Saturday, May 29, 2021


Metamorphosis is a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's body structure through cell growth and differentiation 

One starts off in one form and then transforms into another. That transformation however, is inevitable. It is written in the life-form’s destiny. 

In the case of Jesus, metamorphosis takes the form more of a revelation. Christ on Mount Tabor becomes radiant in glory and his disciples also take part in that metamorphosis, as it enables, as the Apostle Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians, the "transformation of believers" via "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." 


It is therefore fascinating that this year’s Antipodean Palette Exhibition, held by the Greek Australian Cultural League, a fixture on our community’s calendar, at Duckboard Place, Melbouurne between 17-30 May, has chosen to link the word Metamorphosis or rather Metamorφosis, with all its polyvalencies, with the Greek Revolution of 1821. 


Immediately within the title, we sense an ambiguity, a paradigm shift that sits uneasily with conventional interpretations and portrayals of the birth pangs of our modern incarnation. Take the letter Φ, for instance, which dominates the title of the exhibition. While remaining the same in outward form throughout the ages, it too has undergone a process of metamorphosis at least in so far as pronunciation goes. While in Archaic and Classical times, it represented an aspirated voiceless bilabial plosive, by late Antiquity, its pronunciation shifted to that of a voiceless bilabial fricative and by the Byzantine period it developed its modern pronunciation as a voiceless labiodental fricative. Are the artists participating in the exhibition thus trying to tell us that within uniformity of signifier, there are multitude of things signified? That while the outward forms of Hellenism, of Nation and of Re-genesis may be universally employed, they mean different things to different people? 


If so the use of Phi to replace f in the exhibition’s title is inspired, because of its equivocal nature. It can signify the golden ration achieved when two quantities’ ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities, or the magnetic flux through a surface, expressed as the surface integral of the normal component of the magnetic field over that surface, or indeed in visual perception as the phenomenon of apparent motion that is observed if two nearby optical stimuli are presented in alternation with a relatively high frequency. 


It is worth viewing the artworks submitted to the exhibition which such frequency, especially given their novel role this year, as street art and to ponder their magnetic flux in relation both to the Greek Revolution and to the Metamorphosis, a series of collage-drawings by Joan Miró, made between 1935 and 1936, expressing his unease at the unstable political situation in Spain on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. 


No Civil War threatens Greece and though we may be celebrating the bicentenary of the 1821 revolution, the artworks comprising the exhibition generally lack the exuberance and the triumphalism one would expect from a commemoration of such an important national event. Instead, the compositions are subdued, uneasy and introspective. 


For Efrossini Chaniotis, the metamorphic process is as natural and inevitable as that of the natural world, and in her piece, “One-Eye,” continuity, despite change is emphasised. As the artist states: “From the earliest expressions of the human figure, Greek artists have ‘passed the baton’ onto the next generation of artists.” Thus, her canvas is populated by human representations from the Minoan, Cycladic, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine Periods, the Byzantine figure appearing as if he is occupying a liminal space between the Cretan school and Yiannis Tsarouhis. While the artist opines that “Metamorphosis… is not lineal…if we do not look back, marvel ponder and learn from the ones who started the race we are poorer for it, I think,” her figures look in all directions, not just backwards, while two appear to be blind. For the artist, then, diversity of perspective is everything and while most of the figures seem to attempt to drag the central figure into the past, that Kontoglou- like figure has its gaze fixated upon a horse-like figure that is in the process of metamorphosing into a chariot or vice versa, compelling the viewer by its dynamism to transcend the edge of the composition and move beyond it.  


All in all “One Eye” is an arresting work that while summarising the breadth of our aesthetic experience, refuses to be shackled by it. This is significant if one considers that the word revolution literally means a circular motion, where things revolve to where they should be, whereas the modern Greek word for it, επανάσταση signifies standing upon one’s two feet again, and again, whereas the ancient word for the same process, was νεωτερισμός, (being modern). The shadowy blue, Fassianos like figure on the other hand, looks solely at a Minoan precedent, as if in mirror image, leaving us to speculate as to its real existence. 



Virginia Polendakis’ thought provoking representation of ελευθερία (freedom) as a type of sphinx further reinforces the enigmatic way in which we are called upon to negotiate our identity and interpret the meaning of the 1821 Revolution. Like us, the sphinx is a syncretic being, a polymorphous conglomeration of powers and attributes harnessed in different times and at disparate places. To seek to reduce a phenomenon that defies description to stock phrases or sterile stereotypes is to disrespect the perplexity of her existence and to invite tragedy and annihilation, most probably by asphyxiation, whence the name of the sphinx derives. 


In poet and artist George Athanasiou’s striking and inspired composition “Uncreated Insight,” the ambiguity of the image is contained in the very title itself. The metamorphosis at play here is not just in the image, which, depending upon which way you look upon it, can assume the guise of fire-ravaged columns, oppressive sky-scrapers or menacing totalitarian monoliths emerging against a fiery sky, but in its interpretation. The suggestion here is that while the works of mankind are made manifest by their act of creation, the means to quantify and evaluate their significance exist beyond the confines of this world. Modelled on a stylised depiction of the artist’s hand, the piece has a world-weary feel, as if a primordial devastated being is variously slowly emerging from, or reluctantly sinking into the ground. Either way, rather than being triumphalist, we would do well to heed the artists warning and prudently seek uncreated insight before we draw to conclusions about our own metamorphosis and progression. There is unfinished business here. 


Whereas in the poetry of Donald Davidson the Dryads illustrate the themes of tradition and the importance of the past to the present, Tina Sideris employs the motif of this ancient Greek mythological woodland creature in her artwork to emphasise a natural world that is not only constantly in a state of flux but which also forms the vessel within all paradigms of identity national or otherwise, must necessarily be explored. An understanding of country, of tradition and of history must inevitably refer to place and in seeking to understand ourselves and to purport to assess our achievements  or measure the extent of our manifold metamorphoses outside of our natural environment is a pursuit that leads to delusion.  In ancient myth, the lives of the Hamadryads were inextricably linked to their trees. Little thought has traditionally been given to the natural environment during 1821 and it is time that this gaping lacuna in the national narrative, as well as the void between that narrative and the Greek people’s historical relationship to their surrounds is filled and granted greater primacy. 


Given the multiplicity of perspective displayed by the many artists taking part in the exhibition, perhaps it is fitting to end with one of the most dramatic, Thalia Andrew’s Change – a symbol of Life. A butterfly, having emerged from its chrysalis is taking its first flight. The artist describes the metamorphosis of the animal into a butterfly as its “true life-purpose.” The scene is aethereal and emotive yet also disconcertingly enigmatic. Is it dawn, the symbol of hope and new life, or is the sun actually setting, about to plunge everything into darkness. If we are to parallel the emergence of the metamorphosed lepidopterus with the awakening of Modern Greece, in Thalia Andrew’s poetically charged vision, we find ourselves in a quandary as to whether we should celebrate the emergence of new life, or again identifying it with that of the butterfly, lament the fact that it is so precarious and ephemeral. The trajectory of the butterfly is exuberant.. too much so in fact. Is this then a cursory tale about our Icarian tendencies as a people? What shall be revealed when the sun reaches its zenith. It is this exploration of potentialities, both light and dark that makes this piece, a true masterpiece. 


Few community events have, having the 1821 Revolution as their inspiration, engaged so deeply, so dextrously and so sincerely with an analysis of our own metamorphosis, how that relates to our sense of freedom and what ramifications that has for our collective ontology. It is for this reason that the participating artists and the Greek Australian Cultural League’s contribution to the introspective process of evaluating our progress as individuals and as a people thus far has such profound and far-reaching implications for all of us. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 May 2021

Saturday, May 22, 2021


It is fair to say that sadly, even today, the region of Pontus exists on the margins of the Greek national and historical narrative. A remote land nestled between the Pontic mountains and the Black Sea, it abuts Colchis, the mythical land of the Golden Fleece. Its major city, Trapezounta, was not only the capital of a historically significant multicultural empire that was a major political player in the Middle East but also the western terminal point of the fabled Silk Road. For all that, regretfully, in the popular mainstream consciousness of most Modern Greeks, its people are stereotyped as those who dress in a strange bandolier strapped costume and perform warlike dances while speaking in an incomprehensible tongue. 

            For most Australians, Pontus registers not at all, except for the more classical minded who would be familiar with Mithridates, its fabled unpoisonable king who took on the might of Imperialist Rome and lost everything. Yet at a time of great crisis, indeed, during the unspeakable agony of Pontus’ genocide, one Australian did all he could to raise awareness of the plight of the Pontians and advocate for the establishment of an autonomous Pontic republic, even to the extent of being elected, in 1921, an honorary member of the Pontic Greek Committee of Constantinople, the committee writing to him in gratitude for his activism on their behalf: “We have noted your exchanges with His Majesty concerning the action of the Pontic Greeks to gain their liberation,” implying that he had communicated with King of Greece Constantine on the subject. That Australian was journalist and war correspondent William Lloyd and his life proves the veracity of the saying “the truth is stranger than fiction,” at least, if the facets of his life that he describes, could be in any way verified. 

            New Zealand born in 1875 and migrating to Australia at an early age, he claimed to have been present in Constantinople during the Hamidian massacres of 1896-1897, occasioned when the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire sought civil reform and more equitable conditions, and in which tens of thousands of Greeks were according to scholars, also killed, although the reasons for his presence in that city and not clear and cannot be substantiated. 

            William Lloyd makes his first appearance in Australian print media in January 1917, writing in the Melbourne Argus under the soubriquet “Philhellene Lloyd.” In his piece he protests against the treatment of Greek-Australians during wartime. As Greece’s Germanophile King refused the Entente’s entreaties to enter the war on their side and instead declared neutrality, causing a national schism, Greek-Australians were treated as enemy aliens, many were interned and subjected to verbal and physical abuse. William Lloyd took great pains to point out that Australia’s Greeks were “among the most law-abiding and industrious of our citizens.” Soon after, assuming the title of journalist, he embarked for military service, being discharged in Cairo at the end of the war, in February 1919. 

            After a brief sojourn in Jerusalem where he participated in the ceremonies of Orthodox Holy Week, William Lloyd, as Near East correspondent for the Liverpool Courier then travelled from Syria to Turkey, in order to report on the Greek army’s Asia Minor Campaign, which had commenced after the Greek army landed in Smyrna after being granted a mandate to do so by the Entente Powers at the close of the First World War. Lloyd sought and obtained permission from the Greek General Nieder to accompany Greek troops to the inland city of Aydin, known in Greek as Tralles. There, he provided a harrowing account of one of the most confronting atrocities of the Greco-Turkish War; the massacre of the Greek boy scouts of Aydin by Turkish irregulars and the discovery of their mutilated bodies after they refused to convert to Islam. It is considered that Lloyd’s account was sufficiently detailed so as to move Sir Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the Scout movement to demand that the Council of the League of Nations take a stand on the massacre. 

Profoundly moved by all that he had witnessed, William Lloyd lobbied and interviewed politicians attending Paris for the interminable meetings that were taking place in order to map out the post-War order, so as to influence public opinion about the plight of the Greeks in Asia Minor. On behalf of the Anglo-Hellenic League, founded in the aftermath of the 1912–13 Balkan Wars in order to counter anti-Greek propaganda in the United Kingdom, he travelled to Liverpool in January 1920 to give a series of lectures on the prevailing conditions in Asia Minor and specifically the atrocities directed towards its Greek population. 

 So passionate was William Lloyd about the cause of the Greeks of Asia Minor that he attracted the attention of the Greek government, with the Greek ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dimitrios Kaklamanos reporting to the Foreign Ministry about one of Lloyd’s articles about atrocities directed towards Asia Minor Greeks, published in London’s Daily Telegraph. He suggested that Lloyd be encouraged to report regularly to that newspaper, as his dispatches were, in his estimation, highly influential in moulding public opinion. 

In addition to his advocacy on behalf of the beleaguered Greeks of Asia Minor, William Lloyd was also an outspoken supporter of the independence of Pontus, a prospect that was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, proposed by Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Trapezounta but ultimately rejected by Greek Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos as unworkable, on the grounds that the proposed state would be too remote for military assistance from Greece and too weak to defend itself against any Turkish attack. William Lloyd wrote to the Pontic Greek Committee of Constantinople urging them to remain steadfast and not to give up on their goal of seeking independence. 

In 1925, William Lloyd returned to Australia. Already well known through his writing to the Greeks of Australia, he was greeted in Sydney by a welcoming committee comprised of members of the Greek community of that city. Soon after he enhanced his celebrity status by making, as historian Hugh Gilchrist relates, a number of sensational claims: that he had lived in the Near East for twenty seven years, that he had served with the Greek army between 1919 and 1922 in Thrace and Asia Minor and most astonishingly, that he was the sole surviving member of the “Constantinople Committee for the Liberation of Pontus,” all the other members of that organization having been massacred by the Turks. He went on to claim that he had been sentenced to death for smuggling Greek woman and children to safety but had escaped captivity after three weeks on a Greek warship sent specifically to rescue him. To this effect he informed the press: “I am at present still under sentence of death and have to thank the Greek Government that I am still alive today.” 

Styling himself as W.A Lloyd, Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, (he was apparently knighted by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem during the war), he wrote to the Brisbane Courier in 1926 to refute claims that King Constantine, who had dies three years before, had been pro-German. In his letter, he claimed that during the duration of the Asia Minor expedition, he had been in close contact with “everyone of importance in the Hellenic world…..I was with Constantine on the Asia Minor front and met him several times in Athens… I discussed the various phases of the war with him often…” 

When not recalling his wartime exploits, William Lloyd remained a passionate and outspoken supporter of Greeks both in Greece and Australia. In the Bulletin in 1926, he wrote against the establishment of a quota on Greek immigration, while in the Truth, defending Greeks against the racist slurs of the time opined: “I know the Greek probably better than most of my countrymen, and I have nothing but admiration for his splendid qualities.” In the same year, he also wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, as former British Correspondent in Turkey, denouncing Turkish moves to deport the Ecumenical Patriarchate from Constantinople and providing an analysis as to why in his belief, the Treaty of Lausanne which saw an end to the Greco-Turkish War was inequitable. 

William Lloyd died in December 1926 and in his obituary in the Greek Herald, Edward Parry referenced his fighting for Greece during the war, his occupation of diplomatic positions both under implacable enemies King Constantine and Eleutherios Venizelos, his dramatic rescuing of women and children and his death sentence and escape. A remarkable life, his is a swashbuckling narrative of high drama and immense bravery and his persistent attempts to seek justice and safety for the Greeks of Asia Minor and to create sympathy for the establishment of the Republic of Pontus were greatly appreciated by the Greeks of Australia and deserve to be remembered with gratitude. 

Notwithstanding the marvelously romantic narrative he constructed around himself and his undisputed pro-Greek activism, as historian Hugh Gilchrist points out, certain aspects of William Lloyd’s thrilling account of his life do not bear close scrutiny. Accordingly, the Greek army appears to have no record of Lloyd’s service. Despite his claims of acting in diplomatic posts on behalf of Greece,  there is only mention of him in Greek diplomatic files once and he makes absolutely no appearance in British consular dispatches. Until further research proves otherwise, we are therefore compelled to treat this Munchausean adventurer, with the reverence, awe but also skepticism that his thoroughly engrossing self-spun life-narrative, deserves. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday, 22 May 2021

Saturday, May 15, 2021


I am fascinated by the discobolus silhouette that adorns the façade of the Greek Centre in Melbourne’s CBD. Viewed from close up, the edifice appears to be populated by disparate white rectangles, dispersed like an abstract mosaic of a diaspora. Move further away from the building however and walking towards Bourke Street, upon Exhibition Street, slowly but surely, the abstract diaspora coalesces to form the silhouette of the “Discobolus.” The silhouette is a visual poem of nervous tension. Faceless, we cannot discern his emotions for he is featureless. All we know is that this stationary figure is like a spring coiled and ready for action. Any moment now the discus he clasps so firmly, will be propelled into the future. 


The opposite of a shadow, the Greek Centre’s Discobolus is an emanation of light, reminiscent of classical Greek sculptor Myron’s prototype, completed around 460BC. Two millennia and a half later, it is perhaps fitting that we seek in Myron’s Discobolus, the key symbol with which we seek identification. Art critic Kenneth Clark observed of it that: “Myron has created the enduring pattern of athletic energy. He has taken a moment of action so transitory that students of athletics still debate if it is feasible, and he has given it the completeness of a cameo.” 


That is exactly the trajectory of our migrant story. Viewed over a century on, our achievements in the face of great adversity and privation seem almost impossible and in many ways were only effected through the force of sheer willpower. The Greek Centre’s Discobolus pays homage to our founding fathers’ indomitable spirit, while simultaneously serving as a visual reminder that we too must be vigilant, honed and ready for action if we are to ensure the survival and relevance of our community as a distinct entity, into the future. It is also forms a coherent vision of the confluence of the physical and the spiritual, a visceral ideal of harmony, rhythm and balance, and as such as worthy and as striking a point of reference as the original, of which ancient writer Lucian of Samosata, in his Philopeseudes observes: 

"When you came into the hall," he said, "didn't you notice a totally gorgeous statue up there, by Demetrios the portraitist?" "Surely you don't mean the discus-thrower," said I, "the one bent over into the throwing-position, with his head turned back to the hand that holds the discus, and the opposite knee slightly flexed, like one who will spring up again after the throw?" 

"Not that one," he said, "that's one of Myron's works, that Discobolos you speak of..." 


Yet the perfection of the Discobolus has caused it to be appropriated in the past, by some of the more nefarious characters of history. Take for example, the beginning of Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s visual record of the 1936 Berlin Games, montaged as the 1938 film “Olympia.” To the strains of Wagnerian thunder, the camera pans across the Athenian Acropolis, showcasing a number of classical statues that depict the athletic ideal. A fog descends and from it emerges triumphantly, as if in revelation of a totem, Myron’s Discobolus.  


That this is an idol to be worshipped rather than just a piece of art to be admired can be evidenced by the fact oil has been poured over it, as if by way of libation. Suddenly, the image fades and instead is replaced by an oiled, muscular athlete adopting the same pose. Exuding a sense of unmitigated power, he increases the tension of the scene by swivelling back and forth until, in one immense dynamic motion, he casts the discus forth. The inference is clear. The capabilities, ideologies and beauty of ancient Greece now belong to Nazi Germany, who is its rightful heir. Consequently the reverence and homage due to ancient Greece should now properly be afforded to Nazi Germany, which embodies the ideals the world so admires in ancient Greece. 


In casting Myron’s Discobolus as a centerpiece of her fascist tableau, Leni Riefenstahl was pandering to the aesthetics of her employer, Adolf Hitler, who was obsessed with the ancient statue. Unaware that like their Middle Eastern counterparts, ancient Greek sculptures were painted, often in gaudy colours, Hitler saw in the white sheen of the marble, the apotheosis of the Aryan type, whereas their muscularity and harmony of proportions informed his view of the perfect German as being: “Swift as greyhounds, tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel.” 


While Myron’s original discobolus has been lost, a number of Roman copies survived, the earliest to be unearthed and the most famous of these being a first century AD bronze version known as the Palombara, found in 1781, in Rome. In 1937, Adolf Hitler negotiated to buy it, and eventually succeeded in 1938, when Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son in law and Minister of Foreign Affairs, sold it to him for five million lire, over the protests of Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of Education, and the scholarly community. It was shipped by rail to Munich and displayed in the Glyptothek of that city. 


Presenting the sculpture to the people of Nazi Germany in July of the same year, Adolf Hitler made no secret of his conviction that the Discobolus, the original of which was created during the height of the classical period, when Athens was on the ascendant, the period held by many in the West to be the apogee of world civilisation, embodied the ideals of force, vigour and physical perfection which according to his ideology, were attributes that were the preserve of the Aryan race: 

“May none of you fail to visit the Glyptothek, for there you will see how splendid man used to be in the beauty of his body… and you will realise that we can speak of progress only when we have not only attained such beauty but even, if possible, when we have surpassed it.” 


Considering that in Petronius’ Neronian-era satire “the Satyricon” it is noted that Myron “almost caught the very soul of men and beasts in bronze,” just how that soul was interpreted was of great significance. According to Hitler, we exist in a degraded and dissolute state compared to that of the glorious ancient Greeks and only adherence to the principles of National Socialism will permit those possessed of the requisite genetic predisposition to fully come into the inheritance which is their birthright. 


As commentator Sarah Bond rightly points out, the “Discobolus” “remains a cautionary tale about the ways in which we speak about ideal bodies through the art we curate and display.” Whereas to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, an admirer of the statue, its form would have appealed to his love of athleticism, Hellenism and the male body, to Hitler, the same statue affirmed his perverse notions of racial supremacy and legitimacy through appropriation of ancient culture, notions that caused the deaths of millions of people. Ultimately, Hitler’s Discobolus was returned to Italy in 1948. 


Understanding the context underlying the use of an artwork is as significant as appreciating the artwork itself in its own right. In adopting the Discobolus (which also appeared on a 1932 United States postage stamp) as the signature image of the Greek Centre in Melbourne, the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria has rehabilitated a cultural icon, granting it its own particular meaning rooted in our century long collective experience in Australia, celebrating our inclusiveness, our culture of tolerance and our immense optimism for the future. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 May 2021

Saturday, May 08, 2021


“I don’t know how this guardian was appointed,” Mrs Katina, who has an adult son with a disability, sobs. “I’ve been caring for my son ever since he was born. Now they run everything and when I ask a question, I rarely get an answer. When I make a suggestion, they don’t even consider it. Just the other week, I asked the guardian for a financial statement or a breakdown of fees from the care provider and the response was they they don’t provide statements. I don’t believe this but how can I argue? I can’t speak English well and I don’t know what to say. Now they are telling me they want to move my boy somewhere else. He belongs in my home, with me, his mother. I don’t understand why they are doing this.” 

“The respite home organised for my husband’s guardian to be appointed,” Mrs Maria confides. “After sixty years of marriage. Without asking me. Even though I’ve cared for him continuously. They have frozen half our marital assets and I don’t understand where the money is going. They send me these letters and I have no idea what they are all about.” 

I glance at the letters Mrs Maria is clutching in her hands. They have been folded and unfolded until the paper has assumed a smooth, raglike consistency. In spidery, unsteady script, Mrs Maria has written the word γκάρντια on one of them. On the other she has written a telephone number and the word εξπλάι, which is good Greek-Australian for interpreter. 

“Did you call the interpreter?” I ask.  

“I did,” Mrs Maria, who is in her late eighties and has no children, sighs, “But what can I say, my son? I’m an uneducated woman. I came here straight from the village. I don’t understand the complicated way these Modern Greeks speak and when I ask questions they struggle to provide an answer. I need an interpreter to understand the interpreter.” 

The letters from the guardian are fascinating. Instead of being sent to the marital home, where Mrs Maria resides, they have been sent to her husband’s nursing home. Consequently, by the time she receives them, they are too late to be actioned, especially in cases where the letters contain a deadline for a response. The guardian appears to be aware of the problem with communication as it has made valiant attempts to have its letters translated into Greek. Unfortunately, this entails passing the paragraphs through the Google translate application, meaning that the letter is to all intents and purposes unintelligble even to the most erudite Greek linguist. 

Mrs Maria has some kind, well meaning friends who are recent arrivals from Greece, who are concerned about her welfare and that of her husband. It is they who have suggested that she see a lawyer. 

“I’ve seen a number of lawyers,” Mrs Maria explains. “But it is costly to get legal advice for every single communication with the guardian. And the ones that have been born here don’t understand how we think – the way our families operate. That is what these lawyers struggle to understand and to convey to the guardian. And even when they do, the guardian is Australian. They work and think differently. There values are not the same.” 

Mrs Maria lowers her voice furtively. “And these good Samaritans from Greece. Don’t think I don’t know what they are up to. Whatever is left over after the guardian eats their way through it, they will try to get their hands on it. Where can I turn?” 

More and more elderly members of our community with disabled children or with partners in aged care are experiencing bewilderment, confusion and fear as providers appoint government agencies as guardians over those children or partners, often without the knowledge of their carers. In many cases those carers complain that they are presented with a fait accompli by means of a Tribunal order as a result of a hearing they knew nothing about, or more commonly, they are advised that there is a court proceeding imminent, but they lack understanding as to the nature of the proceeding, do not understand the process and are not always afforded the opportunity or are in a position to obtain legal advice. Thus in many cases where such carers could plausibly act as guardians, they are unable to do so. In other cases, there is a lack of consultation with the family as to appointment of more appropriate persons to act as guardian, with the consent and cooperation of the family. 

For the vast majority of elderly Greek-Australians, the family is a sacred institution and within it are embedded a number of values and cultural mores that go to the heart of the Greek-Austalian identity. The appointment of a guardian for a loved one from outside the family is most often seen as an intrusion and a violation of the sanctity of the family hearth, as well as an appropriation of functions more properly belonging to members of the family. The ensuing consternation, anger and frustration is exacerbated by the fact that many elderly Greek-Australians, who often care for their loved ones without assistance, have extremely poor English. 

While many state appointed guardians I have met are courteous, committed and conscientious, the vast majority have not undergone any cultural sensitivity courses in order to familiarize themselves with the culture of the persons whose welfare there are advocating. As a result, even though they may have the best of intentions, faced by the fear, apprehension and mistrust of the family, communication is often exceedingly difficult and is exacerbated by confrontation which leads to misunderstanding and personal antipathy. Just because a person has a guardian appointed on their behalf does not mean that they cease to become a member of their own family and suspicion and recrimination on both sides created by an inability to effectively communicate can hinder the achieving of the requisite balance in this behalf, though surely maintaining family connections is in the best interest of the person over which the guardian has been appointed. One guardian told me of just how frustrating they find contact with their ward’s family, simply because they lack the skills to convey vital information and how this makes it impossible for them to establish the personal relationship necessary to ensure a collaboration rather than a confrontation. Others find having to grapple with what they consider to be mystifying or arcane Greek family mores and customs annoying, and a hindrance they should not have to deal with. There are cases where this results in them supplying the family with incorrect information, just to get them off their back, or, where the relationship has broken down, allegedly making decisions to spite them. 

At this stage in our community development, we have established a number of Welfare and Aged Care organisations that assist in the navigation of the labyrinthine State and Federal pathways with regards to the vulnerable, the disabled and the aged. Given that there is such a large number of elderly Greek-Australians who face language and other difficulties when dealing with the appropriate authorities it would perhaps be beneficial if as a community we were able to apply our resources towards the establishment of an independent (so there are no questions of conflict of interest with existing community care and welfare providers) Office of Greek Community Advocacy in order to provide culturally appropriate guardians to those members of our community who need them.  

These guardians, being properly trained professionals, fluent in the Greek language and possessed of an understanding of Greek customs, attitudes and family structures could be appointed by families who are unable to fully assume the responsibility of caring for their vulnerable loved ones unassisted, or by care providers in consultation with the family, avoiding the need for recourse to tribunals and ameliorating the emotional response to “strangers” suddenly intruding upon what appear to be family affairs. The appointment of guardians who are members of the community also has another benefit: because they belong to the broader communal family, they do not exist in the rarefied and seemingly impassive mainstream. Instead, integrated as they are within the communal Greek-Australian framework, they instinctively possess an understanding of the appropriate behaviours, norms and modes of thinking of both their wards and their families and are accountable not only to them but also to the entire community, whose expectations of their conduct and professionalism would be extremely high. 

Further, it is necessary for our institutions to attempt to do more to educate our community early on via and not wait until they or a loved one is faced with having to navigate the system. Apart from the need to initiate a necessary dialogue with our loved ones and establish a support network around them, we also must take the necessary steps to ensure that we are adequately represented as community advocates in the appropriate forums. 

Ultimately, one of the measures of our cohesiveness as a community is how we provide for the most vulnerable of our members. With the first generation increasingly ageing, unable to care for themselves and their loved ones and with a mainstream advocacy system that is not always able to appreciate or address the complexities of our cultural and familial norms, we need collectively to consider how best to safeguard their interests and take the appropriate steps to do so. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 May 2021