Veteran Con Souvlis was proud to shake the hand of Major Brad Smith after the Anzac Day service in 2010.
Veteran Con Souvlis was proud to shake the hand of Major Brad Smith after the Anzac Day service in 2010. file

TRIBUTE: Con Souvlis was king of community

WHEN Con Souvlis arrived in Hervey Bay some 60 years ago, he didn't see a sleepy seaside town.

He saw opportunity and major business potential.

This World War 2 veteran had worked hard and made wise investments since making it home from Papua New Guinea.

He built up a real estate and business empire that would peak with a net worth of about $100 million.

Here he stayed until he passed away peacefully at Baycrest Retirement Village early Saturday, aged 92.

Born Constantine Michael Souvlis at Innisfail on September 13, 1925 - Con learnt early on in life that you had to be a gambler to make money on the stock market or from development - he was just lucky his gambles paid off.

His father, born and raised on the small Greek island of Kastelorizo, emigrated to Perth in search of more aged just 15.

Chasing the promise of "the land of opportunity", Michael Souvlis tried his best, but eventually succumbed to the temptation of less-fortunate gambling, as his dreams went unrealised.

While Michael's plans may have gone awry, his failings proved to be an excellent lesson for his son in what to avoid.

Con's business nous formed from the tender age of 10 after he collected carrots, potatoes and other produce that fell on the floor during unloading at the Perth Markets.

He then trudged the streets, selling the produce door to door.

During his delightfully misspent youth, he sampled a variety of professions, from paper boy to jockey.

Eventually, as with many young men of the time, duty called, and at 18 he enlisted.

 

Anzac Day main service in Hervey Bay - Con Souvlis pays his respects to the fallen.
Anzac Day main service in Hervey Bay - Con Souvlis pays his respects to the fallen. Alistair Brightman

Con Souvlis was many things to very many people on the Fraser Coast but the one undeniable thing he had become for those who have links to any war, was that he perennially embodied that great unshakable spirit of our Diggers.

ANZAC Day after ANZAC Day, Con reminded us of those inspirational words - Lest We Forget.

For the Fraser Coast, where thousands of men and women felt the pain and heroism of wars through the centuries and yet sometimes the progress of time may have faded our memories, Con was our welcome conscience.

To say he wore his medals with pride would be an understatement.

In 1944, 19-year-old Con was a forward scout in the 42nd Australian Infantry Battalion, working out of Bougainville.

Like many of our military men and women, he didn't like the war - but as with most of our unsung heroes, he fought bravely.

In a former interview with the Chronicle, Con said he would never forget Christmas Day of 1944 when he saw eight men drown around him in the Australian Army logistics stuff-up on the Mavo River - a story he would tell each year at the pre-ANZAC Day service and the morning tea he held for Diggers.

Dodging death on at least four occasions, and becoming renowned as The Brown Bomber for his boxing escapades, Con had a time in the army that proved to be as colourful as his civilian life.

Upon returning to Australia, Con settled back into the natural rhythms of daily life in Brisbane, working as a grocer.

Eventually, with family in Maryborough, he made the move to join them in 1958.

Life's adventures continued with his marriage to Yvonne and the birth of four wonderful children - Tina, Chris, Shanna and Jonathon.

At a time when Hervey Bay's population was only about 3000, Con's life-long determination and foresight led him to move into business in Hervey Bay, where he began work with Wal Pavey, gaining his real estate licence in 1959.

He then branched out to have his own real estate business in Torquay, called The Hub, recognising the area's enormous growth potential.

From here, he established the Torquay Colour Centre, selling paints, electrical and cement, from what was more recently the Richardson and Wrench real estate offices.

This was the start of things to come, with his current Betta Electrical Store being the longest-standing of its kind in the area.

Known as a ladies man, Con would greet his female customers with a home-grown red rose and kisses on the cheek to boot.

Even as he aged he was still working seven days a week and put a bed out the back of the office so he could have a sleep in the afternoons.

Knowing his was a prime position on the Esplanade, Con added the Torquay Paradise Flats and the eight shops below it to his property portfolio. He created offices for Westpac, the National Bank, and the Post Office.

When the Hervey Bay Observer looked like closing down in 1982, Con gathered a consortium of business owners and got it running again.

Every time Con saw opportunity he jumped on it. He bought and sold well over 50 properties in Hervey Bay.

In between building his business empire, developing properties and running a newspaper, Con somehow found room in his life to donate both time and money to the community.

Described by many as being 'iconic as the Urangan Pier', Con had become one of Hervey Bay's most noteworthy philanthropists and was always first to dig deep, put his hand up to get community projects rolling.

Among Con's proudest achievements was the donation of land for the Baycrest War Veterans home on Doolong Rd and a donation of $25,000 to help build the three-metre tall bronze-cast statue of a mounted Light Horse soldier in Freedom Park, Pialba.

In 2017, he presented a cheque for $1000 to Hervey Bay police officers that went towards the remembrance fund set up for slain policeman Brett Forte.

Con also provided a gas stove and hot water system for the kitchen of Hervey Bay's first Meals on Wheels service and sponsored a special Christmas Day meal for the elderly each year.

When the kitchen was later destroyed by fire, he set it up all over again.

Over the decades he became the patron of about 40 local sports clubs.

His money, his product support, his lobbying and his personal contributions also extended to the Hervey Bay Hospital, ZPAC Theatre, the local sailing club, the golf club and the ambulance - after he raised money through raffles and fundraising to buy and donate the Jaws of Life.

Scouts and guides have benefited from his support, as have retirement villages, the Masons, the Hervey Bay Library, the Hervey Bay Senior Citizens Club and in particular, children who needed a kick-start in their academic or sporting careers. Con was renowned for donating electrical goods as raffle prizes to sporting clubs and community groups.

In 1999, he was made a life member of the Hervey Bay Lions Club.

His dedication had been recognised in his receipt of the Order of Australia Medal in 2001, the Keys to the City of Hervey Bay in 2011 and as a Senior Australian of the Year finalist.

 

Former Premier Anna Bligh toasted Con for being an Australian of the Year finalist.
Former Premier Anna Bligh toasted Con for being an Australian of the Year finalist. contributed

Despite all this, the multi million-dollar-man remained humble. He lived in a basic home on his Doolong Rd acreage until he moved into Baycrest.

Many local horse owners will forever be in his debt for allowing them to agist their horses at a very low cost.

He would always be seen wearing a blue collared shirt and track pants, or pressed dark trousers on special occasions. His favourite past time was watching Hawthorn win at AFL. There are very few elements of life on the Fraser Coast that have not felt Con's influence.

His dedication to the Hervey Bay community will live on in his legacy.

Read tributes left by the community for Con.



GENDER BENDER: More women drive Gympie's booze shame

premium_icon GENDER BENDER: More women drive Gympie's booze shame

More money, more cars lead to increase in female drink-drivers

Couple wed at Rainbow Beach after hook, line and sinker

premium_icon Couple wed at Rainbow Beach after hook, line and sinker

This couple met online and married at Rainbow Beach.

Shocked authorities fearful after spike in flu cases

premium_icon Shocked authorities fearful after spike in flu cases

An alarming spike in summer flu cases has shocked health authorities

Local Partners