George Feros, a ‘loveable eccentric’, humble man. He lived most of his seventy-eight years in Byron Bay. The story of George’s exploits has been recorded in a book, George his Passion, written by his daughter, Ruby. He was proud to be a Kytherian-Australian.
George was born in Mitata in September 1903. He was one of eight children who survived to adulthood. The children included: Irene, Michael, John (known as Jack), Peter, Nicholas (Nick), George, Anthony and Kerani. George’s father was James (Dimitrios) and his mother Maria Sklavos.
At the age of seven, George had the task of looking after the sheep that belonged to the family.
He immigrated to Australia when he was twenty, and like a lot of Kytherians of his generation, he never returned to the ‘old country’ as he called it.
He had no money, no skills, no trade but he had integrity. He worked seven days a week, sometimes up to eighteen hours a day without a break, in order to become a successful businessman.
George bought the Paris Cafe in Tweed Heads to support three nephews to come to Australia. The business proved unprofitable so George went to Tweed Heads to rescue the business. He built the business up in a relatively short time.
The business was sold in 1952 for a princely sum. George did not want to sell the business. His wife Edna forced him to sell. He did but after that he did not work or touch money again. This was a pivotal point in George and Edna’s life.
Ruby Feros writes about her father:
George told me he was a stow-a-way on a fishing trawler on his way from Athens to Port Said. In his teenage years, he was an altar boy in the church at Mitata where his grandfather was the priest. He came from a family of hard working Kytherians (The family ‘nickname’ was Vourgaris, which means hard working).
After he left in 1921, George never returned to Kythera. He told me many times how much he missed his dear mother, and cried many times to be able to see her again.
From the day he left, George had to care for himself. He had to be like an eagle. Eagles learn to fly when their mother pushes them out of the nest, and over the edge of a cliff, like the edge of the cliff in Mitata. George’s mother (nee Sklavos) had to let George go. The economic conditions on Kythera were so bad, she had no option.
At nineteen, George left the port of Agia Pelagia to go to Piraeus, where he boarded a fishing trawler for the sea journey to Port Said in Egypt. George told me he was nailed into a large box to conceal him on the voyage. He said when he reached Port Said and was let out of the box, his first meal was prawn caught on the trawler. He was so hungry that he ate the prawns, shells, heads and all. Such was his capacity to digest food.
A voyage from Port Said to Adelaide and on to Sydney, and then by train to Lismore, allowed George to meet up with his older brother Jack, who was already living there.
Some people in Byron Bay may still remember the old man who lived at number thirteen Lawson Street. George’s house remained there for a couple of years after his death. A consortium bought the house and re-located it to Ewingsdale near Byron Bay.
George took no interest in world affairs. A Kriesler radio sat on the top of the kitchen dresser in George’s home. George would never turn it on and listen to news or music.
George had enlisted to serve in World War II. A medical certificate from the Australian Military Forces advised him he was medically unfit for service. He by-passed the certificate and enlisted for overseas service. Someone decided he was serving in an essential service in the food industry, and so he was not allowed to go.
The last twenty years of his life, he would mount his bike and ride off. He carried a bell and a box in a homemade hessian bag, which he slung over his shoulder. He would ride to the local pubs, dismount from his bike and out would come the box and the bell He rang the bell to let people know he was around. The box was to collect money to give to his passion – the nursing home. He became an icon in Byron Bay. Initially, he learnt the art of collecting for the Australian Orthodox Home for the Aged and continued to perfect his art of collecting money for a nursing home.
George was not afraid to go anywhere to collect in any weather. Rain, hail or shine, George was there.
When George died in 1981, the cortege was led away from the church, with the priest walking in front of the hearse ringing the bell George had rung for twenty five years. The gesture of his unspoken words heralded that George was coming.
George was a man with a mission. When he died he had accumulated $182,000. This was in addition to what he had previously collected for the Australian Orthodox Home for the Age, but it wasn’t a nursing home and that’s what George wanted.
In September 1982, an area of land near the Sandhills Estate at Byron Bay was designated as a site for aged care.
The seed he planted which thrives as Feros Care Ltd has no boundaries.
Nick Towers, member of Board of Directors of Feros Care Ltd wrote in his foreword about George:
I think of all the famous people from all walks of life that I have been fortunate to have met – probably the least known and most rewarding was George.
I will always remember those piercing eyes that went straight through me. I instantly knew that he was genuine.
In 1973 I opened up a real estate business with Trevor King. George offered to hose down the pavement and keep the shopfront clean for a dollar a day. I thought this was unnecessary and unaffordable. To my absolute horror Trevor King agreed to pay it, as he said it was for a good cause and he had a lot of time for George.
That was my first real understanding of charity. When you give money while at your financial weakest, it returns in abundance.