St. Basil's Homes (Australia)
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St. Basil's Homes is an outreach of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia that provides residential and community based services for the aged around Australia. St. Basil's Homes NSW was established in 1969 and currently has four residential facilities on three site providing a home to about 375 aged people.
In addition to the residential services St. Basil's Homes maintains a Day Care Centres that provides respite services for dementia sufferers and their families, and also send nurses into deliver care in peoples homes. In New South Wales, St. Basil's cares for about 800 clients and has a staff of over 400.
St. Basil’s work in the Antipodes
The founding of the charity
St. Basil’s Homes is a non-profit, non-denominational registered charity in New South Wales operating under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. It provides care for elderly and invalid Australians, including a significant number of Australians of Greek origin. The name of the charity pays homage to St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea. Born in Pontus, Asia Minor, around 329AD, St. Basil relinquished a career in administration and a life of wealth to join the clergy of Caesarea, where he was ordained around 365AD. He was elected bishop in 370AD, and among his various pastoral duties were the administering of care for the elderly and impoverished of Asia Minor. On the outskirts of Caesarea he had built a facility, known as Vasileias. It offered succour to strangers in need, the sick and the poor. It is the essence of St Basil’s lifetime achievement – the establishment of Vasileias and his charity work – that inspires the board of directors and staff of St Basil’s Homes, a modern day charity in Australia, to provide care and assistance to elderly citizens in New South Wales.
The charity was originally founded as the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal by Sister Mary Dorothea Flynn in 1954. Sister Dorothea had been a Roman Catholic nun, having entered the Convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Goulburn at the age of 17. On May 14, 1969, Sister Dorothea handed her administration of the charity over to the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia, though not long after she was to dispute this in court. At the time the registered charity had among its holdings a convalescent hospital facility at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains that housed 89 patients, hostels for the elderly at Dulwich Hill and Enmore in Sydney, and had recently acquired a property at Robertson in the Southern Highlands, which it had intended to turn into a nursing home providing accommodation for 173 patients.
The Greek Orthodox Church of Australia’s administrative takeover was a significant turning point in the history of the charity. It was Sister Dorothea’s second invitation to the Church that led to the latter’s appointment of a new board for the charity.
Sister Dorothea had initially approached Ezekiel, the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, then situated in Woollahra, in 1967. However, due to the Archbishop’s impending departure from Australia, nothing was done to help her out at the time. It was not until the new Archbishop, Iakovos, arrived that Sister Dorothea’s requests met with some approval.
Sister Dorothea’s charity had run into some serious financial problems. Her newly acquired property at Robertson, and the furniture she had bought along with the renovations required converting it into a nursing home, all amounted to much more than she had anticipated and much more than she could afford. As a defrocked Catholic nun, she could not turn to the Catholic Church for assistance, and, instead, opted to approach the Greek Orthodox Church. When she did so the second time, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese had relocated to its new premises on Cleveland Street, Redfern. From there the new Archbishop wrote to the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney for information pertaining to Sister Dorothea and her charity. The Cardinal replied to the Archbishop, ‘Your Eminence, the woman you refer to in your letter has nothing to do with the Catholic Church’.
The Archbishop then wrote a letter to the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople (Istanbul) for advice on whether the Greek Archdiocese of Australia should assist the defrocked Catholic nun and her charity. The Patriarchate replied that to assist her in her time of need was a suitable course of action for the Church to take. Once the Patriarchate’s approval had been granted, the Archbishop turned to James Samios (a Crown solicitor at the time) for legal advice pertaining to the impending takeover of the charity. Once legal approval was given, both Samios and Father John Kapetas, on the behest of the Archbishop, attended the May 14, 1969 board of directors meeting for the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal as invited guests of Sister Dorothea, and as in-coming administrators of the charity. Immediately the two appointed four new members to the board and advised the old members to resign as directors of the charity. Sister Dorothea remained as the Executive Officer of the new board.
The new board of the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal were not without some initial conflict. There had been a misunderstanding of the position of the new board members from the Orthodox Church, and Sister Dorothea began legal proceedings against them.
She believed that they were planning to sell off the belongings of the charity for the profit of the Orthodox Church, but this had not been their intention at all. For their part, the new members wanted to make the charity financially feasible, and this included the sale of assets – like the property at Robertson – which were incurring vast losses. It had not been their purpose to close down the charity completely.
Sister Dorothea took the new board members to court citing that they did not have control over the charity because the paperwork she had signed on May 14, 1969 did not accede any such authority to them. However, the court ruled in favour of the new board members, acknowledging that the documents she had signed that evening did indeed hand control over to them. From this moment on the new board members took charge of the affairs of the charity, while Sister Dorothea remained in the background. She adopted the role of a figurehead and was feted as such by the members of the board (this included an all expenses paid tour of Greece on Olympic Airways inaugural flight from Australia on May 20, 1972!). Occasionally she would turn up to board meetings, but more often than not she kept out of the formal decision-making discussions of the charity’s executive. She was more content to spend her last years living as a recluse out of the charity’s Ashfield headquarters, known as the ‘Our Lady of the Snows’ Convent. She lived there until 1987 before moving to the Wentworth Falls nursing home where she passed away in September 1988. In her lifetime she was bestowed an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II and the status of Lady of the Patriarchal Court by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (the first person not of the Orthodox Church to receive such an honour).
The new members of the board appointed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia to run the Aged, Sick and Infirm Appeal were determined to resolve the financial predicament that the charity found itself in when they first took over. They steered the charity in a new direction; one that took into account the interests of a large ageing population of Greek heritage, and those of the Greek Orthodox Church as well. This necessitated a name change, which had first been canvassed at the board meeting of February 11, 1971. The Chief Secretary’s Department officially approved St Basil’s Homes as the name of the charity on April 13, 1972. With the name change came a new insignia for the charity as well, and these were disseminated through a number of ways including the production of 10,000 buttons bearing the new symbols of the charity as resolved by the board meeting of September 7, 1972. Interestingly, at the same meeting it was resolved that existing buttons bearing the old name and logo of the charity be kept in use at its nursing homes outside of Sydney.
When in charge, Sister Dorothea began to expand the charity’s ambit beyond the urban localities of Sydney and into rural New South Wales. Once she had relinquished her administrative control of the charity, the new members decided to limit this expansion into rural New South Wales, and this entailed the sale of the property for the proposed nursing home at Robertson. At the board meeting of May 11, 1972, the Chairman, Samios, announced that the latter had been sold for $55,000. This allowed the charity to settle its debt with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which was owed a substantial amount of the mortgage that the preceding board had taken to finance the original purchase of the property.
The charity was prepared to make full use of its Wentworth Falls nursing home until it had such funds to begin building another in the Sydney metropolitan area. It even went to the trouble of approving the construction of a chapel for its Greek Orthodox patients at a board meeting on March 2, 1972. However, Wentworth Falls did have at least two major problems. First, the 89-bed nursing home was some distance from Sydney and its inner-city suburbs. This proved particularly burdensome on Australians of Greek heritage who were quite often not prepared to make the trek to the Blue Mountains. They also disliked the fact that not one of the hospital staff could speak fluent Greek. And second, the charity spent enormous sums of money updating its facilities to meet the required levels of hygiene expected of them by the Department of Health.
To offset this situation, the charity sought the approval of the State government and the Department of Health to build nursing homes for Greek-Australians in Sydney. Such approval was not forthcoming until 1987. It was only in that year that an agreement was reached with the Department of Health, and a license was issued to the charity to build a nursing home in Lakemba. The Greek-Australian ethno-specific nursing home was funded by the sale of the charity’s 89 beds at Wentworth Falls, each to the value of $25,000. This agreement not only allowed for the construction of the new 60-bed nursing home in Lakemba; it also saw the curtain fall on the nursing home at Wentworth Falls. The latter was closed on November 24, 1989 and replaced by the former, which was officially opened by the Minister for Housing and Aged Care, Peter Staples, on December 3, 1989. The new nursing home was preceded by the construction of Lourantos Village and Sister Dorothea Village and was situated adjacent to the former on the charity’s Lakemba property. Plans for the building of Lourantos Village were first canvassed in the early 1970s.
As soon as the court case with Sister Dorothea had been resolved, the charity’s board members discussed the suitability of various locations for the building of more hostels, and the means by which these hostels would be built. In 1972, the William McMahon Federal Government put forward its ‘2 beds for every bed’ policy. This policy allowed charities like St Basil’s Homes to procure much needed resources for the building of its proposed hostels. At the time the charity had 110 beds: 89 at its Wentworth Falls nursing home and 21 in its existing boarding houses. Therefore, it stood to receive funding for 220 additional beds from the government.
When this funding was approved its board members agreed upon a suitable location for the building of the first of the charity’s new hostels. They approached Canterbury Council for assistance to help them purchase the site where once an old timber yard had stood. However, the charity required additional funding for the outright purchase of the land. They simply did not have enough of their own to complete the sale themselves. It was at this particular juncture that a Greek migrant who had been living in Australia for almost 70 years, and who had made a substantial fortune since his arrival there, offered to help the charity build its hostel.
Sir Nicholas Laurantus migrated to Australia from the island of Kythera as an 18 year old in 1908. From very modest beginnings, and with no English literacy skills he made his wealth through numerous business ventures throughout New South Wales. Beginning as a fruit shop worker in Grenfell on a $1 a week wage, he and a friend combined their savings and bought out the business within 15 months. Having doubled their money on the sale of the fruit shop four years later, Laurantus bought a pub in Young with his share of the proceeds, and others soon followed at Grenfell, Woodstock and Koorawatha. Then in 1922 he entered the small but burgeoning film industry. He acquired cinemas in several country towns – Junee, Cootamundra and Narrandera – and entertained large audiences who flocked to see the latest cinematic releases. After a brief stay in Greece, Laurantus returned to Australia to buy his first grazing property. It was running at a loss for almost six years before things took a turn for the better. By 1951 he had purchased an additional two grazing properties – one in Hay and the other in Narrandera - and was shearing 28 000 sheep with a wool cheque of over $200,000 a year. His accumulated wealth from numerous business interests in rural New South Wales allowed him to enter the property market in Sydney on a grand scale. In 1957, he bought a 12-story building on Pitt Street valued at $500,000.
In the late 1960s Laurantus became interested in the lives and experiences of other migrants from Greece, and in the preservation of Greek culture and heritage in Australia. He donated $250,000 to the University of Sydney in 1969 to establish a Modern Greek language department. Immediately following his Knighthood, this department was issued a name change as an acknowledgment of Laurantus’ legacy and standing in society. In correspondence sent to Father Kapetas by the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor B. R. Williams, on April 9, 1980, the latter wrote: ‘The Senate of The University of Sydney at its meeting yesterday decided to name the Chair of Modern Greek “The Sir Nicholas Laurantus Chair of Modern Greek”.’
Laurantus’ goodwill also extended to St Basil’s Homes, where another $250,000 was donated by him for the building of the charity’s hostel in Lakemba. This pledge to donate $250,000 was announced at the charity’s board meeting on November 18, 1973. In the minutes of the meeting it was stated, “it gave him great pleasure to make his donation to such a worthy charity”. Laurantus then handed a cheque of $75,000 to the Chairman of the board, and promised the remainder of the donation in two subsequent installments of $75,000 on July 1, 1974 and $100,000 on July 1, 1975. The significance of this donation cannot be understated. It provided the necessary capital to finalise the purchase of the Lakemba property which was valued at $243,375. It also allowed the board to place a deposit on the purchase of another property in Annandale, where the second of its new hostels was to be built.
The laying of the foundation stone for the new hostel took place on August 23, 1975. Invited dignitaries included the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who had been kept waiting by Archbishop Stylianos for almost half an hour. The Archbishop had been delayed by a minor car accident and was very apologetic upon his arrival. The two men shook hands when proceedings finally got underway. In his official speech the Prime Minister praised Laurantus for his generosity, referring to him as “a great Australian with Greek ancestry”. He also praised the Greek-Australian community, their ancestry and their contributions to Australian society, which included the new hostel that was open to all Australians irrespective of cultural background, religious adherence, and political affiliation. Once the Prime Minister had dispensed with his official duties, the Archbishop began his. This involved a brief sermon and the sprinkling of holy water on the foundation stone.
The hostel was named in honour of Sir Nicholas Laurantus, its primary private sector patron. Laurantus was present at the ceremony and mixed freely with all dignitaries and guests. However, the completion of Lourantos Village would not have been possible if not for the substantial contribution of the Federal government. As the then Chairman of St Basil’s Homes, G. Varvaressos, explained it to the Campsie News at the time, “They (the government) gave us a $4 subsidy for every $1 we raised”.
Upon its completion Lourantos Village was able to provide accommodation for 84 residents. The hostel was divided into four communal areas, each with its own individual residential rooms and group lounge. Each communal area was serviced individually, and this included a laundry facility. In addition, there was a general TV room, dining room, and a commercial kitchen that all residents and their guests shared with one another. By late 1975 advertisements were placed in the local media for prospective residents. At the board meeting of April 14, 1976 it was announced that 37 residents were already living in Lourantos Village – and this before its grand opening on May 29, 1976. These earliest residents enjoyed a concert organised by the Arts Council on May 11, 1976. By September of the same year, Lourantos Village was full and had a long waiting list. Subsequently, excursions to Goulburn and Bowral were organised for October; and a first anniversary party took place in May of the following year.
At the first anniversary celebrations for the official opening of Lourantos Village, Sir Nicholas Laurantus was guest of honour. In front of an audience that included the charity’s board members, staff, the Ladies’ Auxiliary, residents, and their families and friends, Laurantus blew out a single candle on a cake, especially made for the occasion, and then proceeded to cut it. ‘Uncle Nick’, as the hostel’s residents affectionately knew him, bestowed wisdom on the occasion and on the founding of Lourantos Village. Previously he had done as much to a writer for the Bankstown Observer when in an article that was printed in the paper on April 13, 1977, he commented that ‘it’s better to give than to receive’. And at 87 years of age Laurantus reflected, ‘I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery’. The official function was held one year to the day of the official founding of the charity. It was marked by speeches from dignitaries, a small concert, and the provision of refreshments by the Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Soon after this celebration Laurantus offered to donate a further $250,000 in installments to the charity for it to purchase properties adjacent to the new hostel in Lakemba as each came to market. At the board meeting of February 8, 1978, Laurantus had enclosed a cheque for $36,500 to the board to settle the purchase for one such property. It was the first of his promised installments. Gradually these installments helped the charity to acquire adjoining land, thereby expanding its operational base. In time this was to lead to the relocation of the charity’s headquarters from Ashfield to Lakemba, and to the development of additional facilities like the nursing home already discussed.
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