The Hon. M.J. ATKINSON (Croydon—Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (15:22): Today I would like to place on record the state's recognition and appreciation of the extraordinary life of Gervasios Kosmidis who was born near Ankara in Anatolia in the former Ottoman Empire on 20 November 1904 and died peacefully in Adelaide on 1 November 2009.
Gervasios's parents and ancestors were from Imera, a flourishing township of 200 Greek families in Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea in modern day north-eastern Turkey. Pontus had been colonised by the Greeks in antiquity. Most of the residents were landowners, millers, bakers, merchants and miners. The Pontians had, over many generations, become recognised for their knowledge of mining and metal processing.
Gervasios's ancestors left Imera and settled at Akdagmanden (White Mountain) where they got work as miners. Gervasios was born at Akdagmanden and had three younger sisters. During the early years, they lived well, but after famines his father left to enlist in the Turkish Army and life became hard. Gervasios retold the story of the day when, at the age of 10, he was taking the family's animals to pasture—two cows in calf and 12 goats. Thieves threatened him and stole all the stock. When he told his mother, she sought and found the thieves and asked for her animals to be returned. In return, she received a beating and later the thieves robbed from their house and then burned it.
Gervasios's family escaped with a few clothes which they had salvaged from the burning house and then they began to walk to Ankara. After two months, they arrived in Ankara where conditions were peaceful but life was difficult. At times, Gervasios was driven to begging to feed the family. When Gervasios was 18, the family travelled to Constantinople where they were reunited with his father who, in the meantime, had been discharged from the army. It was good having a family together again. However, this was also the time when Pontians were being mercilessly driven from their homes and many Pontians were passing through Constantinople on their way to Greece. Gervasios Kosmidis's family was among those who went to Greece where they settled in Grevena, south-east of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki became the 'Pontian heartland' after the exile of the Pontians.
Of course, Pontians were forced to flee from Turkey to escape the genocide. Earlier this year, I was lucky to be invited to address a rally in Thessaloniki organised by the Pan-Pontian Federation to lend my support to the Pontian cause to have the genocide recognised internationally and acknowledged by the Turkish government. At age 24, Gervasios married Chariklia, a Pontian compatriot from Imera. She was only 18. They lived together for 81 years.
Many Pontians later chose to migrate to Australia, and South Australia has a strong and active Pontian community of which Gervasios Kosmidis and his family were active members. Gervasios, Chariklia and their family migrated to Australia in 1962 on the ocean liner, Patris. At last, he put down roots. Gervasios and Chariklia had nine children, though two died as infants, 24 grandchildren, 49 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. Gervasios spoke Pontian and, Greek, Turkish and a little English.
When he came to Australia, to make ends meet Gervasios first worked at two jobs simultaneously—as a farmer and as a builder. He later worked for seven years with the E&WS from where he retired. He lived with Chariklia in a small flat at Alberton with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren nearby. Gervasios did not smoke or drink alcohol, and each day Gervasios and Chariklia would go for a walk.
He had a love of reading and of singing psalms. From a young age, he liked chanting in church, and he knew many psalms and Bible readings by heart. Gervasios would never miss church, and he had taken the opportunity to visit Mount Athos, the centre of Eastern Christian Orthodox monasticism, Jerusalem and many other monasteries. Gervasios and Chariklia strictly kept all the fasts.
Gervasios Kosmidis is survived by his widow, aged 98, six children and many adoring grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Gervasios will be greatly missed, and I offer my condolences to his family and friends.