Saturday, May 07, 2011


Big Ted surveyed the room with a wide sweeping, but penetrating gaze, as if he was peering directly through his audience and off into the future. “I want to pay tribute to those people whose names are listed on the wall. It was their ambition and vision that has led us to this day. They built for the future.” The August Premier was of course, referring to the past presidents of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria and as he mentioned the fact that the aforementioned organisation is one hundred and ten years old, and is thus, one of the oldest Victorian institutions, a shudder of excitement passed through the audience. Ted Baillieu’s subsequent remark, that the Greek community of Victoria has its origins in the Goldfields and that there would be not a few Greeks today who would relish the opportunity to go gold prospecting largely went unnoticed by the adoring crowd, though it was apt, hinting at one of the guiding ideologies behind our community.
The occasion of the Premier’s speech a week or so ago, was the Victorian government’s announcement that it would provide the GOCMV with the sum of two million dollars for the construction of the Hellenic Cultural Centre on the site of its current building – a project that has both inspired and caused controversy among sections of our community. Ted Baillieu took particular pains to extract from GOCMV president Bill Papastergiadis, an undertaking that the current antiquated lift, whose arrival is always uncertain (rumour has it that bearded and stunted deposed GOCMV board members are exiled in the liftwell and raise and lower the lift by an intricate system of pulleys), shall be retained in the new Cultural Centre, for historical purposes. I should like to obtain a similar undertaking with regard to the period wood panelling that adorns the foyer of the building. As a throwback to the eighties, it is truly sublime.
Ted Baillieu also repeatedly and pointedly stressed his desire that the new edifice be constructed “sooner, rather than later.” He stated this in the same breath as his assertion that the Greek community serves as a model to others. And as opposed to the usual tribute talk we have come to expect from various politicians, one gained the distinct impression that Ted Baillieu meant every word he said. Through his words, and the very act of funding the Centre, it is evident that the Greek community has come of age. We are both partners and stakeholders in the state’s commitment to constructing a multicultural society and the provision of such a large amount of funds makes us an instrument in furthering that commitment, simply because our manifold activities and vibrant presence in this state have proven that we are more than capable of doing so. Ted Baillieu’s official announcement was thus a great and proud day for the Greek community.
It was also a great and proud day for Bill Papastergiadis, GOCMV president, who in his short time at the helm of our most ancient organisation has guided it safely through the shoals of discord and seen it rise in the esteem of the broader community and the state and who has imbued within it, a sense of optimism and vision. Ted Baillieu’s panegyric to founding fathers possessed of vision and who built for the future applies equally to Bill Papastergiadis and it was thus fitting that such a panegyric was delivered in his presence given that unlike those founding fathers, he belongs to the second generation – a generation that for the most part has not been able to find a successful or viable foothold within the framework of Greek community politics. His achievement proves that a committed second generation, adept at navigating seamlessly between the Greek and English speaking communities, can glean from these the opportunities and privileges to be enjoyed from both and use these for the greater benefit of all. It is hoped that his sterling work in gaining the esteem of the mainstream and injecting impetus and a sense of mission back into the GOCMV will convince other aspiring second generation and third generation Greek-Australians that the Greek community is not a mere quagmire of internecine strife and navel-gazers but rather, an inspiring and endless field of collective action, that is multi-faceted and inclusive enough to cater for a multiplicity of interests and concerns. Similarly, it is hoped that Bill Papastergiadis’ and his board members’ efforts will convince the first generation that the emancipation of the second generation is well overdue. After all, it is supposedly largely for their benefit that the Cultural Centre has been conceived in the first place.
The official announcement of the Baillieu government’s two million dollar contribution to the erection of the Cultural Centre is also a clarion call and rallying cry for further action. Having the resources of the government behind us and the Premier’s “sooner rather than later” injunction ringing in our ears, we are now committed to the speedy construction of the Centre. There is absolutely no further room for prevarication, debate or even focus on other unnecessary and divisive interests and pursuits. Victoria expects us to keep our word and as a united community we need to invest all our energy and resources into ensuring that this project is effected. For if it is not, the loss of credibility that will befall our community, will be tantamount to catastrophe and it would be unlikely, in that eventuality, whether we would be entrusted with government support to a similar extent, ever again.
Whether one agrees with the construction of the Centre or not (and the members of the GOCMV overwhelmingly have shown that they do,) it cannot be denied that the Baillieu government’s announcement marks an important watershed in our history, a towering achievement even before the Tower that will, with the right management, ensure our survival as a cohesive entity through this century, is even constructed. It is incumbent upon us to ensure its success. While we can justifiably take pride in our achievement thus far, if we are to bring this vital project to a proper completion, let us heed a few words of advice from Blessed Augustine: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? First lay the foundation of humility.” Let’s get to work.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 7 May 2011