Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Geneff (1897–1977)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published:

George Geneff, n.d.

George Geneff, n.d.

photo supplied by Jan Barac

George Geneff (1897-1977), market gardener, boxer, contractor and philanthropist, was born on 27 October 1897 at Popovo, Bulgaria, eldest of ten children of Ilia Genev, market gardener, and his wife Nadezda, née Kamburov. In response to vacillating markets the family moved via the Black Sea between Varna and Odessa, Russia. A voracious reader, George advanced quickly in Bulgarian and Russian schools. His mother taught him the Orthodox scripture and tales of his people's struggle against the Turks. By accompanying his father to the markets, he learned how to buy and sell and save. In 1907 Ilia emigrated to Western Australia; his family followed, arriving in February 1911.

The Geneffs lived at Innaloo, Perth, in an iron-roofed, timber-framed shack, the walls of which were lined with bags, before moving to Day Dawn near Cue. George was soon proficient in English. At 15 he cut wood along the Kalgoorlie pipeline and followed John ('Snowy') Flynn's boxing troupe around the goldfields. A short, sturdy fellow, he weighed ten stone (64 kg), was clean shaven and had a fair complexion. In 1914 'Kid George' was given a chance in the ring against a welterweight champion, Jimmy Sullivan. That year Geneff bought 50 acres (20 ha) at Osborne Park on which he established a market garden. By day he worked; at night he studied the art of boxing, and exercised with a punching-ball and a skipping-rope. He fought at His Majesty's Theatre, Perth, and, at the Royal Agricultural Show, took on Percy Button in exhibition bouts. In 1915 Geneff appeared in fights at the Hippodrome, Sydney, before he went cane-cutting near Bundaberg, Queensland. Boxing lost its appeal for him when he decided that past champions had nothing to show for their glory except 'bruises, flat noses, cauliflower ears and dull minds'.

Returning penniless to Perth, he again turned to wood-cutting and saved his fare to Bulgaria where he married his cousin Elenka Ivanoff on 19 April 1923. Short of money, he paid for his wife's passage to Australia in the Moreton Bay, accompanying her as a stowaway. Based at Osborne Park, Geneff prospered as a wood and garden contractor. He survived the Depression through good management, low fees and wise use of his assets. Acquiring more property, he expanded his business to include lime-burning, using the waste for road construction. From the Balcatta quarry he supplied limestone for the façades of Winthrop Hall and the Lake Karrinyup Country Club. During World War II he did contract work for the Albany and Busselton aerodromes.

As secretary of the Osborne Park-Scarborough-North Beach Ratepayers Association ('the Vigilants'), he charged the Perth Road Board in 1935 with maladministration and corruption, particularly in regard to the Scarborough Beach promenade, and won an action in the Supreme Court against the board's engineer. In that year Geneff was elected as Osborne Park's representative on the board; he was also a member of the Australian Labor Party's metropolitan council. In the late 1950s his philanthropy extended to building the Nadezda Hospital at Innaloo and clubrooms for the Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club; he bought and dispatched two fully-equipped ambulances to Bulgaria, pressed for scholarships for children from low-income families and donated £125,000 for a centre for the elderly at Osborne Park that now bears his name. Closely associated with the development of Sorrento, in 1962 he built the Nookenburra Hotel. The Geneffs twice revisited Bulgaria, but George's roots were firmly transplanted in Australia. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died on 4 November 1977 in Royal Perth Hospital and was cremated with the forms of the Uniting Church.

Select Bibliography

  • L. A. Easton, Stirling City (Perth, 1971)
  • Osborne Park, Scarborough Beach, North Beach Vigilant Committee, Vigilant (Perth), 11 Apr, 13 Nov 1935, 16 Apr 1936
  • West Australian, 10 Feb, 8-10 Mar 1935, 31 Mar, 22 Apr, 10 May, 5 July 1936, 25 Apr 1937, 5 Aug, 7 Nov 1977
  • Daily News (Perth), 21, 23 Apr 1935
  • M. Thomas, Along the Plank Road Through Njookenbooroo to Scarborough Beach (typescript, 1989, State Library of Western Australia)
  • G. Geneff, A Biography of the Shepherd Boy (typescript, 1986, State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Geneff, George (1897–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Geneff, n.d.

George Geneff, n.d.

photo supplied by Jan Barac

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Genev, George

27 October, 1897
Popovo, Bulgaria


4 November, 1977 (aged 80)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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