died in 2022.
Sophia Anthopoulos was born in the small village of Anodorion, Messinias in Greece. Her parents were poor, but gave their children a good education at home, so that Sophia was able to attend nursing school after just two years schooling in Athens.
Asked why she came to New Zealand in 1963: “A good question. I was happy there. I had a government job. I had 1200 drachmas, which was a lot of money then – 1960’s. But the reason was, my younger brother – he went to Australia . . . But when I went into the office and filled in the forms and everything they said ‘Australia can’t take any immigrants yet, but there’s one new place in New Zealand.’ . . . Because my brother said come to Australia, I got excited. I was young. Perhaps I didn’t think.”
When she arrived, Sophia worked as a nurse aid at Silverstream Hospital. “For three months I couldn’t speak English or Greek language to anyone. I just wrote letters back home; nothing else.”
“I was lonely. But I never thought – silly to say that – but I never thought I’d come to New Zealand and not be able to speak English as a language. I was old – I was 28 when I came to New Zealand – but I thought all the world would speak the same language.”
Sophia moved in to Wellington and soon went to live with the Viatos’s. “The room was in the hallway – because it was a two-storey house – under the stairs. . . . It was funny – I wrote back home and said ‘I’ve come to New Zealand and there’s no sun here’. Because I never saw the sun. I woke up early in the morning, I was in the laundry; then I’d go to the Paramount and stay till ten or eleven o’clock before coming home; when I was in the police barracks, I stayed there till they finished and cam home at night time. But now there’s lots of sun.”
“I remember the first people, like Mrs Blades, Mrs Viatos. Especially Mrs Mastrogeorgiou – Hariklia Mastrogeorgiou – she was a very good lady. Then Mrs Yaivasis, Mrs Girondis. All the ladies had been here a long time and they helped the new people, the new girls who came from Greece. Those ladies were mum and dad to me.”
“I left the Silverstream Hospital to come here because I wanted to bring my husband here and I wanted to go to Immigration every second day to ask them ‘what I can do to bring my husband here?’
Sophia married John one year and six months after she arrived in Wellington. “On my wedding day, the boss of the police station took me to the church, like my father. I never forget the present he bought me – one toaster, which I have in my place now.”
When the church was built, I thought Greece had come here. And I’m glad I came to New Zealand. Not because they are good people, they support us, they are nice people; but because that church is there. It’s a building that looks nice to the city; it’s something special to be there not for the Greek people but to anyone after us.”
“My children went to St Marks School. I used to work in the Paramount, in Mr Blades’ restaurant; in James Smith, looking after the old ladies’ home; lots and lots of different jobs. Just to send the kids to St Marks.”
It was not always easy to juggle two worlds. The organist at St Marks was keen to have her son in the choir. “’Why do you not let your son come to the church?’ And I said, ‘My son, he goes to the Greek Church, but if you need him – .’ ‘Yes, I need, desperately, I need him – his voice – in the choir.’ And I said ‘OK. You come Sunday morning 11.30 – he’s finished in the Greek church – and take him from there.’ And he came. And also, I followed him to go to the church and all the children went in the queue but I didn’t want my son to have communion there. I wanted him to keep his own religion.” Sophia and her husband John have been living in Moir Street for 39 years now, but many of the Greek people have gone. “Now you don’t find many Greeks in Mt Victoria. But it’s no different to me now because the Greeks and the English for me are the same.”
Historic photographs courtesy of Sophie Anthopoulos.