Saturday, February 26, 2022



The night before my first parelasi, I couldn’t sleep. On the couch by my bed, my mother had laid out the costume my aunt had brought for me a few months before from Greece. As she ironed each pleat of the foustanella to perfect crispness, my mother observed: “You will wear this and you will be like Kitso Tzavella.”  

The prospect of assuming the prospect of a long dead hero of the Revolution was particularly appealing to me, not only because my great-grandmother hailed from Souli and was purportedly kin to the Tzavellas clan, but also, because I would finally get to join the immense mass of similarly clad compatriots, marching in step to the Shrine of Remembrance. For this reason, I could not understand my cousins’ universal consternation at donning what they considered to be a dress. Being permitted to participate in the parelasi was for me, more than just wearing the attire of my ancestors. It was a formal induction into a community and into a nation far broader than the comfortable confines of my family and my extended kinship networks. It was the day I became a member of what we term as: “the paroikia.” 

I proudly carried a placard that bore the likenesses of various heroes of the Revolution and excitedly examined the regional differences between the rich costumes worn by “the big kids.” As I marched past the dignitaries, I felt my chest swell with pride. “Look at all of us,” I thought. “Look how grand, how proud we are.” At that moment, for the first time in my life, I understood intellectually, the importance of belonging to the Greek discourse. 

My sister joined me when she was two. As we were not able to procure a costume for her in time, she wore the foustanella in which I made my own debut. With her long curly hair and her chubby cheeks, she was an instant sensation. Three decades on, we still march side by side, I proudly, she indulgently, for she would do anything for her brother and her nieces and nephews, though I sense that her authentic heavy woollen costume from Zagori lends credence to her view that intrinsic to the Hellenic paradigm, is the concept of suffering. 

My daughters also joined me when they each turned two, excitedly wearing their aunt’s costume, the eldest, Eleni, determined that she embodies Eleni Botsari, and the youngest, Alexandra, believing that she represents the spirit of Despo Tzavelaina, family members, at least in lore. Instead of the flag of Northern Epirus which I have been holding aloft for so many years, I now held my children in my arms, marching past my people and the dignitaries, our attire denoting our respect and deep knowledge of the significance of our past, our arms, literally, embracing the future.  

Turning to me, two year old Alexandra asked in wonderment: «Μπαμπάόλοι αυτοί είναι ελληνικοίσαν και εμείς.;» 

«Έλληνες είναι», I repliedIn one short question I realised just how important the parelasi is to identity formation in Melbourne. This is what Greeks do. To do so, is to be Greek. Of course the definition of what it is to be a Greek is broad and all embracing encompassing all those who wish to join our ranks. Joseph Haweil, the former mayor of Hume has proudly donned the foustanella and marched with us for several years. One year, the Panepirotic Federation’s contingent of marchers was primarily comprised of members of the Assyrian community, who wanted to join. Observing the fluid boundaries of identity as these are manifested in the march to the Shrine, is thus a breathtaking experience. 


My son doesn’t know what the parelasi is. When he turned two in 2020, Coronavirus hit our shores and the parelasi was cancelled. On 25 March that year, we dressed up in our full regalia and marched up and down our street singing the Greek National Anthem, to the delight of our predominantly Italian neighbours, who came out onto the pavement to applaud the kids as they marched past. My son was thrilled. 

“That’s nothing,” his sister Alexandra informed him. You should see the real parelasi. Thousands of people, marching in front of the ‘Parthenon.’” 

“It’s not the Parthenon, it’s a Mausoleum,” the eldest, Eleni corrected her. My son sat wide eyed as his sisters relayed their experiences to him. Unlike them, growing up in the time of Corona, he has no memory of the experience of mass crowds of people and their words appear to him as if from a fairytale. 

Nonetheless, every so often he will ask me: «Μπαμπάπότε θα πάμε στην παρέλαση;». 

Sadly, the Parelasi, one of the key events in Melbourne’s Greek calendar will not take place again for a third consecutive year. The Organising Committee, sensitive to the community’s concerns about the pandemic, sent out a survey to all participating schools and organisations in order to gauge their interest. The results are quite confronting. Only 5% of the schools and organisations stated that they were willing to participate in the march this year. Consequently, with 95% of those surveyed turning in a negative response, this hallowed event cannot take place even though there is no regulatory impediment to its staging. 

It is fair to say that two years of lockdowns have served to erode age-old traditions and social habits within our community. Apart from those who are fearful of contagion despite the pervasiveness of the state vaccination program, there are those who, emerging from social isolation, no longer have any desire to attend or participate in any social events organised within our community. Many community organisations who are currently attempting to resume their activities all complain of the same phenomenon: “There just is no longer the interest out there, or the desire to associate. People don’t see the point. Many can no longer be bothered leaving home. COVID has broken us.” 

I would like to think that the Greek community is much more resilient than that. I would like to think that this reticence to resume our previous activities is only a transient phase that will dissipate within a year. Yet habits formed are habits retained and if we do not make a conscious effort to regain the momentum lost as a result of the pandemic, our entrenched torpor will spell the end of all of the amazing events that engender in this city, a sense of the Greek identity, uniquely relevant to our place of abode and our lived experience as an ethnolinguistic component of the broader Australian social fabric. 

The Parelasi is not just a parade. It is not an event to be dragged to unwillingly and picked up from as soon as one’s progeny marches past. It is a statement of survival, a manifestation of resilience, a prayer for justice and equality, a commitment to continuity, a declaration of identity. We must not and cannot afford to let it lapse out of complacency, indifference or fear. We cannot allow any further generations of children to grow up without being exposed to this supreme identity forming, community engendering tradition. Let us, as a community, re-affirm our resolve to ensure that next year, we come out in force, supporting the selfless work of the National Day Celebration committee, lest we, as T S Elliot’s Hollow Men, are forced, sooner than we may like to, to observe: “This is how [our] world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 February 2022.

Saturday, February 19, 2022



“My daughter-in-law keeps on making appointments for me to have a brain scan,” my elderly client tells me, his voice shaking. “I refuse to go. That’s what she did with her father. She had him declared incapable, took over his affairs and took all his money. I know that there is nothing wrong with me and I’m not going to let that happen to me. But ever since I’ve said no, she refuses to allow my granddaughters to visit me. Those girls are the light of my life. I’m so lonely.” 

I console him by a reference to the ancient playwright Sophocles, who was dragged before the courts by his children at the venerable age of ninety on the charge of “paranoia,” alleging that he had a form of dementia that rendered him incapable of managing his financial affairs. Sophocles refuted their arguments and thus retained control of his affairs by reading out to the assembled jury, some verses from the play he was currently drafting: “Oedipus at Colonus.” “Is this the work of someone who has lost his mind?” he addressed the jury. My client is not a playwright. He is a retired factory worker. And he now lives in a constant state of fear. 

I visit Mr Stavro in his home, yet it isn’t it home. There is a wire mesh fence surrounding the towering brick edifice he built with his own hands. Through a door at the side, a fenced corridor leads to a mouldering asbestos roofed shed at the rear. Even the back garden around the shed is fenced off. The whole place has the feel of a penitentiary. Mr Stavro greets me at the shed door and ushers me inside. A single naked globe hangs from the ceiling. On a bench swollen with damp, he prepares his dinner. His bed, a rusty camp bed from the sixties lies opposite. He gestures outside. “I built that place with my own hands. I was a builder for years you see and good with my hands. There was nothing I couldn’t make. My wife and I had only one son. After my wife died, he and his family came to live with me. All these years we had a good relationship. But as soon as he moved in, he and his wife started complaining that the house was too small, it was too crowded and I didn’t need all the space I was taking up. Then they stopped talking to me. They stopped preparing food for me and when I would prepare my own food, they stopped shopping for me. One day I came home from the shops and they had changed the locks. Then they put up this fence. I’m so glad my wife isn’t alive to see this.” 

“Can you come over?” kyria Stella asks. “My son wants me to sign mortgage papers so I can take out a loan and feed the money into his business. But I’ve already given him my other house and all of my money and he has wasted it. This is my only home. I don’t want to lose it. Come over so at least when I sign the papers, I won’t be alone with him.” 

“Don’t sign anything,” I advise her. “Tell him to leave the papers with you so you can get legal advice. I cannot and will not give you legal advice in his presence.” 

“No, I can’t do that,” kyria Stella begins to sob. “He will beat me.” 

“You know I can’t go on holidays,” John complains. “Every time I do, my sister goes around to my mum’s and empties her bank account and messes around with her pills. When I got back from Queensland a few years ago, we found mum in a coma. She hadn’t had her insulin. My sister hadn’t been to see her all the time we were away. Then we discovered the title to the house was missing and that’s when all the trouble began.” 

“My son keeps emptying my bank account to pay his bills. He doesn’t ask me, he just takes the money. Now he is refusing to go shopping for me or to visit me unless I give him money to buy my granddaughter a new car. I’m too frightened to go to the bank to restrict his access because then he won’t visit me. Though when he does visit, all he does is take things from the house, scream at me and ask for more money.” 

“My daughter and her husband came here, through out all my furniture and confined me to this room. They have rented the rest of the house to another family. They don’t speak Greek and they completely ignore me. My daughter takes the rent and my pension money. I’m trapped inside my own home. I don’t want to live anymore.  I pray that Death come take me, every day.” 

“I should have strangled him at birth. He forged my signature on this loan agreement without telling me and didn’t pay back the money. Now the sheriff has come round to tell me that I have one month to leave the house. Where am I supposed to go now in my eighties? Yes, I should report him to the police but I worry about my grandchildren.” 

Not a week goes by that I am not consulted by a member of our community with concerns about elder abuse. Most of the time, the person consulting me is a concerned family member or friend. Sometimes, it is the elders themselves, timidly, via telephone or during at home consultations when they know that their tormentors are otherwise engaged. Almost always they are despondent. They feel hurt, betrayed and bewildered by the treatment inflicted upon them by their loved ones. Those that are victims of physical violence always allude to this in indirect terms, pleading that they describe their plight upon the condition that this remains a secret because as much as they live in fear, they do not wish any evil to befall their tormentors. More generally however, it is the psychological abuse that is the hardest to endure, the enforced loneliness, the targeted isolation from grandchildren, the manifest contempt that accompanies every begrudging communication. And at the root of this all: The desire for money and the desire for control. 

Our elders are longer lived now than ever before. As they traverse the twilight of their lives, the members of this hallowed first generation deserve the honour that is their due. It was these brave pioneers that arrived in this country and worked ceaselessly under the most difficult of social and financial conditions to establish themselves and create Greek community institutions. They did not always get it right. They could not be and were not all things to all people. Yet their achievements are unsurpassed by those of their children and their bravery knows no bounds. No one deserves this type of treatment, let alone those who deserve our reverence, utmost admiration and tender care. Yet sadly, in many cases, they are seen as sources of revenue, to be extracted at whim, their human dignity completely disregarded. 

The more philosophical of victims blame themselves. “We came here and threw ourselves into making money. We didn’t realise it at the time but we brought up a generation of children that measured the worth of everything by the dollar. We didn’t mean to do it. Back in the village it was a given that we all looked after each other. We just naturally expected that our kids would do the same. But the problem is they never experienced us doing it. All they saw us do is run around trying to bring in an income. We tried to give them what we didn’t have. We spoiled them and failed them. And now we are paying for that failure.” 

“When you are old, no one wants to know you, or cares how you fell”, kyr-Panayioti observes as he finishes signing his Will. “You are like a piece of furniture that people can’t wait to throw out. That is what it is like for us.” While mainstream resources such as the Seniors Rights Vic Helpline (1300368821) which allows for anonymous reporting and provides advice as to how to support victims exist, the social stigma surrounding abuse, as bringing shame to the family and the unspoken convention that Greek families are sacrosanct and one does not intervene in the affairs of a family not one’s own means that while incidences of elder abuse are well known and often widespread within our community, little if any action is taken to confront abusers and to protect the victims. 

Endeavours such as a community-wide Elder Abuse week, frequent information sessions at Greek senior’s clubs informing them about their rights and the pitfalls of being coerced into signing documents they don’t understand or do not wish to sign will go a long way in empowering the vulnerable to stand up for themselves. Most importantly it is incumbent upon all of us, when encountering such situations, not to grant agency to the tormentors through our silence and indifference, but rather to confront them, report them and ensure they face the consequences of their actions. At all stages, we need to have the appropriate resources as a community to comfort and support victims estranged and abused by their loved ones. PRONIA for example, has Family Violence Workers who address such situations and a conversation as to how our combined community institutions can do so, working in a co-ordinated fashion, is well overdue. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 19 February 2022

Saturday, February 12, 2022


Over the holidays, a mother heard my children and I speaking Greek to each other at the park. Introducing herself, and her child who spoke perfect Greek with an Athenian accent, we chatted in Greek for a while. 

“Where are you from?” I asked her eventually. “Your daughter’s accent is Athenian, yet I’m guessing you were born here. Did you go back and live over there?” 

“No,” the mother replied. Both my husband and I were born and raised here but we love languages and we wanted our daughter to learn Greek properly, so we only speak to her in Greek. She gets her accent from the Greek children’s shows she watches. By the way, how can you tell I was born here?” 

“Your Greek is perfect,” I responded. “But the give-away is the slight lisping of the s, which is the way most Australian women pronounce that sibilant. It invariably gets transferred into Greek.” 

“No way, Professor Higgins, she laughed. “When did you come to Australia?” 

“Like you born and raised here,” I responded. 


From that moment on, the mother switched to English. Even though I continued to speak to her in Greek, she could no longer maintain the conversation in its original language. When I pointed this out to her, she would switch to Greek, say a few words and invariably go back to English, laughing as she realised how she was changing register. “It just feels weird speaking to someone my age in Greek, who isn’t from Greece,” she observed. 


A few days later we ran into an elderly family friend we hadn’t seen since the Pandemic. After greeting me in our own regional dialect, he, looking at my three year old son, asked:  

Χαβαγιού μπόιΟυάτς γιερνάιμ;” 

“He doesn’t speak English,” I informed him. 

Γιου νο νο γιερνάιμ?” he persisted. 

“He doesn’t speak English,” I repeated. 

Ουάτς ρονΓιου σάι?”  

“He doesn’t speak English,” I reiterated 

Μέμπι γιου ουάν α λόλα;” he continued. 


My interlocutor’s difficulty can of course be explained. The emerging social conventions which drive language use provide that English is the language that we now use to speak to the younger generations of our community. Thus to speak in Greek to a member of that generation is a social transgression. 


This, I learned the hard way a few years ago. Chancing upon a university friend on the street, we chatted to each other in Greek. I then asked her teenage son, who was waiting patiently next to her, how he was going at school. Turning to his mother, he screamed: 

“I’ve told you, don’t you ever speak in that language to me.” 


Recently, I have been tasked with trying to find an erudite, Greek-Australian primarily Greek speaking friend, a partner. As he has chosen to restrict himself to female Greek-Australians, he laments his lack of success in these terms: “Every time I open my mouth to speak Greek, they tell me I remind them of their parents or grandparents. This is a turn off.” My suggestion, that he present himself as a Greek from Greece apparently has paid dividends. Exoticism plus authenticity when it comes to linguistics is apparently sexy. The revelation as to the place of abode and the two investment properties in Clayton can come later. 


The manner in which psychology and social conventions drive language use is not studied at any deep level in relation to the manner in which Modern Greek is spoken in Australia. On the other hand, Manuela Pellegrino, in her ground-breaking study: “Greek Language, Italian Landscape: Griko and the Re-Storying of a Linguistic Minority,” explores social mores as intrinsic to an understanding of the context in which a language is spoken. Granted, there are vast differences between Griko, as spoken in Southern Italy and Greek as it is spoken in Australia. Nevertheless, Pellegrino, describes a process where in contemporary times, the elder generation of fluent Griko speakers stopped speaking the language to their children, not through any persecution or racism, but rather for practical reasons: their children being expected to learn the Salentine dialect of Italian spoken in their area as well as official Italian, it was felt that Griko was useless and an impediment to their education, assimilation and progression within society. Thus, while children learned the language or at least were able to comprehend it by listening to their elders, it did not develop into a language to be used with their peers.  


Most tellingly, Pellegrino describes a situation where Griko was not even allowed to develop into a gerontolect, a medium used by the younger generations, solely to communicate with their elders. When she in particular attempted to speak to her elders in Griko, they would laugh her off and switch to Salentine Italian, commenting in Griko: “Back then things were not like today.” Thus, for the mother tongue Griko speakers, context is everything. If you were not around when Griko was the main language of social intercourse, you are not automatically included within its linguasphere. I am advised by friends that a similar situation prevails here in Australia with younger members of the Pontian community attempting to speak dialect to their members, only to elicit a smile but ultimately, an exclusion. 


Pellegrino further outlines how Griko-speaking grandparents would relay an instruction to their first born in Griko, who would then relay that instruction in Salentine Italian to their younger siblings, who in turn would relay that instruction to their children in formal Italian, suggesting that a multiplicity of registers can be a social norm in a multilingual environment. 


Understanding the social registers of a language and how they can be used to include or exclude people will assist us in comprehending why the Greek language is in decline in Australia, a fact rendered undisputable by Professor Joe Lo Bianco’s extensive study “Pharos: Revitalising Modern Greek,” commissioned by the Modern Greek Teachers’ Association of Victoria. In particular, such an understanding can assist us in identifying when members of the older generations employ Modern Greek as a means of excluding members of the younger generations from their deliberations or participation in clubs, brotherhoods and other community institutions or other social settings and indeed how language relates to power in general. For example, while I will speak to members of my own brotherhood in dialect in a social setting, when asked to deliberate publicly or provide advice on a legal or procedural issue, I will do so in the Modern Greek register, as its underlying connotations lend my contention greater voice and render them less prone to subversion. Interestingly, while a large number of active members of such clubs will insist upon such deliberations taking place in Greek, in the home/private sphere they are happy for their progeny and grandchildren to address them in English, suggesting that social power imbalances are contextual and influence when, where and how, languages are spoken. 


Most of all, a study of the psychology of the language will explain why second-generation parents who are fluent in Greek, who have the best of intentions choose not to speak to their children in Greek. It will most importantly, delineate a social framework within which latter generations may speak Greek to each other without this being considered socially awkward but rather forms an organic part of the multi-lingual reality of this country. Further, such a study would also be able to trace the organic interrelationship and overlapping between Greek registers and English, suggesting that situational use or code switching can be a social norm rather than an aberration to be deplored and lamented over. 


In her book, Pellegrino also makes the following timely observation: “We talk more about Griko than in Griko.” Unless we are able to found a relevant social discourse for the Greek language in which all generations may participate, the continued existence of the Greek language in Australia will prove untenable. It is time we explored the deep-seated feelings we have for our mother tongue in a variety of social settings and study their psychology as a condition precedent to maintaining an idiom that may express our cultural memories as well as the sum total of our developing experiences as a sociolinguistic entity in this country. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 12 February 2022

Saturday, February 05, 2022



The other day a friend was relating an experience he had in the eighties. A university student, on his days off, he would assist his mother who was a cleaner, to clean corporate offices in Melbourne’s CBD. One day, while cleaning the office of a prominent banker, said banker broke off a conversation with two executives to ask the mother: 

“Who’s that Mary?” 

“This my son,’ she replied in broken English. 

“Helping ya mum, are ya?” the banker commented indifferently and began to turn away. 

"Maybi you give him tzobi?” the mother asked, after an awkward pause. 

“Well if he cleans half as well as you, he can replace you,” the banker guffawed derisorily, causing the executives to explode with laughter. 

My friend, who paradoxically enough, is now well established professionally in the banking sphere, has never been able to forget this incident. According to him, what hurts most is the knowledge that although his mother was intimidated by the banker and knew full well that to him she rated as a human being not at all, she still summoned the courage to make the request on the off chance that she could ease her son’s professional path. The banker’s reaction at her presumption hurt, not because of his contempt but rather because of his inability to imagine that a child of migrants could have no other future than in menial servitude and his complete indifference to his and his mother’s feelings. 

A day later, I spent a wonderful day at Melbourne Museum with my children, especially enjoying the extensive Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, when my eldest daughter turned to me and enquired: “Where is the section about the Greeks and the other ethnicities that live in Melbourne?” 

It was my friend’s story and my daughter’s question that came to my mind when I learned of Museum Victoria’s proposed new international exhibition, which seeks the support and participation by the Greek community. Their announcement is as follows: 


We are hosting an exciting new international exhibition in early 2022 and we’d like you to be part of it. The exhibition explores Ancient Greek journeys and cultural connections. As an introduction to the exhibition, we are seeking treasured photographs of Victoria’s diverse Greek community. We’re looking for images that record modern journeys and celebrate Greek Australian families and communities in Melbourne and Victoria, from the early years right through to today. It might be a snapshot of a family business or BBQ, a wedding or graduation ceremony, a sporting or community event… [or] photos of arrivals in Australia….” 

Setting aside the cringeworthy and misspelt greeting for the moment as well intentioned, one struggles to see what the combined Greek Australian community of Melbourne’s photographic archive, such that it is, has to do with “Ancient Greek journey and cultural connections.” Is it the Museum’s intention to parallel Modern Greek migration with the Ancient Greek past? If so, we are entitled to know how this will be done. Will there be recourse to the threadbare cliché of the Odyssey, or instead will Greek migration to Australia be discussed in the context of a diachronic diasporic tendency?  

The question is a pertinent one, because the Museum is prescriptive in the types of photographs it desires to be included in its exhibition, suggesting it is following a predetermined narrative. In treating our journey and “cultural connections” it requires photographs that “celebrate Greek Australian families,” through community or other events.   

Photographs of this nature abound in all Greek Australian families: the ubiquitous photographs of the second generation in their graduation robes clutching their degrees that hang in living rooms all around Melbourne as an advertisement of success. Fading 1970’s photos of mass picnics at Sorrento and Portarlington. Members of the older generation posing self-consciously in photographic studios in their wedding clothes. Old uncles with wide ties and mutton chop sideburns dancing the zeimbekiko at brotherhood dances. As participants of an internal Greek-Australian discourse, such snapshots in time are polyvalent and increasingly assume great meaning, attesting as they do, to customs, pastimes and mores that are fast vanishing. What is not certain is how these are relevant to the mainstream and Museum Victoria’s purposes. 

This is because the very nature of the photograph is problematic. In the days before camera phones, few photographs were spontaneous. One posed for a photograph, an act which invariably entailed making decisions about facial expression, attire, background and which items or people would be featured. In an aspirational community such as ours, much can be gleaned from an analysis of the values that inform the composition of what in the most cases is a contrived portrait intended to convey a specific message. On the surface, when viewing collections of such photographs, one is presented with a picture of young, happy, smiling optimistic faces, acclimatising to their new country, gradually acquiring wealth and becoming good Australians. 

It is this prevailing migration discourse of the dominant class in Australia that appears to be propagated by Museum Victoria, in purporting to “celebrate” migrant communities such as ours, for a celebration is invariably a positive phenomenon. In celebrating our journey, it implies that migration, as determined and presided over by the dominant culture can be viewed as a “success,” and thus the organisers of the exhibition detail the type of photographic evidence that will fit into their predetermined suppositions about the migration experience. The fact that the call for photographs has been enthusiastically received by sections of the Greek community that are flattered by the attention afforded to them by the Museum and who feel nostalgic about a lost, imagined past, will no doubt result in a large number of photographs fitting the Museum’s criteria being provided. 

What of the other migration narratives however? Various New York Greek American lobby groups have over the years campaigned to have the here pictured 1918 photograph of gun and whiskey toting Cretan miners from Utah removed from display from the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and replaced with a more conventional scene as a wedding because they worry that this picture sends the wrong message about Greek Americans. Will we also self-censor in order to “fit in” to the prescribed exhibition’s narrative? How many of our photos actually capture who we really were or are? 

There is no photograph of my friend’s face when his mother was mocked by the banking executive. There is no photograph of Victorian Court of Appeals Justice Emilios Kyrou being subjected to physical violence as a boy for being Greek. There is no photograph of pioneering businessman and author Sotirios Manolopoulos’ utter despondency at being stuck in the Northern Territory without a job and not having enough money to buy his children milk. There is no photograph of the single ladies who arrived here on the promise of marriage, were taken advantage of and then expelled from the tight, judgmental and claustrophobic support network of their village peers. There is no photograph of the aspiring student, now a retired educationalist who was told by her teacher: “I do not know why you are studying. You will never get into uni. You wogs only need to know enough to work in the factory.” There is no photograph of a three shift working late Christos Mouratidis and so many like him, permanently injuring his back due to the unduly arduous tasks assigned to him and the unsafe work practices of his employer. There is no photograph of George Zangalis’ face being denied Australian citizenship as a result of his social activism. There is no photograph of Ioanna Liakakou working twelve hour days seven days a week in a Milk Bar and furtively scribbling down her memoirs, on the brink of nervous collapse. There is no photograph of Papa Lefteris of Red Hill being harassed by his neighbours who objected to a church being constructed in the vicinity of their properties. 

If there is anything to “celebrate” about migration, it is that our community managed to settle here and thrive, despite enormous difficulties and the accumulation of much trauma, for the migrant experience pre and post migration was inordinately traumatic and its psychological effects both upon the functioning of our communal institutions and the individuals of our community have, criminally, not been studied. An exhibition that purports to “celebrate” migration without mentioning the difficulties inherent within the Australian migration experience, however will meaning, denies our community a voice, by assuming control of its narrative. Any such exhibition that does not mention the implication of migrants in legitimising the dominant culture’s abrogation of the sovereignty of our First Peoples over this land is also misrepresenting the migrant experience. 

Considering just how important mainstream approval is to the psychology of Greek-Australians, and just how internalised the stereotypes of that mainstream have become, it is to be expected that Museum Victoria will be provided by our community with the happy snaps and nostalgic portrayals that it has requested. Yet it is of vital importance, that those progressive organisations that have archives pertaining to activism for social change, industrial reform and migrant equality freely offer up their resources so that a proper picture of migration can be propagated. 

Museum Victoria is to be commended for reaching out to the Greek community. Ultimately, however, the Greek migrant experience is a discourse that belongs to us and we must be in control of  determining its narratives. These are our stories to tell the mainstream, and so far, none of our communal institutions are invested in telling them, in a sophisticated, multi-faceted manner. Yet it is these experiences that form the cornerstone of our identity, ones that if properly told will determine the way we are seen, in turn see ourselves an result in a lasting relevant Greek-Australian cultural identity that will transcend the generations. We refrain from their narration and allow others to navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of our Odyssey, at our peril. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 February 2022