TAKEN TOO YOUNG: Harry Crethar outside his saloon and cafe in Ballina.
TAKEN TOO YOUNG: Harry Crethar outside his saloon and cafe in Ballina. Samantha Elley

Oysters with dash of Spanish flu

THE white cross is ornate and stands out among the other headstones at the East Ballina cemetery.

It simply mentions the name "Harry Crethar” and his date of death, July 18, 1919.

What it doesn't reveal is the impact a young Greek man had on the small town of Ballina before he was taken too young at the age of 32.

In 1907 Kharalambos Kritharis, the eldest son of Vretos and Efrosine, arrived in Sydney from the northern village of Karavas on the island of Kithira, a part of Greece.

He was in Ballina by 1909 and by 1911 was better known as Harry Crethar, the proprietor of the Oyster Saloon and Cafe.

His brother Menos joined him in Australia in 1910 and his other brother Angelo in 1914.

In the early 20th century oyster saloons were popular and often run by European immigrants, so it was no surprise when Harry started running his business in Ballina.

The early oyster saloons were not licensed to sell alcohol, much to the anger of other saloon owners.

In 1913 Menos left his brother to return to Greece, possibly prompted to serve in the Balkan Wars.

He subsequently served with distinction on the British destroyer Latona and on the staff of Vice Admiral Kerr in Salonika throughout the First World War.

Harry continued running the saloon until tragedy struck in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

Starting in Europe in 1919, the epidemic, which became known as the Spanish flu, reached Australia the following year.

About 40 per cent of the population fell sick to the disease with 15,000 people dying, including Harry.

After this his brother Angelo moved to the Lismore area, where many Crethars still live.

Menos dedicated a moving poem to his brother, printed in The Northern Star in 1954, sharing the extent of his pain at the loss of his brother:

"Where can I hide my bitter pain?

"Where can I put from me?

"For if I leave it on the street, my neighbours all would suffer.

"If on the sea my tears should rain, the fishing boats would founder.

"But if I lock them in my heart, then brother dear I shall join you.”

REFERENCES: Harry Crethar, ancestry.com.au; General History, Northern NSW, Ballina, kythera-family.net; Gourmet's Guide to Lismore & District, Chapter 9 Lower Richmond, http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~aliens/misc/chapter_9.htm#Ballina; The Oyster Saloon Returns, Bartender, https://australianbartender.com.au/2013/01/22/the-oyster-saloon-returns/

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