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Nan’s Story

Daisy Hepi
Chris and Maria on their Wedding Day

It was July 20, 1974 when Turkey first invaded Cyprus.

I was in my family home with my three young children when it first happened. At 5pm we turned on the radio as we did every night to listen to the news, when we heard that Turkey had invaded Cyprus. We knew nothing more than that for many months to follow. At first Chris, my husband, and I didn’t think anything of it. We were determined to stay in our country and see how it all played out. All of our family was in Cyprus so the thought of leaving was devastating. It felt like my insides were being torn apart hearing that we might have to leave our country. However, it also scared me that something might happen to us, especially to my children, if we stayed.

“A bullet flew past my son’s head only just missing him”

About a month later I was cooking dinner in our house, while Chris was working at the bakery he owned. My children, James, Anna and Niky were playing in the lounge room when a bullet flew past James’ head and only just missed him. This was the moment we knew we had to leave. The thought of any of my children being hurt was heart-breaking and we knew we had to put them first.

As soon as Chris came home we packed bags with the most important things.

We went to a local shelter along with hundreds of other families who where trying to escape the war. At the time we only had enough money for me and the kids to travel, and we knew we would have to borrow some more money if Chris was to come as well. Chris decided he was going to stay in Cyprus and see how things played out and if the fighting stopped the children and I would make our way back to Cyprus. It broke my heart to leave Chris there, especially as the fighting got worse. But the kids and I left and travelled to Athens by boat and then we had to fly from there to Australia.

“Finally we arrived in Australia and I heard the news that my nephew had been killed”

After our long journey we arrived in Australia and I heard from Chris that he had to leave and come over. The fighting was worse than ever, and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. While speaking to Chris he told me that my nephew, who was only a few years older than James had been killed in the fighting. Breaking this news to James was the hardest thing I had to do, because James and Con were very close. James took the news hard, and it was a tough time for the whole family.

When Chris finally arrived in Australia we started rebuilding our lives in Melbourne moving houses a lot.

We lived in places like Richmond and Camberwell, before finally settling down in our house that we still own. Chris became a painter for a while and worked other small jobs on the side. Once all the children were old enough to go to school, I started work again as a dress maker. Making beautiful wedding dresses for brides was fulfilling, but part of me was always sad that I had lost mine in the war.

In 2006, Chris and I went back to Cyprus for six months.

It was so great to be back in our home country and James and his daughter, Daisy, came to visit us for a month. While they were there we went to visit our old house. Our house was exactly the same as before with the bakery still out the back. The only difference were the bullet holes around the house. Walking through the house we could still see the hole in the wall where the bullet that missed James was. To even get to our house we had to cross over into North Cyprus. Crossing over the boarder we had to go through a check point. I felt like an intruder in a country I used to call home. It was an emotional day for us as we hadn’t been back since the invasion. The old olive tree that is hundreds of years old was still there, and seeing James and Daisy play in the tree made me nostalgic of the times we spent there.

Australia is my home now and we have rebuilt our lives, but thinking about Cyprus still upsets me.

Chris and Maria on their wedding dayChris and MariaChris and Maria on their Wedding Day