Saturday, November 25, 2017


In my idle moments, I often muse that the latter day history of our community can be likened to the plight of Sisyphus. For his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness, Sisyphus was compelled by the Olympian gods to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity. We too, engage in Sisyphian pursuits. From: raising money to buy the club building, raising money to pay off the club building, raising money to maintain the club building, raising money to find a use for the club building, raising money to stop the club building from being sold, to raising money to create a Modern Greek program in university, to raising money to maintain a Modern Greek program in university, to raising money to stop Modern Greek from being abolished from university, it appears that we are constantly, to paraphrase the colloquial Australian take on Sisyphus, pushing excrement uphill.
That is why I find the front cover of Christos Fifis’ recently launched book “Greek-Australian Offerings,” so intriguing. Designed by Phrixos Ioannidis, it depicts a little silhouette of a man, standing atop a mountain peak, holding his boulder in a masterful way. Significantly, the boulder is behind him, signifying that Sisyphus is not about to commence his futile task. Instead, he has finally completed it. As he stands triumphantly upon the peak, holding the boulder that inclines towards him, threatening to commence another descent and take him with it, Sisyphus, for the first time ever, is able to view the horizon, beyond his bondage. This should be a liberating and inspiring moment. Instead, Sisyphus’ view is hemmed in by more mountains, enclosing a void. One can almost feel the boulder begin to roll as he hyperventilates in exasperation. Phrixos entitled his picture: “The vision of Sisyphus” and it is, I suggest, no coincidence that Christos Fifis has chosen it for his front cover. There is a powerful pictorial parable encoded here, one that is key to unlocking Christos Fifis’ psychological attitude towards the Greek community, one he has researched, as lecturer and academic and loved, as an activist, at an inordinately deep level. He who has ears, let him hear, as the Chief Parabolist once said.
Christos Fifis translates the title to his book, rendered in Greek «Ελληνοαυστραλιανές Αναφορές», as “Greek-Australian Themes.” From the outset, what becomes apparent is that while in the Greek, the two ethnonyms can be merged to form a hybrid but harmonious new compound word, this is not possible in English. Instead the two ethnonyms, even though they attempt to express a compound reality, are separated by a hyphen and remain apart, suggesting the writer’s conviction that while such a semantic merger is linguistically possible in Greek, it is linguistically impossible in the Anglosphere, unless the term Graecaustralian is used, one that achieves compound hybridity, but significantly, only through the mediation of another western language, Latin, and has not, nor will it probably ever be used. The inadvertent realisation by Christos Fifis that the Greek term «Ελληνοαυστραλιανός» is untranslatable in English is of profound importance to his book but more pertinently to the community (which is also a mistranslation of the term that we use to describe ourselves, «παροικία» which literally means a settlement on the fringes, with all that this entails for our place within the multicultural paradigm) purporting to call itself both «Ελληνοαυστραλιανή» and Greek-Australian. This ontopathology is subtly played out in Christos Fifis’ interviews and musings that comprise the contents of his book.
I respect the author’s use of the word “Themes” to translate the Greek «αναφορές.» However, I prefer a more literal translation, one that, I feel, goes to the heart of Christos Fifis’ purpose. "Anaphora" literally signifies a "carrying back" or a "carrying up", and so, can denote an "offering" In the sacrificial language of the Greek version of the Old Testament, the term προσφέρειν is used to denote the offeror bringing the victim to the altar, and ἀναφέρειν is used to describe the priest's offering up the selected portion upon the altar. This is exactly the practice that Christos Fifis is engaging in, through the writing of “Greek-Australian Offerings”; offering up, by means of interviews, articles and poems, a unique view of a century of Greek-Australian cultural and literary achievement.
Christos Fifis’ perspective is a unique one. In a community suffering from historical amnesia and generally unable to forge a collective identity based on a coherent narrative comprised of the sum of our lived experiences, we largely do not seek to possess any knowledge of what transpired beyond our parents’ generation, nor do we find this relevant to our own experience. A key exemplar of this is the fact that we tend to term those migrants arriving here in the fifties and sixties as the first generation, ignoring the half-century of experiences, struggles, achievements and ideological and social activism of the pre-war Greek migrants. Consequently, instead of being able, after an entire century of settlement in this country, to draw upon an unbroken lineage of experience and attitude so as to formulate a truly Australian version of the Greek identity, our sense of identity remains fractured and ersatz, psychologically dependent upon an increasingly remote and indifferent Greek metropolis, and increasingly defined by Australian government policy and social expectation, of course, without the involvement of the original owners of this country. Having no knowledge of what has gone before, we, like our ancestor Sisyphus, the archetype of the modern Greek-Australian, are doomed to push our communal rock uphill, if not until eternity, then certainly, until we become dust, as prefigured by Fifis’ inclusion in the book, of Aristeidis Paradissis’ last ever poem, about death, written on his death-bed in hospital, upon a serviette.
Through his offerings, Christos Fifis seeks to arrest this phenomenon. It is important for him that we understand the perspectives of early Greek social and political activists as Alekos Doukas, or the poetry of Kostas Malaxos, who arriving in Australia prior to the First World War, published his first book of poetry in English, in Athens in 1957. While the poetry of Nikos Ninolakis, Dimitris Tsaloumas and Aristeidis Paradissis has been widely studied and critiqued at length in both English and Greek and the book would have benefited from an analysis of other largely forgotten but nonetheless powerful writers with much to say about the construction of a hybrid Greek-Australian identity, such as the great Yiannis Lillis, Christos Fifis’ sensitive treatment of these historic personages, through the interviews he conducted with them over the years, lends their insights on identity and acculturation, an inordinate immediacy to the reader, offering them up as building blocks, through which one can construct a coherent narrative, with a sense of historic continuity, that will ensure our relevance to the future. In this vital process, Christos Fifis becomes our chief ideologue.
“Greek-Australian Offerings,” is the third deeply inspiring volume of a trilogy of historically significant musings about identity and historical continuity in Australia. In his first, “Where is the place for a village?” his poems pose profound ontological questions: “Australia of impatient departures and pleasant arrivals. Fifty years later, who are the dinky di Australians, and who are the migrants? Who are the New Australians? And what are the Aborigines who didn’t count, back then?” In his second tome, “From Our Antipodes” Fifis makes a broad and sophisticated attempt to place the Greek community squarely within the broader Australian social context. In this, the final volume, he takes up all the strands of enquiry considered throughout the trilogy and weaves them together. This, the sum of our experiences is who we are. Our identity is us, in relation to the place we live, in accordance with the memories of those who have carved a place for us, in this place. Our challenge for the future, is, in absorbing this hive memory, to avoid triumphalism and understand that identity is an ever-shifting, ever-morphing paradigm that constantly requires refinement, re-assessment and re-negotiation. Perhaps it is futile to expect to escape the fate of Sisyphus after all.

First published in NKEE on Saturday. 25 November 2017

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017


According to a learned friend, there are two potential types of Greek clients in the legal services industry. The first, are the auxiliary lawyers who feel they understand all aspects of their case and are doing you a favour by granting carriage of it to you. They have read widely, or spoken to many people who have endured like circumstances, or have graduated from the University of Bitter Experience aeons before you were even a hint of glee in your progenitor’s eye. For them you are merely an instrument, to be wielded and manipulated by their expert hands. They enter your office breezily, demanding they be told by you, what you intend to do, for them.
The second type characterizes those who are not possessed of such knowledge. Instead, they approach you somberly, look deeply in your eyes and begin to tell you, with exacting detail, the story of their lives. In doing so, they will brook no interruption, nor will the interposed injunction that lawyers bill in six minute intervals serve to stem their verbal flow. For once proffered, in their estimation, that life story creates an unbreakable bond between lawyer and client that forever cleaves them together in a pact of mutual understanding. For as one elderly client once told me when I dared to offer the opinion that the details of his unrequited lust for his neighbour were not necessary for me to sue his glazier for damages: “How can you understand my case, if you do not understand me?”
When the client the subject of this narration entered my office, I had no inkling of which of the two he would be. Tall, muscular, sporting a distinctive buzz-cut that would have been de rigueur in nineteen-eighties US college football fields and decoratively draping a turquoise knitted jumper about his neck, he slung himself into a chair with the considered but effortless poise of a ballerina. All I could surmise, both from his gait, and the manner in which the squint of his left eye seemed intimately connected to the gradient of his upper lip, was that he appeared to be a recent arrival from Greece.
Wasting no time upon introductions, he began to interrogate me confidently:
“Who owns the Internet?”
“What?” I asked.
“Who owns the Internet?” he repeated.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I responded, bewildered.
“Καλά, are you really a lawyer or what? It’s a simple question. Who owns the Internet?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think anyone owns the Internet,” I mused.
“Why not? Everything is owned by someone isn’t it? Someone has to own the Internet.”

Extending the tip of his right index finger, he lifted his dark, hairy hand to his lip. A hint of tongue made contact with the finger, providing it with a modicum of wetness. Raising the hand further, he then applied the finger to both his eyebrows, smoothing them lovingly. Those eyebrows were a masterpiece to behold. Thick and impenetrable, they were lovingly defined around their edges by someone who manifestly, was a master of the tweezer. As he lowered his hand, he winced in pain and it was then that I noticed the skin toned thermoskin carpal tunnel glove he was wearing.

“I’m not sure the Internet works that way,” I commented. “I think is a collection of hundreds of thousands of different computer networks that all link in to each other.”
“Yes,” he spat impatiently, “but who owns those links?”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Well the Internet is a net,” he sniffed contemptuously. “And a net is made up of various different filaments that link together. Each filament is separate but they all make up the net. Have you ever owned a net?”

“My grandfather did,” I reminisced. “In those days everyone fished with nets here. I remember him coming back from the bay and hanging the nets in the backyard to dry. Of course that’s all banned now and what within fishing quotas…”
“Never mind all that,” he interjected impatiently. “Point is, I’ve proved to you that you can own a net, so why can’t you own the Internet? Seriously, what kind of lawyer are you? Its right what they say about you ellinakia here and your level of education. Year 12 here is the equivalent of Grade 6 in Primary School in Greece. I haven’t been here for five minutes and I’m already running rings around you. I’m not sure if you’re the right man for the job.”

“And what is this job?” I asked.

“It’s a pity,” he continued unabated, picking his teeth with his right index finger, again wincing in pain. “You stand to make a hell of a lot of money.”

“I don’t think I’m following,” I responded.

“Have you seen the film, “The Matrix?”

“Yes, what of it?”
“Do you understand its deeper meaning?”
“What, the power of self-delusion and the dangers of uncontrolled technological development?”
“No,” he snorted, leaning back on his chair, with his legs outstretched to reveal an unnaturally engorged crotch region. I suspected sport socks, but held my peace. “The fact that the Matrix was a network controlled by machines.”
“So you think the Internet is controlled by machines?” By this stage, I had stopped making file notes.
“No, silly, but the Internet is obviously controlled and owned by someone.”
“Well I want to engage you to find out who owns it.”
“I want to sue them. Believe me, I am going to bankrupt them, the amount of damages they owe me. You will take on the case no win, no fee of course but rest assured, you will make a pile of money. More than you can possibly imagine. And more than that, the publicity. You might want to consider hiring a bodyguard though,” he added as an afterthought. “The powers that be may try to kill you. But don’t worry, I know a place outside of Serres. They would never think to look for you there. We are going to bring down the Western world. Its going to be bigger than Wikitweets.”

“Wikileaks, you mean. And why do you want to sue the Internet?” I enquired.
“Well,” he raised his gloved hand. “They did this to me. I’m in agony every day.”
“Did what?” I asked.
“This, I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and RSI and arthritis in my arm and hand.”
“I’m not a personal injury lawyer,” I informed him, almost gleefully, grateful that I had, in my estimation, found a way to extricate myself from any further protracted intrusions by him into my workspace.
“No, you don’t need to be. There are higher principles at play here. Let me explain. I arrived here three years ago, knowing no one. My relatives were not interested in helping me. The bunch of goat-herders that make up your community were neither on my intellectual level not socially evolved enough to appreciate my company. Your women are all rude and ill bred. I found myself spending my spare time in my room on the computer and I discovered..,” here he lowered his voice conspiratorially, while simultaneously fluttering his unjustifiably long, for a man of his pronounced masculinity, eyelashes coquettishly, no mean feat. “Well, I discovered, τολμηρά sites.”
I knew what he meant, but I could not resist. “Τολμηρά as in risky? Your computer was infected with a virus?”
“Oh you Afstralakia,” he gasped in frustration. “No, τολμηρά means, well you know, racy, rude.”
“OK, so not so much risky as risqué?” I asked.
“Yes,” he ruffled his hair nervously. He must have been nervous, for this time he omitted to make the obligatory grimace of pain that concluded every lowering of his right hand.
“So you didn’t get a virus?” I asked again.
“No. Let’s just say that I got used to watching these sites. I couldn’t stop. I would spend hours and hours, night after night looking up these sites on the Internet,” he gestured plaintively, again without wincing.
“I’m sure that there are a number of organisations dealing with addiction that can help you,” I advised him softly. “I’m not sure how I can help.”
“But that is the thing,’ he raised his voice emphatically. “I did become addicted. And as a result, I’ve injured my hand. As I told you, carpal tunnel syndrome, RSI and arthritis. I can barely move my hand but my addiction compels me to do so. And for all of this the owner of the Internet is to blame. Τι τραβάω, τι τραβάω.”
“How?” I asked.
“Are you serious,” he spluttered incredulously. “Because he allows these dangerous sites to be placed on the Internet. Because there is no health warning when one logs onto the Internet. So I and everyone else like me gets onto the Internet blissfully unaware of all the health hazards. There is not even a disclaimer warning people to enter at their own risk. I’m telling you, there is a cause of action in this. Imagine how many other people are exactly in my situation.”
“You could run a class action,” I suggested.
“No,” he looked behind him suspiciously. “No. What are you an idiot? If you include others it will minimise the prize pool. Seriously, what a δικηγοράκος της δεκάρας you’ve turned out to be.”
“Anyway,” I said, standing up, hoping to end the interview, “I don’t think I can help you. Internet sexual injury compensation law is not my field of expertise.”
“No, I know that. I’ve already figured out you aren’t really very competent. I just need you to find out who the Internet is owned by and lodge the requisite papers to sue them. I’ll handle it from there. I’ve already got it thought out. We will ask for $500 million.”
“Why so much,” I asked.
“Punitive damages,” he responded with well thought out ease. “But as I said, don’t ask for money up front. You have to do it no win, no fee.”
“Sorry, I don’t think I can help you. For starters, I don’t believe the Internet has an owner, as I’ve told you and further, the whole thing seems far-fetched.
It was then that he reached out with his right hand and grabbed mine in a vice-like grip. As he proceeded to almost crush it, he expostulated through gritted teeth: “What the hell is wrong with you dense Afstralaki? Where do you get off throwing away the chance of a lifetime? Μαλάκας είσαι;”
In that split second, I had visions of pots calling kettles black and of Greek village donkeys calling roosters ῾κεφάλα.᾽ Managing to extricate my by now, porphyry coloured hand from his, I responded: “No, but I do subscribe to the philosophy of the stoics.”
“How do you mean?” he asked, as he adjusted himself.
“Ό,τι τραβάμε, δεν το μαρτυράμε,᾽ I murmured, as I gently showed him to the door, shutting with it, my once-in-a-lifetime chance of winning millions, forever.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 11 November 2017