Batsman for cultures
MICHAEL AGAPITOS MICHAEL OAM Businessman, former lord mayor Born: Perth, 1922 Died: Perth, aged 93
If it is true the Greeks have a word for just about everything, could this include terms for “silly mid-on” and “googly”?
Maybe not, but difficult translations never stopped Perth’s Hellenic Cricket Club batting and bowling its way to becoming B-grade champion in 1948-49.
Mick Michael’s runs were a major factor. Every boundary he hit, every round of applause he earned, did more than boost his team. Such visible achievements in the national game underlined his credentials as an “Aussie Kazzie”.
Kazzie — Kastellorizo, birthplace of his father — is a tiny Greek island nudging the Turkish coast where, it is safe to bet, few have ever been given out leg before wicket.
Across the decades, hundreds of its sons and daughters emigrated to Australia. Not all became cricketers but the triumphant Hellenic team of that WA summer did feature Mick’s brother Tony as well as their cousins.
What those Hellenics in white flannels represented was a bridge between British Australia and the European migrant contribution.
As a boy, Mick had to meet stern challenges. He started school without knowing any English. His mother died when he was 10. He cleaned cinemas to augment the family income. At 14, he left school to help his father run his fruit shop and milk bar next to the Grand Theatre in Murray Street.
Mick would not then have dreamed that one day he would be donning the apparel of lord mayor of the city that had given his family a fresh lease of life. Yet he did, the first from non-British stock to hold the office.
Kastellorizo was established as a sister city during his term. Nor did he dream of heading an electrical firm with branches across Australia. That too came to pass.
He was born at home at 99 Lake Street, Perth, on September 22, 1922, the first child of Ourania (nee Zempilas) and Jack Michael. Mick’s father had arrived in gold-boom Fremantle in 1895 as a 12-year-old accompanied by two uncles. Jack had been gassed while serving with the Australian Army in France in World War I, recovering well enough to run small businesses — first a fruit barrow outside Boans department store in Wellington Street and then the shop and milk bar.
In 1932, while Mick was attending Highgate Primary School, his mother died soon after having her fifth child. Jack remarried three years later. As a family memoir puts it: “Our stepmother, Panayota Zafiri, took on a great challenge by marrying a man with five children, including a tiny baby.” The eventual arrival of a daughter and two sons made for a lively household that followed many Greek traditions.
Though Mick’s time at his next school, Perth Boys’, was cut short by family exigency, he learnt plenty about customers, handling money and the importance of smiles. At the onset of World War II, at 18, he was working in a hotel when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force.
He and fellow members of 77 Squadron, formed in Perth, were posted to Darwin, arriving amid a Japanese bombing raid. Mick’s five years in uniform included training as an electrical fitter, a sound launching pad for a career connecting people to power.
In 1946, he married Shirley Smith. The marriage, which produced a son, Jack, ended in 1951. Five years later, Mick met Adel Wallace, a bookkeeper for a Perth builder, and married her in 1958.
Adel’s business acumen and organisational abilities helped expand the family business. As industrial growth spread over the State, M.A. Michael Pty Ltd won contracts such as switchboards for grain silos in Albany and cabling for the Ord River diversion dam near Kununurra.
The company’s reputation grew with work for the RAAF in Victoria. Observation City and the WACA ground were among the metropolitan projects. In 1979, the spectacular lighting display on the Swan Brewery building, a tribute to WA’s 150th anniversary, was an inspired Michael gesture.
Away from work, Mick found time for two other great loves, sailing and golf.
He was a member of Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club and Lake Karrinyup Country Club. While on the river or fairway, he could enjoy relaxation away from the hubbub of local government.
He had joined Perth City Council in 1967 and became lord mayor in 1982, the year he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to local government.
During six years as the city’s principal civic officer, he hosted visits not only by the Queen and the Prince of Wales but also — an occasion far more impressive to the younger Michael family members — Michael Jackson. Mick was made a Freeman of the City of London and of Perth.
Among the overseas destinations he and Adel enjoyed was Kastellorizo, where the Michael story began. The couple were greatly saddened by the death last year of their son, Marcus. Mick Michael, who died on May 4, is survived by Adel, three sons, and 10 grandchildren; and by two sisters and three brothers.
Mick Michael Reserve, on the corner of Vincent and Charles streets, is named after the man who honed his boyhood batting skills defending dustbins that served as wickets.
The staying power he showed then served him well in a life of putting runs on the board.
Hellenic heritage: Adel and Mick Michael enjoyed travel, especially to Kastellorizo.