Monday, February 26, 2007


“Shushi, you have returned to the land of my forefathers. I bow down before the tombstones of those who cast off your chains and gave you life.” Armenian Song

The word ‘Anatolia’ is derived from the Greek word «Ανατολή», meaning both ‘sunrise’ and ‘east.’ This is not without coincidence, as it could be said that the sun or light of Greek civilization was conceived in the East and brought to the West, modified, adapted and mass-produced in a cheap plastic chassis. Anatolia, or Asia Minor, as most Greeks like to refer to the region, has never ceased to hold a fascination for our people since times ancient and it is for this reason that it hosted the early and thriving Greek colonies and through the mute, crumbling ruins of the past and its miniscule surviving Greek population today, is considered an integral part of the historical Greek cosmos.
The term ‘Anatolia’ may mean different things to different people. It is the birthplace of philosophy, if one considers that most of the seven great Greek sages of antiquity came from the Ionian colonies, the setting for the legend of Troy, the home of the legendary Amazons, the terminal for Xenophon’s heroic march of the 10,000 and the scene of Alexander the Great’s most inspiring victories. Asia Minor could also arguably mark the geographical region where the idea of the Hellene was born, for it was the Ionian colonies which first united to form the Panionion, a federation of cities sharing the same ethnic identity and indeed it was there that the first united Panhellenic resistance against the Persians took place. For others, Anatolia is the home of all the cities to which St John addressed his Revelation. It marks the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity, the homeland of St Basil of Caesaria, St John Chrysostom and St Gregory Nazianzus, as well as that of the Ecumenical Councils. In this respect, it is the mother culture of Russia and the Balkan peninsula, as well as forming the heartland of the Byzantine Empire and of Greek culture for approximately one thousand years. Anatolia also represents tenacity and steely resolve. It was there that the native Christian population bore the harshest yoke of the Ottoman conquest and it was there that its 3,000 year sojourn finally came to a tragic end, a victim of nationalism, racism and religious intolerance.
Further to that, Anatolia represents a crucible in which civilizations and religions co-existed, shared their knowledge and celebrated diversity. If we consider that Noah’s Ark landed on Mt Ararat, which marks the eastern-most extent of Anatolia, then Anatolia constitutes the symbolic cradle of all of mankind. The Greeks in particular, shared Anatolia with a number of other races and enjoyed the benefits of mutual cultural exchange. The Assyrians, who up until 1923 occupied the south east of Anatolia around the regions of Hakkari and Mardin, still exist precariously in slight numbers around the Syriac monasteries of Tur Abdin. Their empire, which at one stage extended throughout the Fertile Crescent, southern Turkey and Egypt, also included Cyprus and it was not for nothing that Herodotus and other Greek sages are held to have journeyed to their lands, in order to learn from their compendious mathematical and astronomical knowledge. A corpus of modern scholarship inclines to the view that some of our ancient Greek deities, such as Aphrodite and Adonis, have their direct derivatives in the Assyrian deities Ishtar and Tammuz and it could be said that in the Assyrian, we have not a derivative, but a sister culture. The ties that bind us to this people in Anatolia are further augmented by Syriac Christianity, developed in the Aramaic language. The vast majority of the early martyrs of the Orthodox Church were Assyrian, while the legacy of Syriac-speaking saints such as St Ephraim the Syrian, St John of Damascus, St Isaac of Nineveh and the poet and hymnographer Romanos Melodos, greatly influenced Orthodox theology, doctrine, asceticism and liturgics.
This cultural exchange saw the Syriac-speaking monks of Anatolia and the Middle East collecting and preserving the ancient writings of the Greeks, translating them into Syriac and then passing them on in turn to the Arab conquerors. if it was not for there efforts, much of what we know today to be our literary paradosis, would in fact not exist and for these, the obscure Syriac monks of Anatolia deserve our heartfelt thanks. Our texts became an integral part of their own identity, and today, culturally at least, we are indistinguishable from them. A considerable number of scholars consider Empress Theodora to have been of Assyrian descent and of course Antioch, in modern day Turkey, marks the place where Greek language and philosophy melded together with Syriac poetry and tradition, to produce a grand theological tradition. It is also the lace where Christ’s disciples were first called Christians. Of course, the most profound bond to be shared with the Assyrian people is our mutual suffering during what they call “Seyfo” or ‘Saypa’, meaning “The Sword,” when like the Pontic Greeks and the rest of the Greeks of Anatolia, they were considered persona non grata by their rulers and extirpated.
Another ancient persons with whom we share extremely close fraternal bonds are the Armenians. Herodotus claimed that the Armenians were Phrygian colonists, who in turn colonised central Anatolia from Thrace and at least mythologically and linguistically speaking, we are therefore close cousins. To prove just how inextricably linked the Armenians are to our own history and identity as well as to that of the Assyrians, one has to look no further than Mithridates, the great ruler of Pontus, who was at least, half-Armenian. St Mesrob of Armenia is said to have modeled the Armenian alphabet on the Greek and the Syriac alphabets and Armenian Orthodoxy is heavily influenced by Greek and Assyrian traditions and literature. During Byzantium, Armenia was a close ally in keeping the invading Arab and Turkic armies at bay and some of the better known and more successful Byzantine Emperors, such as Basil the Bulgar-Slayer and Ioannis Tsimiskis, along with innumerable nobles, such as the Mamikonians, the eunuch Narses who re-conquered Italy for Justinian and others were actually Armenian. Consider this charming quote from John Ash: “The Basileus Romanus Lecapenus, during whose reign the Bulgars were humbled and the rich city of Melitene was returned to the bosom of the empire, was nevertheless the son of an unlettered Armenian peasant who rejoiced in the name of Theophylact the Unbearable.” Again, our fate in Anatolia was the same as that of the Armenians: extirpation and ethnic cleansing.
That three nations lived side by side for millennia, worked, quarreled, worshipped and struggled together has not gone unnoticed by sections of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities of Melbourne. It strikes them as odd and unnatural that three communities that existed side by side with each other for so many millennia in Anatolia and which historically and culturally have so much in common have little formal communication with each other. If anything, in exploring the commonalities of history and tradition in a joint effort, we are called upon to view our existence in a wider context, not a nationalistic, sterile vacuum. This in turn reinforces and develops our own conception of our identity, ensuring that because at least three nations who know and can remember, are its guarantors, that it will be perpetuated throughout the ages.
The Return to Anatolia Conference is an attempt to achieve all that and much more. Conceived originally as a joint effort of federated Armenian and Assyrian organizations with the Pontian Federation of Australia, Pontian Federation of Australia president, Mr Panayiotis Jasonides explains that: “‘Return to Anatolia’ seeks to explore, celebrate and assess the common cultural and historical heritage of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek-Australians whose origins lie in Anatolia. In celebrating diversity and the historical memories that unite us as Australians, the conference decries all forms of totalitarianism, intolerance and racism. In doing so, it affirms and re-commits to those values that have made Australia such a unique, multi-faceted and harmonious society.”
That renewal and perpetuation is the key focus of the ‘Return to Anatolia’ Conference can be evidenced by its logo. It comprises of a flaming torch, symbolizing the conviction that light, whether in the form of philosophy, religion or the sun itself, arose in the east. Over this spans a rainbow, referring to God’s promise to Noah in the Old Testament, never to destroy humanity ever again and symbolizing the three communities’ firm resolve never to allow any wanton destruction of human life in Anatolia to be covered up, or excused, by anyone. The rainbow motif is particularly fitting, as it is Noah’s rainbow that forms the inspiration of the Armenian flag and it is an eternal symbol of hope.
It is envisaged that the conference, will be held annually so as to be the keystone of each community’s individual commemorations of their extirpation from their ancestral homeland. Each conference will focus on a particular aspect of the three communities’ existence in Anatolia. This year, the inaugural Return to Anatolia conference will serve more as an introduction to the three communities and place them into context. Historians will provide a brief analysis of the history of each people, before examining the manner in which all three communities met the same fate. Says Panayiotis Jasonides: “If one nation stands up and claims that they were subject to genocide, maybe they will be believed, maybe they won’t. But if three peoples stand together and jointly claim that they met with the same fate and for exactly the same reason, then everyone else will be compelled to sit up and take notice.”
Between the lectures, there shall be cultural and folkloric displays and exhibitions, so that the attendee can explore and experience each culture first hand.
The inaugural Return to Anatolia Conference will be held between 9:30am to 3:30pm on Saturday 3 March 2007 at the Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria Building, 495 Lygon Street, East Brunswick. Entry is free and refreshments will be served. All attendees will be provided with a booklet, providing basic facts about each community and its history. Certainly this is an event that deserves the support of the Greek community. It is not often that other nations combine to pay homage to our past and re-affirm eternal familial ties. We are obliged, not only to return the compliment but to return spiritually to the birthplace of our civilization, embrace the genius and sacrifices of our ancestors and resolve that their existence and tragic passage, was not in vain.


First published in NKEE on 26 February 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007


“Yes, you were looking for something?”
“A sense of the miraculous in every day life.”
The Mask of Zorro.

Children’s literature is a term extremely difficult to classify. For it comprises both those books which are selected and read by children themselves, as well as those vetted as 'appropriate for children' by authorities, for example: teachers, reviewers, scholars, and parents. Some would have it that children's literature is literature written specially for children; however, many books that were originally intended for adults are now commonly thought of as works for children, such as Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The opposite has also been known to occur, where works of fiction originally written or marketed for children are given recognition as adult books; Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, for example, both won Whitbread Awards, which are typically awarded to novels for adults.
Children’s literature is also a good indicator of the health of a particular language. When books are being published in any given language for children and children are reading them, then one can safely say that the odds look good for that child to continue to read literature in that language when it becomes an adult. Conversely, a problem arises when children’s books are written to prove appoint and are not accessible or desirable to the children in question.
Over the years, far seeing members of the Greek community in Australia have made various efforts to write books for children in Greek. The early ones, written at a time when Greek was still a first language for most Australian-born Greek children, were plausible as an attempt to prove that Greek literature could still be produced in a community that had been dislocated from its motherland. This notwithstanding, direct imports from Greece were always considered superior to the native product, reinforcing in the subconscious mind of the community that though we are economically, politically and socially independent of Greece, we cringe at any thought of cultural self-determination save for any excuses or allowances that we make for ourselves to explain our acculturation.
In the late seventies and early eighties, when multiculturalism was a new and exciting concept, a plethora of grants were provided for the writing of ‘ethnic’ language and bilingual children’s books. I remember finding some of these in my school library (for this was a time when books existed in school libraries for migrant and non-english speaking background primary students) and marvelling at the staid, stilted and ideologically clumsy manner in which they tried to infuse “New Australians” with “Australian values.” Nonetheless, they were in Greek and they did assist to broaden one’s horizons and expand vocabulary. Fishing them out of the school hopper after they had been cancelled and discarded by the library a few years later for non-use, I still maintain some of these books at home; as a reminder of a valiant effort and what could have been.
The simple fact of the matter is that reading requires effort. Reading Greek, especially if you are a child and the vast majority of your daily discourse is conducted in English, requires even more effort and we live in an era where everything must be instant, “fun and easy,” “lite n’ easy,” accomplished at the touch of a button and with tangible benefits. As a result, it is futile to insist that Greek children’s books are able to entertain and enthrall Greek-Australian children to the extent that their English counterparts do. After all, Greek in the new millenium, is a gerontogloss, to be utilised only for understanding our grandparents’ injunctions, to which a simple grunt is all that is necessary to communicate that the message is received and understood.
In this context, some of few the children’s books that continue to be published by Australian-Greek authors, are downright insulting. Their authors direct the level of the language and subject matter at their peers in order to extract affirmation and kudos from them and in doing so, subconsciously betray their own linguistic and cultural ignorance of the generation they are supposed to be writing for. Others, who write nostalgically in the manner of the books they read as children may mean well, but dated cautionary tales, lengthy lectures and motifs belonging to antebellic Greece are of questionable value to Australian-Greek children today. One author, who purported to write a children’s book of popular science even went so far as to display a complete lack of knowledge of the water cycle, filling her book with so many magical and mythical ‘facts’ that its publication was starkly embarassing. This is by far, my favourite children’s book ever. At any rate, the irony of writing children’s books for an audience that will not read them should not be lost on us, as many parallels can be drawn between that and much of the corpus of our collectivised existence.
One author who knows children, is Ekaterini Mpaloukas, not only because she has grandchildren herself but because within her soul lies an innate love for all infants. To speak to her, is to draw warmth from an infinite well of affection and it is this affection that makes her newly-published children’s book: “Zorro: The Adventures of an Australian terrier,” such a great success. “Zorro” is a bilingual book, which means that the natural reaction of each child will be to turn to the English. This is not to be viewed negatively as Konstatina Dounis’ well-constructed translation is both muscular, engaging and of immense linguistic benefit to young readers.
Anticipating the natural tendency, however, Mpaloukas embarks upon a novel innovation. The Greek text, which is simple enough, is designed to be read aloud. Indeed, it reads as if a grandmother has sat her grandchild on her knees and is telling it a story. It is this interraction between the generations that Mpaloukas sees as key to the passing on of language skills, turning on its head the premise that reading is primarily an individual’s activity. Mpaloukas, in her own understated and affectionate way is surreptitously advising us that only cohesion, love and harmony between the generations will ensure the perpetuation of our language and culture.
“Zorro,” which is lovingly transliterated, not as «Ο Ζορρό» but in good Australian-Greek as «ο Ζόρρος» is, coincidentally enough, what my grandmother also called the famous masked avenger. This particular masked avenger is a little terrier, (thankfully left in the Greek as “terrier” and not rendered as the effeminate Modern Greek «τεριέρ») the type any child may identify with in this country and whose choice as a main character is thus inspired, Zorro has a penchant for roguish knavery, dark and devious plots and burglary. Despite this, he is eminently loveable and a hero to boot.
As we follow Zorro’s the masked doggie’s adventures from his birth on a farm in Yarra Junction to the apogee of his fame as television star and hero of the nation, (a plot that is both humorous and full of suspense - guaranteed to enthrall any child) we notice with interest the appearance of several anachronisms. This seems to be a lost Australia, that of twenty to thirty years ago, when fathers worked at C.I.G in Preston and Australia was still possessed of a manufacturing industry. Rather than this acting to alienate the book away from its audience, it actually insinuates itself closer to them. Mpaloukas has masterfully conveyed to the latter generations, snippets of the migrant experience and the prevailing social conditions they had to face in a facile and accessible manner. What is even more refreshing, she achieves this without the need for preaching, or schmaltz. Again this serves to emphasise the role of the older generation as instrumental for children to analyse the world around them and discover their place within the wider social and historical context, both as Greeks and as Australians. Further, this delightful tall tale of a peripatetic pooch may seem implausible but it has that star grandparent quality of almost being true that most grandparent’s tales seem to possess and as such, will immediately endear itself to any reader, regardless of age. Further, as Maria Vamvakinou MP, an avid fan points out, the parallel between a doggie hoarding treasures and of migrants rushing around attempting to acquire wealth and hoard tradition is compelling.
Christos Avramoudas’ illustrations to the text are studied and deep. They capture Mpaloukas’ writing ideology and give life to the sepia coloured world that still exists among the elderly of Northcote and other pockets of Melbourne. His portrayal of sixties and seventies automobiles, Edwardian architecture, corrugated iron roofs, back fences and sandy beaches, all in traditional, bright but earthy ‘Australian’ hues, does much to evoke ‘mythological’ Australia within us. Against this background he cleverly interposes his Greek characters, which remind one intensely of the pictures one would find in their first grade «Αναγνωστικό» or «Ανθολόγιο» but at the same time have an innately timeless, Byzantine quality to them. This is the olde worlde where fathers had moustaches and mothers spent all day cooking in the ktichen and one can only marvel at the way in which this gifted artist has melded together the best and most characteristic visualisations of our romantic conceptions of a by-gone era. The apogee of all the visual masterpieces that richly adorn the book, would have to be on the last page, where the family poses for a photograph in a studio, in honour of their trememdous terrier, canvas painting of Greece in the background. We all have such photographs hidden away in our drawers, whether they be of our parents’ wedding day, or taken in order to send to relatives in Greece. Christos Avramoudas’ illustrations are not only a homage to the past then, but also a key to its visualisation within the appropriate context.
It is not often that a book offers itself with so much love and affection to its readers, or which can evoke a sense of the miracoluos with such ease of skill. Quite possibly this reflects Mpaloukas’ conception of the Greek community as a large family, to who she, like so many others is a grandmother. Let’s face it, grandmothers after all, are just mothers with a lot more frosting or, if you like, just antique little girls. They also know what children love and all children are sure to love reading and listening to their loved ones read the adventures of Zorro to them again and again and again. If there is a drawback, it will be the fact that thousands of Australian-Greek children out in suburbia, as a result of the combnined efforts of Mbaloukas, Avramoudas and Dounis, will, as we speak, be intent upon cloaking their beloved pet, masking its muzzle and expecting it to perform suprabestial activities, all the while singing: “I’ve sewn him a black cape/ put dark glasses on him’ he’s become a thief/ carting home treasures...” But then again, Ogden Nash knew what he was talking about when he said: “When Grandmother enters the door, discipline flies out the window.” Woof! Woof!


First published in NKEE on 19 February 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007


“By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed... Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips."

Psalm 141:3

My first foray into the world of Newspeak was when, at the tender age of nine, I was the recipient of a literary award from the Moonee Valley Library for an essay in which in the misguided naivety of my youth, I postulated that we could bring an end to wars simply by forcibly expunging all words dealing with aggression and conflict from all world languages. Next on my agenda, though this I never disclosed, was the removal of all words pertaining to work, so that humanity could be restored to its previous relaxed, Arcadian existence.
Little did I know at that time, that my ‘novel’ idea had already been anticipated by George Orwell, whose explorations as to the nature of totalitarianism and its effects upon language in his seminal novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four,’ led him to create such a linguistic medium, ‘Newspeak.’ In ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four, Newspeak is presented as being “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.” It was closely based on English but had a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suited the totalitarian regime of the ruling Party, headed by the infamous Big Brother, whose aim it was to make any alternative thinking (“thoughtcrime”) or speech impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe undesirable concepts such as freedom or debate.
The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can't be said, then it can't be thought. One question raised in response to this is whether we are defined by our language, or whether we actively define it. For instance, can we communicate the need for freedom, assert a conviction or express our dissent, if we do not have the words for either? Ludwig Wittgenstein’s proposition, “The limits of my language mean the limits to my world,” certainly do encapsulate the Newspeak philosophy.
Vocabulary based upon Newspeak principles has existed for a long time. In Stalinist Russia, the Party “liquidated the kulaks” rather than having engaged in acts of genocide, while the Nazis “resettled,” rather than having exterminated the Jews. Even today, our newsreporters inform us of instances of “collateral damage” and “civilian casualities” rather than badly aimed bombing, anti-abortionists are recast as “pro-life” whereas supporters of abortion cast themselves not as “anti-life”, but rather, as “pro-choice.” And of course, in Bushspeak, anyone who does not agree with the Planetarch’s policies is guilty of ‘terrortactification’ and shall be ‘obliterfried.’ In Businesspeak, a close corollary of Newspeak, problems are referred to as ‘obstacles’, ‘challenges’ or even ‘opportunties.’ The apogee of such speak is the name that EnergySolutions, one of several companies responsible for storing nuclear waste in Utah's West desert, chose to call itself. Before merging with other companies in 2006 and changing its name, that company was called “Envirocare.”
In Australia, we have our own homegrown brand of Newspeak, Ozspeak. Ozspeak has had an interesting linguistic development, ever since the promulgation of the “relaxed and comfortable Australia” (Ozpeak for “I wish Mr Menzies was still PM) doctrine. One of its very early linguistic manifestations can be found in the replacement of the words “refugees” and “boat people” with “queue jumpers.” Prisons for illegal immigrants came to be renamed: “Immigration Reception and Processing Centres,” and according to Newspeak Principles, whereby “it was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it,” the AFL, hitherto signifying the Australian Football League, came in popular consciousness to denote the slogan: “Australians, Football, Like.” Attempts to apply Ozspeak principles to soccer and have it appropriate all football connotations to itself, have largely been unsuccessful owing to the introduction of velar plosives which inhibit the illegal introduction of foreign fricatives unless they have first been processed by an Australian consulate. Thus while the FFA may purport to stand for “Football Federation of Australia,” in popular Ozpeak it denotes: “Foreigners Flooding Australia.”
That extrinsic influences upon Ozspeak do exist can be most clearly evidenced by the fascinating linguistic reforms brought about by India-based employees of Australian telecommunication companies. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, phrases like “this won’t take long” and “I won’t ask you anything personal,” have come to denote telephone surveys that take fifteen to twenty minutes, in which everything from your marital status to your income and sexual orientation is requested.
The most exciting Ozspeak development has only come about recently with the official federal discarding of the word “multiculturalism” from the previously titled “Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs,” and its replacement with the word “Citizenship.” For by so discarding multiculturalism from official parlance, our august Prime Minister, Big Brother of the Barbeque, Custodian in Chief of the Stubby, Waltzer of the Matilda and Lord Protector of the Pies, has taken our particular branch of Newspeak to its logical conclusion and to that point which I envisaged in my demented youth so many years ago: not just the simplification of vocabulary so as to limit thought but the eradication of vocabulary so as to extirpate the thought of it, all together.
Our Prime Minister (Ozspeak: Big Mate, Standard SouthOzspeak: Big Maate) waxes lyrical about the importance of a “shared national identity.” While he says he does not abjure multiculturalism, he pronounces in a mixture of Ozspeak and Oldspeak that shows that the final refinement of Ozspeak still has someway to go: “The premium must be upon, the emphasis must be upon, the dominant consideration must be, the integration (Ozpeak: n. Anglosaxinofication) of people (Ozspeak: n. taxpayers; or economic units) into the Australian family (Ozspeak: n. imperium).” While noting in passing the curious and rather quaint repetitive sentence structure required by Ozspeak syntax for gentle-to-the-stomach, easy absorption, we should not gasp at this latest linguistic metatrope, as it has been a long time in coming. Was it not Mate Andrew Robb, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Ozspeak: Bloke who’s lookin’ after the wogs an’ that) who told a conference last November that some Australians were worried that the term “multicultural” had been transformed by interest groups (this is Ozspeak for hardworking and local migrant communities) into a philosophy that put “allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty, a philosophy which fosters separate development, a federation of ethnic cultures, not one community.” He also added: “A community of separate cultures fosters a rights mentality, rather than a responsibilities mentality. It is divisive. It works against quick and effective integration.”
Now let us pause and reflect for a moment. Placing the terms ‘Immigration’ and ‘Multiculturalism’ together connots the idea that the multiculturalism is the natural outcome of immigration. Contrarily, by placing the words ‘Immigration’ and ‘Citizenship’ together, the relevant Ministry hints at migrants being porblematic citizens, even more problematic in fact than those model non-migrant citizens who are members of the Australia First Party and who are reportedly urging the good citizens of Townsville to rise up against their local council and obstruct the settlement of Sudanese refugees in their racially pristine motherland.
The eradication of the word multiculturalism from Ozspeak is timely. For of late, the use or rather misuse of the term, especially by semi-assimilated self-interested personages makes even the most jaded Ozspeak lexicographer cringe. The doctrine of multiculturalism may appear to have had its inception in the genuine desire of benign governments to accommodate, embrace and make sense of the various nationalities that arrived on their doorstep. Corollary to this, it also emerged as a method to regulate and control those ethnic communities and set the limits and boundaries up to which they could perceive and manifest their own ethnic character. Once the faculty for creating social ideology is voluntarily permitted to pass from each community and surrendered to the government of the day, is it not futile and rather silly to then lament unfavourable shifts in policy?
In truth, most ethnic communties, satisfied by official lip service paid to multculturalism in the past, have been rather lax in ensuring its continued existence and indeed, by thoughtless conflicts and displays of nationalist machismo from time to time, have provoked the ire of the majority of citizens in this country, to whom multiculturalism was always a state-imposed construct, that was never entirely accepted. To use Mate Andrew Robb’s words, we thought we had a “right” to multiculturalism. Now that we realise that we don’t, we are as sore and as vulnerable as the Arab Christians who have spent the past fifty years vociferously advocating Pan-Arabism as a way to legitimise their own existence to their muslim brothers, only to discover to their detriment that this ideology was never accepted among them and that in a radicalised world, their presence is compromised.
What lessons do we draw then from the exciting new developments in Ozspeak? Possibly that the only entities that truly have an interest in preserving our own unique cultural identities are our own comumunities and that we should set upon this task making use of our own efforts and not relying on extrinsic assistance, though making use of it when it is offered. We can no longer afford to be lax about who we are or expect that our preconceived ideas of our place in society have widespread acceptance. Some one hundred years since our arrival in this country, we are still being told that we owe it to our hosts (this is GrOzspeak for Australian Government) to be good citizens and our task lies in searching for ingenious ways in order to put their mind at rest in this regard. Quite possibly, if we continue to be good citizens, we may even be able to achieve this in two hundred years time. Even more significantly, as a community, we need to delve deeply and find the strength to retain our integrity and identity intact, regardless of the prevailing official or societal ideology. Diatribe (Ozspeak: Talkin’ the hind leg off a donkey) takes leave of you this week, with the pious hope that we all adopt the Ozspeak slogan: “Do it yerself, coz no one else can do it yerself.” God save the Crowned Sheila.


First published in NKEE on 12 February 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007


“Love, exciting and new

Come Aboard. We're expecting you.

Love, life's sweetest reward.

Let it flow, it floats back to you.
The Love Boat soon will be making another run
The Love Boat promises something for everyone
Set a course for adventure,
Your mind on a new romance.” Theme from ‘The Love Boat.’

The primal cause of this Diatribe is a culinary discussion I once had with a friend about the origin of the Italian pasta sauce “à la Puttanesca.” Apparently, this literally translates as “the way a whore would make it.” The reason for the existence of such a stark, leave nothing to the imagination title is debated. One possibility is that the name pays homage to the sauce’s hot, spicy flavour and smell. Another is that the dish was offered to prospective customers at a low price to entice them into houses of ill repute. However, according to Jeff Smith of the “Frugal Gourmet,” its name derives from its propensity to be cooked by prostitutes as a quick and easy meal for their customers. After speculating that upon its introduction into Greece, this delectable fare would invariably be required to be prepared upon on railing according to the new EU rules on cultural preservation, I related to my friend the inordinately sad truism that my mother absolutely despises all forms of pasta. The reason behind her unnatural abhorrence and lack of respect towards this most honourable Greek wheaten staple is that she migrated to Australia at the tender age of twelve upon an Italian ship, where spaghetti was served to the hapless passengers for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day throughout the duration of the thirty four revolutions of the earth it took to arrive at our shores. Consequently, to this day, she cannot shovel a well turned, cholesterol-dripping spoonful of fettucine al burro into her mouth without feeling decidedly seasick.
My friend took this in with all the dismay of a North Polean reindeer learning on Christmas Eve that it would be retrenched owing to the transfer of Santa’s workshop to Guangzhou for reasons of efficiency. Then, jaw still masticating a forkful of ravioli in benign unison with the vibration of the elemental om, he mused: “Have you ever wondered what transpired during the boat ride? A whole month at sea. I mean, think about it. Whenever you hear people talk about how they came to Australia, it’s all grinding poverty, dire straits, (incidentally, have you heard the one about the Greek immigrant who was asked whether the boat would be sailing through the Straits of Malacca?) tears at the quayside, heart-wrenching waving of handkerchiefs as they board, and then….. they arrived in Australia, more hardship, hard work, counting of pennies etc. Very rarely do you get a mention of what actually happened during that journey. And what is doubly strange, is that, I mean, consider this… droves and droves of young hormone infested males and females in their late adolescence, most of whom had never been further than the village square, devoid of any parental control are herded on to this huge ….love boat and packed together. Don’t you think that they would have gotten up to at least some mischief? But you never hear a word of it. I’ve spoken to people who met and fell in love on the ship and yet not even they will explain the circumstances of how they came to be together.”
It was an interesting point, and one that simply clamoured for further research. Over the next few months, I would assiduously accost aging members of the community who arrived in this country in their late teens for their own boat stories. Apart from the few ladies, invariably sporting beehives who informed me snootily that they did not emigrate to Australia by boat, instead, they paid their own way and arrived by aeroplane, most emigrants were noticeably reticent about their transoceanic experiences, except for one inebriated patron of a questionable Richmond establishment named Heracles, who in the tradition of his heroic namesake, maintained that he was accosted by all the Thespian maidens on his ship and dispatched them and their ardour with gusto. What I was able to discern however, was that somehow, migrants arriving here on the good ship ‘Patris,’’ seem to consider that they enjoy the same status as the Pilgrims who arrived in America on the ‘Mayflower.’ The Klusian myth then, that obscures the art of seduction is that our young forebears were all sexless creatures, whose sole aim was to lift themselves and their families out of the cogwheels of grinding poverty and thus had no time for frivolous activities. Indeed the only clue I have been able to glean as to what may have transpired, is from a cryptic remark in a Greek-Australian book I am currently translating, where the author describes how a fellow passenger lured her on to the deck and tried to make a pass at her. Her screams were heard by a sailor: “My child, don’t ever come up here alone ever again… You aren’t like the other girls who spend the night in the lifeboats.”
What happens on the boat, must stay on the boat. Though it appears a good deal more was rocking than just the waves of the Indian Ocean.
Chancing to mention my conclusion to my landlord one day, a leather-hided, simian-shaped builder who appears to have never gone indoors ever since he arrived in this country, he spluttered: “Rubbish. The boat trip was Sodom and Gomorrah. Let me tell you a tale or two.” Taking a long sip of ultra fermented coffee that had been lying around his back verandah in full sun for three days, he proceeded to weave a fascinating tapestry of iniquity:
“When we reached Port Said, this marvelous beauty boarded the boat. Long, black curly hair, lithe, lissome, a fantastic pair of breasts, legs one kilometre in length….(here he started drooling coffee with a hungry expression in his face, making him assume an unearthly Uncle Fester-like quality.) Her name was Maria and she was from Egypt, I think from Alexandria. Anyway, she got on the boat and we were all crowding around her because, let’s face it, she was the hottest thing there. You know these Alexandrian dames really knew how to look after themselves, not like the muck-bred, cattle that we were used to from our villages. I mean plucked eyebrows! Who would have ever thought! Of course she wouldn’t pay attention to us because we were younger, I was seventeen and she would have been about twenty one. We used to place bets with the rest of the passengers as to who would get to sleep with her. However, even though we all did our best to seduce her with pick up lines and the like, none of us met with any success. One night, I had drunk a bit too much and I pounded on the door of her cabin. When she opened the door, I threw myself upon her and started kissing her neck. She screamed and pushed me out of the cabin. I remember being dragged to the hold by two burly crew members, shouting all the while: «Και ποια είσαι εσύ που δεν σου κάνουμε; Τι μας παριστάνεις, την Οσία Μαρία;»
The next day, I was taken to see the Captain. “I am going to make sure you are not allowed to enter Australia,” he told me. “Australia doesn’t need guys like you.” To cut a long story short, I had connections, an uncle who was the captain of another ship, who intervened on my behalf, so I weaseled myself out of the situation. However, listen to this: As we found out later, all the time that Maria the Egyptian was pretending to be prim and proper, she was actually entertaining the Captain and the senior officers of the crew. That’s why they were so angry with me and wanted to lock me up. Not because they wanted to maintain discipline and security but because I was impinging upon their exclusivity. Anyway, after spending one month like this, word got out. I think she felt pregnant but I’m not too sure. Somehow, when Maria the Egyptian arrived in Australia, her relatives had found out about her and locked the doors on her. She stayed there, banging on the doors for a while and then went away. I don’t know if she eventually had a child or what happened. One of my friends reckons he saw her in St Kilda one day. I don’t know. I saw her years later, in church at Easter, covered from head to toe. Apparently she had a religious transformation. So that’s what happened on the boat. It wasn’t a bad ride by the way. Plenty of pasta. I love pasta.”
I was astounded both by the tale and the complex and colourful way in which it was narrated to me. Lying awake that night, I reflected upon the vicissitudes of fate, the hormone-induced audacity of the adolescent male and my dubious success in eliciting smut from a cautionary tale, de-constructing a foundation myth in the process. In particular, I had a vision of an ethereal beauty, hair cruelly tossed by the winds hammering on the door of paradise and yet not being granted entry when….. The plot of this story seemed strangely familiar to me. I had heard, no read it once before. But where? A quarter of an hour of frantic head scratching, accompanied by another quarter of an hour’s frenzied examination of my pillow in order to ascertain whether my landlord’s assertion that I was slowly going bald could also be verified and my recall was total.
Opening the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, I turned to the page dedicated to St Mary the Egyptian. St Mary was also a beautiful Alexandrian woman, whose unnatural lusts caused her to take a boat ride to Jerusalem in the hope that her carnal hunger could be satiated both during the voyage and at her destination. Arriving in Jerusalem, she decided to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre only to find the doors supernaturally shut against her. It was only the intervention of the Theotokos and her own repentance and subsequent good deeds that secured her salvation. Sure enough, arriving at work the next day, I withdrew discretely to my landlord’s office. There, on top of his desk was a slim, crimson and well thumbed volume entitled “St Mary the Egyptian.” Now wait till you hear the above about how his construction company decided to build a tower that would surpass the sky and reach the feet of God Almighty….
Diatribe leaves you this week, with the possible real reason why we shall never be told the seaborne deeds of our founding fathers, through the words of the Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky:
“Love’s boat has been shattered against the life of everyday.
You and I are quits, and it's useless to draw up a list of mutual hurts, sorrows, and pains.”


First published in NKEE on 5 February 2007