Saturday, March 24, 2018


Eaton Mall does not exist. It has never existed. Instead, if GPY& R advertising agency, on behalf of Public Transport Victoria are to be believed, the space occupied by one of the most vibrant and important centres of Hellenism in Melbourne, is in fact a Greek island.

The scene unfolds like a promotional map of the Mall: the perspective is from the South end of the Mall, facing North. In the foreground, on the right, the more perceptive viewer may discern the old bank which is now a Chemist Warehouse. The metal frame tree guides and the central light diffuser hint pay homage to the Mall, juxtaposing it against the beautifully rendered bus passing the Chester Street crossing. Meanwhile, just before that crossing, a sign bearing the legend: “Glyka” hints at the possibility that sweets are sold along this street. Save for a few passersby, the idyllic streetscape is sterile and devoid of life. The pavement and the buildings are whitewashed, as is, one could argue, the presence of the Greek-Australian community. We are not in Eaton Mall, but rather in Mykonos.

The caption to Public Transport Victoria’s latest campaign reads “Discover a Bit of Hellas in Oakleigh.” This is marginally more neutral than its Footscray poster, which reads “A taste of the east in the west.” It is also in keeping with Eaton Mall marketing itself as “Little Athens,” provoking hoots of derision from newly arrived Greek migrants, who prefer to equate it with a square in a provincial Greek town, not Athens per se but still, a little bit of Hellas. The advertisement, exists in the context of seeking to exoticise areas of ethnic settlement in Melbourne, in order to promote transport use by equating it with a holiday. In doing so however, the commissioners of such a campaign have in fact, inadvertedly indulged in gross orientalisation and alienation of the ethnic communities they have targeted, including the Greek-Australian community.

By its very nature, to exoticise something, is to place it outside the norm. By exoticising Eaton Mall, the advertisement suggests to the mainstream Australian therefore, that Eaton Mall is not an organic part of the Melbournian landscape. It has no legitimate place within the local geography. It cannot be rendered in terms of at least seventy years of Greek settlement in the broader area. Instead, evidently, the advertisers believe that in order to be palatable to the dominant cultural market, Eaton Mall must be depicted as, or reduced to a stereotype, a laid back, sleepy, soulless place, the epitome of a western understanding of a Helladic tourist paradise. For the evocation of such a stereotype to be effective, Greek-Australians may not be afforded any role within it. That this type of activity, one which effaces an entire community, and in the case of the Footscray advertisement, effectively reduces a diverse population to “a bunch of food oriented occidental orientals,” can be indulged in four decades after the advent of multiculturalism as official Australian policy, is deeply disquieting.

Eaton Mall is not Mykonos. It is not even Greece. Instead, it is a lively hive of activity, frequented not just by people of Greek descent, but of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Had the advertisers or Public Transport Victoria bothered to contact or seek to liaise with the traders of Eaton Mall, for some of these were incensed at the lack of communication, they would have learned that the mall id far from the monocultural, ethnic ghetto that is implicit in the poster.Vanilla Lounge, for example, has a diversity policy, by which it employs people of different ethnic backgrounds and even sponsors their visa applications. Had they spent time in the Mall, they would have noticed the significant numbers of Middle Eastern patrons, coming to savour a social experience reminiscent of that which is common in their places of origin. Had they the perspicacity, they would have discerned among the crowd, Anglo-Australians, eager to explore, discover and enjoy a culinary and social tradition that embraces all and excludes no one. Most significantly, had they the sensitivity to do so, they would have witnessed a community that is neither Mykonian, nor Zorban, neither Athenian, nor Spartan, but unselfconsciously Greek-Australian. From the lovers who met and courted each other within the confines of the mall, to the tired and frustrated mother dragging her squalling children across the pavement, all the while managing not to spill a drop of her precious take-away frappe, to the nubile girl who has meticulously brushed every eyebrow lash separately and bronzed out the last remnant of cellulite from view, in order to look stunning and obtain the complements of her friends, to the cranky grandmother, yanking her grown son in a business-suit by the ear, to the svelte newly arrived Greek waiter who magically can appear in more than five places simultaneously in order to take one’s order, to the self-satisfied businessman with the protruding belly and the bejeweled corpulent fingers brandishing an unlit cigar, to the old man, sporting five days growth, smoking the seventeenth cigarette in the row, to the entire population, which is able to play people tennis in unison, turning their heads synchronously as pedestrians promenade down the Mall, in order to give “the glance,” the one from which one can discern the pedestrian’s entire life history, Eaton Mall and its patrons have no relevance to Greece. It is an Australian phenomenon and deserves to be portrayed us such in its own right, not expunged from the discourse.

In their seminal work: "From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000," Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos point out that one of the ways that the dominant culture secures and reinforces its position as legitimate owner of this country is by abrogating to itself, the right to determine the discourse of multiculturalism, defining the manner in which the ethnic communities it permits to reside alongside it, shall be portrayed, or shall articulate their own identity. As potentially subversive “eternal foreigners,” ethnic communities, no matter how long they have existed on Australian shores, must be placed on the margins, orientalised and presented, not as an integral part of modern Australian social reality, but rather, as the other, or effaced altogether. According to this paradigm, the reality of Eaton Mall and its people cannot exist. Instead, in Orwellian fashion, it must be replaced by something that does not challenge the hegemony of the dominant culture. This is certainly achieved by portraying the denizens of the Mall, not as Australians, but rather, as people who not only come from somewhere else, but actually, still live there.

The fact that members of our community not only accepted the advertisement but were flattered by it, suggests that we are still suffering from a derivative cultural cringe that does not let us assert our unique identity as Greeks in Australia and instead, makes us feel compelled to seek recourse to stereotypes in order to define ourselves and articulate our ethnic identity, or to employ these and accept these in order to gain the approval of the dominant culture. To these people, the insulted Greek-Australian traders of Eaton Mall ask: Why can we not demand that Eaton Mall be celebrated for what it is, a gritty, aspirational, thriving expression of a community that is inextricably interwoven within the fabric of modern Melbourne.

On the penultimate occasion I visited the Mall, a woman walking in front of me, remarked expansively to her companions, who appeared to be visiting from Greece: "And here are the Exarcheia of Melbourne." Now try depicting that on a Public Transport Victoria poster. Just make sure faithfully to capture the moment where the Molotov cocktail impacts with the bus, and bursts into flames…. Public Transport Victoria, we've got the hots for you.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 March 2018