While most Greek families in Gunnedah established the popular cafes in town, the Casey name is synonymous with the town’s first fruit and vegetable shop opposite the post office.

Today the family is the only line of Greek immigrants whose descendants have lived continuously in the town.

Leo Casey came to Australia at the height of the Great Depression and his life’s path brought him to Gunnedah in 1932 – a place he made his home and stayed for the rest of his life.

Leo Casey never forgot the support he received from the people of his adopted town when he first set up his green grocery business at 281 Conadilly Street. Over the years Leo Casey became well known for his kindness and behind-the scenes charity, helping families he knew were struggling, or donating goods for raffles.

The fledgling Police Boys Club also felt the benefit of his generosity when he made a block of land available in Conadilly Street for their early activities.

As the fruit and vegetable shop boomed, Leo’s brother Jim joined him in the business with his long-term employee Dave Jeffries also becoming a partner. Dave Jeffries and his wife Madge, came to Gunnedah after the war, where Dave had served in Tarakan and Borneo. At the time of his discharge in December 1945, he had risen to the rank of Sergeant and was attached to the Australian 53 Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He died in 1983, aged 63.

This building once housed Casey’s Fruit and Vegetable shop. The circular panel on the upper facade once boasted a colourful painting of all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

In 1953, Leo lost his wife Maria Kapralos, the mother of his children Helen and Christopher, but he found love again in a Greek widow Mary Bond. Born Mary Godvelas in Bartholomio, near Olympia, Mary’s father was a doctor and his daughter would help him deliver food to the sick and dying when the Germans invaded Greece during WWII.

Mary was in her second year of medicine when she decided to come to Australia to see her sister at Vaucluse – and she stayed.

Mary was a much-loved identity in town, she continued her involvement in Red Cross and was awarded the Red Cross long service medal in 1975 after receiving the Australian Red Cross Service award at Red Cross House in Sydney.

In the 1960s, Mary and Leo Casey opened a second fruit and vegetable shop in a building they shared with CW Ewing & Son Real Estate at the western end of Conadilly Street. This was a far cry from the early years when Leo would travel by train each week to the Sydney markets to organise a delivery. A semi-trailer brought 20 tons of fruit and vegetables from Sydney each week.

The Chip Inn was also started by the Caseys in 1961 and although the proprietors have changed over the years the business has thrived and continues to serve fish and chips to appreciative customers.

When Leo and Jim Casey retired from business in 1978, it was the end of an era in Gunnedah, the business was taken over by two Greek cousins from Sydney, Con and Lou Smirinious, who both enjoyed the good will built up by the Casey Brothers. When the brothers returned to their homeland, the building was secured by the accountancy firm RW Waghorn & Sons while Leo Casey invested in land near Curlewis and indulged his love of farming for many years.

Leo Casey loved the land, he loved Gunnedah and its people and never wanted to leave his adopted town – he believed Australia was the ‘lucky country’ and he appreciated the Australian way of life.

Thanks to his sponsorship, more than 100 Greek-Australians have made a huge contribution to Australia, with most going on to establish successful businesses, attain university degrees or tertiary education.

The death of Leo Casey on November 17, 1999, was met with wide regret in the community he loved. Gunnedah Shire Council paid tribute to the hardworking Casey family by naming a carpark in their honour.

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