Captivating Coola celebrates 100 fabulous years
A multi-lingual former florist described by her daughter as “captivatingly eccentric” will celebrate a major milestone on June 14.
Coola Velis will become Queensland’s newest centenarian when she turns 100 at the Carinity Wishart Gardens aged care community in Brisbane.
She was born Kuria Coola Flaskas on the small Greek island of Kythira, to her parents Chrisoula and Nicholas Flaskas, in 1922.
Two years later, political unrest in Greece saw Coola and her mother board a ship headed for Australia. On arrival, they were reunited with Nicholas, who had already emigrated to Australia and bought two cafés in the small rural Queensland towns of Toogoolawah and Esk.
As a youngster Coola loved books, reading one a night by torchlight under her bed covers. She avidly read a vast collection of fashion magazines sourced by her father, and from an early age showed a talent for styling.
Coola was a talented singer and pianist who regularly performed to audiences in the town hall and aced her piano exams. She did this while dutifully working in The Rosary Café in Toogoolawah owned by her parents. In her mid-20s, Coola was approached to sing on Brisbane radio.
Coola was sent to Brisbane to attend Sommerville House for high school and studied Greek privately. After returning to Toogoolawah she took over bookkeeping for the family business and worked for the local Country Women’s Association, later serving as its president.
Following her father’s passing, Coola opened her own florist business in Brisbane. Given her natural flair for colour and design in fashion and fabric, Coola’s floristry shop was a successful enterprise.
Coola met Basili Koutsouvelis and the couple married in 1958. Coola’s zest for fashion came to the fore when she custom made her stunning pale pink wedding gown – not a traditional white one – which had Brisbane’s Greek community talking.
Following the birth of her daughter Avra in 1964, Coola worked in the meat hall of Coles supermarket in Queen Street where she befriended the ladies that ran the box office at nearby Her Majesty’s Theatre.
“Mum would get given lots of complimentary tickets to an endless number of great shows. She would stay up very late, working out seating lists for friends and acquaintances who couldn’t normally afford to go. We were always dressed exquisitely, and no one ever guessed she did it all on a shoestring budget,” Avra said.
Coola later taught Modern Greek at an international language school and, aged in her 60s, enrolled at Griffith University to learn Japanese. In her early-70s she flew to Greece, after six decades away from her homeland.
Coola remained an avid gardener until her 90s, followed political and social justice issues voraciously, and prided herself as an unofficial historian on Brisbane Greeks. These days she enjoys sharing pearls of wisdom in videos she makes with her daughter, which have around 18,000 views on Facebook.
“The videos are about living, spreading love, and accepting ourselves and each other just the way we are,” Avra said. “Whenever I ask my Mum what she thinks is the reason she’s made it to 100 she says: ‘Because I love you Avra, and you love me. If I didn’t have you, I wouldn’t live a day’.”
Coola lives in the same building at Carinity Wishart Gardens as 101-year-old Bessie Conomos, who was also born on Kythera, a small Greek island the size of North Stradbroke Island. The pair lived 13km away from each other as toddlers.