Saturday, January 29, 2022


When the Constitution first came into being in 1901, Section 127 provided that ‘in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted’. Our nation’s First Peoples had to wait until the 1967 Referendum in order to be counted as people in the Census. 

As Greeks, we harbour certain historical memories about similarly not being treated as human beings by imperial powers. For over four hundred years, we enjoyed the legal status of the raya, a word that literally means a flock for we were ‘shorn’ (ie. taxed), in order to support our overlords. Just like early Anglo-Australia, so too did our erstwhile dynasts achieve their prosperity and power by “riding on the sheep’s back.” 

This year, we commemorate a dolorous event: the one hundred year anniversary of the extirpation of the Asia Minor Greeks from their ancestral homelands. Last year, we commemorated the two hundred year anniversary of the Revolution proclaimed to rid us of the unbearable burden of a satrap who could not and would not treat us human beings. During the time we languished under his rule, our land was taken from us, our people were enslaved, our customs and traditions destroyed, our children stolen from us and in many cases we were forced to change our religious beliefs as these were considered inferior. When we determined to fight back, our fight for freedom and equality was met with genocide.  

With the memory as our historical heritage, it is impossible for the Greek-Australian Community to support the maintenance of the date of 26 January, the day Captain Arthur Philip landed in Sydney Cove, marking the beginning of British settlement, when the British flag was planted and formal possession was taken, as Australia Day. For if we do so, we render the entire premise upon which the Modern Greek identity has been constructed, one of resistance against oppression and of constant struggle for equality, completely redundant. Of all the ethno-linguistic groups inhabiting Australia, ours is the one best place to empathise with the pain of our First Peoples when forced to recognise possibly the most calamitous date in their histories, as a day of celebration, just as if we were compelled to celebrate the 29th of May, or the 19th of May for that matter. Consequently, we know that we cannot be complicit in any attempt to efface or obscure the enormity of the crime that was visited upon our First Peoples upon the arrival of the British and their violent occupation of this country. We too, have suffered much, and remember too much. 

There is also another reason why the Greek-Australian community cannot and should not continue to support the 26th of January as Australia Day. The Australia Day Council defines the day as follows:  “On Australia Day we come together as a nation to celebrate what's great about Australia and being Australian. It's the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation. It's the day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future… Though 26 January marks [the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove] today Australia Day celebrations reflect contemporary Australia: our diverse society and landscape, our remarkable achievements and our bright future. It also is an opportunity to reflect on our nation's history, and to consider how we can make Australia an even better place in future.” 

In other words, although we commemorate the same event: the establishment of the British as a dominant class in this country, the spin we put on it, can change according to the dictates of the self-same ruling class. After all, the Australia Day Council consists of board members appointed by the Australian Prime Minister, he being the chief representative of the dominant class, whose landing all ethnic minorities are expected to celebrate and to internalise as an event otherwise completely irrelevant to their experience in Australia or to their historical memories overall, as significant to their own lives. 

This is also why the 26th January is considered the ideal date on which to hold citizenship ceremonies. In no uncertain terms, the ruling class is reminding those who it chooses to include among its citizenry, that they are being called upon to legitimise the seizure of sovereignty from its rightful owners, a process which took place on the same date in 1788. Every time a new citizen takes their oath, they become complicit in that act, which is continuous in nature. 

Our community’s presence in this country as an organised entity pre-dates Australia. The Australia founded in 1901, without consultation with its First Peoples or its migrant communities was to quote wartime Prime Minister John Curtin: “forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace (sic) in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race.” Over the course of a century, our community played an active role in transforming that conception of what Australia should be, into the multicultural paradigm where terms in the policy discourse such as ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ are employed to ‘distinguish the mainstream community from those in which English is not the main language and/or cultural norms and values differ,’ and where such diversity, presided over by English speaking legislators and public administrators, is “celebrated.” 

Considering that according to the multicultural paradigm, our cultures form an intrinsic part of the Australian identity, considering to quote the Seekers, that: “We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands of earth we come,” it makes absolutely no sense to celebrate as the day that defines and encapsulates modern, diverse and polyvalent Australia, a date that specifically refers to the history of only one of the ethnic groups in this land, albeit (for now at least), the dominant one and which completely ignores the historical memories and experiences of all of the other groups that have settled in this country, or which existed here ab initio. 

If, again, to quote the Seekers, “I am, you are, we are Australian,” then surely it is incumbent upon the relevant powers to enter into broad based consultations and engagement with all of the peoples who comprise the unique Australian polity in order to find a date to celebrate Australia that actually means something to all Australians and is not confined in its appreciation to just one race and its descendants, and of course which does not have so many dreadful connotations attached to it. Until such time as they are serious about identifying a date that is inclusive, our community should not assist in perpetuating a date that is disrespectful, exclusionist and which celebrates imperialism, with all that this entails. 

If one were given the opportunity to suggest a suitable date to celebrate Australia, then one could look no further than 27 May. For it was on that date in 1967, that the Australian people voted for the requisite changes in the Constitution so as to allow our First Peoples to be counted as Australians in the Census, proving how progressive, just and compassionate we can be when at our best. 

I wouldn’t get rid of the 26th January holiday however. That can be renamed Survival Day or Resistance Day, commemorating the great Pemulwuy, a member of the Bidjigal clan of the Eora people who led the resistance against British colonisation for twelve years, before his assassination at the behest of Governor King. Pemulwuy's head was preserved in spirits and was sent to England to Sir Joseph Banks accompanied by a letter from Governor King, who wrote: “Although a terrible pest to the colony, he was a brave and independent character.”  We, the descendants of those who survived 1922, know how to celebrate a hero when we see one. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon our community, to agitate for an inclusive and compassionate Australia that can deal maturely with its past and embrace its future in a spirit of optimism and reconciliation, not only in word, but also in deed. In these difficult times, where the pandemic and other social pressures tear at the margins of a society that has hitherto prided itself on its cohesion, appointing a more appropriate date that truly gives meaning to our own community’s inclusion, and that of all others into the Australian discourse, as a means of celebrating our own remarkable multifaceted identity as Australians, is as sorely needed,  as ever before. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 January 2022

Saturday, January 22, 2022


The twelve days of Christmas are well and truly over, even if yet again for another year, their termination was not marked by a mass migration to Princess Pier, for the ritual blessing of the waters and consumption of souvlaki. The Christmas goblins, the kallikantzaroi, are by now, once again safely tucked back underneath the bowels of the earth and have once more commenced hacking at the tree that holds the world in place, while we acting in concert, do everything to poison its surface. It is by this we know that the holidays are over. 

Just before Christmas a friend’s son asked how one expresses the terms goblin and elf in Greek. While goblin can equate to a kallikantzaro, in and of itself, it is actually a Greek loan word. Its origins like in the kobalos (Κόβαλος,) an ancient Greek sprite, a mischievous creature fond of tricking and frightening mortals, even robbing Heracles. 

Greek myths depict the kobaloi as impudent, cheeky, amusing elves of a phallic nature and their depictions are common in ancient Greek art. Having spread into Europe with various spellings including "goblin" and "hobgoblin", and later taking root and stemming from Germanic mythology, they survived into modern times in German and English folklore. Interestingly enough, the name of the element cobalt comes from the creature's name, because medieval miners blamed the sprite for the poisonous and troublesome nature of the arsenical ores of this metal which polluted other mined elements. 


“Why are you telling me this?” the father asked enraged, for he is one of those people that believe that Christmas is over on 26 December and spends Boxing Day taking down the Christmas tree as his children look on and weep silently, not so much for the Christmas tree but because invariably the next day they will be forced to stay at their grandparent’s holiday home in Blairgowrie for the next three weeks, whereupon they will be trundled up and down every single latte purveying establishment on the Mornington Peninsula, as pappou and yiayia are addicted to Greek satellite television and no longer show any interest in playing with little Demetra-Sienna and Charles-Kanelos.  


Doron, my Jewish friend who has married into a Greek family, also dreads the annual pilgrimage to his in-law’s holiday house. His is more of a weather-related phobia. “When the weather turns sour, as it always does in Melbourne, spare a thought for us poor buggers entombed in our in-law’s holiday houses with no possible means of escape,” he pleads. When we last spoke, Darren communicated his plan of catching COVID so that if needs must, he could remain in splendid isolation, alone. I remind him that the Hebrew term “to assimilate,” lehityaven, literally means “to become Greek.” Resistance is futile. 


Mary, who hails from Doncaster on the other hand and religiously attends her parents’ holiday house in Rye for two weeks of the summer every year, this year is considering breaking tradition. The reason for this bout of iconoclasm relates to the fact that she has increasingly come to deplore the amount of depilatory preparation required before she deems herself suitable to appear upon the sands in bathing costume. The rationale behind her contention is detailed and graphic, so I feel comfortable enough to inform her that on Thasos in ancient times, around 480BC as statues attest, it was de rigeur for pubic hair to be tightly trimmed into the shape of a horizontal bar, or a diamond shape. 

Around 450BC, these artificial patterns began to be abandoned in favour of an unstyled natural growth. Before the Brazilian, therefore, there was the Thasian. 


Mystifyingly, I do not receive an invitation to visit her in Rye, this year. 


Katya, who hails from Ivanhoe and whose relations do not own holiday homes on the Peninsula is an expert at wrangling free accommodation via the extraction of polite and vague invitations from friends to stay at their in-law’s places, which she immediately accepts with alacrity. She has saved thousands over the years in this way but she will not accept an invitation to stay with anyone on the Bellarine Peninsula, for this is the domain of the lower quality Greek. I relish annually inviting her to stay in my non-existent holiday home in St Leonards. Declining this year as she does always, she proffers by way of excuse that she has taken up portrait painting and that the light necessary for her art can only be found in abundance between Dromana and Tootgarook. 


I inform her that according to Pliny, portraiture began with the fear of lost love. In Book 35 of his Natural History, he tells the story of Kora, the daughter of Butades of Sicyon. Smitten with love for a youth at Corinth, she drew upon the wall the outline of his shadow by candlelight, and that upon this outline her father modelled a face of the object of her affection in clay, which he baked along with the clay roof tiles he was in the business of making. Now the daughter could keep her beloved's likeness forever, inventing the portrait and the ρουφιάνοall in one hit. The object of Katya’s ardour is a married gentleman, a decade older than her who keeps promising to leave his wife when the time is right. We muse together as to whether she could draw the outline of his belly in candelight, and how much wall would be required. She promises to wrangle me an invitation to his place, as soon as she secures her own. 

Adonis, whose real name was Yianni before he changed it, enjoys the use of an impressive establishment on Mount Martha and never fails to invite me every Summer. A part time competitive fighter and athlete in his heyday, he is toned and sleek and perpetually on the prowl, boasting of his many Summer conquests along the pubs of the Peninsula, which form his preferred hunting ground. Invariably I decline, not so much so as to not intrude upon his nocturnal activities, but moreso because of the periodical appearances of his mother who suddenly manifests herself without warning, brandishing a mop and bucket to clean his various messes, all the while enjoining him to rethink his bachelorhood and louche lifestyle yelling: «ΤέρμαΤέρμα!» 

When first I heard the exasperated lady, I was reminded that one of the most common expression for the female climactic orgasm in ancient Greece, was "Aphrodite's finishing post," (Ἀφροδίτης τέρμα). I relayed this important fact to Adonis, providing an example of how the term was used in Achilles Tatios' Hellenistic novel: "Leucippe and Clitophon" where Clitophon says: 

«πρὸς δὲ τὸ τέρμα αύτὸ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης ή γυνὴ γενομένη πέφυκεν ἀσθμαίνειν ὑπὸ καυματώδους ἡδονῆς...». 

"And as the woman reaches Aphrodite's finishing post, she pants with blazing pleasure..." 

Today, of course the word τέρμα is commonly used in sport in Modern Greek to signify a goal, something that Adonis appreciates greatly, but neither Adonis nor I can keep a straight face when his mother yells «ΤέρμαΤέρμα!» while cleaning the toilet and thus Ι am obliged to stay away. 


Always, in the Summer, I am drawn to Dromana, where my father’s people all retired. In their prime, those Summers would consist of following the smell of barbeque from one backyard to the other. There, huddled beneath the fig, the peach and the apricot trees, the older men would cook chops, compete with each other over the size of their tomatoes, launch into lengthy disputations about the relative merits or faults of the president of the regional Brotherhood they all belonged to, while hatching intricate plots to bring him down, all of which were forgotten after their post-prandial siesta. As a young boy I dreamt of being like Philip of Pergamon, known to us only through an inscription on the base of his statue. In that inscription, he provided the ideology informing his writing of history - highlighting the horror of conflict and how it can easily arise, a manifesto that should inform any would-be historian of the Greek clubs of Melbourne: 

"With my pious hand I delivered to the Greeks the historical narrative of the most recent deeds: all sorts of sufferings and a continual mutual slaughter having taken place in our days…. I did this, so they may learn also through us, how many evils are brought forth by courting the mob, love of profit, civil strife, and the breaking of trust, and thus, by observing the sufferings of others, they may live their lives in the right way." 


Nowadays, these plotters are largely lying in plots of their own, or are in extreme old age, secluded for their own health and for me Dromana is now but a necropolis of childhood memories that linger without being able to find true rest. Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously as a historian of Greek clubs, you need to have mastered the art of convincing said clubs that it is necessary for them to part with tens of thousands of dollars before you will be able to persuade the world that they are in any way historically significant, and I would rather go fishing instead.  I eat at the overpriced derivative restaurant that purports to be Greek, purveying dips straight out of the tub, just how we like them, listening to my compatriots on the other tables complain about their relatives in the holiday homes they are staying at. Driving past the sepulchral brick veneer buildings all constructed at the same time with the same enthusiastic aesthetic, I make my way to the pier, to take a stroll. 


Just in front of me university aged girl with large plastic rimmed glasses and a distinctive Oakleigh accent remarks to her friend: 

- I don’t know anything about classical music but I don’t like it. It’s just about entitled dead white dudes. 

Not being able to help myself I interject: 

- Have you heard of Tchaikovsky? 

- No what’s that? 

- He was a Russian composer. He struggled with poverty and his sexuality and committed suicide by deliberately contracting cholera so he wouldn’t be outed as gay. 

- As I said, she shruggs her shoulders. A dead white dude. 

- How is he any more or less entitled than Jay Z or Snoop Dogg? I ask. 

- Who is Snoop Dogg? she asks.  


Suddenly I feel old. Winter is coming…. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 January 2022

Saturday, January 15, 2022



One of the first thing that I discovered about my late lamented father in law upon meeting him for the first time was that unbeknownst to us, we had crossed paths years before, attending the National Gallery of Victoria’s 1997 exhibition of Assyrian antiquities, on loan from the British Museum. 

“I was there,” I effused, “protesting.” 

“Why on earth would you do that?” my then prospective father in law, asked mystified. 

The reason of course related to the fact that in removing the Assyrian antiquities from Mesopotamia, then under the Ottoman Empire, the British adopted almost wholesale, the tactics that had served Elgin so well in relation to the Parthenon Marbles. Vast blocks of monumental statuary were hewn out of temples and other ancient edifices, thousands of tablets displaying records in one of the world’s oldest forms of writing were removed from their native lands and taken to Britain by Elgin’s eastern counterpart, British ambassador to Constantinople, Austen Henry Layard. As far as I was concerned, both Elgin and Layard were agents of British orientalism, seeking to demean colonised cultures by appropriating their ancient past while presenting their modern descendants as unworthy beneficiaries of their glorious heritage. 

“Nonsense,” my father in law retorted. “The British should be thanked. They saved us.” 

Astounded, I allowed him to elaborate. His thesis was quite simple. By the mid nineteenth century when Layard arrived on the scene the ancient monuments of the Assyrians had been buried for centuries, if not millenia. The Assyrian people, subjected to millenia of persecution by the Persians, then by the Arabs, and then in turn by the Kurds and the Ottomans, had dwindled to a hardy but nonetheless numerically small race, dwelling in the mountains for safety. Apart from the Bible and the record of the Ancient Greek historians, all knowledge of the ancient Assyrians had been lost. Such Assyrian antiquities that were unearthed by the Muslim rulers of Mesopotamia were either considered the works of demons and destroyed owing to their religious prohibition against depicting the living form or repurposed as building material. 

 Thus, according to my father in law, the Assyrians owed the British a debt of gratitude. Not only did they save the Assyrian antiquities from destruction, by discovering them, writing about them and studying them, they resurrected an entire civilisation, one which whom contemporary Assyrians had lost all connection and now feel justifiably proud of. Indeed, based on his discoveries, Layard was one of the first westerners to recognise the contemporary Assyrians as descendants of their ancient ancestors. If there was anything at all blameworthy about the British, my father in law concluded, it was that the person who did most of the detective work, co-ordinated the digging and was ultimately responsible for most of the finds, was not Layard but rather his Assyrian assistant, Hormuzd Rassam, who although discovering the  Ashurnasirpal temple in Nimrud, the cylinder of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, two of the unique and historically important bronze strips from the Balawat Gates and a palace of Nebuchadnezzar II at Borsippa, received hardly any credit and is little remembered. Further my father in law continued, it was Rassam’s work in supplying Britain in antiquities that  facilitated his mission of inquiry during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78 to report on the condition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Christian communities of Anatolia and Armenia, on behalf the British. By contrast, the names of the many Greek antiquarians who made their living supplying the Western market with Greek antiquities during the Ottoman era, such as Greek doctor and alchemist Anastasios Yiannoullis who in 1690 promised to send the famous philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: "inscriptions and other ancient curiosities from the Kingdom of Morea," are largely written out of the Greek national discourse, for obvious reasons. 

Years later, as we watched footage of crazed ISIS terrorists smashing Assyrian antiquities in Iraq, my father in law shook his head sadly. “See,” he groaned. “This is what would have happened to the ones in the British Museum. Thank God that they remain there where we and the rest of the world can view them in safety.” 

On the face of it, the historical trajectory of the Greek and Assyrian people is remarkably similar. Civilisation and Empire, followed by conquest, persecution and subjugation, facilitating cultural pillaging. What then accounts for the difference in attitude between the two peoples as to the manner in which the British appropriation of their antiquities took place? “Had Assyria achieved its independence, you would have a different perspective,” I countered my father in law. “If there was a free Assyria today, able to house its ancient artefacts safely, there would be no need for the British Museum. Instead, you would be railing at the enormity of the theft.” 

“If….” my father in law repeated sadly. 

There can be no doubt that if there is one issue that unites the Greek people, it is that of the righteousness of championing the Return of the Parthenon Marbles. And it is this cause that is, paradoxically enough, dividing sections of the Greek community in Australia today. In an article that was published in the Herald Sun on 4 January 2022, former MP and current President of the Cyprus Community of Melbourne Theo Theophanous, opined that the entire Australian community should boycott the recent National Museum of Australia’s exhibition of Greek antiquities entitled “Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes.” The basis behind his urging is that the artefacts forming the subject of the exhibition are on loan from the British Museum: 

“This year represents the 200th anniversary of the taking of the marbles and many Australians of Greek heritage feel insulted that the British Museum is holding an exhibition in Australia of Ancient Greek artefacts while steadfastly refusing to give back the Parthenon Marbles.” 

In advancing his argument further, Theo Theophanous alludes to an inherent power imbalance in the manner in which the exhibition is being staged: 

“The National Museum of Australia, with support from the Morrison Government have funded the exhibition. They have provided concessional tickets to members of the Greek Community in Canberra in an attempt to buy their silence. 

In response on social media, president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Canberra, John Loukadellis, refutes the assertion that concessional tickets were provided to members of the Greek Community of Canberra as alleged, asserting: “the Ambassador of Greece in Australia also supported and attended [the opening]. Note that of the 170 items that are being exhibited, not one of them is or has been a matter for contention or request for return. Nor are any of the items for viewing stolen from Greece, but have been found around other parts of Europe and Turkey. The community sponsor for this event is the Hellenic Club of Canberra - so rather than boycott and be outraged, this is a once in a lifetime exhibition for us all to enjoy and raise awareness of the Marbles issue too… 

Let’s be supportive and understand that there are no marbles on show at the exhibition and we should not boycott the National Museum of Australia for providing us with this exhibition. I am sure if you go and view and read about each of the items on show, you would be glad you went and viewed them, whilst understanding the issue around the Marbles has been addressed and awareness raised…” 

Both arguments are cogent ones. On the one hand, one cannot but share Theo Theophanous’ contention that the British Museum and the British government’s stance on the Parthenon Marbles is contemptible and must be protested in the most strenuous terms. On the other, an exhibition of this nature affords members of the younger members of the Greek-Australian and the broader community the opportunity to encounter ancient Greece in a direct manner otherwise not attainable unless they travel overseas, a prospect in these COVIDIAN times, fraught with difficulty. Do we thus boycott an exhibition which showcases and makes Greek culture amendable to a broader Australian audience, or do we rather, utilise it as an opportunity to discuss the theft of the Parthenon Marbles within the mainstream? 

Further, and this is the salient point that few have seemed to focus upon, should not this exhibition serve as the ideal starting point for an intelligent debate as to how our ancient past is portrayed and who is in control of its narrative. Whose ancient past are we actually referring to? Take the title of the exhibition for example. After the words “Ancient Greeks”, immediately comes the word “Athletes,” (not surprising for the sports-mad Australian zeitgeist and the Anglosphere in General), “Warriors” (like those who travel abroad to make the world safe for democracy?) and “Heroes” (like Achilles in the form of Brad Pitt?). Do Women, children, writers, philosophers, sculptors, painters, scientists or mathematicians need to apply? Whose story is this? That of the descendants of a colonial power that has, in its quest for aggrandisement and global domination, including the assumption of sovereignty of this land and the dispossession of its First Peoples, employed the ancient Greek heritage to suit its own ideology? If so, is not any form of collaboration with the dominator, including serving or engaging with the power structures that are its colonial legacy tantamount to validation not only of the theft of the Parthenon Marbles but of the whole colonial paradigm in general? Or, to adopt a less extreme perspective, can we use exhibitions ostensibly of “Ancient Greek” artefacts that reinforce cultural stereotypes or underline the national myths of the ruling class to assert those aspects of ancient Greece that we, its descendants feel, are effaced. 

That of course depends on two things: the first, understanding how the exhibition is themed and what is its discourse. The second, which is more difficult, having considered the exhibition’s narrative, is to also consider to what extent our own comprehension and appreciation of our ancient heritage is dependant upon its mediation, interpretation and validation by the colonial powers that have shaped our people’s history, determined the extent of its freedom and autonomy and under whose authority its migrant communities exist.  

To do all of these things, requires visiting the exhibition and ruminating over its messages, and the reader can be sure that the Diatribist will do so, clad in Pelasgian goat-haired foustanella and t-shirt bearing the legend: “Give us back our Marbles,” in Homeric Greek, with Oxford pronunciation, of course, and “Give us back our Assyrian slabs,” in Akkadian cuneiform for unlike my father in law, I consider the carting away and captivity of vanquished gods by the conqueror a barbarous Babylonian custom, one that we all would benefit from its discarding. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 January 2022

Saturday, January 08, 2022


 Of all Greek brotherhood buildings around Melbourne, one of the ones I have the fondest memories of, is that of Pontiaki Koinotita in Brunswick. For years, its Friday night Taverna events were the talk of the town. Its goat in the oven is still unsurpassed by anything that purports kinship with it, ever since. Most importantly, Rebetiki Kompania were the feature act and in their infinite mercy, they did the me the kindness of permitting me to accompany them on the violin. Week after week I would be invariably drawn to that place, so that in the end, my attendance became an inviolable ritual, as my spouse found out, when, upon returning from our honeymoon, I grabbed my violin and set off for Brunswick. Over a decade later, not a week goes by where I am not gently reminded of this rather blatant faux pas. 

The kitchen was brilliant, the music divine and the company was a microcosm of our broader community. Young Greeks rubbed shoulders with older Greeks. Members of dance groups would attend and liven up the atmosphere as they manifested their exuberance on the dance floor. Philhellenes like the late lamented Peter Williams would be there putting even the most jaded connoisseur of Pontian dance to shame by their mastery of the steps while Greek folk music afficionados such as the breathtakingly multifaceted Paddy Montgomery would display unprecedented virtuosity on the Constantinopolitan lyra. At that time, it seemed to me that Pontiaki Koinonita had developed a winning formula: instead of remaining insular and aloof, cut off from the broader community as so many other of our brotherhoods were and still are, they opened their hearts and hearths to all of us.  

This was also evident in the fact that Pontiaki Koinotita’s Brunswick premises became synonymous with Greek literary culture. It was the go to place to launch books written by community authors, for lectures on diverse topics and for other cultural gatherings. It became a ritual at these events to thank Pontiaki Koinotita for its commitment to supporting the Greek-Australian arts and I myself have launched not a few literary works from its podium and have had many meaningful discussions about the nature of our community and its future with community stalwarts of all ages. 

It is for all the above reasons that the news that Pontiaki Koinotita had decided to place this ark of memories up for sale, filled me with sadness. It is the melancholy that comes in the knowledge that nothing is permanent, that everything is subject to flux and that decline invariably follows reaching the summit of one’s success. It is also the ennui that comes with considering that one’s youth is over and that decay and loss are a condition precedent of growing older, despite our best efforts. 

At the time of writing, Pontiaki Koinotita has announced that its building has not been sold, due to lack of offers. That is, for the time being, there is no market interest in developing this magnificent site. Sooner or later however, the building will be sold, for covid and the changing nature of our community have ensured that, sadly, there is not enough participation at functions to make its upkeep viable. 

Within Melbourne, a multitude of other brotherhoods are facing exactly the same dilemma. Having struggled hard over the years to secure and pay off a premises, these institutions are now considering a future divested of their proprietary assets, for their upkeep model relies upon the constant organising of functions in order to pay outgoings. Where functions cannot be held, as is the case now with the pandemic, or where older members are unable to attend and younger members are not interested, then the maintenance of such club-houses no longer becomes viable. 

I try to avoid Victoria Street, Brunswick, as much as possible. This is because this is where my own club, the Pan-Samian Brotherhood had its premises until recently. I grew up in that place, with my relatives and their friends around me and the sense of belonging it provided me framed my entire world-view. Little did I know then that as a legal practitioner, I would be presiding over its sale for exactly the same reasons: our income was not sufficient to meet the building’s outgoings, and holding functions solely to turn a profit rather than for the enjoyment and fulfillment of the members seemed to be counter-intuitive. Some clubs, especially those that have adopted the “run it as a business” model seem to forget that. 

We Samians no longer have a premises, but, for the moment at least, we have survived without one. The next challenge, having been divested from the responsibility of making ends meet, is to remain relevant as a corporate entity. Having been established over eighty years ago, does it make any sense, almost a century later, to still identify as a Samian? Having been born and bred as one, and using the Samian dialect as my first language, my response would be a resounding yes. Yet as the older generations become increasingly English speaking and the latter generations become so far removed from the Samian ethos that they barely identify as Greeks, let along from a specific part of Greece their ancestors left over half a century ago, the paradigm begins to unravel. As emotionally dependant upon our clubs many of us are, sooner or later we will have to face the harsh reality that our primary identity is as Greeks in Melbourne, and that we need ground our understanding of Hellenism in the areas in which we live, for relying upon an ancestral regional homeland we are estranged from is untenable in the long term. 

A few years ago, Melbourne teacher John Vithoulkas began “Hellenism Victoria,” a movement that identified a proliferation of largely inactive Greek clubs in the north-western suburbs. The north west has its own particular cultural activity and this is also the area wherein, statistically, Greeks exist in the largest number as a proportion of the total population. Vithoulkas’ ideas was to focus on a common identity based upon the local area in which all these clubs co-exist, to foster co-operation between clubs that in some instances shared the same street but had absolutely no communication with each other and to play an active tole, as Greeks in the life of their municipality. The idea was initially received with great enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which began to wane as clubs worried about their existence resented the perceived dominance of other, more active clubs and grew suspicious of their motives. Guarding unproductive assets is more important in the long run, it seems than actually using them to promote community growth. Undoubtedly, John Vithoulkas’ experiment needs to be revisited. The seldom if ever open Nisyrian Club on Sydney Road with the words “Members Only” ominously emblazoned upon its front door provides a cautionary warning for us all.  

As a legal practitioner, I have sat in upon the deliberations of clubs who understand they are in crisis. These clubs no longer try to find ways in which to attract younger members. They have come to the conclusion that their youth are no longer interested and that if they were, they would return of their own accord and organise functions that are of interest to them. For them, the fact that they do not, is evidence that they have abandoned any attachment to the club of their parents and grandparents altogether. Yet the committees of these clubs largely appear loath to allow their assets, in the event of dissolution to be enjoyed by other stronger, and more vibrant Greek clubs. Suggest to them to gift their assets to a Greek charity, nursing home, school or the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and your temerity in doing so is met with howls of derision. They would much rather gift their property to the Children’s Hospital or the Salvation Army, then “let another Greek enjoy them,” as so many of them often repeat, raising pertinent questions as to the fractious nature of the Greek identity in Melbourne. 

Yet the Pandemic has shown us if ever there was a time to effect a rationalisation of community assets, it is now. The often tortuous and cautious manner in which clubs present themselves and their heritage even effacing or gliding over historical events that are of intrinsic importance to the Greek identity, is directly proportional to their need to go cap in hand to ask the government for funding. Such funding of course is provided upon ideological criteria pre-determined by the dominant class. Imagine how much more vibrant and freer our expression of our Hellenism would be if it was not tied to the financial goodwill of our masters but rather, was funded by a properly managed pool of productive assets. 

There exist in Melbourne, a number of Greek clubs that are strong and well positioned to meet the challenge of the future. The case of the Lefcadian Brotherhood, which has of late bounced back under an energetic leadership after some years of atrophy, indicates that all is not doom and gloom, even though we should not ignore the overall trend. Ultimately however, while the history and autonomy of each club comprising our community must be cherished and respected, their continued survival, in whichever form, must form the subject of a community-wide debate, a debate that can no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored as we scramble to deal with a Greek language which experts consider to be in terminal decline and the increasing inactivity of once important community institutions. If we prove ourselves incapable of communal action, we are underlying the bankruptcy of our ethos as it has evolved in Melbourne and doing future generations a great disservice. 

In the meantime, it is hoped whether or not my beloved Pontiaki Koinotita sells its premises, that it is able to solve its existential challenges and rise to meet the future with confidence. I am already tuning my violin in anticipation… 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 January 2022