Migration Memories
Robinvale perspectives


John Katis: A first generation perspective


From Greece 1955 to Robinvale 1957

An important focus in shaping John’s story was his sense, as a first generation migrant, of being part of ‘two worlds’. John’s strong sense of his home town, Leonidion, was shown by incorporating his memory map of Leonidion into the panel design.

John Katis
John Katis. Photograph: Jo Sheldrick, 2006.
  Jphn's display


  View of John’s story on display at Robinvale. Photograph: Mary Hutchison, 2007.


Mapping the personal, the local and historical

The exhibition used maps, images and text to show the wider context in which John and his family came to Australia in 1955 as assisted migrants. As part of its post-war immigration program, the Australian government made agreements with countries such as Greece to provide assisted passage in exchange for work contracts. 

  old photos
Details from John Katis, panel one, Migration Memories: Robinvale. Design: Paula McKindlay.

John’s particular memories of preparations for their migration and the voyage itself led Mary to search for images to go with them.


The local

In Greece the Katis family had been market gardeners. They came to Robinvale because of the horticultural opportunities it offered.

old photos
Detail from John Katis, panel two, Migration Memories: Robinvale. Design: Paula McKindlay.


The personal in historical context



drawing and photos
  Detail from John Katis, panel two, Migration Memories: Robinvale. Design: Paula McKindlay.

John described his life as having two cultural dimensions. The objects in the exhibition that reflected this concerned food and cooking traditions: his mother’s mortar and pestle, and the copper a Robinvale neighbour gave him which he uses for boiling up yabbies and crayfish. The exhibition also sought to show these two dimensions by using verses of the Greek national anthem in the exhibition sound installation, and through images and text on John’s panels.






Looking back on the project

john with copper

John Katis, Photograph: Jo Sheldrick, 2006.




Once I went back into those memories and got involved, it seems to me that I’ve done that journey again… you wonder, you know, it brings questions to your mind, was it worth it and what would’ve happened if you stayed there? … The journey that [I did] comes out…you’ve got it inside you, nobody can take it away from you, nobody can change it, until you get a person like yourself… to bring it out of you, you know, like pulling your heart out… The minute you bring it out everybody can see it, everybody can feel it. And to have it out, being scrutinised by other people, you know, and to be asked questions about it, I tell you what, it brings a tear to your eye…

In developing John’s story with him, there was never any doubt about its emotional core. The strength of feeling he readily expressed gave the story a strong and accessible focus but it also highlighted the risk that every participant took in working with me to create an emotionally true story for public display.