30 June, 2015. 14:02
ERROL PARKER | Editor-at-large | Contact
HARRY SARKIS ARRIVED in Australia in 1958 with a suitcase full of dreams and drachmas.
He settled quickly in to Sydney’s Earlwood Greek community, scraping together enough money to start a fruit shop on Homer St, which snakes through the inner-southwestern suburb.
Joined by his brother and cousin in the early 1960’s, the humble shop that adorned the Earlwood shopping strip of cafes, restaurants and generals stores, quickly became an empire.
The Sarkis Family now owns and operates a number of small businesses in Sydney and Melbourne and is now looking to expand in to Brisbane – a long way from the war-wearied 23-year-old who arrived in Sydney with almost nothing.
“Don’t ever underestimate Australia’s love for souvlaki and heavily-concreted suburban mansions. That’s where the Greeks excel, mate. Selling simple stuff to the culturally inept”
“They also love Australian farm produce, sold by ageing Mediterranean men who make inappropriate jokes in front of women”
Now the energetic 90-year-old has turned his sights towards his homeland. Not as another potential business opportunity, but as a chance to give back to the Greek people.
“I know how to balance a cheque book,” said Harry from his Earlwood office.
“If my family and I were able to buy homes in Sydney on the back of apples and oranges, then fixing the Greek economy should be child’s play for me,”
“The problem in Greece is that the young people are acting like young people in Australia. They are lazy and unenthusiastic about business, maate.”
“Mate, the Greeks, mate. They always bounce back, mate”
Global sharemarkets suffered from panic selling on Monday in the wake of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pulling out of negotiations late last week for emergency funding in order to put the options to a referendum. Almost $40 billion was wiped off Australian equities markets on Monday, in the exchange’s biggest one-day fall since early May.
There’s an old Greek saying, according to Harry, that a fish starts to stink from the head down – something which he says has rung to in Greece today.
Greece has been buffeted by austerity measure such as pension and service cuts for years while its political leaders remain locked in negotiations with its many creditors, to which it owes upwards of $400 billion.
But fear of a Greek collapse are being felt beyond the ASX, and perhaps more keenly, in the homes of hundreds of thousands of Australians of Greek heritage, many of whom still have family living in the struggling nation.
“My cousin Con and his family are immigrating out here to Earlwood in August,” said Harry.
“We can find him some good work out here, my family will always look out for each other,”
“The Greek people are very proud. We don’t ask for help very often but right now, Greece needs all the help it can get. Perhaps they wouldn’t be in this mess if they just paid tax like people in other countries do.”
Three Aegean Airlines tickets bound for Athens sit on Harry’s desk while he rolls another cigarette and looks out the window. From the top floor of his office building, you can see almost all the way in to the Sydney CBD.
He said he’s leaving on the 1st of September, which he agrees might be too late. Mr Sarkis will be followed by his brother and cousin a week later.
“It’s something that needs to be done.”