Christy Freeleagus, Prince of Commerce

Guest blogger: Toni Risson, 2016 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellow

 

Freeleagus brothers ca. 1929 (Christy front right). John Oxley Library SLQ neg. 50133

Prospects were bleak on the windswept island of Kythera in 1900 so twelve-year-old Christy Freeleagus set sail for Australia. He was put to work opening oysters in a café basement.

Christy believed that, if he opened enough of them, he would succeed in his new homeland, and by his mid-twenties he was head of a family empire that saw all ten Freeleagus brothers migrate to Brisbane.

Cominos Central Cafe on the corner of Edward and Adelaide Streets Brisbane ca. 1910. John Oxley Library SLQ Neg. 67011

Christy and two older brothers set up shop in Brisbane in 1903, trading as Comino’s—from Sydney. By 1914 the partnership operated the Paris Café in George Street, the City Café (formerly Central Café and Oyster Palace), a milk bar and a fish shop near the City Café, a large wholesale food business in South Brisbane called Fresh Food & Ice, a steam laundry, a café in Brunswick Street, and a café in Boonah.

Freeleaguses also owned a spacious home on the river, a house in Stanley Street where employees lodged, and the property on the Adelaide/Edward Street corner where, in 1929, they built the six-storey Astoria Café building. Freeleagus Bros provided the first Queensland employment for hundreds of Greek migrants.

Christy fathered Brisbane’s Greek community and was Consul for Greece from 1919 until his death in 1957.

He strengthened ties when Greek neutrality caused unrest during WWI, and defended Greek shopkeepers in the wake of the Ferry Report (1925). He was also a high-ranking Freemason, leader of the Chamber of Commerce, and a founding member of the RACQ.

Christy (right) with Archbishop Timotheos ca. 1937 John Oxley Library SLQ. neg. no. 49880

“When I came here, there was so little,” Christy said, looking out over Brisbane just before he died, “but I knew it would grow, and I would grow with it. Everything a migrant boy could dream of doing this wonderful country has given me the opportunity to do, it has been like a dream that has come true.”

To hear Toni speak about Brisbane’s Greek cafes, come along to A Year as an SLQ Fellow event at SLQ on Thursday 9 March at 5:15pm.  Follow the links here for bookings

For more reading:

Johnston, W. Ross. Greek Emigration Research ca. 1930 – 1990, State Library of Queensland

Conomos, Denis. The Greeks in Queensland: a History from 1859-1945. State Library of Queensland

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  1. Hi,

    In case it might be of interest to her research, would you please pass on to Dr Risson the following excerpt from “The Telegraph” that mentions Christy/Christie Freeleagus as a guest, thanks?

    VASYLI MEMORIAL.

    An Impressive Unveiling.

    THE memorial tablet erected at the South Brisbane end of the Victoria Bridge in honour of little Hector Vasyli, who was killed owing to his enthusiastic self-forgetfulness in welcoming home returned soldiers, was unveiled with impressive ceremony yesterday afternoon.

    A crowd of about 1,000 persons witnessed the proceedings.

    The memorial bears an amply explanatory inscription:

    “Every land is his native land to a brave man. Near this spot, as the result of a lamentable accident whilst welcoming returned soldiers, Hector Vasyli was killed on 9th June, 1918. Aged 11 years. During his brief sojourn on earth he devoted much of his time to patriotic work for Australian soldiers during the great European war. In his veins ran the heroic blood of Greece, and in the breast of a child he carried the heart of a man. This tablet was erected by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League, Hellenic Association, and citizens of Brisbane.”

    These words appear on a panel of white marble, set in a background of grey slate, and supported by Corinthian columns.

    The memorial also contains a bronze medallion of young Hector.

    The whole tablet is the work of Mr. A.L. Petrie.

    The No. 1 District Band took part in the proceedings, which were participated in by Vasyli’s mother and father, boy scouts, school fellows, returned soldiers, and Greek residents.

    Mr. W.P.H. Miles represented Bishop Le Fanu.

    Touching addresses were delivered by Mr. Christie Freeleagus, president of the Queensland Hellenic Society, Lieutenant Grant Hanlon, on behalf of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League, and the Mayor of South Brisbane (Ald. P. Forrest).

    The last-named unveiled the memorial, which occupies a conspicuous position on the masonry on the State fish shop side of the bridge.

    The veiling had been effected with silken Australian and Greek flags, which Mr. and Mrs. Vasyli had presented to the Hellenic Association.

    The hand played “Lead, Kindly Light” and the service closed with the National Anthem.

    — from page 5 of “The Telegraph” (Brisbane) of Monday, 9 December 1918.

  2. Liz Gilbert

    Christie Freeleagus is buried in Toowong Cemetery. His beautiful white marble monument references his Greek heritage and his contribution to Brisbane.
    I know him from his grave – thank you for bringing him to life.

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