Erdoğan Hasan Karabardak, Our Dad
Polis, Paphos Cyprus
DOB 1919 Polis- Death 2002 Melbourne
By Sermen Erdoğan.
My Fathers’ name was Erdoğan Hasan Karabardak although he rarely used Karabardak as it was the family nickname. He was born on 15 August 1919 in Polis, a village in the western part of the island in Paphos district of Cyprus. His father was Hasan Karabardak Hajı Ramadan and his mother was Salise Mehmet Ağa (nicknamed Halofta). Karabardaks were a well to do and prosperous family of Polis, who owned a lot of land, orchards, and vineyards. But my father hardly benefited from the family properties due to the Cyprus intercommunal strife and problems in 1963 and 1974.
Our father was an agriculturalist and good at it too. He used to know how to plant and grow vegetables and fruit trees and how to look after them and protect them from pests. “He is a doctor of plants”, Dr. Mustafa Dikengil my fathers’ friend from Polis, used to tell me.
My father also knew how to look after bees, he was a good apiarist. The honey was harvested every year from the Cyprus Government House gardens when we were living in Strovolos, Nicosia between 1950 to 1962. My father used to tell me he learned bee-keeping at an Apiarist course he had done many years ago in the Agriculture Department in Athalasa just outside of Nicosia. Our father knew how to prepare the soil for the pots and how to make compost with old plant materials. I used to observe him and his tasks through the days in the gardens instructing the gardeners and also getting into it himself when he had to.
Our father was the Manager of the gardens in the Government House Nicosia in Strovolos now the Cypriot Presidential Palace. He was popular with the workers that worked with him in the Government House and later in the Public Gardens of Nicosia for the Agriculture Department of Cyprus. I have never heard anyone say anything that was not nice or criticised my dad in the gardens of the Government House Palace. My father was a very intelligent man and got on with everyone. He retired as an agricultural consultant from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus in 1980.
My earliest memories of my dad were, when he used to come home from his outings from the coffee shop of Mulla Hasan in the Turkish section of Lefkoşa (Nicosia) he used to bring us kids balloons and colourful lollies (chick peas, almonds coated with sugar). He would pick up my sister Tülen and brother Eren and me and kiss and cuddle us every time he returned from his outings. I remember his beard sticking into my cheeks. It did not hurt as he kissed us with love.
My father spent a lot of time with us kids once we started school. He valued our education and wanted us to further ourselves more than him to have a better chance in our lives. I remember him looking at our books to see our work and how we were progressing. He was a very talented artist. I remember how he drew and coloured a horse with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as the rider, in my exercise book. It looked so real and I used to look at it in class and ‘show and tell’, as it was done into my exercise book’s back page and I was so proud of my father.
My father used to tell us his childhood stories and the village life in Polis. It was a hard life as he, as a young boy, had to do his share of hard work at harvest times loading up donkeys and taking grain stalks to the area called “harman” to be separated from the stalks and the husks by sitting on a sledge or thresher, drawn by a donkey. Grape harvest time was equally hard toiling in the heat of the Cyprus summers picking baskets of grapes and loading them on donkeys. Taking them to a storeroom and unloading to spread them on sheets to dry them ready for winter.
He had enough by the age of 15 or 16. He left home to become a miner in Karadağ copper mine in Lefka approximately 100 km away from his village.
When father had enough of mine work he left for Nicosia and joined the British Army, Cyprus Regiment for World War II. He was sent to Egypt and Lebanon to be trained as a muleteer like many other Cypriots. He ended up in Italy landed at Bari and spent a few years near Napoli and Rome. This was where he learned classic Italian. The Italians in Melbourne were very surprised how well he spoke their language. My father also spoke fluent Greek which he said he learned from his Greek neighbours’ son who was his mate in Polis, Paphos. He learned English in the army and went to night school to advance his English after World War II.
Our father used to tell us about his life stories but the WWII stories were very brief for some reason unbeknown to me. I only remember bits and pieces of father’s recounting of this part of his life.
One part that intrigued us was his story of the Italian girlfriend and the son he had with her. Although we have seen a photo we still today do not know much about the Italian lady named Valenzuela Guerriero (we are not so sure of the Surname as we deduced it from the back of the photo). The Italian brother would be probably around 70 years old now, I presume. Unfortunately we do not know his name either. Father looked for Valenzuela and son after the war ended but could not locate them where they used to live!
One story I have learned from a niece of father was that he started a restaurant/bar in Polis village with his army mate Hasan Şükrü after they returned from WWII. Evidently, they used to bring out Italian dancers to the bar at Polis and one of these ladies was a girlfriend of our father. Whether this was the same lady as Valenzuela or not, is a big question mark in my mind!
Our father married our mother Gülten İrfan Yıldırım from Nicosia in 1951. I was born straight after followed by my sister Tülen and brother Eren. We moved out of Government House grounds in 1962 and lived in the North part of Nicosia Turkish section. I left Cyprus to go to Australia in 1971 on my father’s initiative to move his family to another country due to the intercommunal fighting. My sister and brother followed me in 1973.
Our father arrived in Australia in 1982 after he retired from his work with the Agricultural Department, following us kids, and migrated to Melbourne with our mother to be with us.
The first thing father asked me was to see if he could find his army mate in Melbourne. A Cypriot Greek man whom he knew from WWII. Luckily after a short search, we found his friend Leon Skoudaridis in Melbourne. When my father and Leon Skoudaridis got together for the first time after 40 odd years it was a spectacle to be watched, two army mates meeting and hugging each other and getting into deep conversation with each other for many hours. Reminiscing of the old Cyprus days and the WWII memories and catching up with each other. Later on, Skoudaridis met up with my father several times for outings. At one stage they spent a few days at Leon’s farm in Gippsland which my father enjoyed a lot. They also met up with Hasan Şükrü (from Polis as well) who served in the Cyprus Regiment of the British Army together with them. It was as if an army troop came together after so many years of separation.
Another interesting anecdote with my father was when one day I had to pass through the office of Dr. Andrew Theophanous with my father in tow. I was helping Andrew for Western Region Senate seat of Callwell in the elections as I was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 1984.
I told my father that Andrew was a Cypriot. My father learning that Andrew Theophanous was from Cypriot Greek background, he started talking with him in Greek and asked him where he came from. Andrew replied that he was from Polis village, Cyprus. My father then asked who his father was and when Andrew replied, my father, became ecstatic as he said to Andrew that his father was an apprentice with him in a Turkish shoemaker’s shop in Polis as a boy.
My father wanted to see Andrew’s father straight away. Andrew invited us to a Party for ALP fundraiser night where his father was going to be, on the following Saturday. When we turned up for the night in Sunshine (Where most of Cypriot Turks and Greeks live in Melbourne) my father could not believe his eyes that all the Cypriot Greek community from Polis were there to greet him alongside Andrew’s father, who spoke perfect Turkish as well. It was such an emotional meeting that people all around me were in tears meeting their old Turkish friend from Polis, Paphos. These Polis villagers were meeting my father after 50 odd years of not seeing each other. It was simply amazing and an emotional get-together.
My father loved life and was a happy man despite his hard life, war experiences and political and economic struggles of Cyprus, but he valued his village and childhood friends, his people, and his fellow human beings.
My father suffered from Alzheimer’s a brain disease in his later years. But he could still remember his old life from his old village of Polis Cyprus and recount his stories to us. Father became very dependent on mum as he deteriorated in his helpless condition with the crippling disease that was killing his brain. Our mother could not look after father at the end as she was getting on in years herself. As we all had young families and were working we were forced to place our dad in an elderly hostel. Every day mum would visit and we visited father as much as we could. Towards the end he was not able to recognise mum or us either which was very hard for us to see him in this condition. He was the family’s backbone and loved by all his grandchildren. We were saddened further when he fell and broke his hip and ended up having an operation in hospital. He went downhill very quickly after that episode and even forgot how to swallow his food down after he chewed it.
My Father lived until the age of 83 and passed away in 2002. He rests in Fawkner Memorial Cemetery in Melbourne. Inscribed on his tombstone is his village name POLİ as his birthplace which he loved and the words of his favourite song:
“ Benim gönlüm sarhoştur yıldızların altında,
Sevişmek ah ne hoştur yıldızların altında”
“My heart is merrily drunk under the stars,
Alas it is so nice to make love under the stars”
RIP, I will miss you forever dad.
If you would like to read more of our Cypriot roots and my mother and father, please click on the links below and if you have time, you can find out more of our family by pasting Sermen Erdogan into the cyprusscene search box.