Saturday, September 23, 2023



When I learned that volume three of Nia Vardalos’ film franchise was to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace, I admit to hoping that it would be a courtroom drama. Having married and produced offspring, the only trajectory available to her in my view, would be a big fat Greek Divorce, possibly in three sub-parts like the Hobbit: My Big Fat Greek Periousia Battle (1), My Big Fat Custody Battle (2) and My Big Fat Soi taking sides (3). It had slipped my mind that interposed between these two stages, there invariably must be a third; the pilgrimage to and discovery of, the motherland.

Of course, this has been done before in Australia, and in particular by our very own Nick Giannopoulos in Wog Boys 2: Kings of Mykonos, thirteen years prior to Vardalos’ attempt. In comparing the two films, one is struck at differences in perspective, in nuance and the way in which mythologies both of migrant and broader ethnic identity are propagated. Back in the day, “At the Movies film critics” Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton commented about Kings of Mykonos: “The movie is a more accurate representation of Wogs in Australia.” How they were qualified to render judgment given that they are not “Wogs,” is a moot point and I would argue that both films invite discussion as to how different Greek migrant communities inhabiting the Anglosphere see themselves and their country of origin and the manner in which cliches are appropriated and employed to express such perspectives.

For example, there is an element of self-parody in Giannopoulos’ film which most probably derives from the off-beat Australian self-deprecating comedic tradition. Steve Karamitsis and his friends may dress as stereotypes, express themselves in stereotypes of a bygone age (such as when fugitive from justice Tony the Yugoslav renames himself Tony from Crete because he believes that Crete is not part of Greece), and appear to be stuck in a fashion and cultural time-warp but they appear to have unique insight and adaptability that enable them to touch the lives of the Greeks they encounter in Greece in meaningful ways, whether through romance, philanthropy or sheer decency and ultimately saving the day.

None of this is apparent in Vardalos’ latest offering. The Portokalos family unloads itself upon its deserted ancestral village, imposes itself upon the landscape, and having satisfied its key objectives, these being locating the dead Daddy Portokalos’ friends and delivering a diary to them, as well as attending a village reunion, leaves, having gained no new insights whatsoever. Of interest is the manner in which these Chicago Greek-Americans see Greece. The urgency with which they run to the sea with their clothes on while on the way to the ferry would mystify Greek-Australians for whom access to the beach is a given. The portrayal of Greek vehicles as ramshackle affairs with peeling blue and white paint, foustanella dolls on the engine grille and flag bearing the Evil Eye talisman, driven by an androgynous mayor of ambiguous gender whose inane catch phrase “Number one, the best,” is particularly disconcerting as it bears absolutely no relation to any Greek lived experience.

In Kings of Mykonos, the portrayal of the Greeks of Greeks is ambiguous and multilayered. They appear to be relaxed and somnolent, but they can also be passionate, angst ridden and prone to worry. While there is a tradition of filoxenia, they do not welcome strangers unconditionally but instead have expectations of reciprocity and obligation upon those who would purport to belong. Importantly, not all of them are benevolent, nor are they concerned solely with plying visitors from the Anglosphere with ouzo, as is the case in Vardalos’ flick. Embedded within the Greek-Australian mythology of the homeland is a sense that those who were left behind are somehow “two-faced,” seeing their Australian cousins as gullible and easily exploitable sources of income. This is expertly examined by Giannopoulos in the way he portrays the inhabitants of Mykonos pitted against his main character as he attempts to redeem his inheritance. Most significantly however, he attempts to portray also how the Mykoniates are also pitted against each other, in a society where the pie is very small indeed, and division problematic. These Mykoniates are not the prehistoric peasants that populate Vardalos’ flick. They are savvy, contemporary and sharp. Beyond the cliches, there is much to be gleaned here.

The same cannot be said of the Greeks of the Portokalos’ epic. Vardalos cleverly divests herself from the need to depict them plausibly by removing the Greeks from the village, so as to be able to allow the Greek-Americans to develop the plot in a relative vacuum. Such slight character portrayals as exist entail incomprehensible, unapproachable caricatures who act in strange ways and whose motivations are completely inscrutable until they are resolved at key moments via single phrases. These Greeks are at best the “noble savages” of her discourse, symbolising the innate goodness and moral superiority of a primitive people living in harmony with Nature, gruff but good natured and ultimately agreeable to submitting themselves to serving the needs and requirements of the Greek-American consumer without establishing any enduring connection or requiring any recompense, all the while obligingly adopting the Greek-Americans’ mispronouncement of yiayia and pappou with street on the penultimate instead of the ultimate syllable.

This is further evidenced by the parallel plot twists in the two movies. Giannopoulos’ protagonist, is able to surmount the migrant barrier in order to establish an emotional connection with the local nightclub chanteuse portrayed by Zeta Makripoulia. The love story that unfolds in Vardalos’ attempt, emerges from within the Portokalos paradigm and remains firmly within it, no outside Greek influence being able to permeate its impervious carapace. Similarly, while it is revealed that the menacing old crone that both terrorises and plays host to the Portokalos’s was their father’s first love and has produced their half-brother, this news is accepted without emotion or question, with not even the hint of the implications this would have for questions of property or inheritance. After all the born to serve Greeks would never dream of making demands upon their Greek-American brethren.

Instead, it is dealt with as an acquisition: that half-brother too is appropriated and taken to America. In Kings of Mykonos, the revelation that Steve Karamitsis has inherited a fortune because his real father was not the person he idolised and modelled himself upon, causes him real pain and gives rise to questions of identity that surmount the diasporic experience and focus instead on the very idea of personhood. Rather than appropriate an inheritance that in his eyes is tainted by his having no relationship with his biological father, Stephanidis provides a lasting legacy to his place of origin: he gives up the inheritance in favour of the local inhabitants. The Portokalos’ legacy is the unsolicited dumping of their father’s ashes under a tree, this passing without comment by the non-existent inhabitants of conservative rural Greece.

Of interest is the difference in the life aims of the Greeks, the Greek-Australians and the Greeks-Americans in the two films. In Vardalos’ film, the young Greek-Syrian couple have a concrete aim: they want to get married, stay on their island and run a viable farm. In Giannopoulos’ film they seek alleviation from their economic problems, relief from blackmailing by those more powerful and an emotional bond between those with whom they share their life. While in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, much is made upon hard work and sweat being the “glue” that keeps the Portokalos family together, in Kings of Mykonos, there is an ambivalent attitude displayed by Greek-Australians towards the Anglo-Protestant work ethic, which while acknowledging the hard work of the first generation of migrants, approaches the Helladic perspective of working only as hard as you need to, to get by, the main characters having challenged the Australian establishment and its values and refusing to be defined by them, as a way of life.

Vardalos’ major failing is the implausibility of her plot. The sojourn in the motherland is occasioned by the need to deliver dead Daddy Portokalos’ journal of his life and times in America to his three friends. The few glimpses we are given of the diary reveal that they are written in demotic and using the monotonic system, an anachronism, given Gus Portokalos’ age. While much could have been made of the mysteries that this journal may have contained, nothing is made of this in the movie. We do not know why Daddy Portokalos could not have written to his friends over the years, or stay in touch with them. Partly, because when his missing friends are located, playing the bouzouki of course, they are not given a voice and an entire plot thread falls flat. What we do know, is that his task-oriented American offspring have accepted a challenge and completed it, however nonsensical allowing them to take their place as joint heads of the family and presumably satisfy one of their KPI’s.

Ultimately, despite the heavy sprinkling of cliches that are deemed necessary by producers for films about Greek migrants to be marketable to an English-speaking market used to reducing them to easily compartmentalised and safe stereotypes, the nuances of Kings of Mykonos, allow us to consider Helladic Greeks and Greek-Australian as distinct, but indefinable entities, united in their complexity and multi-faceted nature, even after exaggeration. My Big Greek Fat Wedding 3, on the other hand is eminently forgettable.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 September 2023

Saturday, September 16, 2023



«Ο δρόμος είχε την δική του ιστορία

Κάποιος την έγραψε στον τοίχο με μπογιά…

Ύστερα κύλησ' ο καιρός κι η ιστορία

Πέρασε εύκολα απ' τη μνήμη στην καρδιά…»


I don’t live too far away from Footscray, where GOCMV board member and Greek Youth Generator Instigator Dean Kotsianis has caused to be created his latest memorial to Hellenisms Past: a mural on a wall in Yewers Street. Yet apart from a few names of businessmen who have had an impact upon the broader community, I struggle to decode the symbols depicted there by the artist. It is not that the method of portrayal is esoteric or obscure, quiet the opposite: the mural is vivid, its colours vibrant and it’s eschewing of the stereotypical earth colours of red and white reference a Hellenism that is at one with the local landscape. Rather than being a perpetually foreign element, it has embraced the land upon which it has settled and has become one with it. The addition of blue to the palette, not so subtly points us in the direction of the colours of the Western Bulldogs, a team once proudly known as Footscray. When we view Kotsianis’ tribute to the Hellenism of Footscray, we immediately realise that one cannot comprehend the history of the suburb and its environs without reference to its intrinsic Greek community.


I note reference to Olympic Doughnuts and remember reading at article in Neos Kosmos about its imminent closure, which alerted me to its existence. Quite apart from being a fixture of the community and a longtime successful Greek-Australian business, its appearance in Kotsianis’ mural is, I think, not coincidental. This is a paean to a Hellenism that no longer exists and its memory is fading. The few Greeks that remain in the area remember. Their children may not and their grandchildren are largely blissfully unaware of their existence. Some of the businesses commemorated in the mural are of broader importance and yet remain a lesson in futility. Jack Dardalis’ success in Marathon Foods enabled him to make possible the creation of the National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research (EKEME), an endeavour which ultimately failed. Other businesses’ such as the Goulas’ family’s Conway’s Fish Trading is still known for its philanthropy. Kotsianis has therefore conjured up the ghosts of Hellenisms past to haunt us, to remind us who we once were, what we once did.


The emphasis on businesses within the mural deserves consideration. For more than suburban yards, migrant architecture and the occasional brotherhood building, it is the Greek businesses, with their Greek language signage or billboards that advertised a particular place of origin in Greece that moulded the local landscape and imparted upon it a Greek flavour, enabling those of my generation to create our own sense of geography based upon the endeavours of our kin. Like Dean Kotsianis, I too wondered what the history behind the building bearing the inscription “Hellenic” was, on the rare occasions we ventured to Footscray, primarily on excruciating shopping forays to Forges of Footscray (a favourite pastime for Greeks from my neck of the woods who felt culturally deprived in not having a Forges in their vicinity), for the Greek furniture store it once housed had shut its doors years ago. Nowadays, such businesses as are owned by Greeks rarely display the origins of their owners by means of Greek themes or inscriptions, for they are oriented towards a broader market and generations brought up to expect visible manifestations of their presence on suburban streetscapes could be forgiven as they traverse suburbs undergoing a process of gentrification that the absence of such signifiers is a symptom of decline. After all, we stopped using Greek street inscriptions around the same time that we began to switch to English inscriptions on our loved one’s tombstones.


I barely experienced the Greek migrant craze for wrestling, the passion shared by my father and my uncles having largely died out as I grew up and barely spoken of. Footscray played a large role in fostering that craze and yet when I come across articles about Greek wresters in the print media of decades past or view the depiction of Alex Iakovidis in Kotsianis’ mural, I shrug my shoulders. This for me, is a historical curiosity, not part of my lived experience or repository of inherited cultural memories. It is someone else’s story, reminding me of something which we, and those who purport to represent us or govern us often forget in their attempts to reduce us to stereotypes and sound-bytes: While we are one community, we are also disparate and several. Much of our identities as Greeks are rooted in the suburbs in which we settled, raised our children and grew up ourselves, and our histories are entwined with those who shared those experiences with us whether Greek or not.


Given that the subtleties and nuances of our local Greek identities distinguish us from one another and the sub-cultures that arise from our co-habitation deserve study and celebration, perhaps Dean Kotsianis’ mural can be interpreted as a profound symbol as a way of re-configuring the relevance of Hellenism to Melbourne by moving away from a narrow identification of Greeks via their place of origin within Greece, an increasingly obscure and futile endeavour considering how few of the latter generations identify in any meaningful way with their grandparents’ birthplace, to a local identity, which is rooted in the experiences and interactions of those who actually live in that area, making these relevant to all those who still remain in, or identify with that area, considering that many of those who do so, have moved out of the suburb, some photos and a lingering affection for the local football team the most enduring ties to the place of their own personal migrant foundation myth.


It is for this reason that I believe that rather acting as a tombstone, a dread Dickensian ghost of Christmas Future, come to suggest a bleak past of utter desolation after the commemoration of its dead, that Kotsianis’ new Footscray mural suggests quite the opposite: instead of mourning for our lost migrant communities and mythologising them as a Golden Age in comparison to whose protagonists we are much diminished, we ought to celebrate them and render them joyous and vivacious, at all times and in all their multifarious manifestations. Rather than laying wreaths at their cenotaphs, and transforming our collective communities into a vast death cult in which all creative imperatives are relegated to the past with our, their inadequate descendants’ sole duty remaining as their undertakers and taxidermists, to ensure they remain stuffed and preserved for posterity, we ought to recognise, as Kotsianis’ mural does, that communities and the locales that house them are constantly evolving and ever changing and that nothing we can do will ever retard that process. We can however revel in the memories of those who came before, be inspired by their intrepidity and bravery and fortified by their ability to transform their local landscape in their image, attempt to find meaning in the Hellenism of our daily lives, wherever and however we live this. Finding this meaning and savouring it to its full extent, when all is decoded and nostalgia is afforded its proper context, lies at the heart of what Dean Kotsianis muralistic Hidden Hellenism project is all about.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 16 September 2023

Saturday, September 09, 2023



My friend Andoni married Shayne’s sister over a decade ago now but I will never forget the manner I was introduced to him soon after the marriage took place. Sitting in Eaton Mall, Andoni ordered us Greek coffees and his brother-in-law, a flat white. As I marvelled at what appeared to be a rather well preserved 1991 Williamstown VFA jumper, Andoni said: “This is Shayne, my Aussie brother-in-law. He is from the country, so you will have to forgive him.” Then, leaning over the table, he spoke to his brother-in-law slowly and deliberately: “Shayne, we are gonna talk wog now. So order yourself some fish and chips or something. You won’t find any pies on the menu here.” Shayne squinted at him incomprehensibly and then lowered his head obediently as he scoured the menu.

“I’ve married into a clan of bush χωριάτες,” Andoni explained.

“That’s not so bad,” I observed. “Was it not Chairman Mao who proclaimed: “Several hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane...” You really want to be on the right side of history for that one.”

“Seriously, it’s a massive cultural shift. I’ve been trying to teach my pethera how to cook. All she knows is Shepherd’s Pie. Τι Shepherd’s Pie μωρή; Κάνε καμιά τυρόπιτα με τραχανά, the way my yiayia used to in the χωριό. Άκου εκεί Shepherd’s Pie…”

Shayne had almost consumed his fish and chips and was wiping his cutlery on a serviette. «Κοίτα εκεί,» Andoni snorted. “He is eating fish and chips with a knife and fork instead of with his hands. Άβγαλτοι είναι ρε, πίσω από τον κόσμο. I’m going to have to teach them how to eat now.”

By this stage, Shayne was expressing interest in the Galaktoboureko. “Forget about it,” Andoni dismissed him. “You can’t pronounce it, let alone eat it.” Tugging him by the footy jumper sleeve, he dragged him from the table. “Come on Shayne, we gotta go.”

“Nice to have met you,” Shayne farewelled as he was hauled across the mall. “It’s a pity we didn’t get to talk more. I’ve been reading this fascinating book about Plato’s literary style and I wanted to….”

“Shayne, this guy doesn’t know anything about Play-Doh or the footy’, so stop pestering him. The cricket is starting soon….” Andoni boomed.

“Because this author, he maintains that philosophy aside, the literary achievements of Plato have been completely ignored and I find that fascinating,” Shayne insisted, interrupted only when Andoni emitted a shrill klephtic whistle that activating the inner shepherd in the hitherto nonchalant denizens of the adjacent cafes, caused them involuntarily to stand up and look around, as if searching for a primaeval flock.

«Αμάν ρε Shayne,” Andoni bleated. “Sorry for this. He is usually a lot quieter. But you know what they say: Δώσε θάρρος στο χωριάτη να σ' ανέβει στο κρεβάτι.” As he pushed Shayne down Atherton Road, I could hear him screech: “What colonial gravestones in Warrawee Park ρε μάπα; The only colonial you are going to see is irrigation after I remove my foot from your κώλο ρε. Hurry up. Michael Clarke may be a right-handed middle-order batsman, but he still has decent form.”

Andoni is no longer married to Shayne’s sister which was why I was quite surprised when on the first day of September, I received a telephone call from him. “Happy Byzantine New Year!” Shayne exclaimed joyously.

“Thanks, same to you,” I muttered hesitantly, failing to register from the outset, what he was taking about.

“First of September yeah? Start of the Byzantine New Year? What year is it? 7532 I should think. Am I right?”

“It should be,” I guessed. We don’t really measure time that way anymore.”

“Why not? You should. After all it is the beginning of the ecclesiastical new year and it’s the time that students return to school after the summer holidays.”

“And the time that Greek-Australians return to Greece, bronzed, plumper and more disgruntled than ever,” I mused.

“I think it was a grave mistake for you guys to adopt western modes of time measurement,” Shayne opined. “How can you remain true to your traditions and your natural worldview if the way you look at time is skewed? Did you know that the Byzantines began their calendrical day which was called nychthemeron at midnight with the first hour of day coming at dawn? The third hour marked midmorning, the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour midafternoon. The Evening called hespera, which is where you get your kalispera from, began at the eleventh hour, and with sunset came the first hour of night called the apodeipnon. Also, the interval between sunset and sunrise was called nyx and it was also divided into twelve hours.”

“Brilliant,” I commented. “Our church services still use the old conception of time.”

“You guys should bring the indictions back as well,” Shayne enthused. “I love reading the dates in the Acts of the Quinisext Council: ‘ of the fifteenth day of the month of January last past, in the last fourth Indiction, in the year six thousand one hundred and ninety..”

“Indictions refer to the fifteen yearly reassessment of taxation in the Empire and are greatly to be preferred over lodging one’s BAS on a quarterly basis,” I agreed. “The Byzantines must rise again.”

“What do you guys usually do for Byzantine New Year?” Shayne inquired. “Is there a festival or something?”

“We don’t really celebrate it,” I explained. “It’s not really a thing for us.”

“Ridiculous. Did you know that in Amalfi, they celebrate Byzantine New Year with pomp and ceremony every year? People dress up in Byzantine costume and greet the new year remembering that they too were part of the Byzantine world, culminating in the coronation of the Duke of Amalfi. Considering that they were on the periphery of that world and you guys are at the centre of it, it is disgraceful that you neglect to celebrate this auspicious day. Do you have a central organisation I can write to in protest?” Shayne asked.

Briefly, I allowed myself to be lulled into reverie, picturing our community leaders solemnly processing down Lonsdale Street in sumptuous dalmatics, tablia, pteruges and loroi, arguing with each other about who has precedence, according to the Typikon. “Look, Byzantium was a long time ago. Greece and the Greeks have changed.” I ventured, finally.

“You don’t say Greece or Greeks,” Shayne interjected. “You are Hellenes from Hellas. You ought to use the proper names.”

“And here I was thinking that we were Byzantines,” I riposted.

“I find it strange that you haven’t created your own terminology for your local environment here Down Under,” Shayne continued. “After all, aren’t you the largest Hellenic speaking community outside of Hellas? Did you know for instant, that the word Melbourne translates in Hellenic literally as Μυλόρεμα, Melbourne being an old English word for Mill Stream? Similarly, Victoria should be translated as Nicaea.”

I considered this for a while. “So, adopting your methodology, Sydney which means “Meadow by a stream” could translates as Παραποτάμιο Λιβάδι. Παραλίβαδο I think, could be eminently acceptable. Brisbane, bizarrely means ‘Break bone.’ I'd love to pay tribute to the Greek community of Σπαζοκοκκαλιά.”

“Hellenic community,” Shayne emphasised.

“Apparently Geelong means “a place of the sea bird over the white cliffs.”

“How would that translate in Greek?”

«Μια γαλάζια περιστέρα, πέταξε και πάει σιαπέρα».

“Sound like a mouthful, if you ask me. Still, it would be great if we could inaugurate these terms into general usage by way of celebrating Byzantine New Year, next year.”

Before I had the chance to posit that Oakleigh could translate as Τσικνοτσιγαρίλα, I noticed that I had another incoming call. Fumbling as usually, I cut Shayne off as I answered the new call. It was Andoni.

«Πού είσαι ρε πατρίδα;»

“In the office. Πού θες να’μαι;”

“I’m down here at my local RSL celebrating my birthday. You should come down re, the prices are mad! Pity about all the τσομπάνηδες, though.”

“Did you know that its Byzantine New Year?” I asked.

“What’s that, like Christmas in July?”

“Never mind,” I said.

“Good,” he burped. “Now if you aren’t coming down, at least get off the phone. The racing’s on.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 September 2023

Saturday, September 02, 2023



The recent news that a Croatian club that openly displays paraphernalia relating to the fascist Ustashe regime has been the recipient of significant amounts of government funding has created consternation within our community. Families of victims of the Pontian genocide as well as families of victims of Nazi massacres in Epirus and the Peloponnese in particular feel aggrieved, considering that during World War II, the Ustashe regime presided over a Nazi puppet state in Croatia that systematically killed up to 500,000 Serbs and causing another 300,000 to be removed from their homes. To know that government money has been used to fund those who fetishise genocide thus makes our community which is fighting for the recognition of the genocide of the Armenians Assyrians and Greeks in Asia Minor, so much more indignant.

Sadly, this is not the first time that government funding has been provided to organisations or endeavours that appear to promote ethnic hatred or racism. In 2007, the Victorian Multicultural Commission sponsored a publication entitled “The “Macedonians” in Victoria, which bore on its cover an irredentist map showing parts of Albania, Northern Greece and Bulgaria as belonging to a purported “Macedonian” state. Two landmarks of the city of Thessaloniki, the White Tower and the Church of Saint Sophia, were also included on the front cover, implying that the said city, which is the second largest city in Greece, should belong to their ‘homeland.’

Although, according to sources, the application for funding submitted by those involved in its publication stated that funds were sought in order to write about the life of a particular ethnic group in Victoria, within the pages of the book, there are calls for the “liberation of Macedonia.” The inclusion of photographs within the pages of the book of protesters holding placards bearing the caption: “I’m not scared of Greeks, raciest (sic) vampires,” is racist, in that it stereotypes, insults and dehumanises an entire group of Victorian based solely on their country of origin.

Yet it is not only in reaction to the Greek community that this book, published with Victorian Multicultural Commission creates stereotypes. It comments on the housing situation of English-speaking Victorians: “Unlike their English-speaking counterpart who can live in a rented flat, Macedonians prefer to get a loan from the bank and buy their own houses.” It also demeans women and denies them a voice: “The majority of Macedonian women support the old traditions, saying that the family ‘where the hen sings’ is not a family.” “The daughters are brought up under strict supervision and are expected to perform their domestic duties, leaving the running of their private lives to the greater ‘wisdom’ of their male relatives.” “It is seen as a waste of time and money for a girl to go to university because, when she marries, her education would be wasted. Worse still, higher education may lessen the girl’s chances of making a good marriage…”

The creation of this thoroughly disturbing publication was made possible by the fact that although funding was provided by the VMC, there was no vetting or oversight over the contents to be created. And herein lies the conundrum with multiculturalism policies in Australia: On the one hand, if a government body sought to apply stringent control over the content its funding is facilitating, this could give rise to ethnic communities protesting against a stifling of their own modes of creative expression, railing against interference by a dominant class that does not necessarily share its values or understanding the complexity of its national discourses. On the other hand, throwing money at ethnic communities and feeding their prejudices is not multiculturalism, it is patronising and unethical.

Of course, real multiculturalism is about facilitating communities in Australia maintaining their language and traditions and making these relevant and accessible to the broader social fabric. To do this requires deep knowledge of their history and the fault lines that run through it, as well as their aspirations. Considering that no ethnic community is the same, a “one size fits all” approach of blanket uncritical funding is counterproductive because the lack of oversight and the overlooking of differences in nuance, approach and emphasis within each community can, as in the case of the Croatian club in question, fuel, albeit unintentionally, repugnant behaviours that are absolutely unacceptable in Australia.

Yet even if local, state and federal governments went out of their way to ensure that they are funding endeavours and organisations that do not offend other communities, this is pursuit fraught with danger, for one community’s heroes are often another community’s villains. Growing up, I remember by Croatian classmates speak in admiring tones about Ustashe criminal leader Ante Pavelic, because according to them, he saved the Croatians from Serbian domination. At Greek school, I was taught that Ibrahim Pasha was a bloodthirsty tyrant who planned to commit genocide in the Peloponnese and replace its inhabitants with Egyptian fellaheen, only to come across his statue in central Cairo and to be told that the Egyptians look upon him as modern, enlightened ruler. Do we want to be in a position where the institutions of the dominant group are empowered to adjudicate and make pronouncements upon which “ethnic” heroes are acceptable or fundworthy? What would be the implications of such powers?

The answer of course is that they already do. There exists in Albany of Western Australia a statue of Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk. Another monument to Kemal Ataturk, a bronze likeness, exists in Anzac Parade in Canberra and there is also an Ataturk Tribute Memorial in North Adelaide. According to Monuments Australia, “he was an immortal hero to his people and an extraordinary leader and peacemaker.” According to the Armenian, Assyrian Greek and Kurdish communities of Australia, he is a criminal who has ordered, participated in or facilitated crimes of genocide. No matter how offensive a statue of Ataturk may be to those communities, no matter the trauma they feel when they behold his likeness in Australian public spaces, it is unlikely that any attempts to remove these images would be successful. This is because the dominant group has chosen to incorporate Ataturk in its national myth, even though his purported speech in tribute to fallen Anzac soldiers, the very words that are inscribed on his Canberra and North Adelaide memorials, have been shown by Turkish writer Cengiz Ozangici not to have been written by Ataturk and appear to have been manufactured some decades after his death. Whether we, or it likes it or not, ultimately it is the dominant group that is the arbiter of all that is offensive and repugnant, according to its own narrative and we ought to temper our expectations accordingly.

Consequently, Pavelic is out and Ataturk is in, simply because while all heroes are offensive, some are more offensive than others to those who count. In the meantime should government funding be secured in order to erect a statue of Yanis Varoufakis outside the ANC, do not go crying to the powers that be. We only have ourselves to blame.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 2 September 2023


Saturday, August 26, 2023


Recently, according to the United Nations, angry Turkish Cypriots punched and kicked a group of international peacekeepers who in accordance with their duties, legally obstructed crews working on a road that would encroach on a U.N.-controlled buffer zone in Cyprus.

Around about the same time, angry members of Greek-Cypriot origin Labor State MP for Northcote Kat Theophanous’ state party faction, who, voted to have her suspended indefinitely, for having the temerity to make a speech in parliament, in which she spoke about a recent resolution passed by the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association’s general assembly:

“We condemned the illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey, which contravenes international law and UN resolutions, and we called for the right of return for Cypriot refugees to their ancestral homelands. The resolution appeals to all parliaments, including this one, to fully support the UN-led efforts for a peaceful, just and viable Cyprus settlement.”

It has widely been reported that the motion to suspend Kat Theophanous, was heavily supported by parliamentary colleagues and faction members that are of ethnic Turkish origin. Melbourne Turkish News has suggested in a social media post that her suspension comes as a result of “Turkish community pressure.” If this is accurate, it should not surprise us. Unlike Greeks and the rest of the world, who see the events of 1974 as an invasion, and the subsequent occupation of the island and the enforcement of an apartheid regime as illegal, Turks see the same event as a “peacekeeping operation.”

What should surprise us however, is that while Kat Theophanous is being censured by her particular state faction of the Australian Labor Party, the language and contents of her speech are eerily similar to official positions on the issue published by the Australian Labor Party, which has always formally supported the territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.

For example, at the ALP National Conference in Hobart, in 1994, the Conference voted to adopt the following position:

“Conference condemns the continued presence of foreign armed forces and foreign military personnel other than UN forces on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus and the fact that 37% of its territory is still under foreign military occupation. Accordingly, Conference :

a) commends the policy pursued, so far, by the Australian Government and urges continued involvement until a fair, just and viable solution is secured;

b) calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and settlers from the Republic of Cyprus and for the repeal of the secessionist declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an act which Conference considers illegal and invalid;

 c) calls upon all concerned parties to resolve the Cyprus problem which would guarantee to all its citizens the three freedoms of movement, settlement and ownership, and a unified, independent and non-aligned Cyprus, and the right of all refugees to return to their homelands in safety; and 160 calls on the Australian Government to use its influence to have the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions effectively implemented, including Security Council resolutions 939 (1994), 550(1984) and 541(1983).

In July of 2000, a resolution was passed which stated: “Labor reaffirms its longstanding and unequivocal support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.”

In a news release on 15 November 1983, then Foreign Minister of the Australian Labor Federal Government Bill Hayden condemned “the establishment of a so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and a declaration of independence,” going so far as to state that “Australia will be taking immediate steps to urge upon the government of Turkey to use whatever influence it may have… to withdraw this declaration.”

On 16 November 1983, the Labor Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke stated in Parliament: “The Australian Government has no intention of recognising the illegal State declared by the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus. We continue to recognise only the legitimate government of the Republic of Cyprus.”

That this position has not changed can be evidenced by a cursory glance at the relevant webpage of the Department of Foreign Affairs of Trade, headed by Australian Labor Federal Minister, Penny Wong. On that page we find the following declaration:

“Australia supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus and recognises the Republic as the only legitimate authority on the island. Australia does not recognise the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus'.”

Given the ALP’s unswerving and continuous support for the Republic of Cyprus and a just solution to the Cyprus problem in accordance with International Law, it clearly makes no sense that Kat Theophanous should be punished by a Labor Party faction (not by the ALP itself), for basically reiterating a position that the ALP has held since 1974.

Indeed, the suspension of Kat Theophanous from her faction is highly problematic because it raises questions as to whether:

a)     (a)The members of her faction are actually acquainted with ALP National Policy; and if so whether

b)     (b)The members of her faction actually respect ALP National Policy (considering that there have been no substantive efforts made to alter that policy);

c)     (c)The members of her faction appreciate that Kat Theophanous occupies a marginal seat that she just managed to win for Labor at the last state election after a superhuman effort;

d)     (d)The members of her faction appreciate the “optics” of their suspension of Kat Theophanous.

The question of optics is a pertinent one, for there exist other precedents of articulate and passionate Greek-Australian State members of Parliament being censured over public stands they have taken on issues pertinent to the Greek-Australian community.

I would submit however, that the issue of Cyprus, its sovereignty and its illegal occupation are not issues pertaining to the Greek-Australian community per se, nor are they seen as such by the ALP. Australia’s steadfast support for Cyprus, in place ever since the time of Australian Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, is based upon principle, and in particular, the necessity of upholding International Law and it is Australia’s contribution to that cause, ever since Labor luminary Dr Evatt was elected President of the General Assembly and presided over the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This mind you, is the same Dr Evatt who in Parliament in 1956, called upon the government of the day to push the British to moderate their stance on Cypriots fighting for independence.

Kat Theophanous, in condemning the illegal invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus, calling upon a just solution of the Cyprus problem and drawing upon her own family background in order to highlight the enormity of the problem, is not playing ethnic politics. Indeed, anyone who knows anything about the Greek-Australian community knows that far from being directed or manipulated by the diplomats of our countries of origin, as some other communities may be, we are constantly at odds with them, for our interests lie in Australia, and we approach international issues as Australians, seeking to uphold Australian values of decency, fairness and adherence to International Law, rather than slavishly following the dictates of others.

Far from being censured, Kat Theophanous should be commended for remaining true to Labor principles and practice, ensuring in the words of the great Australian Labor Prime Minister Ben Chiefly, that she never loses sight of: “the great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.”  Again, in the words of Chiefly: “If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 August 2023