Nicholas Grafas was born August 17 1893 and he lived in the village of ‘Vrachasi’ in Eastern Crete near the town of Neapolis. As a boy he had a good education, being at school till 12 years of age. His father died when he was six and he helped his mother and brother Michael in the family store. One day when he was fourteen his mother gave him some money to buy shoes (one pound or three New Zealand dollars). He left Crete that evening on a ferry to Athens. How could a young lad have the foresight to see this was his opportunity to see the world? Young Nick worked in Athens, then Port Said (Egypt) on boats to India, in terrible conditions on a boat to Australia and then jumped ship to Adelaide. He worked at Broken Hill mines; he was now nineteen years old, confident and strong.
Nick and mining friend George Melville decided to come to New Zealand. They arrived in Auckland during the 1913 Wharf strike. Nick got a job fishing with Spiro the Greek then he went off to the Waihi goldmine. It was hard work with good wages but quartz dust affected his health. With savings he bought a horse and cart and traded goods in the Waikato from 1916-18.
He married Muriel Newton in 1921 and started a store at Mokai and Te Whetu, which were mill towns. Along came the first-born boy named Jim. In 1928 Nick saw the picture theatre ‘The Alliance was for sale in Te Puke and he bought the building and with it plans for a new Cinema. Suggestions from the Chairman of the Town Board the late H. C. Cooney that the stalls have a flat floor became the reality so it became a centre for dances, balls concerts etc. The Grafas family ran the cinema till 1978, for 50 years.
A daughter Vera was born, times became hard and the depression meant long hours in their fish shop and another son Mitch completed the family. Another opportunity came and the family bought a small farm in No 3 Rd and planted an orchard. Nick bred three fine racehorses, Cretan (18 wins) King Minos (9 wins) and Greek Boy (12 wins).
Nick returned to Crete in 1953 and 1972 and he visited his relatives and the grave of his friend Andy Jamieson, a local lawyer who was killed in Crete. In August 1980 Nick Grafas was killed while taking his promising horse Greek Boy by float to work. He died doing what he loved most. Nick Grafas had many friends and was another legend in Te Puke’s rich history. As a tribute, Dr Len Randell who was his only partner in racing, quoted poet Laureate William E Morris ’Nick Grafas had a certain dogged ability to carve a niche for himself in whatever field of endeavour he chose, and made good.’
Designed and created by: Debbie Tipuna
Contributed by: Mitch Grafas