I am Katherine Chouliaras Lewis. Chouliaras is my maiden name. I was a teacher, acting-assistant principal and IT education manager, and for as long as I can remember I’ve followed my passion as an artist. I have lived in Rosanna for 34 years.
My father came to Australia in 1951, accepting the government’s offer to Europeans to migrate. In Greece, before and after the war, he’d had a Haberdashery, which is a travelling stall selling items for sewing. Once settled here my father wrote home to ask if mum was still single; as an apprentice dress-maker she had bought buttons from him, and he’d been struck by her beauty. For her part, mum had no idea who he was until his father visited her mother with a photo and a marriage proposal.
Mum left Greece in 1955 and arrived at the Port Melbourne pier days after New Year’s eve. My parents stayed with friends of my dad, but couldn’t share a room until they married on January 29. Mum found it hard to adapt, coming from a city to a chicken farm in Clayton, dealing with snakes and outdoor toilets. She was strong but very unhappy.
During the war, and the civil war that followed, mum saw beheadings and cousins killed by bombs, and was kidnapped by partisans that would train her to fight. She survived all to then find herself surrounded by trees, unable to speak English and far from everyone she knew. She hit her head on the wall till her nose bled because she was so depressed and decided she wouldn’t live there. My parents moved to Abbotsford after the wedding; I was born at the Queen Victoria hospital a year later.
After years of living in shared houses, my parents bought a place in Albert Park and enrolled me at a Catholic girls college. As a child, I saw myself as Australian but encountered a lot of bullying at school, and didn’t understand why I was being called names. I was the only Greek student there and was not allowed in the chapel because I was Greek Orthodox, nor could I receive the religious instruction award I’d earned. My parents thought the school would give me a better education than they got, but after my many pleas, they eventually allowed me to move.
Starting at Albert Park high school was a new lease of life for me. I was allowed to be me, to express my views, and started doing maths, science and art instead of so much religion. In year nine I had to select electives, and to my art teacher’s dismay, I chose science and maths. However, I always kept drawing and painting and counted on her guidance for years.
Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to do two things besides being an artist: archaeology and teaching, and I think I’ve accomplished all three. I studied prehistory, anthropology and biology at Latrobe University, where I helped set up its first archeological museum, while as a teacher I taught at Latrobe Secondary College for 24 years, starting in ‘83 when it was known as Macleod Tech. I loved teaching and with my background in maths and science taught geography, biology, and environmental studies.
When I moved to Rosanna I was teaching at Macleod Tech. In that time Heidelberg High and Waterdale Girls High were closed down, displacing a lot of teachers, and the community was in turmoil. Schools were being shut because enrollments were down, with the local population growing older but without children to replenish the schools.
Having completed post-graduate studies in IT, in 2007 I took a position at the education department. I’d still pop by the college and often students who knew me for science and IT were surprised to see me cooperating with the art teachers. Today students have a broader scope to learn and develop in more areas, whereas before we could choose only one stream to study. I have always preferred to do a bit of this and that.
In my time living in Rosanna, the area has changed a lot. There’s much more traffic now and a new train station that is impressive yet remains unmanned. Public transport is still lagging with some areas not serviced by buses on Sundays, isolating those who can’t walk to the train stations. Personally, I miss the large variety of birds we had, before so many of the shorter trees were cleared and the birds fled to new habitats. Now we mostly have tall trees and bats left, but I’m sure we can turn it around. I am confident we can continue to improve things around Rosanna.