John Neamonitis was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on 8 July 1935. His parents were Greek, from Athens, and had moved to Egypt in the early 1930s as part of the family business. John's maternal grandfather was a cotton merchant and owned a business near the cotton fields on the Nile River. John's parents married in Alexandria in the early thirties and John's father joined the business managing cotton production and sales.When World War II broke out, the family were happy to be in neutral Egypt. The business continued although the family did relocate at one point to a town between Alexandria and Cairo when the port came under German fire.
As John grew older he felt more and more like an outsider in Egypt. John and his siblings remained Greek nationals as Egypt did not recognise locally born children of foreign parents as citizens. John felt that he was regarded as different and had no long term future in Egypt. John's father found his decision to migrate very difficult to accept as their life in Egypt was comfortable, the business profitable and he had hopes of John continuing the business and supporting him in his old age.
John had really wanted to head for America but was under 21 when he decided to migrate, so his mother and grandfather applied to his great uncle Stephanos Tsikleas who had migrated to Yepoon in Queensland in the 1920s. Stephanos had married a Greek Australian girl and ran a café there. Stephanos acted as guarantor for John's application and John had to petition the whole family for support to persuade his father to sign his Greek passport application to the Greek consul in Alexandria, which was required because he was under 21.
Even though Australia seemed remote and provincial (he had learned a little about Australia in the Greek school), John's desire to leave Egypt and improve his prospects outweighed any concerns. At this time he was engaged to Despina Copanos, a Greek girl also living in Alexandria but his father advised him not to marry until he was certain about his future. Having paid his own fare of 200 stirling, John sailed from Port Said alone on the 'Kirinia' in November 1955. His whole family came to wave him goodbye. He disembarked in Sydney and followed his uncle's directions, getting a train to Brisbane to Rockhampton where he was picked up by his relatives and taken to Yepoon.
John had completed a motor mechanics apprenticeship in Alexandria and was able to obtain work at a garage in Rockhampton. He recalls fellow workers calling him 'Phar Lap' which he didn't understand at all until his uncle explained that it was because he worked too fast! He also made the mistake of calling one of the mechanics a 'Pommie' (thinking that was correct) and was told off as having a lot of nerve considering his own status as a 'new migrant'!
After three months John had had enough, he found Rockhampton hot, humid and very dull after life in a large city, and felt he had made a huge mistake in coming. His uncle advised him to investigate other Australian cities before despairing. He tried Brisbane, which was too small, and Sydney which was too busy and noisy, before arriving in Melbourne. He got out at Spencer Street station, saw Collins Street and the well laid-out city and decided that this was a place he could live in. He found Melbourne to be more conservative than Sydney, which he liked.
John sent for Despina who, like himself, was keen to leave Egypt, and was not fazed by John's descriptions of how different life was in Australia. They married at the Greek Orthodox church in Victoria Street Melbourne in 1956, and their daughter was born in 1957. They also had a son in 1968. John recalls the excitement of the Olympic Games in Melbourne and notes that the sight of so many Greeks coming to Melbourne reinforced the correctness of his decision to migrate and not return to Greece.
In Melbourne John worked for Preston Motors for two years before being offered a job with Commonwealth Motors in North Melbourne, John had completed his apprenticeship with Citroen in Alexandria and knew the Jewish managers, who were now in Melbourne. This position offered more money and enabled him to return to the cars he knew - he eventually became a supervisor. In 1967 John started his own business, Paris Motors, in South Melbourne, taking many clients with him. In 1985 he sold the business.
John was granted Australian citizenship in the late 1950s, achieving his much desired statehood and sense of belonging. None of his family ever joined him in Australia, although in 1967 they all left Egypt and returned to Athens. His father purchased an apartment for all his children and he hoped John would be persuaded to rejoin the family. But John was settled and could see no point in uprooting and starting his life over. He and his family visited Athens in 1975 in order to see his father, and it seems that John's father was finally able to understand why he left, although it remained a very painful issue for him, and for John. John returned to Greece every two years after that. Only his brother ever visited Australia.