Saturday, March 31, 2012


"Why is it called a march?" my nephew asked as I passed a kaltsodeta around his foot and secured it under his bestockinged knee. "Well it involves marching down St Kilda Road to the Shrine," I offered, "and most importantly, it takes place in March."
"I suppose that makes sense,"
he sighed, as I took my silver kiousteki with the relief carved image of St George and secured it carefully on his chest. He stood up, clapped a flat black Epirote cap on his head and looked in the mirror. "Hey, I'm a freedom fighter," he exclaimed.
Twenty five years ago, when the annual Greek Independence Day March commenced at Collins Street and confidently marched its way down to the replica of the Mausoleum that serves as Melbourne's war memorial, amidst the cheers and applause of tens of thousands of Greeks, and the painful grimaces of press-ganged, self-conscious school children, mortally embarrassed at being compelled to parade in public, clad in skirts, and vowing silently that they would never suffer such indignity again, it would have been inconceivable to imagine that a quarter of a century later, it would commence at the foot of the Shrine, to the muted cheers of an ever decreasing and ever ageing crowd of onlookers.
It would also be inconceivable to imagine that the participants of the March, those beneficiaries of our hardy and inspiring ancestors' bold undertaking for freedom and dignity in the face of religious and racial intolerance, could be anything other than Greek and yet non-Greeks abounded at this year's parade. Having found my fellow members of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia only minutes before, I was accosted by a frantic Chinese lady, towing her visibly distressed foustanella-clad son, possessed of similar facial features. "Is this number twenty seven? Where do I go? Where do I go?"
Unlike most of their contemporaries in age, my nephews seem to be blissfully oblivious of the fact that in dressing in a short cotton skirt and parading themselves down the expanse of St Kilda Road, that they could be exposing themselves to ridicule. And though they have had their fill of stories about the exploits of Greek revolutionary superheroes, in an age of internet and computer gaming, these fail to inspire in the way that they once may have. Further, my nephews are Assyrian and their own history is peppered with more martyrs, heroes and forlorn hopes than they could ever possibly learn about in a lifetime. Yet come March, they don clothes that they would otherwise never be seen dead in, join a group of people whose language they don't understand and march with them to honour a concept that they do understand - that of freedom.
For Australian-born Greeks, the significance of the Greek revolution can seem remote, the tales of Ottoman persecution, of slaughter and degradation gratuitous and the swashbuckling exploits of the freedom-fighters far-fetched and mythic. However, for Australian-born Assyrians, whose parents have endured exactly the same type of persecution, not in 1821 but in the nineties and the twenty first century, the quality of freedom, the necessity of safety, of the strong family, community and ethnic unit whose cohesiveness will facilitate survival no matter the heinousness of the tribulations they face - these are things that they do understand for they form part of their family and personal history. Then again, there is also the fact that when I relate to them the exploits my great-grandmother's indomitable ancestors who came from the mountain fastnesses of Souli, they squirm and giggle, especially in the particularly poignant parts in the story, such as the sacrifice of the women at Zalongo, who fell to their deaths in order to escape defilement at the hands of their enemies. As it turns out, Souli signifies something unmentionable in Assyrian and thus is a culturally incompatible example of the main point.
The above notwithstanding, those of us who treat the Independence Day March as yet another empty ritual, tired and tattered in our repetition of it year after year, and totally devoid of significance except as a way of justifying our own existence to ourselves, totally fail to see its vast significance to the world. The realisation of the Greek Revolution served as a clarion call to all oppressed peoples of the world, but especially to the Christians of the Balkans and Anatolia that they no longer had to endure their status as second class citizens, subject to the whims of people who felt (and in the Middle East often still feel), that they could treat others as refuse, on the basis of their religion, but had a right to self-determination and dignity. Even more significantly, it came at time, after the Napoleonic Wars, when the reactionary World Powers were determined to stamp out all nationalistic or other revolts in Europe. The Greek flame of freedom became a conflagration that swept through the Balkans. It also dispelled the stereotype of the Greek Christian as an impotent, obsequious, cringing raya, replacing in its stead the steely, indomitable, uncompromising and wilful free Hellene, who through by sheer force of will could surmount all obstacles and was capable of any and all sacrifices for the sake of the nation. It is this stereotype that can, better than all others give hope and provide inspiration to the dispossessed Greeks who feel impotent in the face of the crisis their country is currently experiencing. Rather than justifiably lamenting their fate, they can learn from their ancestors' example in order to achieve and complete their vision for Greece. This too accounts for the hearty applause by ageing members of the Greek community at our march. They see their offspring marching in the clothes of their ancestors and are reassured, at least for a brief moment, that the future is secure and the event they all fear is a long way off.
For that is the other thing about the Greek Revolution. It hasn't ever finished, nor will it ever do so. Our revolt was not solely about discarding the shackles of the oppressor. It was also about realising a vision of the Greeks as a nation of excellence and brilliance. This, then is an on-going concern and it is one in which we are all stakeholders, even here in the Antipodes. The proof is our continued struggle to retain our particular cultural and linguistic identity in the face of insidious odds and our inherited sense of mission that stems from the time of Saint Kosmas. Deep down, in the abysmal places our sub-consciousness knows not, we want to be Greek and brilliant. For after all, anything that is not brilliant cannot be Greek, but rather a crude imitation, what Saint Kosmas called «το ψευτο-ρωμέϊκο,» and unworthy of our sense of mission.
As we marched last week in full regalia, in honour of our ancestors, a lady turned around in front of us and looked my nephews up and down several times. Then turning to her companion she asked: "Look at these lovely Ελληνόπουλα, how proudly they march. But do you think that chap with the glasses is Greek? He looks nothing like one." The ψευτο-ρωμέϊκο is everywhere and nowhere and it is up to us to find it. No matter how few of us are left in the future, no matter our race, or the camber of the twists of our tongues, when we march in the footsteps of the 1821 Revolutionaries in Melbourne, rest assured o ancestors that the ψευτο-ρωμέϊκο is not with us, but rather with those who turned away, who abandoned the path midway and instead, embraced the shadows of oblivion. Or at least with those who picked up their kids immediately after they marched past and vacated the Shrine, leaving only a smattering to witness the speeches of the dignitaries and the signing of the National Anthems. Και του Χρόνου.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 31 March 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dreams of Clay, Drops of Dew: The life work of Dina Amanatides

"Tonight a candle came alight/ in my soul, burning for all of us./ Atonement for the actions of the powerful!/ For Peace, who mourns and wails!" Bitter Resurrection, Dina Amanatides
In a recent letter to me, Dina Amanatides, commented upon the importance of social activism and the necessity of campaigning for a better, more humane and harmonious world through poetry. As I read through her letter, executed in handwriting as intricate and beautiful as lacework, I was transported to a dreary and rainy Sunday afternoon of my youth. Seated in a crowded lecture theatre, half-listening to a writer from Greece ramble interminably about subjects I lacked the vocabulary to understand, I looked on disinterestedly as a lady with large glasses and even larger hair mounted the podium. With low, halting diction, she proceeded to recite a poem she had written about Northern Epirus so movingly, that it took my breath away. Her words: "Life without Freedom, is no life at all," echo within my memory to the present day and I would partly ascribe my abiding interest in Northern Epirus, to that Sunday afternoon.
Yet Dina Amanatides cannot be relegated only to the reciting of a poem of singular beauty some twenty-four years ago. She is one of the first post-war Greek-Australian women poets and writers in Melbourne, her work appearing in Greek newspapers and magazines in Australia as far back as 1958. A large corpus of her literary output deals with the problems of immigration - the pain of longing for a lost home country and way of life, juxtaposed against the optimism of settling in a new land, seizing opportunities and learning to deal with prevailing conditions in Australia. Due to the fact that her writings provided the migrant Greek community with a point of reference, consolation and encouragement, her work has been overwhelmingly well received by the Greek-Australian community. Without a doubt she is one of our community's most recognised and influential poets, a veritable voice of a generation, as can be evidenced by the poem "Hot Wind of Assimilation," where she writes: "My friend, here in the Antipodes/ the indolent summer comes late./ Cocooned in the memories of youth/ we have remained faithful to our nostalgia/ for our homeland," only to continue: "Memory is a knife that cuts."
Quite apart from expressing the innermost conflicts and emotions of an uprooted generation, Dina is also important historically. Hitherto, the passions, nostalgia and trauma of migration and the literature they have inspired have largely been the preserve and addressed to the first generation. Through Konstandina Dounis' recent excellent English translation of Dina Amanatides' "Dreams of Clay, Drops of Dew, her sensitivity, humanity and perspicacity have now become available to the latter generations as an important and accessible aspect of their heritage, granting them, a unique insight into the attitudes of their forebears. In many cases, her unique perspective is refreshing, as it transmutes the titanic pioneering figures who founded our community, into more intelligible, human figures, with faults and foibles, whose works and labours are not granted the permanency they expected of them in their youth. Thus, in "Dreams of Clay," she laments: "Our dreams are dust and tears,/ transformed into decaying clay/ by life's bitter knife-edge, tearing away at our existence.... The azure of the sea mocks us,/ for seeking relief/ travelling out of Greek waters... We created dreams of clay/ that dissolved at the first/ tremor of disappointment."
Candid and simultaneously iconoclastic, this poem shatters the myth that would see our adopted homeland as the Promised Land. The metoikesis here has been a difficult one, and those of the first generation that have the courage and introspection to do so, are able, along with the joys and successes, to also tally up their lost dreams and disappointments. Some of these, can be found within the second generation, though Dina Amanatides only hints at these in the most delicate of ways, for if anything, she is not preachy. Mostly, she views her generation as one that has been heinously hard done by, a generation for whom ideals and ideologies were mere obstacles in the gritty struggle for mere survival: "Don't talk to me about Paradise./ I drag Hell within me from my childhood days./ The reason? The Tyrant War that burnt our souls." This succinct thought is key to an understanding of the psychology of the first generation. Dina Amanatides does not try to overcome or justify the past. She merely serves to expose its unspoken effects upon an entire community: "The past has become petrified/ within my memory,/ so much so, that I've become a piteous fossil." Much of her work also concerns social problems such as isolation, drug abuse and serves as a cry of protest and despair against a world increasingly centered upon profit, rather than human warmth. In "Creation," which could be described as her poetic manifesto, she outlines how indignation at the state of society can inspire her: "The tears have stopped!/ Despair/ has now/ become poetry."
Certainly inspiration is not something that Dina Amanatides lacks, having published six poetry collections, six collections of scattered thoughts, five collections of short stories and a play. However, her literary talent has not been restricted solely to her own work. Along with her husband and inseparable sidekick Kyriakos, she has launched many books of poetry and prose in the Greek language, thus contributing to the flourishing and promotion of Greek-Australian literature in the Antipodes. Even when she is not presenting or launching books, her presence at such launches, coupled with her subversive and uproariously amusing comments and observations renders such events infinitely more enjoyable.
Further, given her legendary accessibility it is not uncommon that aspiring, and even established writers, seek her advice on the drafts of their work, before they submit them for publication. Dina Amanatides thus acts as a mentor to younger aspiring poets in both the Greek and English languages. I personally have been the recipient of her sage advice and I will never forget that the first time my own work was presented to the community was through her literary program, along with Kyriakos Amanatides, on 3XY Radio Hellas. Lately, she is encouraging me to delve into more traditional forms of poetry. Given that the injunction comes from a master of the art, resistance is futile.
Recently, Dina Amanatides has been awarded an Order of Australia, in recognition of her significance to this country and her literary work. While no awards can ever quantify the value of one so invaluable and intrinsic to the fabric of our community, it is well deserved and a singular honour for our community. I would venture to opine that two further awards must necessarily be given: One from the Greece, for as the poet herself states: "Greece is not just land,... it is the inextinguishable spark/ that the Greeks of the Diaspora carry with them.." and she is certainly proof of that. (Incidentally, the Greek government would have done well to heed a warning provided in one of her scattered thoughts,: "Without the drachma,/ Greece loses her cultural identity.../ She becomes a puppet/ in the hands of the powerful/ and the profiteers. In the end, it will be the Euro/ that will annihilate us."
The second award, the one she would undoubtedly enjoy the most, being that rare thing, a true poet of the people, is the love and undying gratitude of the first generation and the emergence of a second generation willing to study and understand her works for what they are - an uninhibited and honest confession of emotions. This reward, as expressed in a recent tribute to her work organized by the Greek Australian Cultural League, is one that she has already been reaping for a long time, and will no doubt continue to do so for decades hence. As the alpha and omega of community poetry herself points out: "Only in the Greek language does the verb 'to love'/ begin with the first letter of the alphabet/ and end with the last letter."


First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 March 2012

Saturday, March 17, 2012


“Our race is a great one. We have just been unlucky not to have proper leaders.” “Unfortunately our community is going to pot. There is no leadership. If only one gifted, charismatic individual would appear who could lead us down the path to greatness.” If you are remotely connected to the organised Greek community, then chances are that you have heard the abovementioned sentiments, expressed in manifold terms, a plethora of times, especially by worried members of the first generation who view both their homeland’s plight, along with the imminent dissolution of the organised Greek community in their adopted homeland, as a consequence of poor, unenlightened and self-interested leadership. As a corollary to this despair, is the fervent hope that somehow, at sometime, a messianic figure will arise, who will gather the squabbling, undisciplined multitudes and weld them into a lean, determined and great mass that will realise the true potential of the Greek people. “Who is this” asks Isaiah, in the Old Testament, “that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” The conceptual leap from the spiritual or temporal Anointed One of the Abrahamic religions certainly seems to form the basis of the conception of the cultural and political Greco-Messiah, who (hopefully) is to come and constitute the solution to all our woes, for as the Leader, he will have all the answers. For if Isaiah foretold that the Messiah " shall set up a banner for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth," our Ηγέτης shall in one firm stroke, resolve the Cyprus and Macedonia disputes in our favour, replenish the diminished coffers of the Greek economy, unite the dispersed and outcast tribes of Greek community organisations and make us a people to be feared, respected, placated and flattered at any given opportunity, while at the same time, turning all of our children into Greek-speaking doctors, lawyers and other respectable bourgeois professionals.
What is so charmingly paradoxical about our own brand of naieve Messianism, is that it flies clear in the face of our national character. Far from accepting leaders and seeking to freely obey them, we despise them, are contemptuous of their power, and constantly seek to undermine them. This is because (and here cue in stereotype number one for today), the Greek, by virtue of his immense love of freedom and overwhelming individualism, is essentially an anarchical figure that cannot willingly tolerate any form of authority over him for any protracted period of time. This after all, is the reason why democracy was invented – it offered to the Athenian Greeks, who could not accept the monarchical rule of tyrants, or the ideology of their superiority, the only acceptable form of compromise government for an individualistic people: one where all citizens would be treated according to their own conception of their self-worth ie. That they were just as important as everyone else and that no one was intrinsically superior to them, thus giving all a stake and a right to determine public affairs in concert. People who tried to seize the reins of power, however gifted, such as Peisistratos, received exceedingly bad press, not because his policies or rule was particularly ineffectual, but rather because he had the temerity to set himself up over his fellow compatriots. Harmodios and Aristogeiton, the lovers who killed Peisistratos’ son Hipparchus in 514BC, were lauded as heroes and immortalised in marble as tyrannicides. As leader-killers, their memories would be invoked in 1906, when Stavros Baretis assassinated the prince of Samos Andreas Kopasis. For this act, he was celebrated as «ο νέος Αριστογείτων.» Even backward, Homeric ancient Greek kingdoms such as Epirus eventually came to realise that leaders, no matter whether they were as charismatic as Alexander the Great’s first cousin Pyrrhus who conquered southern Italy and Sicily and almost extinguished the power of Rome as well, were not suited to their temperament. Thus, in 233BC, they murdered the last descendant of Alexander the Great’s mother’s family, Deidamia and established the Epirotic Federation, along with a parliament. As its secretary, I would love to delude myself into thinking that the Panepirotic Federation of Australia is a direct descendant of this august state yet I know this is not so. It is though perhaps telling, that currently in Australia, there are two like named Federations, as doverse organisations broke from the first, because they did not agree with its leaders’ politics.
The constant and continuous dethronement of emperors during Byzantium, along with the degeneration into civil war in the aftermath of the 1821 Revolution, as disparate power brokers such as the Maniot Mavromihalaioi refused to yield power to the central government of Kapodistrias, merely proves that the inherited prejudice runs deep. Of the Greek kings imposed upon the renascent Greek state by the Foreign Powers, Otto I, was deposed in 1862, his successor, George I was assassinated in 1913, Constantine I was deposed twice, his son Alexander was dispatched in 1920 by a particularly democratic Greek monkey, his brother George II was deposed in 1924, though later recalled, and his grandson, Constantine the II was deposed in 1975. Indeed, of all the modern kings of Grece, only Paul I’s reign passed without incident. This at least hints at the manner in which Greeks view their leaders. If we were to proceed to view the roller-coaster careers of such controversial politicians as Venizelos, Metaxas, Karamanlis x 2 and Papandreou x 3, the rule would be proved rather more evidently.
That is not to say that would be leaders are difficult to find among the Greeks. While we will not tolerate anyone viewing us as their inferior, because our sense of self-worth is so particularly prized, we display no apparent difficulty in having others consider us as superior, fonts of all wisdom and consequently imposing our will upon them. Throughout Greek history, and the microcosm of the organised Greek community, which because it has been run as a small collection of city states, disconcertingly mirrors the historical development of its prototype, there has been no shortage of such leaders. The problem, however, is that there has also been no shortage of other would-be leaders, ready to obstruct the imposition of their opponent’s will upon the populace, in order to impose their own. This summarizes in no small part, the history of Byzantium. The example of Alcibiades the Athenian, who, exiled from Athens, first aided Sparta and then the Persians against his homeland, also illustrates another aspect of the Greek furherprizip, namely, that a thwarted would-be leader, when bested, often turns against the institution he would so lovingly lead, conspiring to achieve its downfall or, galloping off into shadows, there to found a rival organisation that will teach his rivals a lesson or two.
Mature communities or states dispense with the need for charismatic ‘leaders.’ This country has not enjoyed them for some time. Instead, it is adherence to the system, a structure of shared and common values that best guarantees the success and viability of such states or institutions. Greece and the Greek community should be no different. No Greek leader has or will ever have the panacea for all our ills. Yet for generations, Greek people have sat back, abjuring responsibility for governance in their vital interests, expecting others to bear that heavy burden alone and blaming them when they fail or are seen to do so, just as self-appointed community pundits here may criticise the Antipodes Festival, without ever lending a hand or suggesting practical solutions to perceived problems.
Our problem then, is not one of leadership. It is one of general apathy, of irresponsibility and hypocrisy, whereby we either exploit existing structures in order to create strife and further our own egotistical fantasies of domination, or divest ourselves of our stake in our own community, all the while paying lip service to ideals we generally espouse in principle only and not in practice, in the expectation that others will ensure the community’s survival to our satisfaction. Either way, the current situation of both the homeland and our own community have proven the bankruptcy of such an approach. If there is hope of arresting terminal decline, it lies in a broad, grassroots community identification and espousal of the values and aspiration that define it and a commitment to, rather than an abuse of, the structures that have been founded to further these. In short, it is to the equality-loving, individual-empowering model of Athenian democracy, where one’s commitment and service to the state was a pre-requisite of citizenship that we should look, if we truly care about the survival of our current institutions.
That of course takes time and consensus building is difficult. Diatribe on the other hand, has all the answers to any problem you could possibly imagine, delivered to you every Saturday. Submit therefore to its superior authority and watch it set you on the path of righteousness in order to propel you towards a future of grandeur. Do it, for your children, for your community, for your country. Do it, or else....


First published in NKEE on Satuday, 17 March 2012

Sunday, March 11, 2012


You could always tell the neofermenoi apart from other Greek Australians in the eighties and nineties. Invariably, they were much louder and confident than their more acculturated counterparts. As recent arrivals, they were generally held in high esteem and as they had a more recent and direct link with the motherland, their opinions were actively sought and considered authoritative on diverse issues, simply by virtue of the fact that they spoke pure, uninflected Greek, unsullied by dialectical adulterations or the interpolation of English vocabulary. They would be interrogated on all aspects of Greek life, the prime motivation of the interlocutors being to establish that people in Greece were still in a state of semi-starvation, persisting from the conclusion of the Civil War. Having established that this was not the case, the largely elderly interlocutors would grumble under their breaths about these largely urbanised, non-agrarian neofermenoi being know it alls, of dubious morality and considerably lacking in tradition.

Nowadays, within the context of an increasingly pluralistic, diverse and more populous society, the Greek community is less tightly organised and infinitely more integrated within its broader workings and thus, it is relatively more difficult to spot the more recent arrivals from the motherland, who have settled here in the wake of the social and financial upheavals plaguing that hapless nation. I tend to identify them, in supermarkets and on the streets, only through the lilting, and heart-warming voices of their children speaking the impossibly perfect Greek, the attainment of which, for their Greek-Australian counterparts, was a parental dream now long abandoned. Many of these are families that already have the privilege of Australian citizenship and have already established family connections. Others, are here on student visas or tourist visas, with tenuous or no family connections to Australia. All experience varying degrees of difficulty in acclimatising to the culture and attitudes of Australian society.

There exists within all generations of our community, a prevailing prejudice, cultivated through the viewing of mind-numbing Greek reality television programmes, coupled with negative experiences during visits to the homeland, that the Greeks of Greece are lazy, rude, narrow-minded, arrogant and selfish. According to the abovementioned prejudice, these attributes render them the authors of their own destruction and consequently, their country is deserving of its fate. Many Greek-Australians, especially elderly ones, do not hesitate to express such opinions in the various community media and are often, when meeting one of their newly arrived compatriots, are tactless enough to express such sentiments to their faces. In the large part, this prejudice is innocuous. It is merely the manifestation at the frustration and disappointment of people who have an immense love and pride for their motherland and have been consoled by the doctrines of its national mythology which hold the Greek people to be singular and remarkable, now witnessing their beloved country at a particularly low point in its fortunes.
Such an ebb however, invariably entices the least perceptive to make unfavourable comparisons between their own self-considered fortuitous situation as compared to that of their native brethren. As a result, what may be emerging is a distinct and articulated, particular Greek-Australian identity, with its own values, stereotypes and founding myths, separate though not disconnected to the rest of Hellenicity. Only time will tell.

Conversely, the beginnings of a prejudice can be discerned among disaffected sections of the newly arrived community. According to some of them, the already existing Greek-Australians are selfish, uncaring and or indifferent to their plight at best and at worst, are downright exploitative. Some of these prejudices have a basis in fact. One recently arrived friend has complained to me about his Greek neighbour, contemporary in age, who barely speaks to him. In this case, what my friend fails to realise is that many second and third generation Greeks who have limited Greek language skills feel intimidated by Greek speakers and thus communication is impeded. The prejudice has been further compounded by hysterical and inaccurate representations by members of the local community, as to abuses and mistreatment of new arrivals, which except for some odd and rare cases of exploitation by employers or so-called education providers, are largely incredible. These representations do more harm than good. A young man I met at the recent Antipodes Festival who had only arrived two days before was reluctant to take my card or ask for assistance as he had been told by Greeks-Australians all day that we are obsessed with in-fighting, despise the Greeks of Greece and are unwilling to assist them. It took me well on an hour to convince him that this is not so and Greek-Australians genuinely do care for their compatriots and do want to help.

Certainly this desire was omnipresent among the representatives of the community organisations that attended the meeting called by the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria a few weeks ago, in order to co-ordinate efforts to provide some basic assistance to new arrivals. At that meeting, the plethora of anecdotal evidence of compassionate members of our community taking it upon themselves, to feed, house, clothe, employ and assist new arrivals was as overwhelming as it was heart-warming. Most of these, members of the first generation, have a personal motivation for such philanthropy that is distinct from any feelings of cultural solidarity. So many decades on, they remember the despair and bewilderment accompanying their own migration and especially, those that helped them during the toughest of times and are eternally grateful. They are now moved by their own experience to help others.

Bill Papastergiadis, president of the GOCMV, is not a first generation Greek migrant. Yet true to his prescient vision of an all inclusive Greek community that transcends all political and cultural beliefs in order to embrace all the Greeks of Victoria and provide them with services, rather than being a redundant prediluvian ark of infighting, he has risen to the occasion, seeking practical ways in which to approach the current challenge. The fact that he has done so through the canvassing of a broad consensus of Greek community groups that are not members of the GOCMV, rather than jealously guard its activities to itself, as was previously the norm speaks volumes about the enlightened level of leadership our community currently enjoys and the potential for further co-ordination, which is sorely overdue, to meet other future challenges.

The GOCMV’s plan is simple but effective. Given that the Australian Greek Welfare Society already has the expertise and mechanisms to deal on a physical and emotional level with the needs of new arrivals, rather than create new structures or institutions, its work should be supported and augmented by the entire Greek community. To this end, Greek community organisations have been asked to pledge monetary support that will fund competent staff trained to assist on legal, social security, accommodation and employment matters. Private individuals are also encouraged to donate generously and so they should, for it is incumbent upon all of us to welcome and assist the new members of our community. Further, the GOCMV, through a process of lengthy, mature and considered consultation, is conferring with the Minister of Immigration with regard to achieving parity with other comparable nations in relation to the conditions of visas granted to Greek citizens. Such a sophisticated approach to these issues as is being taken by the GOCMV is laudable and truly does mark a new era in the history of that organisation and our community in general.

Regardless of inevitable cultural differences and foibles real or imagined, new arrivals from Greece are automatically members of our community and must be treated with respect and consideration. The much bandied about Greek concepts of filoxenia and filotimo that we take so much pride in as a people are ideologies to live by, not boast about. So if you happen to chance a across a new arrival in the street, or in a social setting, don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and offer, in the least, a smile and some empathy. Invite them into your homes and call after them to inquire how they are faring. And if you should be so fortunate as to strike up a friendship, consider yourselves the happiest of people. For such friendships exist for life, and you will be repaid a thousandfold.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 March 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012


One of the consequences of the Panepirotic Federation of Australia constructing a re-enactment of a traditional Epirotic home for the Antipodes Festival, complete with workable loom (and traditional woman working said loom), authentic traditional cooking pots and utensils, antique and valuable regional jewellery, ornate and authentic traditional costumes, plausible re-construction of a period bed including itchy flokati bed coverings, traditional wall and floor coverings, is that the people who entrust the said Federation with their prized heirlooms for display are loathe to allow then to be left unattended during the hiatus separating the frenzied revelry of the Saturday night and the promise of the festivities to come on Sunday afternoon.
As a result, it becomes incumbent on us stallholders, after our costumes have been packed away, (though in this year’s heat it was physically impossible for us to don our heavy, woollen costumes and compel unsuspecting and frightened Asian passersby to dance the tsamiko with us), to actually ensconce ourselves within our virtual home and sit out the night, steadfastly guarding our members’ inheritance.
To purport to sleep in a place where ordinarily a ceaseless stream of traffic flows is a disconcerting experience. As the microphones were pulled at 11:30pm on Saturday night, and enthused, overheated revellers reluctantly made their way to their modes of conveyance, buoyed by the dulcet tones of Pantelis Thalassinos and Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s not so dulcet but equally welcome announcement of two million dollars worth of funding for the construction of the Cultural Centre, (what a coup for the president and committee of the GOCMV that has proved again that it not only has the vision but also the means and capability to propel this key institution into the future), the president of the Panepirotic Federation and yours truly prepared to bed down for the night.
Our tent being hotter than the contents of Anthe Sidiropoulos’, antipodean oriental stage costume, I staggered outside into the not so significantly cooler night air, pulled up a chair and watched nonchalantly as the last of the stragglers, the realisation that there was no more entertainment to follow finally having downed upon them, vacated the road and the security guards took up their positions at strategic points along the street, in readiness for a long night. An eerie hush befell the lonely thouroughfare through the plateia, punctuated by the stirrings of a considerable amount of paper refuse slowly floating down towards Swanston Street.
Then they came, in dribs and drabs, scantily clad, semi-inebriated girls of diverse ethnicities hanging on to the arms of their boyfriends as they struggled up the street n the search of their next place of revelry. Looking inquisitively at the tents and various paraphernalia of a Hellenic nature, not a few asked: “What the f..k is all this” only to punctuate their question with the observation, a few seconds later: “F.....g Greeks.?” One girl, turning her head sideways, spied me sitting opposite, reading a copy of Neos Kosmos. “Look!” she yelled to her giggling friends. “A f....g Greek!” “Yes,” I replied. “And unlike you, I am able to decipher coded glyphs into speech.” The poor girl frowned for a moment and opened her mouth. Then she closed it and walked away, looking tremendously disturbed. It was then that I decided to turn for the night, settling down on the tremendously hard flokati covered bed, ignoring the sundry bits of pile invading my nostrils and my ears.
It did not take me long to drift off into a state of semi-consciousness, when the impossibly loud music began its assault upon my unsuspecting ear-drums, from a nightclub in the middle of the street. With one’s ear pressed to the flokati, the vibrations reminded me of a particular psychotic washing machine I used to own, whose inner drum would bash against its carapace in violent protest against overloading. Having developed the theory that techno music was developed just from one such occurrence, I glanced briefly at our president, who had stuffed his ears with tissue paper and was snoring soundly and walked out into a desolate but not entirely unsleeping Lonsdale Street.
Revellers were still walking through to the clubs. Some of these had the bright idea, no doubt inspired by Hollywood teen movies, to mount an assault on the portable toilets, with a view to toppling them. Their whoops and cheers immediately caught the attention of the security guards who swooped down upon them and swiftly but firmly, disabused them of their questionable pursuit. As I made my way back to the tent, I heard voices. A group of youths, emerging from a nightclub having had a disagreement, had decided to air their differences, right in front of our tent. Now I have seen nightclub fights before. Invariably, they revolve around women, machismo and insults real or imagined. Yet nothing could prepare me for what I was to witness. The loud, angry insults and almost unintelligent insults were the same, and yet this particular dispute revolved around the aggrieved having chanced upon his posse of friends at the club, when they had told him that they were not going out. He thus railed at the injustice of being excluded, while his friends tried to calm him down by telling him that it was the spur of the moment decision and that the proof of this was that they did not have time to do their hair properly or don decent clothing. One of them did not even have time to have a shower and looked terrible. They cajoled and reassured him that far from being unwanted, he was very much valued as part of the group and they apologised for hurting his feelings. Slowly, over the course of half an hour, he ceased to stomp about, flailing his hands in the air and his face softened into a smile. His hand on the shoulder of the chief negotiatior, they walked off towards the dawn, happy to have achieved closure and conflict resolution. How times have changed.
It was 8am when the intensely loud music mercifully ceased and I finally settled down for some uninterrupted Sunday morning sleep. All night I had lain awake, staring at the gap in the tent, waiting to defend my heritage from a street incursion that never came. At ten minutes past eight, I was woken cheerfully by the president, who had emerged from his torpid slumber, refreshed and in a disconcertingly good mood. “This is the problem with the neolaia,” he smirked. “All you want to do is sleep.” Opening a box he proceeded to place some delectable homemade pita on plates. “Now come and have breakfast.”
Fifteen minutes later, when the first of the Antipodes volunteers walked past, we had removed the protective covering from the tent. To the outside world, it appeared as if a wall had been cut from an Epirot home, allowing the observer to witness two Vlachs, with clarinet and violin attempt to follow each other in tune. Looking around at all the other unmanned and closed tents, along with the relative desolation of the street, punctuated only by security guards napping in plastic chairs and shaking his head, the volunteer commented: “You Epirots are crazy.”
Maybe we are. And yet ours is a measured, moiriolatric craziness, the consequence of the knowledge that we are living on borrowed time, something that was reinforced at the Antipodes children's tent, where only three children turned up to listen to stories, one of whom was of Indian extraction, the rest preferring rides andd other attractions. We will continue to be crazy, to re-enact the forms and attitudes of our ancestors Poseidonian-style in public and even sleep in the streets if we have to, for we fear the time that will come, hopefuly far off into the future, when we will seek an outlet for our craziness and find none and our craziness will turn to madness and our madness to grief at just how much poorer our lives have become. And on that day, yours truly will don his super ornate foustenella and pitch the Epirotic tent embassy in the middle of Lonsdale Street in memory of all that we must not ever lose .


First published in NKEE on Saturday 3 March 2012