Monday, March 26, 2007


The recent revelation that after trial and error, and despite the opposition of certain Greek members of the Victorian Labor Party, the Labor Party conference voted to form a “Macedonian” branch left us cold. Of greater concern to those who have an interest in the Labor Party was navigating between the treacherous shoals of the Labor factions in order to elucidate whether it was the Socialist Left, or Labor Unity that was responsible for the proposition that such a branch be created and to point the finger of blame at various Party-members of Greek origin. In particular, Theo Theophanous, who it is worthwhile to recall, has experienced previous political entanglements with regard to the Macedonian Issue, (indeed who can forget him stepping up to the microphone in 1992 in front of a hundred thousand- strong booing crowd if his compatriots and boldly declaring that his government’s policy on the issue was wrong?) has been quoted as stating that he was totally surprised when the motion was put, voted against it and that he did all he could to ensure that it was not successful, sadly to no avail. Labor Party member Christos Tsirkas on the other hand, who was present at the Labor Party conference, believes that supporters of Theo Theophanous and other prominent Greek members of the Labor Party did not do enough to oppose the vote for the creation of the Macedonian Branch and had Theo Theophanous and others taken steps to direct ‘their voters,’ the motion would not have been carried. Christos Tsirkas also has valiantly pledged to fight the creation of the branch through the Labor Party, as the vote itself allegedly contravenes internal Labor Party rules.
In a way, we all expected that sooner or later, a ‘Macedonian’ branch would be formed in the Labor Party. This is because Slavonic people who for whatever reason call themselves “Macedonians” are also Australian citizens and voters and they know how to use the system to their advantage as much as anyone else. When considered logically, it is remarkable that we would expect, given the plethora of Greek-speaking ALP branches, to validly protest against the formation of another ethnic branch. While the argument that the existence of ethnic branches is in fact racist and serves to exploit the ethnic vote while at the same time, effectively isolating most rank and file ethnic party members from positions of mainstream power is plausible, to pursue it to its logical conclusion is to call for the dissolution of all ethnic branches, including our own, something which we can be sure that Greek members of the Labor Party would not dare do, given that their relegation to marginal branches gives them a sense of importance that would otherwise be lost.
Why then would we feel outraged that a Party that purports to govern or speak for hundreds of ethnicities has determined to accommodate the aspirations of one of those ethnicities? Simply because for one reason or another, we have developed a myth that we are, if not ‘the’ then at least one of the most progressive, successful and important ethnic communities in Australia. Consequently, all governments and parties must listen to us and heed our every demand at the expense of others, especially if there are more of us than there is of those others. When this does not occur, we feel bewildered and lost, though we never detach ourselves from our golden boy illusion.
Indeed what will the consequences of the Victorian Labor Party’s actions be? Short-sighted jubilation among the movers of the motion and their compatriots who do not realize that their victory is not an endorsement of their outlandish conception of their identity but rather a cynical attempt to obtain their docile vote, along with most other ethnic communities who despise our self-assumed air of superiority. And how will we, the most powerful and successful community ever to set foot in Australia respond? Will we wield our considerable political and financial clout to scare the Labor Party into thinking that they have lost the ‘Greek’ vote in this most crucial election year? Will we approach other parties in order to give the issue prominence and put the Labor Party under pressure? The short answer is that we will do only as the Diatribe does: have a whinge, if that. Several weeks have passed since the news broke about the successful vote and our own Macedonian organizations, who are extremely adept at playing community politics, have responded to it with an inept silence, punctuated by the convening of yet another public forum, where Greek members of the left and right factions of the Labor Party squabbled and pointed the finger at each other, while unloading years of dirt on each other to the amusement of the attendees. At the same time, a Ms Yiannoulatos from Theo Theophanous’ office encouraged us to ‘join the Labor Party’ in the hope that even though this is the Party responsible for the current situation, our presence within it will magically set things aright. Finally it was resolved to send a letter of protest to the Labor Party and to request Greek branches to work internally to solve the problem. The forum was noted by the marked absence of Greek community leaders. Either they do not care, despite their effusive protestations of patriotism, or and one hopes it is the latter, they find themselves way out of their league. In the recent pages of the Greek section of this publication, for the past few weeks, readers concerns have variously centered upon who should have organized the Return to Anatolia Conference, Old age, Religion and poetry. This speaks volumes as to how important the success of the motion to create the ‘Macedonian Branch’ really is to our community.
Similarly, our close affiliation with the Labor Party almost to the exclusion of other avenues of power, though not without manifold benefits for which we will be eternally grateful, has had one detrimental effect. Everyone is privy to the fragmented and diverse nature of our paroikia. It is therefore incorrect to speak of ‘the Greek community.’ Instead, we should refer to the “Greek communities” all of which have different interests, political beliefs and concerns and NONE of which are able to act in concert with their counterparts in order to represent a united Greek force, simply because those terms are mutually exclusive. Thus all parties and governments know that the various Greek lobbyists that knock on their doors from time to time though possibly influential, do not really represent our community as a whole and so, they can be placated and ignored. In parallel, the Labor Party knows that despite any perceived anti-Hellenic connotations stemming from the vote, such outrage will dissolve by election time simply because they have most of the Greeks ‘in the bag’ and no astute politician of the calibre of Jeff Kennett exists to woo the Greeks away from them in the only way possible: by massaging their egoes and making them feel special. In other words, they are on to us. They know we are powerless, they know that we will vote for them no matter what and they know that our anger can easily dispelled by a smile from a politician and an opportunity to take a photograph with him.
Christos Tsirkas is of the opinion that a greater participation by members of the Greek communities in the Labor Party, especially younger ones, is vital and that it could have successfully defeated the motion. This is a sentiment echoed by Jenny Mikakos in an interview she gave last year to NKEE: “The idealism that young people bring to politics is a good thing. I'd like to see more young Greeks involved in my party and in shaping the party in the future. That is not happening. The average age of the majority of Australian Greeks that are members of the Labor Party is sixty-five.” There is much to be said about this view. Participation by younger, assertive and articulate members who have been born in Australia and thus do not feel that they are obliged or owe a debt of gratitude to the Party for giving them their original voice could challenge provoke and improve the status quo both for the Party and our community PROVIDED that such younger members act in our interests and are not used as pawns in the process of branch stacking and pre-selections. As few youth have been brought up to have a conception of a Greek community other than the often blinkered view of their parents or to espouse community service as an ideal, it is questionable whether this proposition would have widespread appeal. It is worthwhile noting that Greek student organizations and other youth bodies have shared their progenitor’s silence on the ‘Macedonian’ branch.
The vocal presence of Greeks in the Labor Party has long provoked and annoyed many of its members. Despite the fact that Greeks tend to sacrifice the interests of their own community in order to curry favour with the Party, their loyalty to Australia is constantly called into question. For example, in Andrew Landeryou’s blog: “The Other Cheek,” in an article entitled ‘My Big Fat Ego,’ he re-casts the comments made above by Jenny Mikakos in a more sinister light: “Brach-stacking State MP Jenny Mikakos has told a Greek community newspaper Neos Kosmos of her plans to stack members of the Greek community in the Labor Party.”
Our task then, seems to be twofold: Firstly we have to find ways of deflecting the criticism leveled at us, that we are self-interested and that in concerning ourselves with the permutations of Balkan politics, we do not have the interests of Australia at heart. This is no mean feat and may prove to be an impossible task given that we have been called upon to justify our loyalty time and time again for the past hundred years. Then, or simultaneously, we need to recast ourselves as a unique niche within Australian society that has its own interests and concerns much like any other section of the community. Only then can our involvement in the political process be seen as constructive and again it is questionable whether we will ever be viewed as anything else except strangers, prior to our holistic assimilation.
Overall, the inept silence that accompanied the recent manifestation of an issue that saw us take to the streets in 1992 and 1994 seems to suggest that we are more comfortable with myth than reality and that having established ourselves in this country and acquired a large land tax bill, our work is done. It exceeds even the farthest corners of the already stretched imagination of the most ardent Australian-Ellinaras to seriously postulate that as a community, we could look at establishing a consensus of core issues we are in agreement upon and work methodically and in concert to ensure that our stance in respect of those issues is adopted by as many facets of society as possible, simply because our past history proves that we lack the maturity and good-will to work together.
If consolation can be found it is in this: That as time progresses and the dividing line between our acculturation and assimilation blurs into obscurity, so too shall the ‘national issues’ which are peculiar to us an ethnic minority. And on that happy day, when our sickly tributary breaks the bank of the mainstream and flows into its delta, we can truly say that we have won. Until next time, go with the flow.


First published in NKEE on 26 March 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007


“There are a lot of democratic countries where violence occurs. Spain, there are regular- well, not regular- but from time to time there are terrorist attacks Greece went through a 20-year period of there being terrorist attacks,” the august PM and father of our one nation, John Howard stated on 3AW Radio, and all of a sudden, a bunch of whingeing wogs, most of who were accepted into this country when they were starving and should have been here long enough to forget about their old country and gratefully have become Australians, are up in arms.
Quite frankly, what kind of country is this when its elected leader is not permitted to freely speak his mind and insult the countries from which his migrant constituents originate, without being met with howls of disapprobation (commonly in babblements other than English) by citizens holding dual citizenship and who by inference are possessed of questionable loyalty to this wide brown land? This unaustralian behaviour is enough to make you want to strip them of their Australian citizenship and send them back to where they came from or at least to a Pacific island for offshore processing. Surely this would not have happened if Mr Menzies was Prime Minister. Blame that Gough Whitlam for taking the wogs out of the factories and giving them a voice with which to create ideologically suspect ghettoes for themselves. For it is common knowledge that the Antipodes Festival, as its name denotes, is really a front for an extremist anti-podiatrist fringe group, bent on removing all foot-doctors from the world.
The singling out of Greece as a country that stoically endures terrorist attacks is an interesting one. On average, few terrorist attacks have occurred in Greece over the past twenty years and those that have taken place were the fruits of an ideologically demented, anarchic fringe group, 17N. Despite the fact that Greece is perched precariously upon the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, no noteworthy evidence of terrorism or violent plots linked to the situation in the Middle East have been uncovered in Greece. This is because unlike the clumsy attempts by the Coalition of the Willing to violently institute western parliamentary democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have plunged that country into chaos and encouraged the fanatization and formation of terrorist plots by minute numbers of muslims in Western countries, Greece has, for the past thousand years, commencing with St John of Damascus, been conducting a skilled and sophisticated dialogue with the Middle East, which is just as much a beneficiary of ancient Greek civilization as the West is. Having immersed themselves in the East and engaged themselves upon a path of mutual respect and dialogue, Greece is a haven of security, understanding and mutual tolerance, a skilled mediator in the Mediterranean region and a country that enjoys the respect of all Middle Eastern states. As a result, our terrorists, for what they are worth, are home-grown. They are not by-products of a failed and short-sighted policy to forcibly compel others to accept a particular status quo, plunging their country into chaos and an orgy of internecine strife as a consequence. Nor does Greece face the situation that say, Australia or the United States does; that they are labouring under a constant threat of an influx of extraneous elements that import terrorism.
One would therefore be forgiven for wondering why the Chief Mate and Head Shearer, John Howard would do us the honour of singling out Greece as an example of a democracy having to undergo terrorist attacks when there are other nations, in closer geographic proximity to Australia that struggle to deal with terrorism on a large scale. The most notable and obvious examples that come to mind commence with Indonesia, whose Bali bombings stopped the heart of the whole nation. Indeed if I were Indonesian, I would be mortally offended at the Prime Minister’s comments. By overlooking the most obvious example of a state having to deal with terrorism on an almost daily basis, is the Prime Minister tacitly implying that while Indonesia certainly does suffer from terrorist attacks, that it is not democratic? Other democratic states such as the Philippines, struggling with the Abu Sayyaf insurgency and Thailand, grappling with southern separatists could have similar cause for complaint as could Pakistan, which has to accommodate both Taliban elements and the often violently expressed nationalist aspirations of some Baluchi tribesmen. Unlike Greece though, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and a vast economy.
Moving further towards Greece, we note that since its foundation, Israel has been the target of innumerable violent attacks. By omitting to mention Israel’s predicament, is the PM suggesting that Israel is not democratic, or rather that the suicide bombers who assail its land are not terrorists? If so, this is a surprising turn of policy. The same could be said of Australia’s noble friend Turkey who for the past twenty years has suffered the attacks of the PKK and in which country Roman Catholic priests and Armenian journalists are mysteriously assassinated. We can therefore only assume that the choice of Greece for an example was not occasioned by mere chance.
Already, forthright members of Parliament, notably the Honourable Steve Georganas, Member for Hindmarsh have expressed their righteous indignation at the Prime Minister’s faux pas. In a press release, he boldly stated: “The Prime Minister compared the ongoing violence in Iraq to the isolated and infrequent attacks in Greece. This is a bizarre comment that has taken every one by surprise….“The Greek Government takes great pride in maintaining friendly relations with its neighbours and allies- including Australia. The words of the Prime Minister have no foundation and are only serving to damage our relationship with Greece. The words of the Prime Minster could potentially impact adversely on tourism to Greece and the extent to which both countries interact.” Such an analysis is correct Mr Georganas should be commended for his spirited stand. However, to employ the suspect non-English phrase, «πίσω έχει η αχλαδιά την ουρά.»
For months now, ever since the Cronulla riots in actual fact, a climate of fear and suspicion has been cultivated against expressions of non-Anglo-Celtic cultures to an extent where the loyalty of those who are seen ostensibly to have some sort of affiliation with countries other than Australia, is called into question. Consequently, John Howard’s statement is a masterstroke of a seasoned politician. He knows that except for the Greek community, which is so fragmented and divided as to constitute no electoral threat to him, no other vocal section of the wider Australian mainstream really gives two hoots about Australia’s relations with Greece and this is evidenced by the fact that the only people truly offended by his comments are Greek-Australians and the Greek ambassador. Mr Zois, who valiantly made his indignation known.
Steve Georganas felt compelled to condemn an unjust statement. However, Steve Georganas is also of Greek descent. By being provoked into a vocal protest which in effect is a defence of Greece, Steve runs the risk of being portrayed by malevolent others, as a self-interested politician whose loyalty lies primarily with his place of origin, not Australia and as a result, his credibility could suffer. On the other hand, if he did not vocalize his deeply felt opinion, he would also run the risk of being accused of moral complacency on this issue, especially by other Greek-Australians. By one simple statement, our august ruler has highlighted the Catch 22 situation politicians of ethnic origin find themselves in when the nation they represent has to deal with their country of origin and this makes Steve Georganas’ stand ever more so brave and praiseworthy.
Another thing that John Howard knows or should know is that spiteful words directed towards an innocent party do not have the potential to harm relations with Greece. The Greek people’s love of Australia, forged upon hosting the first Australian Olympic Gold medallist, looking after wounded Anzacs in Lemnos, hiding Australian soldiers in the mountains of Crete during the Second World War and giving Australia the best of her children, is unconditional. This is largely due to the glowing reports about Australia and its people that Greeks receive from Greek-Australians. Greeks do not forget a favour and are always willing to overlook or forgive a slight. After all, the Greek people have been the recipient of such slights for over four thousand years. John Howard’s pitiful attempt at political posturing, when viewed from such a temporal perspective is as significant to Greece as a mosquito bite. Attempts at insults regardless, Greece is forever Australia’s friend and it is hoped when Greek PM Konstantine Karamanlis visits Australia in May that he will provide the PM with valuable advice on how to deal with diversity as well as lessons on manners and deportment.
Returning however to the local context, the question remains: Given that this is an election year in which everyone traditionally courts the votes of ethnic communities, is the PM’s statement, which is bound to alienate at least some Greek-Australian voters from his party, an expression of his dislike of Greek-Australians or indicative of him not caring for our reaction at all? Most probably, he knows that by the time of the election, most Greek-Australians’ attention will be focused upon other, more pressing issues, such as Greek community elections or which community body should have organized an event and that they will have long forgotten….


First published in NKEE on 19 March 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007


Of the fact that my meeting with Doctor Evangelia Anagnostou-Laoutides was pre-ordained by Byblos, the Phoenician god of weighty scholarly tomes, I have absolutely no doubt. For I had believed in her without seeing. Early last year, I obtained for myself a copy of a book entitled: Eros and Ritual in Ancient Literature: Singing of Atalanta, Daphnis and Orpheus. In doing so, I freely admit that I made such a choice by judging its front cover; a pleasing composition of a Greek temple portico sheltering a mysterious looking-rhombus, as I always wanted to possess a book that proudly displayed this much maligned and misunderstood geometrical shape.
Over the ensuing summer, I proceeded to ruminate through the pages of the said book, only to discover a plethora of insights, ethnographic and literary that challenge the way Greeks see themselves and their history. I particularly let forth a triumphant gasp upon reading the following, as it echoed some of my own conclusions, gleaned from various readings over the years and my interest in Semitic cultures in general: “For many years, the study of Greek mythology as a major aspect of Greek culture was haunted by the aura of a superlative society that almost stood alone among the other peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and had practically invented every value related to human development. As a result of this view, our appreciation of Greek myths was doomed to remain limited and our understanding of their social function could not proceed further than the safe speculation that they must have played a significant role in ancient social structure either by reflecting it or by interpreting it.' In more recent days the rising of comparative studies which coincided with the discovery and examination of more Near Eastern texts has led to the appreciation of the similarities that Greek myths exhibit in comparison with Eastern mythic specimens.” In the engrossing and challenging pages that followed, the author examined the myths of Atalanta, Daphnis and Orpheus in a wide variety of literary texts throughout the Greco-Roman world and compared the cultic practices and religious ideas of the Greeks and the Romans with those of the Near Eastern cultures. The author then focused upon the survival of these ideas in erotic mythology that became particularly popular during the Hellenistic and the later Augustan period and analysed how Eastern ideas might have shaped literary genres like Latin elegy and pastoral poetry. Ground-breaking stuff.
Given the above, it is fitting that my first experience of the physical manifestation of Dr Evangelia Anagnostou-Laoutidou was at the launch of Dr Kostas Vitkos’ second anthology of newspaper columns «Διάφορα» wherein I was introduced to her as “a lecturer at Monash Uni and a person I should definitely ‘do a Diatribe about.’” I shook her hand, exchanged pleasantries and, being possessed of a memory that a sieve would not at all be envious of, I promptly forgot all about her.
It was only when, earlier this year I was browsing through a catalogue of books, looking for something as obscure as The Anti-Chalcedonian world-view of John Rufus to sink my teeth into, that all the cogs in my frontal lobes finally began to grind against each other and I let out a gasp of surprise. There, on the page was a photograph of “Eros and Ritual in Ancient Literature,” and though my much-thumbed volume had enjoyed pride of place on my shelf for a year, it was only now that I made the connection. Its author, whose subtle erudition and sophisticated arguments had informed and enthralled my summer, was none other than the said Dr Evangelia Anagnostou-Laoutides!
To fate can also be ascribed my pilgrimage to her office for the purpose of homage paying as she left nothing to chance: I received in my email in-box from her, a lengthy description of the best route to her place of honest toil from my office, complete with Melway map reference, distance to the nearest metre and contingency plan if, failing all that, I should still get lost, the thoroughness of which would make a GPS blush in shame.
Dr Eva Anagnostou-Laoutidou’s office is as sparse as she is unaffected in manner by her prodigious learning. A warm-hearted, friendly lecturer in Classical Studies, she is also a polyglot, having delved not only in her native Greek and English, but possessed of lashings of German, Italian and Spanish, with sprinklings of Italian, Persian, Welsh and Hebrew to boot. The second Greek academic after Stathis Gauntlett to speak Welsh in this country, owing to her tenure at Aberystwyth University, she will sure to become, in years to come, a historical, or dare we say, mythological figure.
Dr Eva is also unique as a relative newcomer to the ranks of the Greek-Australian. Obtaining her Bachelor of Arts in Classical Philology at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, she went on to obtain her Masters in Latin literature at the University of Leeds and a PhD in Classics at the University of Kent. In fact, the book that so enchanted me was her doctoral thesis. Her comparison of the education cultures in England and Greece is a fascinating one, as is her telling remark that because of the manner in which Helladic academics often conduct themselves, it is difficult for a Greek academic to be awarded legitimacy in the field of Classical Studies by their international peers, as the slur of nationalistic bias is invariably leveled at them. She chose to teach in Australia, not through any reference to the Greek community here but because a university position was open to her here in Classical Studies that she did not want to pass up.
The fragmentation of areas as vast as Classical Studies into specialized topics is something that finds Dr Eva unmoved. She rails against prevailing views among some scholars that their job is that of museum curator, preserving past knowledge throughout the ages. She also rails against the view that would narrow the focus of knowledge taught of our ancient world, and which would, in Gnostic-fashion, reveal its secrets only to those select few who would prove themselves worthy of being initiated into the higher mysteries of Classical scholarship.
Instead, Dr Eva seeks to revive interest in a subject that is both chronically underfunded and undervalued by making by placing the ancient past in context and challenging her students to see just how of our modern world has its cultural precedents in our ancient past. Further to that, Dr Eva’s conception of the role of the lecturer transcends the traditional exposition of revealed truth. Instead, she adopts the guise of a guide, leading students through their own inquiries, impressing upon them the knowledge that there is so much of our past that we do not know.
With the satisfaction of a mother whose children have long passed the potty stage and have finally learned to put the toilet seat down after use, Dr Eva humourously relates the instances of students of Greek background who join her class, fore-armed with often erroneous assertions as to the ancient Greeks’ natural superiority and who are then compelled to assess and analyse such pre-conceptions. My uneasy grin at this point was occasioned by my own memories of myself making similar assertions at a Classical Studies tutorial aptly named: Myth and Reality, where I discovered just how much of what we held to be gospel about our forefathers hovered tantalizingly between the two terms, casing me to discard my adherence to Phrenology in order to explain the innate superiority of the Ancient Greek, just as I had finally mastered how to spell that word. In particular, students have trouble dealing with issues such as homosexuality and cultural borrowings from other races. In this regard, Dr Eva’s work in pointing to areas where it is quite possible that Semitic religious practices and poetic motifs inform ancient Greek religion and literature, will make a lasting contribution to permitting modern scholarship, but also the layperson to view the corpus of ancient Greek culture holistically and in its proper context. It is this commitment that has seen her public presentations over the community radio on topics such as the Ancient Greek Mythology of the Underworld and Afterlife become widely appreciated, though her pious hope and generous offer to various Greek schools for them to make use of her knowledge and proffered time in order to introduce young students to the classical world, a much needed tool for their own understanding of their cultural heritage, has criminally not been taken up.
So how does Dr Eva find our community as a recent arrival, and how does she view the second and third generation as compared to their counterparts in Greece. It is here that Dr Eva makes a pertinent observation. While she still sees Australia as a land of opportunity and admires our achievements, she says the following: “In Greece, there is a vast gap between the generations. Children tend to reject their parents’ values wholesale. In Australia on the other hand, the second generation seems to have adopted almost wholesale, the entire corpus of their parents’ values, especially when it comes to the work ethic. Without criticizing these values, it appears that this adoption has been made without question or analysis in many cases and it presents as an interesting phenomenon.”
Among the various projects that the prolific Dr Eva is working on, which include battling to convince University management of the intrinsic importance of Classics to a tertiary institution, and working on publications with titles as diverse as: “Acontius and Cydippe: a Hellenistic oath or a Near Eastern Spell?” “Meleager and Propertius: Eastern sensibility and Augustan Rome,” “The Princeps and the Sun” and “Persephone and Cybele” she is also preparing to add yet another member, of her own manufacture, to our community. When questioned as to how she feels about the topos of her offspring’s birth, she replies: “I could think of no better place.”
Hours fly past like minutes with Dr Eva. Her enthusiasm and passion for her work is infectious, her conversation incisive and witty. Having circumambulated her office the prescribed number of times, after which my Hellenism restored albeit in a hybrid Commagenian way, I wound my way through the labyrinthine corridors, proudly clutching my now autographed copy of her thesis, murmuring the words of the immortal Cavafy: “We also are Greeks- what else are we?- but with the loves and passions of Asia with loves and emotions sometimes strange to the Greeks..” We have a lot to learn.


First published in NKEE on 12 March 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007


"The one thing that children wear out faster than shoes is parents." John Plomb

In the primeval mythologies of such diverse nations as the Greeks, the Egyptians, Aztecs and the Chinese, a curious tail-eating snake known as the Ouroboros, exists. This snake, whose very name in Greek means “tail-devourer” has, over the years, come to symbolize many concepts, among them, ideas of cyclicality, primordial unity and the vicious circle. It was of course, Plato in his Timaeus who first described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe: an immortal, perfectly constructed animal, that lived from its own waste, “for the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything.”
The first thing in our particular universe were the first generation migrants whose remarkable achievements in this country overshadow and contextualise our existence to such an extent where, if the prevalent ideology is to be adhered to, they too are excellent and lack nothing. In many respects, their representation as ouroboros would be a particularly apt one. Caught in a vicious cycle of creation and decay, the community they have constructed is often insular and constantly tearing at itself or its tail. As they, like the ourboros have conceived their existence as eternal, no contingency plan has been made for the bitter truth that one day, their works and deeds will pass away, though this too is fitting, if one considers that the early Christians adopted the ouroboros as a symbol of the limited confines of the material world and the self-consuming transitory existence upon it. After the fall of creation, all will return to the Void. Therefore, we are but canines, chasing our own tails.
The reason why the first generation of Greek migrants to Australia have constructed an almost god-like status for themselves is, quite simply put, because they are brilliant people. Arriving in a foreign country, not knowing the language, having no funds and next to know formal education, they proceeded through sheer hard work and determination, to set up households, businesses, a multitude of community institutions including churches, schools and brotherhoods, educated their children, became influential in government and local affairs and acquired a decent real estate portfolio. All this was accomplished in the space of about fifty to sixty years and while its end result it that our dealings with each other and the rest of the world have been characterized by increasing acquisitiveness and devotion to filthy lucre, our community still retains its archaic anatomy.
This in itself presents an aberration within the globalised western world, where the cult of youth prevails. “The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children,” Edward VIII of England once said. He was referring to the fact that in our times, whether through marketing or any other means, the key focus of society is the youth. Being ‘forever young,’ as the popular song states, seems to be the key focus of living, accompanied by ideologies of being able to, as the Stayfree advertisement proclaims, “ be free to do whatever I want, any old time.” In the Western world, youth generally are, or demand to be free of any control or interference in the values they espouse, who they love or the manner in which they live their lives.
Traditionally however, Greek society has always been a gerontocracy. Life decisions were almost always made by parents or elders and the youth were expected to obey or at least, have regard to their progenitor’s wishes on any given matter. Such influence was all pervasive, transcending all aspects of life from the trivial “where are you going now?” to their tender saplings' choice of life partner.
It is conceivable that upon their transplantation to Australia, such values would inevitably clash with those of the native variety and though the passage of the years may have muted their acuteness, they still form the sub-stratum of our hybrid existence. We find ourselves in a paradoxical culture clash vortex, where parents, especially those of the first generation still wish to exercise their traditional prerogatives over their offspring, while the self same offspring view this largely as an impingement upon their home-grown cultural values. It is fitting then that alchemists considered the ouroboros as a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite.
Alia Papageorgiou astutely identified one of the paradoxes arising out of our culture clash in her article “Bank of Mum and Dad” last week. The first generation was largely poor, uneducated and foreign. The second generation is largely affluent, well educated and native. Yet despite the second generation’s privileges and advantages and the expectation that taking these into consideration, they should be progressing further, higher above the achievements of their predecessors, they are still reliant upon them for the most mundane aspects of their existence, primarily, houses and cash.
One can understand why this is so. When a house is gifted from a parent to a child, the transfer of Land, which is lodged in the Titles Offices requests that one states the consideration, or price of such a transfer. In the case of a gift, this usually reads as follows: “for love and affection.” In days of old, it was traditional for Greeks to gift land or homes to their children, usually their daughters, in order to set up a household. However, in return, it was expected that the recipients would continue to care for their parents, especially in old age. Today, first generation Greek parents face a dilemma. Their children find their demands for obedience vexatious and a hindrance upon their lifestyle. They also seek to deviate a considerable way from their own values and customs of behaviour. Knowing that they can no longer enforce such adherence by fiat, they resort to, what is in effect a bribe. Underlying this most mercenary act is the first generation’s knowledge that by and large, they are still foreigners in this country and feel alone. The only thing they can claim to be truly theirs is their children and if the act of giving them a house or some money, despite the fact that such children have or will eventually have the capacity to acquire these themselves will ensure their continuous love and (hopefully) obedience, then so be it. For the question on the tips of the lips of most aging members of the first generation is not whether there is life after death but rather: «Ποιος θα μας γηροκομήσει;»
Of course, underlying this attitude is a tacit belief that the second generation is incompetent and useless, unable to match the divine deeds of their fathers. In many respects, the second generation is to blame for this for it is quite often the case that such presents that are forthcoming from their parents are demanded rather than just gratefully accepted. As a corollary, many aged parents continue to run their children’s households, performing their chores, cooking and shopping for them, making decisions for them and bringing up their children, long after their children have married and had children of their own. Such continuous interference, while benign in intent, again encrypts the assumption that the second generation is useless and cannot do anything without its parents. This in turn is the cause of much strife and often, family breakdown. And when family breakdown does occur, it is quite often the case that the cash or property the parents worked so hard to acquire is frittered away in court costs and property settlements.
So what is wrong with us? Why can we not grow up and look after ourselves? The simple answer is that there is nothing wrong with us and we are more than capable of fending for ourselves. However, having grown fat on another’s pasture, it is expedient for us to play upon our parents’ insecurities in order to make our life easier. Our parents after all, are gods. Since they have proved that they can do anything, their primary responsibility is to satisfy the needs of those they have created. The thought that parents feel compelled to purchase their children’s love and obedience and that their offspring see fit to take advantage of that is sickening. What is even more sickening is the no few cases where recipients of parental bounty, whether out of love or in order to obtain the pension, call off all bets and refuse to care for their parents in old age, in total breach of the original contract. We ought to remember that at the same time that the first generation were bringing up their children and setting up their homes here, they were also sending money back to Greece in order to support their parents and provide dowries for their siblings. Our gift-horses’ mouth truly is abysmal.
It is a sign of the times that the first generation not only feels compelled to gift its property to its children but also purchase and arrange for their own funerals, ostensibly because they do not wish to ‘burden’ their children with their deaths but in truth because they cannot trust them to arrange things correctly. A world where affection must be purchased and love proceeds down a one-way street, is a very unhealthy one indeed and fraught with traffic problems.
Interestingly enough, the conception that wealth belongs to the entire family, not just those to those who are instrumental in its acquisition, is dying off even among the first generation. This is especially so among those of its members, who arrived in this country at a young age, grew up and went to school here. Those baby boomers see wealth, much as the mainstream does, as something that reflects their individual worth, to be disposed of at their own discretion and not something to which their offspring are automatically entitled. Although some of them, along with their second generation counterparts may have received such financial benefits from their parents and others not at all, they do not see why their children should be entitled to privileges that they have not earned for themselves and encourage their children to develop their own ingenuity and reach their full potential because they don’t want to feel taken for granted.
This in turn leads to an unraveling of the traditional conception of the Greek family, as we know it. Given that the quantum is obscure and it is not certain if any money at all is forthcoming, the psychological bond that secures their children to their bosom is sundered. Not being able to trust in the goodwill of those who may not receive their payment when they want it and which most likely will be subject to labyrinthine terms and conditions, they cannot trust their children to provide aged-care services in the future and so, make other provision for their retirement. All bets are off. Or yet again, they resort to bribes, in order to fix the outcome of the race. As one Greek father recently told me: “If I like my daughter’s choice of husband, I’ll give her a house. If not, they can both go to hell. I mean I had to work didn’t I?”
Whatever the works of our hands, Ragnarök will come. Jormungandr the Norse Ouroboros will come out of the Ocean and poison the sky. When he does, it shall be Göttedammerrüng. The gods will fall down dead and in a world full of children, Sir Thomas Browne will look in vain adults to take their place, sighing:
“ that the first day should make the last, that the Tail of the Snake should return into its Mouth precisely at that time, and they should wind up upon the day of their Nativity, is indeed a remarkable Coincidence.”



First published in NKEE on 5 March 2007