Marino was involved in the construction industry and the operation of theatres. Marino and his brother Anthony JJ Lucas, were amongst the first Greeks in Melbourne who contributed significantly to advancing the causes of local Greeks but also the community in general.
Marinos Lekatsas was born to Ioannis (John) Lekatsas (a clergyman) and his wife Magdalene (née Palmos) in the small village of Exoghi, on the Greek island of Ithaca in the Ionian Sea. Ithaca is famed for the Homeric tales of Ulysses.
In 1886, Marinos left Ithaca shortly after his brother Anthony JJ Lucas. Their destination – Melbourne, Australia. In the 1932 obituary for Lucas that appeared in The Herald newspaper (now the Melbourne Herald Sun), reference was made to the fact that a relative of Marino's had visited the country and returned to Ithaca with tales of great potential in the distant land. This relative was most probably Andreas Lekatsas. Andreas Lekatsas had arrived in 1845, only 10 years after the foundation of Melbourne in 1835 by John Batman.
Odysseus was said by Homer to be the leader of the "Kefallinians", the literal interpretation of which is given as an explanation as to why modern inhabitants of the islands have a keen interest in travelling to other countries.
It is likely however that the primary reason for their emigration from the island was its somewhat unstable political situation during those times.
Ithaca had been under Venician control until defeat by Napoleon in 1797, when it transferred to French rule. The French were subsequently succeeded by the Russians and Turks in 1798. In 1809, Ithaca was then subject to English rule under the auspices of the "United States of the Ionian Islands" plan. It was thus governed by a Constitution imposed in 1817. During English occupation, the Ithacecians participated in the War of Independence of 1821, joining the Hellenic Revolutionary fleet against the Turks.
The English 'occupation' of the Ionian Islands lasted until 1864. In that year Ithaca was finally liberated and, with the other Ionian Islands, became a part of the New Greek State. The nearby island of Corfu was at the time home to families of the current Prince Philip of Great Britain. The first monarch of this new Greek dynasty George I, King of the Hellenes, was actually Danish. At his enthronement in Copenhagen in 1863 attended by a delegation of Greeks, it was announced that the British government would cede the Ionian Islands to Greece in honor of the new monarch.
It was perhaps this British influence over the Ionian Island and Ithaca during the mid-19th century that influenced Marino and his brother to leave Greece for the young colony of Australia, at that time established for less than 100 years. After their arrival in Australia and no doubt a great amount of hard work and cultural adjustment, Marino and Anthony prospered. One inevitable byproduct of moving to what was an overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon nation, was the need to modify their surname. Consequently, Lekatsas became 'Lucas'.
The brothers became interested in both the building industry and the theater. As the following excerpt from the Victorian Government Immigration website details, some of the immigrants may have been undecided as to whether their new home was to be a permanent one:
Greeks had been establishing new lives in Australia since the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s. Many Greeks were amongst the sailors who left their English ships in Australian waters when they heard the discovery of gold. Most intended to return home rich men, so few women came to join them. By 1871, there were still only 19 Greece-born women in Victoria, and 127 men. After the gold declined, those who stayed found work in restaurants, cafes and shops.
Melbourne in 1886 was still undergoing the influence of the discovery of gold in nearby fields. This had a significant impact on the wealth of Melburnians and resulted in a boom period of residential and industrial construction. Combining their interests in entertainment and building, the two brothers were instrumental in the construction of theatres in the southern states of Australia. One of Marino's projects in the immediate post World War 1 period was The Victory theatre in Wattletree Road, Malvern (currently a Spotlight fabric outlet). The 1498-seat Victory operated as a dedicated theatre from 1920 to 1956 and was subsequently used as a supermarket and now fabric store. It's false ceilings still allegedly cover the original from 1919.
Anthony JJ Lucas, in collaboration with American architect Walter Burley Griffin (noted for his earlier design of the Australian capital Canberra), went on to renovate and operate the Vienna Cafe, and the Hotel Australia and most notably the Capitol Theater in the heart of Melbourne.
In 1907 Marino Lucas arrived in Hobart, Tasmania. Continuing his interests, he furthered his involvement with the entertainment industry and not only built but operated theatres, at one stage acting as the manager of the Grand Tivoli Vaudeville Company. He also became involved in cinema and even the making of a film.
Princess Theatre, Launceston
In 1911 Marino succeeded in building a theatre of his own design in Brisbane Street, Launceston. With a capacity audience of almost 1,900, the Princess Theatre was referred to in the Daily Telegraph newspaper at the time, as the only theatre in Tasmania with such up-to-date appliances, and which are equal to any in other states.
Lucas' efforts with the theater are noted in the following quote from The Launceston Examiner of Monday 28 August 1911.
Costing between £14,000 and £15,000 the Princess was built for Mr Marino Lucas, a vaudeville entrepreneur from Hobart. All the work except for the stamped metal ceilings was done in Launceston. Messrs J & T Gunn were the contractors for the building, decoration and electric lighting.. The Theatre was built to hold 1800 people "comfortably". There were two cloakrooms in the upstairs foyer, one for the ladies with a "huge swinging mirror" and one for the gentlemen. It is probably best not to wonder about the 1200 patrons who were seated downstairs.
In 1913 he returned to Melbourne, remaining there until 1916. Again moving to Launceston he built another theatre, The Majestic, which opened in 1917 and was evidently influenced by Lucas' Ithacecian roots. The architecture is Grecian, commented the Launceston Daily Telegraph, and at the top one can see glimpses of the ancient Pantheon style. The paper concluded that 'the Majestic Theatre is undoubtedly one of the most modern in Australia.
A 1914 census entry listed Marino Lucas' address as 42 The Avenue, St. Kilda, whilst the 1916 Secret Census recorded seven Tasmanians of Greek extraction, two of them living in Launceston. Marinos Lucas (Lekatsas) nominated himself as a picture theatre proprietor aged 47.
By 1918, he was listed at 97 Westbury Street, St. Kilda and in 1922 at 62 Gourlay Street. In the 1927 census he was shown to be residing at his final address, 67 Alexandra St. St. Kilda.
Perhaps Marino's influence on the Princess Theatre lives on?
A British website investigating 'haunted' theatres states that at Launceston's Princess there are Reported incidents of temperature drops, heavy footsteps, and piano being played.Arts Info
In 1895, Marino had married Elizabeth Eutrope (b:1864 d:1955), one of eight children to Fricaud Eutrope (a chef from Rochefort, France) and Maria Hughes (from County Mayo, Ireland). With Eutrope, he had six children: Sylvia Maria (b:1896), Thelma, Anthony (b:1896), Homer Mareeno (b:05/02/1897 d:15/05/1954), Alfred Ulysses (b:1900 d:1919) and Anthony William (b:1905 d:1927).
Marino and his entire family had also travelled to New Zealand, one of his children having been born during his stay in Bluff on the South Island.
After finally returning to Melbourne in the early 1920s, Lucas purchased the mansion Fairholme in Alexandra Street, East St. Kilda. He subsequently subdivided a portion of the north-eastern section of the grounds and built five residential houses in the then popular California Bungalow style. After his death on 28 September 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, the mansion was sold, becoming a reception hall and is today modified for use as The Rabbinical College of Australia & NZ
Marino's many descendants now live in and around Melbourne.
- Ionian History website
- The Times (London) 8 June 1863 p.12 col.C
- Origins: History of immigration from Greece – Immigration Museum, Melbourne Australia Archived 31 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- Cinema Tour website (including current pictures)
- Neos Kosmos – Greeks of the Apple Isle Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- Princess Theater/Theater North website Archived 7 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine