Saturday, June 25, 2022



“I have some saffron milk-cap mushrooms,” the irrepressible John Rerakis of Philhellene’s fame announced. “Freshly picked. Would you like some?” Within the hour, I presented myself at his place of business, for these fungi, known as μανίτες to us Samians, are a staple winter food and a prized delicacy. British soldiers introduced the same pine trees as those that grow in Samos to Victoria, and in the process translated the saffron milk-cap spores with them. When we descend upon the Mornington Peninsula or Macedon in search of provender, this is for us, a homecoming. 

Μανίτες are brilliant fried with garlic, or made into pilaf with saffron rice. During the winter cold, they add gravitas to one of the most hallowed of Greek dishes, fasolada, whose restorative powers can possibly be attributed to the fact that the soup had a liturgical function, in ancient times. For at the Pyanopsia a festival dedicated to fasolada, our venerable ancestors did offer the soup as a vegetarian sacrifice to the god Apollo, thus simultaneously constituting him the god of music. According to tradition, upon dispatching Asterion, the Minotaur, the demi-god Theseus first offered fasolada to Apollo on the sacred island of Delosin thanks for his divine assistance in occasioning the slaughter.  

As my Albanian friend Hysni reminds me, the Albanian word for fart is pordhë, cognate with our own Greek πορδή. How felicitous the world would be if we focused on those things that unite us, instead of those that divide us. How sublime, that some manage to do both simultaneously. 

Μανίτες are innocuous yet I am convinced that I am an involuntary devotee of Apollo for every time I eat one, I feel a slight and inordinately pleasing tingle of the tongue. Should I sit down and eat a whole dish of the them, straight and unchased, in the evening, I can expect to be visited by various muses, with varying degrees of benignity.  

This phenomenon is best experienced with friends possessed of the same proclivities. My compatriot Ioannis writes his best poetry after having consumed a dish of μανίτες friend in garlic. He recalls me telling him during one μανίτα-fuelled spree that the Chinese character for poetry, (shī) is comprised of three parts. The left radical, is the radical for speaking. The top right radical is the radical for heart. The bottom right radical is the radical for intent. All this tells us that for the Chinese, poetry is the articulation of the heart's intent. To this, Ioannis responded that in Greek, on the other hand, poetry is ποίησις, the act of creation itself. 

I have no recollection of that particular conversation. Instead, I remember suggesting that as, according to our illustrious ancient forebears, μανίτες were said to derive from the thunderbolts of Zeus, as evidenced by the fact that they appear after rain-storms, we should go out into the winter cold and await their immanent arrival. After all, did not the neo-platonist philosopher Porphyry opine that mushrooms are “the children of the gods?” As such our fungal counterparts are our brothers and comrades and we ought to be at one with them. As the thunder crashed around us and we shivered in our sodden state, I recalled that an edition of Σάλπιγξ Ελληνική, the first newspaper printed in revolutionary Greece, in a mosque in Kalamata, editor Theoklitos Pharmakidis urged the Greeks to be merciful to non-combatant Turks as the aim of the Revolution was to strike at tyranny and not at the weak. I similarly beseeched Zeus to be merciful upon us devotees of Apollo. Soon after, Ioannis stepped on a particularly pernicious twig which pierced his foot. He called me a mycophiliac, which for all of two minutes, I found particularly hurtful, considering that only I am permitted to recite the thesaurus in diatribes. 

By way of recompense, Ioannis offered soon after to cook me a dish of mykai, as mushrooms were known in antiquity, according to the specifications set out in Hellenistic writer Athenaeus: “Deipnosophistai,” the cook-book of partying professors. The passages that concern edible fungi such as the one following are particularly edifying: 

“Mushrooms grow on the ground, and few of them are edible. Most of them cause death by choking. Hence Epicharmus said​ in jest: "You are like mushrooms: you will dry me up and choke me to death." Nicander in the Georgics​gives a list of the poisonous varieties in these lines: "Deadly pains are laid up in store for the olive-tree, the pomegranate, the ilex, and the oak, the choking weight of swelling mushrooms which adhere to them." But he also says that 61"when you hide deep in dung the stalk of a fig-tree and water it with ever-running streams, mushrooms will grow at the base and be harmless; from it cut not away at the root the mushroom thus grown."  

I respectfully declined but Ioannis insisted, quoting further passages of Athenaeus to the effect that: “mushrooms ought to be prepared in the first instance with vinegar, or with honey and vinegar, or honey and salt alone, since in this way the choking element is removed."  This having failed to reassure me, Ioannis sought to divert me by discussing Aristotle’s observations on fungal bioluminescence, a phenomenon which I attributed to the bloom flourishing between my interlocutor’s toes, glowing a sickly green in the gloom. I felt in relevant to inform him that Hippocrates, around 450BC, classified the amadou mushroom as a potent anti-inflammatory and for the cauterisation of wounds. Ioannis’ only response was that the amadou is also known as the tinder mushroom. Not knowing which way to swipe, I let the matter rest. 

Ioannis is one of those recently arrived Greeks who pour scorn upon the Australian-born for choosing to discard the dulcet Hellenic tongue, as spoken in Athens on morning talk-shows, in favour of the nasal overtones of Australian, a dialect of English he has not yet mastered, having obtained only his English proficiency certificate in Larisa. According to him, all of us would be barred from the life-regenerating Eleusinian mysteries in worship of the goddess Dimitra, and consequently, ineligible to imbibe the kykeon, a heady brew comprised of ergot fungus and psychotropic mushrooms, simply because the concoction was available only to those who spoke Greek and had not committed murder, it being unknown whether this referred to persons, or language. 


Miguel Cervantes described the eponymous hero of his Don Quixote as “imagining himself for the valour of his arm already crowned at least Emperor of Trebizond.” Rabelais, in "Gargantua and Pantagruel" had his character Picrochole, (from the Greek Bitter-bile) the ruler of Piedmont, declare: “I want also to be Emperor of Trebizond.” We emerged from our μανίτα-induced stupor with imperial aplomb. We are all children of the gods, propagated by their spores and seed. Within their gills and their caps, toxic or otherwise, and the cycle of birth and decay they silently and selflessly preside over, lies the paradigm of our existence, until such time that is, as their effects wear off. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 June 2022

Saturday, June 18, 2022


When I was young, memories of the Second World War in Greece were still fresh and most of the people I knew had either experienced it, or its aftermath. Their memories, extremely traumatic as they were, helped to shape my world view. They were intensely personal memories, ones of starvation, privation and above all fear. 

Superimposed upon those memories, was the official mythography of the War: the story of the doughty but valiant, selfless Greeks who combined as one, as their ancestors did of old, to repel the fascist invader, afterwards refusing to suffer occupation and domination by a genocidal regime.  

Often, this superimposition produced conflicts: If the invader was as louche, effeminate and corwardly as he was portrayed, then was not victory certain? If our people did combine as one, how was it that a short while afterwards civil society was shattered and polarised, resulting in a bloody Civil War? 

In all these accounts, the emphasis is undeniably Grecocentric, with scant if any space afforded to the Allied troops that supported the Greek army and which operated within Greece at the time. Yet the stories of those troops, especially the Australian ones, provide a valuable perspective into prevailing conditions at the time, while their impressions of their “first-encounters” with Greece and the Greek people form the backdrop to the broader Greek-Australian narrative, greatly informing our understanding of the mainstream’s reception of and attitudes towards the Greek people in Australia. 

Eight decades after the Second World War, there is renewed interest, especially among second and third generation Greek-Australians in the operations of Australian soldiers within Greece during that time. In a large part, this interest comes from a desire to form a stakeholding within the wider Australian war narrative, one that is afforded great respect by the dominant class. In seeking to highlight the experiences of Australian soldiers within Greece, there is an attempt by Greek-Australians to broaden the military narrative further so as to encompass their own places of origin, with the desire that their history effectively becomes acculturated and appropriated by the dominant discourse. This historical phenomenon is of great sociological importance, indicating how a mosaic of histories and narratives can exist alongside each other, contributing but not coalescing, to the formation of a compound, mutli-faceted and inclusive narrative. Arguably, it is for the reason that the Pammessenian Brotherhood Papaflessas have admirably chosen to publish historian Jim Claven’s: “Grecian Adventure. Greece 1941. Anzac Trail Stories and Photographs,” in commemoration of the eightieth anniversary of the Greek campaign of 1941. 

Rather than approach his work via a particular theoretical perspective, in his meticulously researched book, Jim Claven prefers to give voice to those who actually lived through the events he purports to treat and thus the story is told from the point of view of Australian soldiers, upon painstaking examination of their diaries and ephemera, granting the work immediacy and authenticity. In this way the reader is provided with three advantages: an appreciation of strategy, something that would not have been accessible to the Greeks in the vicinity and thus largely absent from the Greek-Australian memories of these events, a deep understanding of the risks and dangers of warfare, allowing a deeper acknowledgment of the heroism of the Australian soldiers operating within Greek territory and thirdly, an awareness of the precise manner in which  the bond between Greeks and Australians was forged. 

This latter advantage seems to inform the writing of the work and to constitute its underlying ideology. It is significant in this respect that on the back cover of the book the author chooses to publish the following quotes from the descendants of Australian soldiers whose works and deeds are examined in the text: “My late father Syd never forgot the help of the Greek people during the campaign…,” and “Honouring the courage and friendship that bonds us, vividly told through my dear father’s story and that of many others in this book, God bless Australia and Greece, with ever deepening unity in democratic freedom.” 

One of Jim Claven’s stated aims is for the book to act as a field guide to the 1941 campaign. In the furtherance of this objective the author has conducted extensive field-work during multiple trips to Greece and his meticulous observations of the topography, with the generous provision of many original photographs, act as visual guides for the reader and enliven the text. One can almost feel the wind pushing salt spray through the trees, as one reads the vivid accounts and refers to Jim Claven’s pictures, taking the reader on a Grecian Adventure all of their own, and most likely, provoking the desire to visit these hallowed places themselves. The book’s stories and images thus cover the length and breadth of Greece, including many locations which don’t generally feature in Greek-Australian war commemorations. 

Of singular importance is the provision of largely unknown or unpublished photographs taken by the main protagonists of the book, the soldiers themselves. Not only to they provide a unique historical and sociological resource as to the conditions of the time, they also lend insight into the characters and sensitivities of the soldier’s themselves, with an analysis of why and how they chose to immortalise the scenes they did, speaking volumes as to their relationship to events and the local environment. My favourite photograph is of an immensely dignified elderly Cretan man leaning on a stick. A caption by the photographer, Private Sydney Grant reads: “The old….., a real terror for the plonk at Neon Corinth, May 1941.” Another photo, of two smiling Greek ladies is entitled “Two of the many Greek girls who fed us with bread an water standing at the entrance of an old church at Trachila Greece, 30 April 1941,” not only stand as evidence of the humanitarian assistance provided by the Greek people to Australian soldiers at great cost to themselves, but also give us pause to consider what might have happened to those ladies by way of reprisal, had Private Sydney Grant been captured and the photographs developed. Jim Claven also published photographs taken from a captured German prisoner by Private Sydney Grant, a unique record of the German occupation of Greece. Significantly, his experience of Greece during the short campaign so affected Grant that when he returned to Australia he named his farm "Kalamata" in honour of the place and the people who had helped him escape capture by the Germans. 

What emerges from Jim Claven’s research as contained in the book, is that there is an ANZAC trail running through Greece, one that deserves greater prominence within the Australian military narrative. To this end, the book is an invaluable resource for the establishment of tours to the regions in which the campaign was fought, while also supporting restoration work in locales hitherto ignored by the Greek and Australian authorities. Most importantly, it acts as a bridge between Greece and Australia, indicating where and under which circumstances the unique bond between our two countries was forged. For latter generation Greek-Australians, it constitutes an ideal way in which to rationalise both their hybrid identity. Its dignified and unassuming prioritising of the accounts of protagonists could also serve as a blueprint for the manner in which we commemorate those who were lost during the 1941 campaign. In this polyvalent matter, Jim Claven’s book is definitely a must read. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 June 2022

Saturday, June 11, 2022



If Greek Australian culture is going to survive, then it needs to be neither reactionary, that, is responding solely to stimuli emanating from Greece or the mainstream, nor mimetic. Instead, it must be rooted within the local environment in which it is engendered and thrives. Only when it responds to the places where we interact and live as Greeks, whether in thought, deed, praxis or memory, can we really claim to be creating something unique and authentic. 

It is for this reason that the Greek-Australian Cultural League of Melbourne’s annual Antipodean Palette is particularly inspiring. This year, in recognition of the fact that we are, after over a century long presence in this city, an indescribably diverse and multi-faceted tribe that defies stereotypes and exhausts superlatives, there is no over-arching theme or a prescribed subject to which artists are called upon to direct their craft. Rather, each artist, showcased from the carefully compiled Greek Australian Artists Directory, an important archive of Greek Australian art practice in Australia, has been permitted to display the artwork that forms a natural expression of their own visual language. 

In keeping with previous practice, the Antipodean Palette this year, has dispensed with the traditional display of art in galleries. Instead, in Art Trail, participating artists have their artwork displayed on large posters in the urban landscape of one of the most iconic suburbs of Greek settlement in Melbourne, that of Brunswick. Modern day Brunswick is not the area it was when Greek migrants began to settle there in large numbers. Yet it has always been home to migrant communities and even as the Greeks’ presence there is not as pronounced or vibrant as before, it is still strong, and memories linger. Placing the artwork along Sydney Road and its intersecting streets and inviting the viewer to traverse those streets in order to discover and appreciate the work is a galvanising experience, one that provides insight not only into the interior world of the artist but also allows one to experience the sights, smells and sounds that inform their everyday existence as Greek Australians living in Melbourne.  

A hipster passing by, clutching a latte; An old black clad grandmother trundling her shopping cart ever so slowly along the undulating footpath; The frustrated veil covered lady pulling her squalling children away from the road; The careworn old Greek man emerging from the local TAB; The sounds of the bells ringing at Saint Basil’s: all these and so much more constitute the framework around which our inner world is made exterior. There can be no greater paean to our existence than to place our art alongside the people who have created and maintain our community.  

The artwork itself is superb and though-provoking. Katrina Ginis’ oil on paper composition “Memory” is particularly arresting. An exploration of the concept of involuntary memory, which can be triggered by sensory experiences such as sights, sounds and smells, her depiction of a votive oil lamp on a crocheted doily is a profound mediation on use of "signs" to understand and communicate ultimate reality, as well as how art triumphs over the destructive power of time. Of Asia Minor descent, the artist’s work, displayed on the one hundred year anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe is not coincidental. What at first sign appears to be one doily are actually two: a “clean” white one and a “soiled” brown one, which is receding to the margins of the painting. Their designs are not identical suggesting we are dealing with two sets of narratives and encoded languages of symbolism. Both are crumpled but the “soiled” one is ever more so, rendering an appreciation of its design more difficult. Is this “soiled” doily a narrative of memory, while the “white” doily symbolises contemporary experience? If so, it is significant that the “brown” doily, though ostensibly marginal in its position in the painting, is placed on top of the white doily, possibly intimating that it is this narrative of the past, however unintelligible or unpalatable that dominates our present discourse. 

While the painting appears as a still life, there is something dynamically disconcerting in its dynamism that borders upon the surreal. There is light emanating from the votive lamp that is, in Orthodox practice lit before icons or images of the departed as a means of veneration. Yet it is not apparent whence this light is derived, as the lamp has neither oil, nor a wick, rendering the source of the flame debatable. Is illumination self-generated or self-delusion? Are the explorations we seek to make of our past, or our attempts to draw our identity from it rather than rooted in authenticity and proximity, instead self-referential and a parody?  

A similar tension is created in the positing of the carnations, a flower associated with the point in which life and death meet, which is why it is traditionally used to bedeck the Good Friday Epitaphios. There appear to be more blooms, albeit immature and unopened on the “white” doily that on the “soiled” doily, whose blooms are darker, more mature and recede into the shadows. As a meditation on permanence, eternity and our interrelationship with the liminal spaces within our identity, the questions encoded within the composition exist in conversation with the overall rational behind Antipodean Palette, making this artwork, in my opinion the stand-out piece. 

Of all the artists participating in this year’s Antipodean Palette, Efrossini Chaniotis is perhaps the most “native” since her creative studio, in which many of her artistic explorations took place, was situated in Brunswick. Her work, the Painted Sculpture, 2022 is thus a homage to that artistic journey, in which her memory of her own mother’s experience as a partner is intertwined. Highlighting the polyvalency of physical places and the manner in which their image can be interpreted depending on the lens through which we view them, it was the artist’s mother that saw in her daughter’s studio, a reminder of Mykonos, her father’s homeland and the artist set about recreating her studio in homage to that vision. Efrossini Chaniotis no longer occupies that Brunswick studio and she has removed though retained her decorations. Her father, an authentic artefact of Mykonos had already passed on when the studio was decorated. Yet indelibly in her art, Brunswick can no longer be seen as separate from Mykonos, or indeed from the artist’s creative vocabulary and her artwork, a syncretic conglomeration of motifs from Mykonos that compound upon each other are a fitting paradigm of the multicultural condition. 

Kalliroe Tsiatis: “Moreland City Fairy Tales,” seemingly divests itself from the need of a lens with which to comprehend the locale. Her subject is a lady visiting Coburg Lake, a short distance from Brunswick and still in the same municipality. While the artist claims to discard manifestos, definitions and categories and seeks merely a human connection, what she portrays has a colossal monumentality to it, reminiscent of the seated Greek statues of the Archaic Period. However, we should take which ever influences inform these choices in depicition with a grain of salt. After all, as the artist has taken pains to inform us, we are looking at, or indeed without realising it, have been made part of a fairy story.  

 Masonik’s bleak collage “Bloom” exploring the impact of unchecked growth of whatever nature is a stark visual fable warning against excess. Employing an almost brutalist visual lexicon, the brooding, sterile shipping containers and looming concrete edifices juxtaposed against an azure, cloudless sky exist in dialogue with another visually symbolic interlocutor: the stark imagery associated with disverdant rock Greek islands also thrust against the immenseness of a sky of similar hue. Connecting windows into communicating worlds are made, challenging our understanding of proximity and cultural affiliation as this pertains to memory. 

Just how important the Australian landscape is important in the fashioning of one’s Greek identity is a theme explored by James Pasakos in his: “Buoys and Westgate.” While travels and journeys are endemic to the migrant experience, the fact the artist has chosen to depict a structure upon which so many Greek migrants laboured, whose permanence is a vexed question considering its history, is noteworthy. The composition is thus a telling example of how the local environment can be suborned by the artist in order to make a statement about the ephemerality of identity, memory and migration. This is a concept explored also by the other participating artists, Joy Mcdonald, Yanis and Constantine Nicholas. 

Ultimately, the question of what makes an entity definable and recognizable over time, establishing or deconstructing identities, is at the heart of each participating artist’s contribution. By choosing to have their art respond to but also to have an impact upon the local urban landscape as well as to enjoin the viewer to embark on an interactive experience with them, in which all their senses are engaged, the Greek-Australian Cultural League, through Antipodean Palette’s Art Trail are forging pathways for future interaction between hybrid spaces, encouraging the formation of parallel and novel discourses that challenge the conventional and highlight the spaces in which we are, most often unconsciously, ourselves. 


Antipodean Palette Art Trail runs from 30 May to 12 June 2022. 

For more details visit 

First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 June 2022

Saturday, June 04, 2022



The wild olive wreath is said to have been introduced to the Olympic Games by demi-god Heracles as a prize for the victor of the running race to honour Zeus. Just how coveted the wreath became is evidenced by Herodotus who relates how Persian king Xerxes was interrogating some Arcadians after the Battle of Thermopylae. When being informed in answer to his inquiry as to why so few men defended Thermopylae, that they were all participating in the Olympics, and that the prize was a wreath,  one of his generals exclaimed: "Good heavens! What kind of men are these against whom you have brought us to fight? Men who do not compete for possessions, but for virtue." 

The laurel wreath on the other hand, sacred to Apollo, was awarded to winners of musical and poetic competitions. The Romans adopted it as an emblem of military victory. In Christian times, the sporting metaphor was retained. Martyrs were said to have “competed” for their wreaths of victory, this being martyrdom. 

Of late, a wave of wreath-laying is sweeping our community. It seems that every other week, our media are crammed with photographs of solemn community leaders and sundry dignitaries laying wreaths at various monuments around Melbourne. The wreath-laying ceremony is generally the coda of an event which commences with a church service and is intended to honour those have died a violent death in the service of that particular part of Greece whence the organisers derive their origins. I have attended four such events this year representing my own organisation. To the first event, I arrived sans wreath. “Where is your wreath?” the organiser snarled sotto voce, in church. “I didn’t bring one,” I responded. “I’m attending in support. I didn’t know that the wreath-laying was mandatory.” “Well, I’m striking your name of the list of dignitaries. Your name will NOT be read out,” the organiser snapped. He stormed off down the aisle of the church and returned soon after, brandishing a clipboard. Taking his pen in hand, he proceeded to vigorously scratch out my name from the page. Inexplicably, half an hour later, as community leader upon community leader was called upon to lay a wreath beneath a votive monument with faded and largely illegible inscriptions, he called upon me to lay a wreath on behalf of a completely alien organisation, thus ensuring the apokatastasis of my wreathless hypostasis. I remained in situ. 

At the second wreath laying ceremony I attended, I observed young children garbed in national dress swelter under the hot sun as dignitary after dignitary lay wreath after wreath, one by one. I counted thirty of them during this gruelling ordeal. At the conclusion of the event, the children were unceremoniously dismissed, as their elders retired to partake of a commemorative meal. “So, what was today’s special occasion?” I asked the exhausted children. They shrugged their shoulders: “We don’t know, but mum said we could go to McDonalds if we do this.” No one had given them any information whatsoever as to the significance of the event they were participating in. No one spoke to them save to order them into position for the photographs and no one thanked them when their trials were over. Inside, one of the dignitaries complained to me that the organising committee did not allow you to bring your own wreaths. Instead, you had to order through them and they would arrange it. During the president’s welcome, the dignitary calculated the approximate cost of the wreaths, the amount of discount received from the florist for bulk wreath purchases and the amount that the organising committee overcharged participants in order to arrive at an estimation of their final profit. I began to muse that behind this wreath-laying mania, there must lie a secret cabal of Melbourne florists, eager to take advantage of our propensity for ancestor worship. 

The third wreath laying ceremony was my fault. A year earlier, I received a phone call from an interlocutor who wanted to know what battles had been fought in the vicinity of his village. When asked the reason why, he responded: “We want to “do” a wreath-laying ceremony. Everyone else is doing it. The club is stagnant. We have to do something γιανα φανούμε.” To my question as to how the memory of an obscure battle of no real historical significance would revitalise his organisation, considering that it was primarily comprised of octogenarian members who do not really wish to be reminded of death, he merely hung up the phone. Nonetheless, I was invited to the event, noting the organiser’s consternation in having forgotten a sound system to play the Greek National Anthem. Instead, he piped it in through his telephone, which means that we also got to listen to an advertisement for Grammarly, as he had utilised Youtube. As our ancestors invented grammar, I considered this eminently acceptable. 

As leader after leader divested themselves of their wreaths, one of them caught my eye. The leaves were slightly more faded, displaying a yellow tinge and they were beginning to curl upwards. In the ribbon upon which the name of the wreath-laying organisation was emblazoned, I spied a palimpsest. Moving in for a closer inspection, I made out the letters “BΑΣΙΛΙΚΗ Μ.” It emerged after lengthy interrogation, that the wreath-layer, rather new at this pursuit, in his delight at being called upon to join the ranks of the dignitaries, who are the crème de la crème of our community and exist in a lofty rarified plane far above us mere mortals, had forgotten to order a wreath and terrified of missing out, had purloined one from the nearest convenient grave at Fawkner cemetery. 

At any given community wreath-laying ceremony, there are always in attendance what I call “Wreath wraiths,” past or former presidents who having fallen from power, turn up uninvited and linger like phantasms, unable to move on. The fourth ceremony I attended was bursting at the seams with such ghosts of elections past. Some important dignitaries have letters at the end of their name that they insist upon being read out and on this particular occasion, the master of ceremonies, who was from Greece and unversed in the arcane matters of Australian honours, pronounced OAM as EAM, infusing a revolutionary feeling to the proceedings and intimating that the South will rise again. This wreath-laying ceremony was engrossing because along with the invitations for dignitaries to attend, some members of the community received disinvitations, pointedly asking them not to attend. I counted thirty wreaths on this occasion. Exasperated upon having trod pon a piece of refuse and seeking a patch of United Australia Party election paraphernalia upon which to wipe my shoe, I commented to one of the organisers that the constant barrage of wreath-laying was tedious. Perhaps, I suggested, a single wreath could be lain on behalf of everyone by the organising committee. My interlocutor clapped his hands onto his face in horror: “But then no one would turn up,” he gasped. 

My fifth wreath laying ceremony was not supposed to be such. It was a funeral at the conclusion of which a community organisation president walked down the aisle of the church and taking hold of a wreath which had been placed at the foot of the iconostasis, dumped it unceremoniously at the foot of the coffin, no less than a metre away. Mystified, I sought clarification from one of the chanters. “Isn’t it customary to lay the wreaths on the person’s grave after they are buried?” I asked. Sagely, the chanter nodded: “Indeed. But if he did that, who would see him?” The story that after the burial, said community leader approached me to ask how to edit the coffin out of the photo the organisation’s treasurer took at the time, is purely apocryphal. 

It is proper that as a community should honour our dead, for it is to them we owe our freedom and the ability to celebrate our national identity. Yet the current flood of wreath-laying ceremonies which all adopt the same format and are all largely attended by the same people surely do our community damage. They are unimaginative, dry and derivative. They do not inform, inspire or create culture. They instil nothing in our youth except the ability to stand still and suffer in silence. They do not honour any of the Greek-Australians who created our community but rather, are focused on Greece. Instead of fostering a vibrant cultural exchange of ideas and facilitating a means for people to get together, they present an image of the Greek community as a militaristic death cult, obsessed on laying wreaths for ancestors twenty years ago they had no idea existed. 

 Granted, such ceremonies are easy to organise. They require little thought or creativity and the presence of other community leaders legitimise the organisers and their committees. Yet they do nothing to entrench and perpetuate the Greek identity within the broader context of Australian society. No attempt to engage and educate the youth or to create cultural resources is made. And because they are multiplying exponentially, at the expense of other, richer, more relevant community events, they are transforming our cultural calendar into an arid wasteland. As most of these events are region specific, they also serve to alienate or cultivate the indifference of the rest of the community, which remains unengaged. 

While wreath wraiths may be disappointed, there are only four occasions in which wreath laying should take place: On 25 March in honour of the Revolution, 28 October in honour of OXI, both of which are events that are relevant to the entire Greek community and not just a part, the Battle of Crete, which although region specific is also locally important given that it is here that the historical narratives of Greece and Australia become entwined and the EOKA Commemorations for the Independence of Cyprus. The proliferation of other derivative events serves merely to lessen the poignancy and cheapens the effect of these four abovementioned commemorations. 

Considering that  in times ancient, the Greek war dead were honoured by the holding of funeral games in their honour, I am firmly of the belief that in sporting Australia, this is a custom that should be revived among Greek organisations in lieu of the wreath-laying craze. Nothing would please me more than cheering on podgy presidents or wreath wraiths as they sprint past the Consul General in pursuit of their ancestors’ glory. For those unable to participate for health reasons, the perpendicularity of the Hellenic Memorial’s columns could serve as inspiration for emulation in another locale, so that unused wreaths could be better employed in a ring toss competition. The annual Hellenic Ring Toss-Off could even become a spectator sport and a betting sensation, capitalising on what we do best. Just a thought. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 June 2022