Saturday, November 18, 2017


Every Saturday, a lady that I know, bundles her child into her car and drives the one and half hours separating Ballarat from Melbourne in order that her child attend a quality Greek school, in this particular case, the city campus of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria’s Saturday school. Such commitment in these time-deprived days is rare however, even when the desire is there. For one thing, the institutions our community has created, largely reflect a demographic reality that no longer exists: that of Greek migrant communities living in close proximity to each other, in the Inner Suburbs.

Over the years, as the Greek community grew and became assimilated within broader Melbournian society, Greek-Australians began to move from the hitherto working class suburbs that still continue to define them and their identity, such as Brunswick, Richmond, Collingwood and Port Melbourne, to what were then, “new” suburbs, primarily in search of space and, most importantly, a garden. To a large extent, community institutions, in the form of churches, schools and regional social club followed them, which explains their proliferation in these areas.

Two generations later however, five important changes have taken place:

1. Greek cultural and social activity seems to have coalesced around certain Melbourne suburbs, at the expense of others;

2. Melbourne has expanded far beyond the traditional areas of Greek settlement and expansion;

3. The property boom has rendered hitherto affordable areas in which Greeks have lived, beyond the price range of younger Greek-Australians, resulting in them moving to outlying suburbs on the ‘fringes’ of Melbourne that have not had a Greek presence before and thus have no Greek churches, schools or clubs;

4. The “inner city” institutions of the Greeks of Melbourne have thus become remote, inaccessible and increasingly irrelevant to the Greeks of the outlying suburbs; and

5. As a result of geography, many younger Greeks of Melbourne who could benefit from such institutions are cut off from the organised Greek community, are unable to conveniently access Greek education or cultural and religious activities for their children and thus are displaying more rapid and higher percentages of cultural and linguistic assimilation.

As the vast majority of our community institutions are organised around the principle of a common regional Greek ancestry, addressing the complex demographic changes on Melbourne and their impact on culture and language is not only beyond their competence, but also beyond their scope and save for funding initiatives in the outlying areas through the rationalisation of unproductive assets, (something that would be highly unlikely, if the recent directive of a northern suburbs regional Greek club, that it not advertise its events to the rest of the Greek community because it only wants “its” people attending, is anything to go by), they sadly have nothing to contribute to this issue.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria on the other hand, is one of the few Greek institutions that can and is taking steps to assess and address the challenges faced by the Greek community owing to shifting demographics. In some respects, this should come as no surprise. While Alphington Grammar School and other Greek schools have been operated by the GOCMV for a considerable period of time, over the last few years, a conscious effort has been made by the board to invest resources into Greek education, in new and unprecedented ways.

The fruits of this endeavour include but are not limited to addressing the needs of newly arrived migrants and advanced native speakers who do not benefit from the constant downgrading of the standard of Modern Greek usually taught in Melbourne, through the institution of Advanced Greek campuses, the introduction of classes in Classical Greek, so that the unbroken heritage of the Greek language since times ancient can be comprehended as a whole, pioneering creative drama programs, pioneering Greek school holiday programs and, underlining how seriously the modern GOCMV takes education, the appointment of a full time education officer, in the person of Mr Manos Tzimpragos.

That the modern GOCMV means business can be evidenced by the fact that it is committed to the scientific study of the Greek community and its attitudes to Greek –language education. Despite our century old sojourn in this country, academic studies have inexplicably not been conducted, not only to determine our needs in this regard, but also to evaluate the current systems via which Greek language education is purveyed and taught. The modern GOCMV is now redressing this, via its partnership with the Department of Languages and Linguistics at La Trobe University, in offering a PhD thesis investigating parental attitudes to language learning in the Greek community of Melbourne. Such an endeavour, which also seeks recommendations for improvement of the current educational regime, is unprecedented in the annals of our collective history.

Given that despite out much vaunted numbers in Melbourne, only a third of school-age children of Greek ancestry in Victoria are studying the Greek language in day school or through after-hours providers, it is vital that outreach is made to targeted areas of Melbourne in which there is need for Greek educational institutions.

It is from this perspective that the recent announcement that the modern GOCMV is to open three new after hours Greek school campuses in the areas of South Morang, Point Cook and Narre Warren should be comprehended. These campuses were strategically chosen based on careful analysis of the latest census data and all three are areas in which the population of Greek-Australians, especially those with young families, is steadily growing, in full knowledge that location and convenience is by far the main reason why contemporary parents choose a particular Greek school campus, if any.

Choosing to locate the new after hours campuses in the above mentioned areas is a savvy move. Firstly, the campuses presciently anticipate future demand as these and surrounding suburbs continue to expand. Secondly, by reason of sheer presence and convenience alone, these campuses will capture a proportion of disengaged students and their families and re-induct them within the broader framework of the organized Greek community They comprise in effect, a focal point around which a local Greek community can emerge and coalesce, in connection with those already existing and this is why the modern GOCMV has pledged to allocate its most capable teachers to these areas, which makes sense, considering that these are the areas that have the most need.

Strategic planning is something that traditionally, our community has been decidedly lacking in. A good deal of heart, faith and hard work has always accompanied all of our endeavours but generally not, planning for the future. The GOCMV could, as others have, allow Greek language student numbers in Victoria to continue their declining trend, dolorously lamenting the loss of what once was. Instead, the modern GOCMV is bravely, methodically, responsibly and fervently committing itself to pro-actively reversing the current attrition.

The GOCMV’s new campuses on the fringes of Melbourne are therefore not just about expansion. They represent a turn-around in the way our community as a whole conducts itself and thinks about its future that is of considerable historical importance. The challenges facing Greek language learning in an increasingly monocultural and monolinguistic society, in which zeitgeist and attrition serve to disintegrate past communal affiliations, are legion. What we can take heart in, however, is that finally, someone, is willing to address these in a reasoned, calculated and committed manner. For this, the modern GOCMV deserves our full support and admiration.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 18 November 2017