Monday, September 28, 2009


“All Academics in today’s democratic Australia should remember that the Humanities were always seen as the stable pillar for the preservation of peace and justice amongst all peoples… There is no need to be reminded that… Greece and Byzantium were the first examples of civilised countries which displayed originality in isonomy and equality in matters of polity.” Archbishop Stylianos to Frederick Hilmer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales, 16 June 2009.

I am absolutely enthralled by Prince Grigori Alexandrovitch Potemkin, primarily because in Russian, consonants effect the pronunciation of the anteceding vowel, so that his surname is actually pronounced ‘Patyomkin.’ Further, the great statesman Potemkin, who conquered the Crimea from the Ottomans and revived the memory of the ancient Greek Bosporan kingdom in the region, by naming the colonies he founded there after the original Greek colonies that preceded them was reputedly the mastermind of one of the best con-jobs in history. In an effort to impress Catherine the Great and her travel party with the value of her new conquests, he had hollow facades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper River.
Potemkin’s motivation was not so much to hoodwink the Empress into believing that he had already colonised the Crimea, as to display the potential of the region. Nonetheless, his singular act endures as a testament to delusion and dishonesty.
Near the end of his life, it became apparent that Potemkin was suffering from a mental disorder, probably due to complications following the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease. This behavior included a series of violent assaults on the members of his staff and public declarations that he will conquer Poland, Turkey and Egypt. In 1791, while on his way to Nikolayev, he died in the open steppe, in consequence of eating a whole goose while in a high state of fever.
Like Potemkin, our communal goose appears these days, to be well and truly cooked. Our community too has also founded extensive colonies in new regions. A cursory glance at statistics will reveal a population of anything up to half a million Greeks residing in Australia, a multitude of churches, schools and clubhouses in the major metropolises of the land, which would indicate the existence of a vibrant, dynamic ethnic minority, well-positioned to perpetuate its identity into the future.
Indeed, especially here in Melbourne, we are omnipresent. So important are we that we have an entire precinct named after us in the heart of the city, comprising of two or three shops keystoned by the imposing Greek Community Building, just begging to be transformed into a Tower of Babel, since there is no fear that God will confuse our tongues, considering that most of the time we communicate with each other through torrents of abuse in the local newspapers or give up altogether. We have a Hellenic Museum, designed to showcase who we are to the rest of the world and we also have an Antipodes Festival, where we parade ourselves for public view in a manner mandated by the City of Melbourne to be acceptable. Upon airing our identity for a few days, we pack it carefully away for re-use at another function, perhaps a National Day parade or panigyri that we will put on, either because in the manner of the Poseidonians, we feel compelled to repeat the same customs and traditions even when these are verging upon the trite and the incomprehensible to the younger of those who enact them, lest our sense of self be diminished.
Facadism is what we do best. Our brotherhood buildings are many and they are worth much. And yet save for catering to the social and personal needs of their ever diminishing first generation membership and constituing a hot-bed of micropoliticla, internecine strife, an alarming number of these are able to do little else than occassionally concoct some type of cultural manifestation to reassure themselves of their existence, such as a dinner dance or other social function. The mantra: «Πρέπει να κάνουμε κάτι για να φανούμε,» is repeated so often that we appear to be caught in a time loop of existential hysteria. An increasing number of brotherhood buildings, denuded of members, are becoming cold, mute tombstones to past dreams and endeavours that are finally becoming extinct.
Greek language education is also a field in which facadism reigns supreme. Ten years ago, there were Greek language departments or courses offered in all the major tertiary institutions of Melbourne and Sydney. This was the culmination of the combined effort of church and community and was achieved only after a long struggle. Today, few remain, and recently, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) announced its decision not to appoint a new lecturer in Modern Greek, after the resignation of the old one. That decision was met with derision and sadness by the community and the efforts of Greek students to protest against this, holding placards in Greek proclaiming: “Our education is our history,’ are laudable.
What is it however, that really hurts us about the closure of Modern Greek departments and courses? In his letter to the Vice-Chancellor of UNSW, His Eminence, Archbishop Stylianos, who presides over the most extensive Greek educational system in Australia stated: “With regards to the significance of Hellenism, I am certain that there is no need to write further to an Academic of your standing and responsibility.”
Vice-Chancellor Hilmer’s response, was terse and to the point. “It has to be acknowledged,” he wrote, “that despite the manifest community support for Modern Greek being made available, the number of students enrolling in Greek languages courses … has been consistently and disappointingly low for many years now.” In other words, we may profess our love and desire for Greek education until we are blue in the face. However, when push comes to shove, there are not enough enrollments and we seem unable to ‘put our money where our mouth is.’ Thus, our yearning for the institutionalized tertiary study of Greek is at best a righteous hope and at worst, a façade, worthy of Potemkin.
Furthermore, it would be noted that the Vice-Chancellor did not comment whatsoever upon the “significance of Hellenism.” That concept appears to be significant to us, not them. After all, the good Chancellor is only seeking to entertain our righteous hopes in satisfying what demand truly exists, “without jeopardising the interests or strategic priorities of the University.” Though we may like to think otherwise, outside our own tightly wrought circle of self-satisfaction masking deep unease at our own precarious position vis a vis our ethno-linguistic future, the Vice-Chancellor’s response instructs us that we are not that intrinsically important. His Eminence’s letter to the Vice-Chancellor is thus invaluable, as it elicits the responses necessary to view ourselves outside our comfort zone. This is mandatory, if we are to address, let alone arrest the delusion that is leading to our multi-faceted decline.
It is all well and good to protest and rail against the closure of “Greek” institutions simply because this signals a defeat and brings ever more home to us, the terrible truth of our assimilation. After we dry our tears, we will get on with our lives, much as we did following the demise of the notorious EKEME. After all, how can we expect a community of Greek-Australian students, who in their vast majority have very poor functional Greek, and who, again in their vast majority, do not wish to improve those skills, to facilitate the survival of Modern Greek Departments? The fact that we have permitted to ourselves, and in some cases even facilitated the present situation proves that despite what we may outwardly profess, de facto, at least, learning and speaking Greek further than the usual “yiasou pappou,” is no longer a priority.
The solution then is to make the Greek language a true priority for the members of our community. The first generation laboured in Herculean fashion to found the institutions that would see us as an entity, safe into the future. We cannot squander the 4000 year old written tradition that they sought to preserve. There is absolutely no reason why a functional Greek linguistic standard cannot be achieved by all, given enough community encouragement and commitment to speaking the language amongst ourselves – in contrast with the defeatist tendency we have to lapse into English whenever our competence as Greeks is threatened. For it is only when proficiency is achieved that students with a love of the language will seek to venture into the labyrinthine and unexpected paths of delight that constitutes Greek literature, by studying these at a tertiary level. We need to secure the bedrock, as well as the topsoil and time is of the essence.
Much like Tom Jones, I believe in miracles. Some two hundred years ago, a lone itinerant preacher traversed the length and breadth of Greece preaching a gospel of love and Hellenism. Solely out of his own efforts, through his construction of schools, churches, but mostly through his charisma and perseverance, he was able to inspire and revive within a wayward flock, a love of Hellenism that has never been extinguished. St Kosmas the Aetolian was a saint. His teaching was simple: “Teach your children Greek, for our church and race is Greek. It is better to have a Greek school in your country than springs and rivers.” We are Greek. We must study Greek. His Eminence abjures the need to remind the UNSW of the significance of Hellenism because he knows that it is us that need to be reminded and re-awakened. It is time we discarded the façade and bravely faced the emptiness that beckons beyond it. We have done it before. It must be done again.

First published in NKEE on 28 September 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009


“Morn, golden rob’d had earth illum’d, when Jove convened in Council all the powers above, and on Olympus’ many mountain’d crest, th’ attentive synod of the Gods addrest” Homer, The Iliad.

When one reads Homer, the impression gained of Greek conciliar activities, is of benign and sagely deities sitting with Zeus upon a golden floor and deliberating while Hebe went round pouring out nectar for them to drink. That councils are important to ancient Greek society can be evidenced by the fact that its primary chronicles refer to them constantly. In Book IV of the Iliad, for example, the word “council” appears some fourteen times, thus: “And I say again to you of the council: you are many and the wooers are few: Why then do you not put them away from the house of Odysseus?”
The underlying ideology behind the institution of councils seems to have been the belief that people generally act in their own self-interest and require the intervention of third parties in order to compel them to consider the interests of others. Thus ancient Sparta not only had two kings, but also a council of elders, the γερουσία, specifically appointed to watch over them. It is possibly not without coincidence that this term is used in Greek-Australia, to refer to the first generation that presides over most of our community institutions. The Athenians too had their own councils: in pre-classical times, there was the Areopagus, which gradually morphed into a high court of appeal subsequent to the reforms of Ephialtes and the Ecclesia, responsible for declaring war, military strategy, and electing officials. The Pytaneis, who presided as foremen of the ancient Boule or assembly, were as Aristotle tells us in his Politics, influential enough to become tyrants.
The word tyrant, is not Greek. It survives down the ages as a word employed by the aboriginal inhabitants of Greece to denote a sole ruler and even appears as “Seren’ to describe the kings of the Philistines, who archaeologists consider to have migrated to Canaan from Greece. It appears then that the Greek perennial struggle with sole rulers or people abrogating for themselves the right to determine the future of others stems not just from any ‘innate’ dislike of domination particular to the Greek ‘people,’ but rather, a primeval reaction to the social and governmental structures of the original inhabitants of the region. Tyrannies and Kings co-existed and even survived conciliar democracies, but all throughout, conciliar government was considered ideal and tyrannies, the governmental institution of the barbarous proto-Greeks, somehow barbaric. In Epirus, on the frontier of ancient Greek civilisation, the traditional Homeric style kingship that existed for centuries was done away with and a federal republic set up in 231 BC. It would not be an exaggeration to postulate then, that the perceived Greek tall poppy syndrome actually derives from a foreign people’s need to legitmise their hold over a conquered region that originally did not belong to them.
The history of the Greek people’s organised presence in this country could be viewed through the prism of a conflict between conciliar organsiations (ie. brotherhoods, community associations and clubs) and the Church, which though comprised of parish and laity councils, is widely seen to preserve a hierarchical structure, regardless of the fact that the Orthodox Church is conciliar in relation to its formulation of doctrine and governance.
Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou point out in their study: “From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000,” that the manner in which Greek-Australian organisations are instituted and governed conforms to British–Australian legal concepts that in turn are designed to legitimise the ruling group’s dominance of a country and ethnic groups not their own. Given this, the recent stoush between the president of the Council of Greeks Abroad (SAE), Mr George Angelopoulos and the Australian Council Representative Nikos Lalopoulos assumes some significance.
The Australian Hellenic Council is comprised of community organisations around Australia. Its aim is to form a Greek lobby of sufficient strength in order to enable it to influence government policy on various issues pertaining to Greek-Australians. Thus, in the past, it has lobbied the government on domestic issues such as Greek pension rights, taken a stance on the naming of the Slavonic idiom that is the official language of Greece’s northern neighbour and has also taken a stand on the so-called “ethnika themata,” or national issues, seeking affirmation of a commitment by the Australian government to a just solution to the Cyprus problem. I have attended the annual meetings in Canberra, whereby the representatives of the AHC’s constituent organisations firstly meet to work out the positions they will present to parliamentarians (this traditionally involving heated arguments by various representatives of Cypriot organisations who historically could not agree on a stance for Cyprus), and then split off into groups that make presentations to politicians in Federal Parliament.
The Council of Greeks Abroad on the other hand is comprised of Federations of Greek community groups. Its aim is to be a consultative body to the Greek government on issues pertaining to Greeks living outside Greece, including pensions and ‘ethnika themata.’ I have attended conferences of the Council of Greeks Abroad on numerous occasions and recognise the potential of such a far-reaching in scope entity. However, I am yet to see how successive governments’ undertakings that any submissions made to it by SAE will be replied to within a few months lend that body any true consultative power.
Matters came to a head between these organisations when the AHC decided to exclude SAE representation from the second day of its annual Canberrian deliberations. This prompted a letter by SAE president George Angelopoulos to the Greek edition of this publication, in which he outlined what he saw to be negative characteristics of the AHC. In particular, he opined that the AHC seems to be comprised of individuals rather than of organisations and was thus not truly representative of the Greek-Australian community.
Both the AHC and SAE are based upon the premise that community organisations are the best institutions to represent the interests of the community. However, it is questionable whether in this day and age, organisations based on which region of Greece one comes from, with a declining membership based mostly on the first generation can validly claim they represent the community. Important factors such as gender, sexuality, career orientation, education, socio-economic position, political beliefs and cultural interests which are increasingly diverse among Greek-Australians are certainly not adequately addressed by such parochial organisations. Furthermore, the vast majority of the community is either un-affiliated to or do not take part in the activities of such organisations.
It is rare for representatives of community organisations who participate in the activities of SAE or the AHC to have received a mandate by their membership for the promotion of certain policies. These seem to be determined on an ad hoc basis by the representatives themselves, in deliberations with their counterparts. Further, such positions as are determined are narrow in scope and with some notable exceptions, we seem at a loss as to how to promote them within the mainstream effectively and as a united front. Instead, individuals who have “connections” seem to be the driving force of our communal efforts.
Considering that our community structure is archaic and conservative, it remains to be seen whether other, more representative conciliar bodies will evolve to represent our interests in the future. For the moment, we must do with what we have and urge all such bodies to work harmoniously and take efforts to go out to the people, isten to them, ascertain their needs and consult with them. What is noteworthy, however, given our innate conciliarity, stemming from the fact that in a community that was socially level ab initio, everyone feels that their opinion is important and should be taken into account in decision making processes, is the fact that Greek-Australians lament the absence of a charismatic ‘leader’ who will lead the Greeks out of the wilderness of impotence and assimilation, and into the promised land of continuity and dynamism. Our longing for a Hellenic messiah while our ageing consiglieri contemporaneously seek to cull the tall poppies that emerge within our conciliar organisations proves that the primeval reconciliation between tyrant and tyrannicide has not yet taken place.
Grantland Rice once opined that: “All wars are planned by old men in rooms apart.” At this stage of our community development, we cannot afford any further internecine strife. Diatribe leaves you this week with the following chilling observation on conciliarity by the arch-tyrant himself, Hitler: “There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons, and the word ‘council’ must be restored to its original meaning. Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man.”

First published in NKEE on 21 September 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009


Having only recently moved into new offices, my partner and I surveyed our new domain with the proprietorial air of a feudal seigneur. Desks, photocopiers, printers, bookshelves and filing cabinets stood mutely before us, shiny and new, pledging their allegiance and obedience to us for all time. The smell of reconstituted office furniture timber truly is an intoxicating one. Drawers, polished to a brilliant sheen that once despoiled by the touch of the human hand can never be restored, half-open languidly, beckoning seductively with the promise of being stuffed full of files and other materials that can transport one to paradise.
As I re-arranged my pen holder for the thirteenth time, listing all the items that still needed to be arranged, I turned to my partner and said: "Do you know what we need to do? We need to arrange for an αγιασμό." I watched with bemusement as my partner turned various shades of crimson and then purple: "What? What on earth for?" he spluttered. "Isn't the idea of setting up shop in [insert obscenely expensive and pretentious non-Greek Melbourne suburb here] about launching ourselves as a corporate brand and disassociating ourselves from the ethnic taint? And you want to bring the priest in here? Seriously! What have priests ever done for us?" Thereupon, my partner being possessed of vast reserves of knowledge pertaining to Greek history, he launched upon a lengthy exposition of the peccadilloes of priests throughout the ages, with particular attention to the nefarious role played by them during the Greek revolution and the construction of the Modern Greek State, with such vehemence and gracefulness of poise, that he put Diatribe to shame.
Upon him regaining his composure, having spat out the last of his stores of bile and brimstone, I led him upstairs to the kitchen where I made him a Greek coffee. He threw himself into his padded leather chair, feeling the leather audibly exhale καημό and indignation and put the cup to his lips. A small sensuous slurp ensued and then a deep sigh: "Ah, this is the life," he exclaimed. "By the way," I informed him, as I meticulously swept away the last traces of icing sugar that had floated away from the plate of kourabiedes at the epicentre of the conference table, "the priest will be here next Thursday." Choking on a bolus of kourabie, my partner coughed: "Don't let him anywhere near me."
Father Anthony Cagnoni of Saint Haralambos church in Templestowe is an old friend and a phenomenon. Of Italian background, and possessed of a sunny Brisbane disposition, his metaphysical yearnings gradually led him to the Orthodox faith. Having served as a priest for a few years in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, he completed his theological training at Saint Andrews Theological College in Sydney and after briefly serving the Greek community in Sydney, has recently moved back to Melbourne.
To be in the company of the eminently approachable Father Anthony is a singular experience. Possessed of a razor sharp wit and amazing dexterity when it comes to turns of phrase, he exudes charisma in quantities that could make the faint hearted swoon. Further, his knowledge of things supernatural is as prodigious as it is encyclopaedic and one brings away from a simple conversation with him about everyday life, a wealth of information about the holy fathers, the saints and theologians' opinions.
My chief delight in him is his attitude to the place of the Greek language and culture within the Orthodox Church. He displays a remarkable sensitivity and deep knowledge and respect for the development of the Church within a Hellenic context. As such, and in contrast with other priests who have converted into Orthodoxy that one may find in other jurisdictions, and who invariably take an iconoclastic approach to the maintenance of what they term as "ethnic" culture in a universal church, Father Anthony has meticulously studied the tradition of the Church and understands that the Greek language is an inextricable part of its context. "Of course it is a preposterous idea to totally exclude English from services," he explains. "However, Greek has been part of the liturgy for two thousand years. It is significant and there are elements within it that truly cannot be conveyed through translation. For the purposes of a younger, Greek-Australia congregation, I like to conduct most of the liturgy in Greek, with perhaps the Gospel reading and the sermon in English."
When Father Anthony arrived on our doorstep on the Thursday in question, my usually voluble and expansive partner was overawed and silent. Striding into my office, Father Anthony discussed in excited tones how he was setting up chaplaincies for Greek-Australian students in Melbourne's universities and marvelling at how the Greek Church goes about its business quietly and unobtrusively, as compared to the machinations of purveyors of other doctrines. Then, assuming an air of awe-inspiring gravity, he stood up, placed his epitrachelion around his neck, lit the censer and commenced the blessing in perfect, melodiously beautiful Greek.
My partner stood upright with his head bowed as the father intoned the preliminary prayers, raising his eyebrows in surprise only upon hearing the discordant tones of my voice, chanting the laity's response. One of our Anglo-Saxon employees peered through the glass partition, into my office totally perplexed. Discussing his perplexity later, he reconstructed a scene whereby it appeared that my partner was standing in a corner, his head bowed like a naughty boy, while the priest and I were telling him off.
The epistle reading from Saint Paul, that accompanies the αγιασμό, excerpted from his epistle to the Thessalonians is a thought provoking one: "Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day...For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread." Now there is motivation for you.
It was just after the Gospel reading, when Father Anthony was dipping the basil into the holy water and sprinkling it around the office, when our hot-shot, "important" clients walked in the door. My partner, mortified, froze, not knowing what to do. Uninhibited by their presence, or indeed by the glances my partner and I were exchanging, Father Anthony walked out of my office, casting the agiasma around the premises, all the while chanting: «Σώσον Κύριε τον Λαόν σου.» Turning to the clients who were standing respectfully, if not a little puzzled, Father Anthony raised the basil and landed it squarely on their foreheads. One of them, an Orthodox Lebanese, made the sign of the cross respectfully, while the other, an Anglo-Saxon, accepted his ritual dowsing without protest.
As Father Anthony completed the blessing, he winked: "I cast some extra holy water towards the direction of the photocopier. After all, that's where most of the demons live." Ushering him out of the door, my partner turned to our clients and said: "Wow, I can still see the burn marks on your foreheads guys." Father Anthony stifled a chuckle.
Now, I am finding that the photocopier is working without a hitch. Furthermore, I am finding it difficult to swear or be nasty to my co-workers, given that sitting on the top shelf of my bookshelf, is the basil bouquet with which Father Anthony blessed the office. How long this blessed state will last I do not know. However my partner is now has a weighty tome of Byzantine Greek grammar on his desk that he takes sneak peaks at when he thinks I'm not looking. Diatribe leaves you this week blessed and ready to fight the good fight with a legal question: Who do we sue if the blessing does not lead to increased profits? My money is on the photocopier.


First published in NKEE on 14 September 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009


It was John Wooden who first observed that “sports do not build character – they reveal it.” Considering that it was the ancient Greeks who, if they did not invent it, certainly institutionalised sport – they made it part of their religion and civil structure – much could be said about the character of that people. Indeed, we may possibly find the oldest literary evidence of sport in that ancient Greek Homeric epics, in the funeral games held by the Greeks for Patroclus.
Benjamin Franklin considered that sport lubricates the body and the mind and the ancient Greek maxim of a healthy mind in a healthy body has been with us for millennia. Kalos, our word for good, originally meant beautiful and was applied to the human form. The Greek celebration of the beauty of the human form has its offshoot not only in sport but also in sculpture. Sport, a glorification of the perfection of the body and its innate capabilities was merely kinetic sculpture and this would account for the evolution of the tradition that had athletes compete sans loincloth. Contrary to common belief, new research suggests that unmarried girls were permitted to view athletes undraped in order that they too could appreciate the body beautiful with all its working parts in order. In a bizarre documentary about the Olympic Games I once saw, it was held that only married women were restricted from viewing nude, oiled up youths from competing in sports so as to spare flabby, aged husbands unnecessary strain and embarrassment. This theory is not as far fetched as it seems. Even today, the majority of Greek-Australian males in a relationship will hesitate to bring their partners with them to view the football or soccer. Television, with its capacity for close-ups and replay is considered more insidious and one can tell that a relationship has moved on to either a secure level or one of mutual disinterest when such insecurity becomes immaterial.
In ancient Greece, a land of extremely culturally diverse, individualistic and often squabbling city states, athletes were able to meet, ostensibly to worship Zeus but primarily to meet and compete, seeking excellence not only in surpassing their competitors but also themselves. It says much for the Greek view of sport then, that throughout the duration of such Games, hostilities between participating states would cease. Perhaps the upcoming Panhellenic Games could have a similar soothing effect among the warring tribes of the parochial Greek community. Sport was definitely about winning, for this brought about immortal glory and a lot of friends and tax breaks back home, but the ultimate victory was attaining excellence itself.
Through sport, especially the Olympic Games, the Greek people were able to define themselves as a people by excluding others from participation. In an act that has caused us no end of grief, some misguided Olympic hellanodikae whose lands were threatened by Macedonian expansion sought to exclude the participation of the Macedonian King Alexander I on the grounds that he was a barbarian. Eventually, a proper Heraclid pedigree having been established for him, the somewhat disgruntled king was permitted to take part. It must be his aspirations that our northern neighbours copy. There is a 1940’s photo suggesting that they are especially proficient at the high jump, as it depicts residents of Skopje jumping for joy as they are liberated by the Bulgarian army. As an aside, the acts of the hellanodikae should not shock us. The vast majority of Greek club constitutions exclude members on the basis of regional descent. I remember as a teenager attending a general meeting of an islander organisation where it was debated that non-islanders should be excluded from the committee as in years to come, if strict quarantine laws were not followed, the president signing the letters of the organisation may end up being Mehmed Mahmud. Interestingly enough, no one seemed to ponder why Mehmed Mahmud would want to be bothered with this brotherhood in the first place and I recently attended a bizarre meeting of a Pontian organisation where the membership of persons with non-Pontian sounding names was called into question.
This insularity is what Victorian Minister for Sport and Youth affairs Mr James Merlino was referring to when, at the launch of the Council for Greeks Abroad’s Panhellenic Games, of which he his patron, he asked: “What is an Italian doing as patron of these most Hellenic of Games?” My riposte referred him to ancient Greek opportunism. During the Roman conquest, in an effort to appease the conquerors, hellanodikae dropped their racial criteria for participation and permitted the Romans to compete in the Olympics. They even went so far as to award Nero with the olive wreath crown, despite the fact that he had lost control of his chariot during his race and Minister Merlino’s participation in the Games should be viewed in like context. Sadly, the Minister shrugged off my invitation to join me in reviving the ancient Greek custom of rubbing our modern Panhellenic athletes down with olive oil and other exciting unguents.
Games have continued to play a vital role in Greek culture since ancient times. During the Ottoman occupation, freedom fighter, unable to stand the religious and racial intolerance of the Sultan’s regime, retreated to the mountains where, along with fighting a war of resistance, they engaged in competing with each other in the commission of amazing feats of strength. For them, and the modern Greek, sport is not just about excellence or glory. It is about freedom – the freedom that comes from knowing that with enough willpower and determination, one can achieve anything.
It is this proud sporting tradition that the Greek community brings to sports-mad Melbourne. Melbourne is a Greek city not only because it is sister to Thessaloniki and to a large Greek population but also because it is an Olympic city and thus partakes in the values and ideals of sport that have been cultivated for aeons. Greek-Australian athletes, among them gold-medallists like Michael Diamond, footballers like Steve Malaxos, Ange Christou and Anthony Koutoufides and even sporting gurus such as Lou Richards have all made enduring contributions to Australian sport.
For this reason, the Greek community should be exceedingly proud of the launch of the Panhellenic Games, which shall be held between 27-29 November this year, in multicultural, sporting Melbourne. What better way for young Greek Australians to celebrate the glorious tradition that underwrites both Greek and Australian culture – that of sporting competition. While Panhellenic means all the Greeks, the organising committee adopts a more benign interpretation of the term, one that defines Greeks not by race, but by an individual’s belief in fairness, tolerance, democracy and excellence (and voting for the right SAE president?). To this effect, the vast majority of sport loving Australians are Greek and the Panhellenic Games pay homage to them. This is after all, what the Council of Greeks Abroad should be all about – transcending cultural differences and creating close bonds of friendship between Greece and all those nations that Greek diasporans call home. We have a saying: όπου γης και πατρίς and our adherence to our most venerable traditions, such as sport and our willingness to share and celebrate them in this tolerant and vibrant multicultural polis underlies our commitment to Australia.
For all those budding or aspiring athletes aged between 18-30, a perusal of the Panhellenic Games facebook page, or the SAE Oceania website ( is a worthy endeavour as there are a vast array of events that promise to challenge and titillate contestants and observers alike.
George Orwell may have believed that: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all the rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting,” but I am positive he must have chanced upon a Greek community annual general meeting and mistook that for sport instead. Instead, having exhorted all and sundry to make the Panhellenic Games the success they rightfully deserve to be, I prefer this, from Howard Cosell: “Sports is the toy department of human life.” Let the Games begin.


First published in NKEE on 7 September 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Last week, I was asked to speak at the dual launch of the NUGAS National Magazine, entitled Epimetheus and its Victorian counterpart, Paradigm. Both these magazines are beautifully presented, with thought-provoking content matched for fervour only by the enthusiasm of their editorial committee. Their launch took place at the Hellenic Museum, and its holding was a source of some pride for me, as an ex-NUGAS member. Entering the hallowed halls of the venue, I pontificated in jocular fashion as follows:
“I am advised and verily believe that some of you have expressed profound reservations as to my presence here today, so I am grateful for your indulgence. The pleasure of being here among you is indeed moderate, to say the least.
I'd like to preface my remarks this evening by quoting one of the NUGAS greats, the august Jack Miriklis, by establishing my credentials from the outset. I am a NUGAS life member and value this accomplishment, along with my possession of an i-pod full of Mongolian throat signing songs more than anything in the world.
I am dispassionately enthused at the publication of the new NUGAS national magazine which you described in your invite as "Epithemus." I am of the persuasion that in the coining of this title, NUGAS is creating linguistic history as this is a word that does not appear in any Greek dictionary I have had the inane curiosity to consult. The closest one comes to find an equivalent is the word «Επίθυμος» with an ypsilon, which means to dodder, or walk unsteadily. Now Ι don't know whether this expresses a subliminal deep-seated anxiety about the current direction or management of NUGAS, or rather, and I tend towards this latter explanation, an accurate description of NUGAS members faculties and physical capacity after an intense NUGAS night. Either way, its an interesting word.
"Epithemus," also onomatopoeically approaches the word "Epimetheus" which is the true title of the publication. You may remember from NUGAS mythology that the two sons of Iapetus, were Prometheus - forethought, depicted as wise and knowledgeable and Epimetheus, who was afterthought and considered foolish. What this tells us about NUGAS' corporate decision making I leave to your own imagination but I can say that afterthought and hindsight best describes the way NUGAS was run in my time. Epimetheus of course was married to Pandora, the archetypal bimbo of Greek mythology and I'm sure there is a lesson in that for all of us.
I come now to Paradigm, the Victorian affiliate magazine. Paradigm, of course, is a composite word formed from para- and the verb δείκνυμι "to show". In Greek it means an example, but in English it denotes a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind - that is an ideology or world view. It is a publication close to my heart because I once wrote in it and you can still pick out bits and pieces of Greek words amidst all the clubber of the week photographs. It was writing on behalf of NUGAS, in the then NUGAS column in Neos Kosmos for three years, which finally morphed into the Diatribe column that the Greek community finally came to a shocking realisation: that not only do we have opinions, but also are articulate enough to express these in a coherent form - regardless of the fact that these happen to be my own.

Taking a stand in print I think, is one of the most important things an organisation like NUGAS can do. NUGAS is after all that funny thing- a historical aberration in the Greek community. The structure of our community is as follows: There are the senior brotherhoods, organised on the basis of region, and their kiddy affiliates, which are generally dependant upon them and mostly have no power or effect. NUGAS however, is different. It is an independent youth entity that stands above the petty inter-communal politics that has seen our community slowly disappear up its own fundamental orifice of fragmentation. I am proud to have attempted to uphold that independent tradition. After all, I am the author of a NUGAS policy, that if you believe the former SAE Youth president and his mindless masticating minions, supports Albanian criminals.
Two challenges face NUGAS into the future by virtue of its very nature. Because it arises from the Greek community but is not really of it - it risks the danger of becoming isolated and irrelevant and two, because we are after all second and third generation Greeks, and as such we are constantly compelled not only to identify and understand an identity given to us by our parents secondhand, but also to continuously reassess that identity in the ever changing Australian social fabric.
In this NUGAS has acquitted itself admirably so far, despite various hiccups. Maybe thinking that we can maintain the relevance of students identifying themselves as Greek down the generations may be seen as futile as Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but all of those who have been granted a glimpse of goings on at NUGAS conventions and have been scarred for life, know that anything is possible, no matter how horrendous and yet strangely fascinating.
You really can't appreciate how important is for there to be a Greek presence of university campuses. It is at the crucial university stage that people will associate with each other, perhaps fall in love, but invariably fornicate. And after all that is what brings in more NUGAS members does it not?
NUGAS affiliates in each campus provide a rallying point for socialisation. Acculturation of course is another issue but sincere and passionate efforts are being made. NUGAS, through the efforts of Mr Angelopoulos was instrumental in bringing back the study of the Greek language at Monash. Some people bring sexy back. Nugas now brings Modern Greek back. Congratulations Mr Angelopoulos, you are the new Justin Xylolimnis - that's Timberlake to the uninitiated.
Recently there was the excellent Latrobe bakesale and now NUGAS assisting Father Anthony Cagnoni, an English speaking Greek Orthodox priest from Agios Haralambos to establish chaplaincies in as many universities as possible. He is currently setting up at RMIT and will then set up at Latrobe. He is anxious to bless all members as they embark upon their final exams. This is a good thing. Before, NUGAS only had μέσον with Travlos [former NUGAS president]. Now, NUGAS has μέσον with God.

Groucho Marx once observed that he refused to join a club that would accept him as a member. I joined NUGAS in my first year of uni after seeing one NUGAS stalwart, Sasha Pete parade around Melbourne Uni draped in a Greek flag. I looked for that flag every lunchtime, because I knew that congregated around it, would be a bunch of like-minded, slightly demented people who have scarred me but also inspired me for life. You can take the boy out of NUGAS, but you can never take NUGAS out of the boy - no matter how strenuously Peter Travlos bends you over and tries.
Which brings me to my last point. We "alumni" love NUGAS. NUGAS represents a period in our lives where we faced an innumerable array of possibilities and choices. As you get older, successive doors of choice close slowly in your face. At that time, we believed that the world was our oyster and that we were pearls within it. We could do anything and most often, we did. It is up to you to make the NUGAS experience worthwhile and to enjoy it to its fullest extent. It unites people in the most uncanny of ways. And after you graduate, continue your commitment, whenever you can - it pays dividends in unexpected forms.
Finally in closing, apart from announcing that the former NUGAS national president is pregnant and that I'm the mother of his love-child, I want to pay tribute to the current NUGAS executive, except for those I can't stand.
I'd like to leave you now with the slogans that made the NUGAS experience so rich in meaning for our lives, in logical sequence:
-NUGAS is for lovers;
-Do it for NUGAS; and finally, quoting the great Sasha Pete,
-Sit on your eggs.”
NUGAS has come a long way. Proving the stereotype that it is at best, a mere nyfopazaro, I was titillated to learn that recently, dedicated NUGAS members visited elderly members of our community at a Greek aged care facility and read poems by Cavafy to them. They were enthralled, listening to stories by old but hale and vibrant residents, of old Alexandria, the Second World War and life in White Australia. In developing this level of maturity, NUGAS has definitely come of age. Εις ανώτερα λοιπόν, and may NUGAS long continue to serve as a focal point for Greek-Australian students and service their multifarious needs.


First published in NKEE on 1 September 2009