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Casimaty Kingdom Built on Half a Crown

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Pròs tòn kairón – As the Occasion Requires At a time when Tasmania was as culturally isolated as it was geographically distant from the rest of the world, Gregory and Anthony Casimaty established a successful fishing business and cafe in Hobart. Anthony and Gregory’s lives were characterised by good-will and good judgment, ensuring their personal […]

Pròs tòn kairón – As the Occasion Requires

At a time when Tasmania was as culturally isolated as it was geographically distant from the rest of the world, Gregory and Anthony Casimaty established a successful fishing business and cafe in Hobart. Anthony and Gregory’s lives were characterised by good-will and good judgment, ensuring their personal success and earning them respect and admiration from all sectors of the Tasmanian community. The brothers’ lives had an influence on many other people, both within the business world and beyond, including two soldiers from Hobart.

Gregory Casimaty.

On the advice of his father, Gregory Casimaty migrated to Australia from Greece in 1905 at the age of fourteen with the sum of half a crown and his first pair of shoes. After working in Sydney and Queensland, Casimaty journeyed to Hobart in 1914 to open a restaurant and fish business. His attitude was that if the venture failed and he lost everything, he would have lost only half a crown and could start again. Arriving by ship at 6 pm on a Friday night, Hobart was so quiet that  Casimaty went to book his return passage to Sydney. He was prevented from doing so as the office of the shipping company had closed for the weekend.

It was to the good fortune of the Tasmanian community that over that weekend Gregory. Casimaty decided to stay, and along with his brother Anthony, established their successful fishing enterprise, remaining business partners for fifty years.

The Casimaty brothers and their families overcame racism and physical and verbal hostility to become popular and respected members of the local community, with their business soon achieving Vice-Regal patronage by then governor, Sir James O’Grady. It was the brothers’ commitment to fair and honest dealing with others that saw them in good stead when dealing with unfavourable mainland agents during the early years of the business. In turn, the Casimaty brothers were later able to extend approximately £40,000 worth of loans to local fishermen to establish Tasmania’s fishing industry. No interest was charged on the loans and most existed on no more than a verbal promise of repayment.

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At a considerable loss to their own profits, Gregory and Anthony created new markets to keep local fishermen employed during the Great Depression in the 1930s. No fishermen in southern Tasmania had to resort to government assistance during those hard years, allowing the men to remain financially independent and with a sense of purpose. As just one example of this community respect, several fishermen supplied the Casimaty brothers with fish for over twenty years. Three fishermen started supplying fish In November 1914, one month after Gregory arrived in Hobart, and were still supplying the brothers with fish until 1948. Such reciprocity demonstrates the good faith and fair dealing Gregory and Anthony developed with others.

It was also during the Great Depression that the brothers and their families gave away hundreds of meals.

At Christmas, in addition to free meals for locals, the Casimaty brothers invited migrants working for the Hydro-Electric Commission to Christmas lunch.

Many of the migrants had no families in Australia and would otherwise have spent a lonely day wandering the town by themselves.

Anthony Casimaty.

Gregory and Anthony established a free milk scheme for Hobart schools that became well-supported by the wider community and was eventually managed by the Australian government. During these years the brothers’ wives, Katina and Manty, worked long hours at home, overcoming loneliness, isolation and racism to forge long-lasting ties with other families in Hobart. Katina and Manty spent countless hours making Greek-style shortbread to raise money for the Red Cross War relief, all while learning a foreign language and adapting to a new way of life.

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In just some of their many acts of generosity, the Casimaty family provided land to build the Greek Church in Hobart and created a retirement home for the elderly residents of Kythera. Their legacy of community service continues, with successive generations of the Casimaty family continuing to receive official honours and accolades for their commitment to public life. A fine example of the brothers’ positive influence is that described in Desmond Jackson’s book, A Smile For Micky.

In A Smile For Micky, war veterans Charlie and Reginald broke the window of the Casimaty’s Britannia Cafe in an act of remembrance for their friend, Stanley ‘Micky’ Hallam, and also remembering as prisoners how they had craved to be released. Working long hours and taking pride in their business, Gregory and Anthony could easily have been outraged, taken offense, or shown indifference, allowing the police to arrest the apparent hooligans. Instead of assuming the worst, the brothers sought to understand why their shop window had been damaged by these strangers. When Gregory and Anthony discovered the reason, they responded with their characteristic generosity, helping to fulfill Stanley Hallam’s dying wish of seeing the fish in the shop window swimming free.

In 1941 the Casimaty family also helped another young World War Two soldier from Hobart. Christopher Webster was serving overseas with a British army in Greece when he and some other soldiers escaped the Greek mainland on a raft. Attempting to sail to Crete, they landed in Kythera to buy food. A local man took Christopher to meet George Casimaty, Gregory and Anthony’s father. George and his family gave Chris a hero’s welcome when they discovered he was from Hobart and knew of their sons. All the residents of Kythera gave Chris and his sailing companions food from their own meagre stores, aware that they were risking their lives if caught helping Allied soldiers.

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Virtue benefits the individual by benefiting the community, whether in a secure and peaceful city, or in the midst of war. The ideal one aims for in life creates the standards one lives by, which in turn becomes an example to others. Through hard work and generosity, focusing on the future but never forgetting the past, the Casimaty family touched the lives of all those around them, leaving a positive legacy that continues to this day.

Stephanie Gleeson is a graduate from the University of Tasmania with an interest in law reform and animal welfare.

STEPHANIE GLEESON: Stanley Hallam – The Ripple Effect of One Man’s War.

Source: Tasmanian Times

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