From Turkey to Greece and eventually to Highfields, Helene Germakis has journeyed far in her 100 years of life. She has travelled particularly far for her children.
“I’ve lived with my grandmother all of my life,” Nicholas Alexiou, Ms Germakis’ grandson said.
“My mother was a widow as well, so my grandmother was my other parent.”
Ms Germakis decided to move from Athens to Australia in 1974 at the age of 56 after her eldest daughter, who had moved to Australia a decade earlier, was widowed.
“She liked it so much she didn’t want to leave,” Ms Germakis’ daughter Margarita Alexiou said.
Ms Germakis herself was widowed with three children, two daughters and a son, after her husband died in World War II.
Born in Turkey on the Princes Islands in 1918, it wasn’t the first time national conflict intervened in her life.
At the age of five, Ms Germakis and her family became refugees due to the “Great Population Exchange” convention signed by Greece and Turkey.
The agreement forced her family to rebuild their lives on the other side of the countries’ border.
While Ms Germakis’ English is limited, she can still speak Turkish, but communicates to her friends and family in Greek.
Mr Alexiou said his grandmother’s life story was a “treasure”.
“I think it’s admirable that a lot of people came over here with basically nothing but their customs, traditions, cuisine and that’s what’s given us this multicultural society today.
“She just has all that wisdom, which she passed on to us,” he said.
In the past month Ms Germakis has relocated from her home in Highfields, where her daughter Ms Alexiou was caring for her, to a Greek Orthodox aged care centre in Sydney near her grandson.
She has been living with dementia for the past five years.
“The way I have come to identify dementia is that they’re watching a movie but all the scenes are out of sequence,” Mr Alexiou said.
“I think that’s why being able to celebrate, connect and refresh those memories is really important.”
Greek dancing and food were very much a part of Ms Germakis’ 100th birthday celebration at the Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Day Care Centre in Hamilton on Thursday. She had attended the centre since 1997.
Ms Germakis said she felt “very happy”.
Ms Alexiou said she did not know why her mother had reached such a formidable age.
“It’s God’s business,” she said.
“It just comes.”