THE MAN FROM EDESSA

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Pam Zierk- Ma­honey photos Pam Zierk- Ma­honey | Ai­vatoglou fam­ily

Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou mi­grated to Aus­tralia as a young carpenter from Greece in 1962, and he has spent more than half a cen­tury as an in­te­gral part of Mt Buller’s de­vel­op­ment.

GE­ORGE Ai­vatoglou has been a part of the Mt Buller com­mu­nity for more than 55 years and al­though now near­ing 80 is still in­volved in busi­ness and ski­ing.

Al­though the greater per­cent­age of Ge­orge’s life has been on Mt Buller, he is slowly com­ing to re­con­gise the im­por­tance of ‘hand­ing over the reins’ to the next gen­er­a­tion - son Rob, his wife An­drea and their chil­dren Ge­orge jnr and Peg.

As a young carpenter and re­cent mi­grant from Greece in 1962, Ge­orge helped to build the first ski hire on Mt Buller and has been an in­te­gral part of the moun­tain’s de­vel­op­ment ever since.

Two years ago the Mt Buller com­mu­nity ac­knowl­edged Ge­orge’s com­mitt­ment and pre­sented him with a plaque, in recog­ni­tion of his work over the pre­vi­ous 53 years.

Ac­cord­ing to fam­ily and friends, Mt Buller was the nat­u­ral fit for the man from Edessa, Greece, in the moun­tains of that northern Medit­ter­anean country. But ski­ing was never part of life where Ge­orge grew up. Be­fore train­ing as a carpenter, steady work was dif­fi­cult to come by in the poverty stricken Greece of the 1950s.

Ge­orge’s fa­ther found an ad­ver­tise­ment in a Greek pa­per look­ing for trades­men.

His fa­ther suggested he go to Aus­tralia rather than Ger­many.

His fa­ther had met many Aus­tralians dur­ing the war (WWII) and said they were good peo­ple.

So 24-year- old Ge­orge thought it would be a good idea to come to Aus­tralia - stay for a cou­ple of years, make some money and re­turn home.

Ge­orge him­self tells the story of what hap­pened once he landed on the docks in Mel­bourne:

“When the ship ar­rived in Mel­bourne, I was to go to Bonegilla (near Al­bury) to work.

“But there was no one to help me and I didn’t know how to get there from Mel­bourne.

“Ev­ery­one else who had been on the ship had been greeted by friends and rel­a­tives and went off with them.”

With no English, Ge­orge spent four days around the port seek­ing shel­ter in the pub­lic toi­lets un­til some­one asked him who he was.

“I said ‘Greek’ and the man sent for an in­ter­preter, and the brother of a fel­low pas­sen­ger took me to his home in South Mel­bourne,” Ge­orge re­calls. >>

That man’s brother, Van­ge­los Stoy­anou, fed him and gave him a place to stay in re­turn for some ren­o­va­tion work.

“The next day, he gave me three­pence (equiv­a­lent to five cents now) to get a news­pa­per and look for em­ploy­ment.

“When he re­turned that even­ing from work, he found me a job for a carpenter on Mt Buller.”

The job was to help build Auski Ski Hire - the first true ski hire on Buller.

“They rang up the builder and in­tro­duced me and I came up here to work on that build­ing,” Ge­orge re­calls.

“In those days we had to travel through the Black Spur to get up to Buller, which was a long trek and I thought I was go­ing to the end of the earth!

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in the back of a truck and when it started to rain all I could do was crawl into some bags of in­su­la­tion to try and keep dry.

“When we got to Mt Buller I was itch­ing all over - the in­su­la­tion was fi­bre glass, the truck driver was amazed.”

“But I got on very good here, and the work was good and I stayed. “I helped out all over the moun­tain with main­te­nance and wash­ing dishes, mak­ing cof­fees or pan­cakes, I did all sorts of jobs and I slept where I could.

“I was so happy to be work­ing and get­ting paid and the peo­ple were re­ally great.

“I al­ways had plenty of work in Greece but never got paid.

“I came to Aus­tralia to work, not to get the dole or the pen­sion, and I’m still work­ing,” Ge­orge said.

“I came with my lit­tle suit case and box of tools.

[Ge­orge re­cently doanted his tool box and bench to the Men’s Shed at a new Greek nurs­ing home.]

“I didn’t know any­one here and I just worked hard.”

“I came to Aus­tralia to work, not to get the dole or the pen­sion, and I’m still work­ing.” - Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou

That was the be­gin­ning of the re­main­der of Ge­orge’s life in Aus­tralia. “I worked that sum­mer on the first ski hire that went up. “My boss, Tony As­lun­gul, asked me to stay on in the win­ter to work at the ski shop we had just built.”

In the sum­mers Ge­orge worked as a carpenter and re­paired skis.

In win­ter he worked the ski hire, all the while im­prov­ing his English.

“I soon got a rep­u­ta­tion on the moun­tain for be­ing able to do any­thing and when some­one could not get a tradie or help they would say “call Ge­orge the Greek - he can do it”. “Ev­ery­thing is dif­fi­cult if you don’t know the lan­guage. “All I did was read and try to learn English, and I worked day and night. “But I got to know a lot of peo­ple.” Af­ter meet­ing his wife Mar­garet at Auski in Mel­bourne, Ge­orge mar­ried his sweet­heart, of Aus­tralian, Scot­tish and Ir­ish de­scent, in 1967.

De­scrib­ing her hus­band as a hard worker Mar­garet said “He hasn’t stopped since he was 11.”

[Mar­garet has worked along­side Ge­orge for al­most 49 years - as well as man­ag­ing a nurs­ing home for 27 years which Ge­orge built in Park­dale, Mel­bourne at the re­quest of his mother.]

In 1968, Ge­orge had his first taste of man­ag­ing a ski hire busi­ness on the moun­tain - Molony’s, owned by Geoff Henke.

“Mr Henke promised that he would sell me the shop when he re­tired,” Ge­orge re­calls. “We shook hands on it and that was our con­tract.” As the ski­ing in­dus­try grew, Ge­orge came to own three ski shops, GSH, Horse Hill and Sum­mit Road on Mt Buller and one at the Mer­ri­jig Mo­tor Inn which he also built.

In 1992 Sum­mit Road Ski Hire had just been ren­o­vated when it was burnt to the ground just be­fore the Queen’s Birth­day week­end and the open­ing of the ski sea­son.

It is the care and at­ten­tion of the Ai­vatoglou busi­ness that sets it apart from oth­ers.

It’s been a fam­ily af­fair, with both chil­dren Lia and Robert in­volved over the years, but Rob has now taken it over.

In 2016 Ge­orge said it was time to semi re­tire and handed over the busi­ness to Rob - al­though Ge­orge is never far from >>

the front­line - al­ways there to talk to his cus­tomers and to keep an eye on what is hap­pen­ing.

The fam­ily suc­ces­sion plan came to fruition with Robert tak­ing over man­age­ment of Ge­orge’s Ski Hire along with An­drea and his two chil­dren. Ge­orge and Peg, who now have their own apart­ment on Buller and spend all of win­ter there - the kids go­ing to school as well.

“We have el­e­vated Ge­orge to the po­si­tion of Am­bas­sador, the high­est of­fice within our busi­ness,” said Rob. “I love to make peo­ple feel wel­come,” says Ge­orge. “I’ve met a lot of lovely peo­ple here, in­clud­ing my wife Mar­garet, and we are now three gen­er­a­tions here.

“I have three grand­chil­dren all of whom are keen skiers, Ge­orge 14, Peg 13 and Zoe 5. “I don’t ski very of­ten here though. “We work seven days a week dur­ing the win­ter sea­son and do all the work nec­es­sary for the busi­ness. “Win­ter is the time to look af­ter the cus­tomers. “We have so many re­peat cus­tomers and I al­ways make time to catch up with them.

One of Ge­orge’s reg­u­lar cus­tomers asked him one day what he did with bro­ken snow­boards - Ge­orge said if he couldn’t re­pair them then he threw them out.

The cus­tomer then asked him for a bro­ken board and re­turned sev­eral weeks later with that same board painted with a por­trait of Ge­orge on it.

“It shows what high es­teem some of my cus­tomers hold me in,” he humbly said.

That board still has pride of place in the shop for all to see.

Ge­orge is of­ten ap­proached by young peo­ple who have been told by their grand­par­ents to check if Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou is still there.

“I think Buller will get big­ger and bet­ter too as the next gen­er­a­tion of kids be­come the new cus­tomers of Buller,” Ge­orge pre­dicts.

“And lots of peo­ple are com­ing ski­ing for the first time from places like China, In­dia, Pak­istan, even Afghanistan.

“We are see­ing more and more for­eign cus­tomers here - some for ski­ing but many just for the snow ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Like I said, I came straight from the boat to help build Auski Ski Hire and stayed on.

“In 1963 I served Prince Charles when he came ski­ing with Tim­ber­top.

“I re­mem­ber telling the prince that his fa­ther came from near where I lived in Greece and he in­fom­red me that his fa­ther was ‘English’ - but I said no.

“In 1968 I went to work as a man­ager with Molony’s Ski Hire, even­tu­ally tak­ing it over and am still here.

“We em­ploy mainly lo­cal peo­ple and we want them to con­cen­trate on good ser­vice and keep­ing the cus­tomers happy. “It’s all about ser­vice. “We are our own boss so we can make de­ci­sions quickly and we can be flex­i­ble with our guests.”

Usu­ally in Sum­mer the Ai­vatoglou fam­i­lies go to Europe and Canada.

“We love to travel on the trains, it’s very beau­ti­ful,” Ge­orge said.

For the past two sum­mers Ge­orge and his fam­ily have also skiid in Ja­pan and China - fast be­com­ing a favourite with Aus­tralians who love to ski all year round.

1. NOW GONE / Ge­orge’s first ski hire si­t­u­ated in the Aus­tralian Alpine In­sti­tute build­ing on Sum­mit Road be­fore it burnt down. 2. PRO­GRESS­ING / Molony’s build­ing when it first housed Ge­orge’s Ski Hire - changed when Ge­orge took over. 3. NOT JUST SKIS...

CHANG­ING TIMES / Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou has seen many changes over his 55 years on mt Buller - many of which have brought the ski re­sort into mod­ern times.

HIGH ES­TEEM / ( Top) Cre­ated by a much loved cus­tomer this old snow­baord was turned into a mas­ter­piece por­trait of Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou and now has pride of place in the ski hire shop on Mt Buller. THAT’S ME / ( Bot­tom) Ge­orge Ai­vatoglou is proud to be...

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