Cassimatis General Store

The history of the Cassimatis family is beautifully presented in the Museum.

In 1911, Andrew Andrew (A.A.) Cassimatis and his son George left the island of Kythera (which lies between Crete and the mainland of Greece) to come to Australia to build a new life for the family. They worked in Sydney for a period of time and then moved north to cut cane in the canefields around Bundaberg while on the lookout for business ventures. In 1914, father and son moved west, first to Isisford and then to Muttaburra.

At first, they rented a small cafe, living in the back of the premises and when the lease expired they rented another one further along Bruford Street (next to Bobby Booth’s Hairdressing and Billiard Saloon and the Australian Hotel) from a Mr John Ahern.

In 1918, A.A. and George, having relinquished the lease of the cafe, decided to build their own general store. The land was purchased from the Eddie Beach family and Jack Reisene constructed the building which still stands today. As they had done previously, A.A. and George again lived on the premises – in the back room. A.A. continued to live there until his death in 1942; his wife having died in 1927 at home in Greece.

The business initially traded groceries, drapery, hardware, mercury and motor spirits. The Cassimatis’ became one of the oldest agents in Australia for Mobil Oil – Australia – previously known as The Vacuum Oil Company of Australia. They bottled their own methylated spirits and kerosene, using their own label.

As a sideline, they also hired out a vehicle, and in the early 1920’s, George drove Hudson Fysh around on some of his forays for QANTAS.

In 1925, A.A. and George drew a block off “Milgarra” near Normanton. They travelled up in their T-Model Ford to inspect it, but decided not to take it up as they felt it was a ‘bit wild’ for them. George married in 1930 and had five children between 1932 and 1939. In 1934, in order to accommodate his growing family, he bought the house on the eastern side of the shop from the three Ford brothers, who were drovers.

In the early years, iceworks were incorporated into the business, which included the making of the necessary charcoal. The ice was made, sawed into blocks, and then delivered to the hospital, other businesses and those townspeople who had ice chests. When refrigeration came of age, during the Second World War, the iceworks were closed down, and later sold to a buyer from Mitchell. The interior of the shop was reorganised, and the structure changed slightly to accommodate the new white goods. First came the kerosene refrigerator – “The Mighty Electrolux”, and George became a sub-agent for this company.

The next purchase for A.A. and George was the soft drinks factory, owned by the Lakes family, on the corner of Edkins and Sword Streets, opposite the Post Office. A.A. and George demolished the building and transferred the soft drinks business to their own shop. In 1948, George closed down the soft drink factory and from then on, he bought his soft drinks from Rossberg in Longreach and Flynn of Hughenden.

In 1935, A.A. and George bought the beautiful old Klugh and Samuels Emporium from Jim Roberts. This building stood beside the Bakers Shop, and had existed in Muttaburra since 1881. It has been described as a very well laid out shop, with beautiful fittings, and glass panelled doors that opened into a separate office. “The shop had counters all around, and shelving behind. It sold everything, beautiful crockery, produce, groceries, haberdashery, motor spirit and oils, and alcohol (wine, spirits and beer) which was kept in a back shed and underground cellar.” Some items, including the ornate cash register and axe stand are on display in the Cassimatis’ General Store today.

In buying Klugh and Samuels, (they retained the name) A.A. and George were able to secure the towns wholesale 2-gallon wine and spirit merchant licence. However, the building was in an advanced state of disrepair, and they soon closed its doors.

Another business enterprise of the Cassimatis father and son partnership was the “Four Mile Gardens” an orchard and market garden near the banks of the Landsborough River. These were situated four miles south of the town, hence the name. They built a windmill and operated a pump engine to irrigate the crops – oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapes and mulberries proved fruitful, as were melons and a variety of vegetables, including asparagus. An attempt to cultivate olives was frustrating, as the trees grew well, but didn’t bear fruit. A small crop of cotton was also successful. Eddie Childerley, who worked at the gardens for many years, used to sell the produce around town, from a horse drawn cart. Of the other employees at the gardens, a number were Chinese, including Louie Sung, known as Jacky Lock.

In the late 1950’s, the Cassimatis General Store became a Bank of New South Wales Savings Agency, finally closing its doors in 1978.

The cottage continued to be the family home until George moved to Brisbane in 1982, to live with his daughter Anna, and the home was finally sold to the Aramac Shire Council in 1998, for preservation. The Dr. Arratta Museum Association has restored both the Cassimatis Store and cottage.

Adapted from text by Helen Marsh & Margie Webb.

To learn more about A.A. Cassimatis’s Greek island of origin – Kythera – go to
www.kythera-family.net

Cassimatis Group Photo (on last page of photos).
Posted by the Kytherian Cultural Association:

“Unknown photographer (Yiannis Kassimatis?): a group of 30 persons, taken out of doors, probably after mass at a country church or chapel. The following text is written on the back: “Kythera 22 September 1930. My dear cousin, I send you this photograph as a souvenir, it was taken from the church of Agia Triada, we are a mixed lot of faces, among them your cousin Stavros. Yiannis happened to be away and is not in the photo. These photos are taken by Eleni’s Yianni. Eleni I. Kassimati”.
Vintage silver print, 8.8×13.8 cm. Ref. No. KPA 00005. Original in the possession of Prof. Yiorgos Kassimatis, Kato Livadi. ”

Supplied by George Poulos