THE EARLY YEARS

My name is Tanas Kirev (Athanasios Kirou in Greek) and I was born on the 14th of September 1931 in the Lerinsko village of Neret (Greek name Polypotamos) in Aegean Macedonia. I am the eldest child of Macedonian parents Velo and Magda Kirev. My parents had five children my other siblings in order of birth were Fania (deceased 2010), Ristana (dec 2020), Pando and the youngest, Kata. My father, Velo Kirev, was third eldest of four sons to Kote and Yanna Kirev. My father's other brothers in chronological age were Mitre (eldest), Risto and Petre.

My grandfather (dedo) Kote was a very respected, able and affluent member of the village. He constructed a water driven flour mill (vodenitsa) and owned numerous fertile fields (nivea) in which he sowed crops. Unfortunately, my grandmother died at an early age and he remarried a woman from Nesrum who had five children. My step grandmother had begged my grandfather to marry her saying that he was wealthy and that they could live a comfortable life together. He felt sorry for her and thought that it would be in the best interest for his
four sons to have a mother figure present, so he decided to marry. As it turned out, his second wife looked out for her children and didn't give as much care and affection to dedo's children often leaving them to go hungry.


My immediate family. The back row from left to right is my sister Fania, me and my sister Ristana. In the front row is my brother Pando and sister Kata with my parents Velo and Magda. Circa 1948.


My parents' wedding with Magda and Velo standing with my paternal grandparents Dedo Kote and Baba seated. Circa 1929.

In time, dedo struggled to feed, clothe and fend for nine children and in the mid 1930s went to Australia in order to earn enough money to feed such a large family. He wrote a letter to my father and his brothers where he referred them to his zlutni zupusteni pilinia (My golden neglected chicks). He regretted his decision to remarry in the older years of his life
and heap onto himself the burden of having to look after another person's children. He was extremely upset that his family had fallen apart because of his decision to remarry. He died in 1942 in Melbourne having never returned to his homeland. Dedo was amongst some of the earliest Macedonians to emigrate to Australia.

My father Velo was a very thoughtful and considerate man. He was the type of person who could do whatever he put his mind to. He was a builder who had a hand in many of the best houses built in the village. He could also do blacksmith work, shoeing horses and making saddles and bridles for working animals as well as making wooden barrels. As a result of being multi skilled, he was able to bring in money from umerous
sources.

Because my father Velo could see what his stepmother was doing, he had a falling out with his father. When my mother was pregnant with me, she had a craving and broke off a capsicum that was part of a platted bunch strung outside to dry under the porch of the home. She cooked the capsicum and ate it. As a result of this seemingly petty thing, an argument ensued. Due to this and other prior incidents, my father decided to move to his mother-in-lawfs house (dedo Stase Marin).

I was born in the Marin house. My hospital was the barn. I was born on straw strewn on the earthen ground of the barn. After a short time, we moved from the Marin house to the Mihaieleva house (my auntie Velika's house) since they were living in America and the house was vacant. We looked after the house, did repairs when required and best of all, we didn't have to pay rent. It was in this house where all my other siblings (Fania, Ristana, Pando and Kata) were born.

Dad's oldest brother Mitre also went to Australia. Whilst there, he obtained paperwork in the hope of bringing his two sons Vasil and Sotir and Striko (uncle) Risto (my father's other brother) to join him. Unfortunately, my step grandmother talked Vasil and Sotir into remaining in the village with her. As a result, my uncle Risto also decided to remain behind in the village. They wrote back to Striko Mitre to tell him of their decision to remain back in the village with baba. Striko Mitre was so disenchanted that he burned the permits.

From all accounts Striko Mitre was a bit of a comedian and prankster who worked during the depression living in campsites in and around the Western Australian towns of Manjimup, Bridgetown and Pemberton cutting sleepers for railway line construction. Sadly, his son Vasil was killed during the second world war, fighting as a partisan. He was killed
when he stepped on a land mine placed in the hills above the village in a spot called the ornitsa.

Striko Mitre died a lonely man in Fremantle at around 1956, never having returned to his homeland. The sad part about this is that I arrived in Perth, Western Australia in 1955 and could have met him if I had been told sooner of his whereabouts by my Vuijko Stojan (mum's older brother) who kept in contact with Striko Mitre from time to time but didn't bother to tell me.

During my early years and even before my time, our people endured very difficult times with the region ravaged by constant political unrest, wars, and poverty. When Greece gained control in 1913 of the Aegean part of Macedonia, our people were forced to Hellenise, and the Greek government ruled with a heavy hand. Everyone in our village, as was the
case throughout the predominantly Macedonian villages in the region, was forced to speak Greek. Many did not know how to speak Greek and they were afraid to openly speak Macedonian for fear of being punished. There were even people who were assigned to sit outside homes to listen and ascertain as to what language was being spoken. These spies would then relay this information to the relevant Greek authorities. At night we always kept windows and blinds shut to avoid being detected. We endured much hardship during these times. My mother was forced to go to night school to learn Greek leaving at home her young and hungry children crying. Even at school, students would dob on other students
if they heard them speaking Macedonian. Greek teachers would ask why you were speaking this filthy language and give you a beating.

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