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Lili Sigalas, Greek Migrant, 1922

Collar - Black, Beaded, 19th Century

Image: Collar - Black, Beaded, 19th Century

Source: Museum Victoria

Lili (Eleni) Sigalas (nee Vrahamis), born in 1904, was the daughter of Callirrhoe Dressler and Stavros Vrahamis, both from the Greek Island of Sikinos. She had two siblings, Alexandra and Constantinos. Callirhoe's father was Austrian, originally in the Austrian cavalry and lived in Istanbul; he bought and sold horses for the Sultan. Callirrhoe married Stavros and they lived in Istanbul until World War I when Stavros migrated to Greece and taught school. They remained separated throughout the War but reunited in Athens after it ended. At this time their daughter Lili was 14 years old. The family lived in straitened circumstances in Greece and Callirrhoe found the change difficult. Lili completed her secondary education in Athens, her father ensuring she was reasonably well educated, as he was unable to settle a dowry on her.

In 1920 Lili was engaged to a cousin Letho (Eleutherios) Sigalas, and in 1922 migrated to Melbourne on the Largs Bay with her father-in-law to be, James (Iakovos) Sigalas, and her elder sister Alex. Alex was already married to a Greek man in Sydney (they had married previously in Greece). Letho had already returned to Melbourne to look after the business. On her journey to Melbourne Lili brought with her a black beaded collar which had belonged to her grandmother and a tapestry curtain which Lili's mother had kept from her house in Istanbul.

Letho and Lili were married at the Greek Orthodox Church on Victoria Parade, on 18 July 1923, just eight days before Lili's 19th birthday. Her white velvet wedding dress, veil and head dress were made by a Greek dressmaker in Melbourne. After the ceremony, a large dinner was given for the newlyweds at café in Punt Road. They had two daughters - Dan'e in 1924 and Magarita Babette in 1931.

Letho worked in his father's cafés and the young couple moved in a very sociable set that included their own young Greek cousins, going to numerous dances, the races, and nightclubs. They had cars, sophistication and some affluence, with Lili having household help. The family lived at the St Kilda Road house (where Babette was born) until 1948 when they moved to Kew.

In 1930 the family toured Europe and travelled to Greece to see Lili's parents. During the 1930s, Lili used to hire a horse from the stables in South Melbourne and ride around the 'Tan' in the Botanical Gardens. In 1937 Lili enrolled in an arts course at Melbourne University, which she continued part time for many years. By this time her English was excellent. The family went abroad again in 1939 and were in Greece when war was declared so they were forced to return to Melbourne via the United States on an American ship. Lili also seems to have travelled with relatives and friends, without her family. Letho supported her lifestyle and interests and only wanted to see her happy. Lili was also a skilful dressmaker and made clothes for herself and her children.

During the 1940s, Lili became a committee member of the International Club, established by Ivy Brookes, which organised cultural events at the St Kilda Town Hall. She was also a member of the Greek Red Cross during the war. Lili was known as Helen by her non-Greek connections.

In 1951 Nikos Demetrakopoulos directed a production of Sophocles' 'Antigone' in modern Greek at the Union Theatre at Melbourne University. A theatrical milestone, it was probably the first production of Greek tragedy in Greek in Victoria. Lili had a minor part in the play, and was instrumental in organising the logistics of the production and was an active interpreter.

From 1955 to 1966, Lili was employed as a correspondence teacher of English by the Migrant Education Department. Letho and Lili had a final trip abroad in 1960, before he passed away in 1964.

In 1966 she left for Athens where her brother was living with his family. Her daughter, Babette, was also living in Athens at that time. Lili remained in Greece until 1987, returning to Melbourne for extended periods during the illness and on the death of her eldest daughter in 1971. While in Greece Lili travelled extensively and joined an association devoted to the study of archaeological sites called Arch'eophilos. After 1973 she spent her summers in the house in Sikinos which had been bought by her father in-law, Iakovos, many years previously and by Greek law was now owned jointly by the entire extended family. Returning to Melbourne in 1987, Lili passed away in the 1990s.

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