Bats­man for cul­tures

The West Australian - - OBITUARIES - Pa­trick Cor­nish

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.

Pic­ture: Jeff Atkin­son

Hel­lenic her­itage: Adel and Mick Michael en­joyed travel, es­pe­cially to Kastel­lorizo.

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