Saturday, November 26, 2022



Recently, a Greek organisation in Melbourne received a government grant in the tens of thousands of dollars in order to renovate the facilities of its clubhouse. Unbeknownst to the grantors, those renovations had already taken place some time ago. When asked what the club intended to do with the unnecessary funds, a representative observed: “Don’t worry we will find a use for it. Most of the money goes back to the government as land tax payments anyway.” 

A Greek brotherhood in the Western suburbs once received a similar grant in order to upgrade or rather install air condition facilities. An elderly citizens group was being run from its premises and it was submitted that the grant of funds to purchase the facilities would greatly enhance the elderly citizens’ comfort. A year later, the building was sold, although this was not the intention at the time the grant was applied for. That brotherhood, no longer having the facilities to do so, does not concern itself with elderly citizens groups any longer. The purchasers of the building have completely refurbished it and have removed the air conditioning unit. 

Another brotherhood allegedly made a claim on their insurance for various structural repairs to their premises. Having received funds in respect of their claim, they then allegedly applied for and received a grant for the same structural repairs. According to accounts, the committee of management are still arguing as to what to do with the unexpected windfall. 

The pre-election announcement by the various Victorian parties of large infrastructure grants to Greek community organisations is welcome. Many of the buildings that house Greek organisations are dated and are in need of repair. Catering primarily for the needs of the first generation of Greek migrants, most no longer generate the income required so as to effect those repairs. This is due to many reasons, namely: that most no longer have enough members attending their functions in order to make the profits previously relied upon, the first generation’s general historical reluctance to spend brotherhood money on capital and other repairs without this becoming politicised and a point of contention and division among the members of the organisation and the general inertia and conservatism accompanying any imaginative use of the building as a source of income. Many Greek organisations have thus come to rely on infrastructure and multicultural funding in order to stay alive, an untenable but for them unavoidable business model. 

Consequently, the propensity of governments and opposition parties to promise and/or lavish funds on Greek brotherhoods for infrastructure improvements also constitutes cause for concern. While there is no doubt that many organisations are deserving of such grant, where some of these applicant organisations are moribund, where the younger generations have deserted them en masse and are not willing to invest in their upkeep, no amount of toilet or kitchen repair will arrest this decline. It is the equivalent of washing one’s body, while inside, one’s vital organs are wasting away. If infrastructure funding is provided, it should be tied to the provision of measurable social outcomes. Under the present regime, this is not always the case. 

In the meantime, an acquaintance is seeking some funds to write and perform some experimental plays in the Greek language that deal with concepts of culture transition, identity and language loss. The Greek organisations he has approached are neither willing nor able to assist him and since the emphasis for state grants is upon infrastructure, this endeavour is exceedingly unlikely to bear fruit. There are many similar cases within our community where artistic and cultural endeavours are literally stifled through lack of funding, given the official focus on funding bricks and mortar. 

In a community where the cultural endeavours of most organisations (except the major ones such as those the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and the sterling work of the Cretan organisations that focuses on broader engagement) often repeat formulaic and outmoded clichés and tropes, have largely not evolved and are too often or not limited to a wreath laying ceremony, a dinner dance and a barbeque, one has to question whether the interests of multiculturalism are served by the funding of plumbing repairs for defunct organisations that contribute little to the preservation and development of Greek culture in Victoria and indeed, why governments insist on funding them. 

In some cases, in order to fund cultural endeavours that they are otherwise unable to fund, various deserving Greek organisations are forced to divert funds from their infrastructure grants into those pursuits.  

The opposite has also transpired. Organisations within our community have in the past successfully applied for multicultural grants for various cultural events. Not all of these events actually take place, are relevant to the community or can be measured qualitatively. While there is much imagination and ingenuity displayed in applying for the grants and constructing the reporting of outcomes, the primary motivation of some organisations in applying for the multicultural grants is not to hold a particular event, but to get a hold of the funds, at least some of which can be applied for other purposes – namely, to provide a much needed lifeline. 

As long as an organisation can meet arbitrary criteria imposed and assessed by bureaucrats, there is no analysis as to how any proposed event furthers Greek culture. Recently, a publication was brought into being, allegedly partly through the provision of funds provided by the state. It is apparent to the reader when perusing the publication that the text, that it consists of text that has been passed through Google translate without further editing, rendering it incomprehensible. While a good deal of trouble has been taken to produce a well-designed and attractive tome, what is contained within its pages is completely useless, an embarrassment to its State funders, who exercised no oversight over it. Allocated funds could have been used to assist those driving the project to produce an edited text, or be applied to a more worthwhile project to be executed by someone with more suitable qualifications. It is in their complete disinterest in measuring the quality of the projects that they are funding, in their tacit encouragement of our organisations to apply for funding for the sake of funding, that our State funders are failing multiculturalism. 

There is also another, more intrinsic problem accompanying our emerging funding paradigm. Earlier in the year, I had cause to query some promotional material produced within our community relation to the commemoration of a particular historical event. In particular, that promotional material seemed to imply the Hellenism in the region existed only between for a century, completely obscuring the three-τhousand year Greek presence there and the tragic way it ended. When I directed the attention of those responsible to this point, they politely acknowledged my concern but countered that they felt they need to present the event as a “celebration” and to “steer away from anything controversial, otherwise we won’t get funding.” It is evident that many organisations are forced into a practice of self-censoring, skewing and or obscuring elements of their identity and history, hoping by this, to achieve funding,  as they know that the State does not always share our perspective on our ethnic consciousness, does not have the same sensitivity when it comes to contextualising our cultural memories, has its own agenda which is not always consistent with our own and consequently, it is not always possible to use the funding process to create cultural endeavours of quality that can act as a foundation for others to follow.  

Thus, many worthwhile organisations, in the search for much needed funding are compelled to play to externally imposed or implied stereotypes and are warping the cultural development of our community, inadvertently portraying us as eternal foreigners and reducing us to folkloric platitudes. How much more vital would our expression of our identity and culture be if we were willing to or had the capacity to fund our own endeavours, or the courage not to indulge the prejudices of the dominant class? Would this not result in our community organisations, rousing themselves from their torpor and being compelled to reform their practices, re-commit to their foci, become more efficient and effective and produce rather than reproduce art and culture?   

Few nations around the world actively fund multiculturalism to the extent Australian governments do and while we are grateful for this, we should be conscious that this would not have been achieved without protracted activism by the progressive elements of the various ethnic communities, with ours historically playing a dominant role. Rather than impose blanket criteria in which are embedded inferences about our ethnic ontology that may not in fact be relevant to us, rather than handing out cash grants for the sake of being able to proclaim their largesse at the ballot box, perhaps our people would be better served if our State funders liaised more closely with our communities, not only organisations some of whom no longer represent the vast majority of Greek Australians, and no longer always adequately reflect our evolving diversity and sub-cultures but also individuals, in order to appreciate our cultural aims and aspirations and assumed the role of partner, rather than arbiter of our cultural manifestations, guiding and assisting our endeavours without dictating these, while also keeping us accountable. As matters stand, a primarily grant-reliant Greek community cannot expect to remain viable culturally, for much longer. 


First published in NKEE on 26 November 2022 


Saturday, November 19, 2022


“But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.” 

Anselm Kiefer. 

In her painting, “New Beginnings – Hope,” Mary Raphael perhaps captures in the most profound manner possible, the complexity of the Greek-Australian conception of the homeland and the ancillary loss and lack thereof. A group of faceless men women and children huddle together amidst a yellow background tinged with rising columns of red and convoluted figures of blue. We do not know whether we are dealing with conflagration, war, famine or any of the other misfortunes that blight humanity for the artist has deliberately chosen to evoke, but not to depict these. Equally we could be in Smyrna, Auschwitz or Syria.  

Similarly, the faces of the main characters portrayed are also blank, lending them a polyvalent quality. Devoid of any racial, ethnic or religious characteristics, they could be anyone and thus symbolise the tragedy of all dislocated people, forced to abandon their homes and flee, everywhere. Conversely, the blank faces allude to the innate human capacity to dehumanise and to deface: for the settled and the comfortable, the refugees flocking to their shores in search of salvation do not have faces. Rather than being human, they are an amorphous mass devoid of personality and thus, normal forms of courtesy do not apply. 

The faceless figures, rather than embracing their new land, turn inward and on themselves, forming a protective cocoon around their offspring with a closed suitcase as its epicentre. We are not privy to the contents of that suitcase. Is this an ark of memory under construction, a shrine to a lost homeland that will preserve an identity but prevent engagement with the new place of sojourn? In this respect it is significant that all the figures are turned facing the youngest, who alone, appears to stare at the viewer. As we cannot see its eyes, we cannot guess the extent of engagement if any with those outside the frame. Is the youngest the most susceptible of forgetting? Will this be the one that will be able to place the lost homeland in some sort of workable context with its adopted country? Indeed, is the painter suggesting that within this outward facing figure, the future lies? 

The faint Neos Kosmos mastheads that recur embedded throughout the composition imbue it with even greater ambivalence. On the one hand, Neos Kosmos literally means “New World,” and the refugees certainly have come to a world, if not new, then completely foreign to the one they have left behind. On the other hand, the “New World,” seems only to be understood if not within the terms of reference of the Old World, then certainly, within the language of its discourse. Further, “Neos Kosmos, mirrors its earlier counterpart of same name, a news bulletin of the leftist guerillas during the Second World War, the title expressing hope in the creation of a renewed, equitable world. Given that we all know how that experiment turned out, the presence of the polysemic mastheads grant the piece and all it implies about lost homelands, immense poignancy. 

The painting forms part of the “Lost Homelands” exhibition, held by the Greek Australian Cultural League of Melbourne earlier this month, as part of a series of events culturally commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the holocaust of Smyrna. A collaboration of local artists, the exhibition seeks, using Smyrna as a starting point, not merely to blandly and aridly mark the century since the extirpation of the Greek presence in Asia Minor, but rather, to ponder its deeper significance for humanity as a whole and for the diaspora specifically. What results are some truly remarkable and evocative works of art than engender discussions about the nature identity, belonging, conflict and more besides. 

Vasy Petros’ “Lost Homelands (1922 Asia Minor – 2022 Ukraine) thoughtful piece is inspired by ‘Darkness’ a poem by Lord Byron, indicating how our presence in both the Greek and Western discourses can intertextually inform each other so as to produce original and powerful work. These three verses of the poem in particular could easily be applied to Smyrna, but almost any other conflagration created by conflict: “The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,/ The habitations of all things which dwell,/ Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd…” Consequently, the artist adopts a Manichaean palette: there is light and dark and it is in the liminal spaces in between that we are called upon to preserve or to betray our humanity. 

In “Waiting for Our Return,” Maria Fouroudi views the lost homeland from the place of exile. Capturing a moment on the shores of Brighton Beach, Fouroudi focus on a pair of battered chairs. The viewer imagines that once upon a time, people, whose identity is not disclosed, once sat upon those chairs, gazing out to sea, most probably considering their journey to this country and the vast expanse of ocean that separates them from their lost homeland. The fact that those people no longer exist and that even their chairs, the foundation upon which they base their dreams of return are in imminent danger of extinction suggests to us that lost homelands can be found everywhere, even within the new homeland. Longing, therefore, is a homeland in and of itself, and when longing ceases, an entire homeland is lost. 

Similarly Ivy Cafaci’s “Perilous Journey’s” conflates Smyrna with our own Antipodean reality. The scene she depicts could easily be a few boats tossed in a choppy Port Philip Bay. The ochre colour emanating from the horizon could easily be a cliff-face or the smog of a busy city. Even more plausibly, it could be the play of light at the exact position where sky, land and sea meet, at the setting of the sun. Yet, for those of us who have inherited the cultural memory of the lost homeland, lurking behind all other interpretations there is the primary trauma: Smyrna is burning, perpetually, wherever the elements testify eternally to their outrage at the enormity of this crime. In “Burning Waters, Tears to the Wind,” Cafaci is not so subtle. The entire natural order is subverted, so that waves become tongues of flame and the scene resembles a volcanic eruption such as that which destroyed Ancient Thera. When the life-giving elements become instruments of death and bury civilisations, we know that much is wrong with the world. 

The motif of perpetual conflagration is taken up by Masonik in their composition “The Exile’s Grief.” The first of the two flanking panels of the piece feature firestones, raw and unshaped. In the small squares around them and in the second of the two flanking panels, these stones have been shaped into alien angular shapes, as if to emphasise their foreignness and perhaps signifying our inability to understand or appreciate the pain felt by those who have lost their homelands. The stones are arranged and re-arranged, often assuming the guise of museum pieces. When do our memories become petrified, stereotyped and static? the piece seems to ask. Who is responsible for their arbitrary arrangement? These questions are a mere sideshow to the central panel. The viewer is placed in an ever-narrowing corridor whose walls are alight. Travelling up the steps at the end of that corridor, a thin open portal reveals even more fire, white-hot. We are in hell and there appears in the artists’ mind at least, no way out of the hell of losing a homeland, whether that hell is on slow burn, or high heat. 

The concept of a way out is interrogated in an arresting fashion in the photograph of same name by Heidi Seraphimidou. We are situated at a train station, with abandoned suitcases in the foreground. A solitary figure, blurred, with undiscernible features appears in the background, leaning on a column. We do not know what or for whom he is waiting, if indeed that is what he is doing. Above, a sign proclaims impassively: “Way Out.” Yet there are no trains at this station. There is no movement. If Masonik’s lost homeland is Hell, then this must be Purgatory, an in-between place of ennui and self-recrimination,  limbo of return to Paradise Lost. 

That there are more than one lost homeland and that all lost homelands are connected is a theme that manifests itself in Pavlos Andronikos’ emotive photograph: “Mourning the Missing.” This is a photograph of Katina Papademosthenous at the now defunct “Justice for Cyprus” annual demonstration in Melbourne, in turn holding a photograph of her father, lost and never found, during the invasion of Cyprus. The artist’s lens here focuses sharply on Mrs Papademosthenous, obscuring the multitudes around her. There is method to this. As the artist explains: “It is a public display, but her grief is dignified and private.” Sometimes, the lost homeland is not a place, but a person and we try to contain that loss within four sides of a picture frame. 

Theodore Adorno once wrote: “For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.” The fact that the exhibition takes place in a space whose traditional custodians are both present and yet simultaneously absent from their homeland lends the endeavour ever so much more poignancy and provides pathways for future intercultural discussion. It is therefore significant that Mary Raphael’s companion piece to “New Beginnings-Hope” refers to the history of the Australian Aboriginal people. Entitled “Dreamtime -Survival,” its characters are given similar attributes, founding an original artistic discourse of commonality of experience between our two venerable cultures. 

 How we negotiate the conflicting elements of trauma, memory and history, how we define homelands, the attributes we give to loss and grief, the nature of the outlets we seek, all these processes are interrogated in what is perhaps one of the most significant Greek-Australian cultural events of the year. The questions that are posed by the artwork are profound and engender conversations that are timely and pertinent to all, and the quest to inhabit a homeland, lost, real or imagined looms large as a perennial and intrinsic to the human condition. 



First published in NKEE on 19 November 2022

Saturday, November 12, 2022


«Του Κάπι φτεύουμι τς ντμάτις», my grandmother would always say in response to my question as to why for yet another year she would not attend the extended family’s traditional Cup Day barbeque in Dromana. According to her and almost the rest of her generation, the first Tuesday of Spring was the optimum time for the planting of tomatoes. Any earlier, and they would rot. Any later, and they would dry out too early in the harsh and yet unpredictable Victorian Summer. 

Truth be told, I always anticipated Cup Day with trepidation, for where Cup Day was, exams would soon follow. Thus, while hordes of relatives descended upon my uncle and aunt’s home in Dromana uninvited in search of succulent fatty chops and melt-in-the-mouth sausages, I would ensconce myself au solitaire in one of the bedrooms of that august establishment, there to perform the arduous task of memorising and understanding a year’s worth of notes. 

I would emerge, pale and listless from my studies, only to grab a plate of meat, wolf it down hungrily and then trudge reluctantly back to my place of confinement, uttering maledictions sotto voce against all carefree denizens of the planet. While lingering around the barbeque, I would hear aged uncles pronounce strange and arcane terms in hushed, reverential tones. There was η κουαντρέλαη τραηφέκτα and η κουινέλλαThese must have been magical beings indeed, for depending on who evoked them, they could change gender at will, becoming ο κουαντρέλαςο τραηφέκτας and ο κουινέλλας. These seemed to be minor prosperity deities, for all the aged uncles swore that they had all benefited from their largesse, but always in the past. 

Sometimes, if I decided to take an extended break, I would go for a walk with my cousins to the local shopping strip, invariably passing in front of the TAB, whereupon we would engage in the pastime of observing senior Greek Australians smelling of urine, stale beer and cheap aftershave making incoherent comments to each other and female passers by. It was from these distinguished gentlemen that I learned a wonderous thing as to the gender-bending capacity of the Greek language. Accordingly, “race” is the only Greek Australian word that changes gender even as it changes number: το ρέσι (neuter), but οι ρέσες (feminine). Some of punters would, for the sake of consistency, employ the neuter plural (τα ρέσιαbut they were generally from the Peloponnese and need not vex us any further. 

Returning back to the barbeque replete with tips, prognostications and expertise on the subject of form, we would come across the one θείο, the koumbaro of a blood relative, who would always arrive late wearing a canary yellow cardigan stolen from the set of a nineteen eighties Yiannis Katevas music video, never contribute any foodstuffs and fulminate against the Cup on the grounds that it acted as a tax-break for the idle rich and the exploiters of the proletarians while also being sexist, as there were no female jockeys and cruel towards our equine comrades. That uncle, a mainlander, was evidently a communist, as could be evidenced by the fact that he was a vegetarian and his only contribution to the topic of prospective victors was that the φοράδα from his village was disqualified from the Melbourne Cup because χέστηκε στ᾽ αλώνι, causing my islander uncles to turn to him with raised eyebrows and then turn away in collective incomprehension. Among those who survive, the question of who the hell invited him to the annual barbeques anyway, is a topic of intense disputation, even though such barbeques have now passed into history. 

Like Ho Chi Minh, communist uncle was also a nationalist, for one of his most cogent arguments was that Greeks should not concern themselves with the Melbourne Cup because it is a sport created by the same British colonialists that divided Cyprus and prevented the Greek people from achieving their destiny in their proper borders. According to him, horse racing and the futility it represented is alien to the ancient Greek psyche, which apparently was about constant work and self-improvement.  

This argument appealed to me so much that the cabal of aged islander uncles determined upon an intervention. Taking me aside and thrusting a chop into my hand and a VB stubby in the other, one of their number pronounced: “Don’t listen to that mainlander. There is nothing more Greek than horse-racing. Look at Diomedes and his man-eating racehorses. And there is nothing sexist about it. In Ancient Greece the prizes and acclaim were given to the owners of the horse, not the horse's jockey. This is how a woman, the Spartan princess Kyniska, who was the owner of a team of horses, became recorded as the winner of an Olympic horse-race.” 

My uncle was of course correct. Far from being the purview of colonial parvenus, mounted horse racing were significant events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC as well as in the other Panhellenic Games. Some scholars believe that the only reason that women were banned from the Olympic Games is because the far-seeing ancient Greeks knew that they would endure and wanted to stop Rebecca Judd and other socially influential people from coming to prominence in the modern age. 

Yet it was in Byzantine time when horse-racing, specifically chariot racing, which in modern Greek-Australian are termed: «τα τρότια,» with all references to Comrade Trotsky and the Fourth International being purely coincidental, truly became a national craze. The main chariot racing teams, the Blues and the Greens slowly involved into significant social players, exerting tremendous influence in government and society in political, military and theological matters. 


Unlike the Κάπιwhose only occupational hazard consists of the prospect of becoming impaled upon an upturned stiletto that has become separated from its inebriated owner or becoming the recipient of the gift of unexpected regurgitation by a tired and emotional governor-general, attending the races in Constantinople was replete with danger, races often erupting into gang warfare and street violence, such as the Nika riots of 532 AD during the reign of Justinian, when the two racing factions united and attempted to unseat the emperor, culminating in the destruction of half of the city and the deaths of tens of thousands. 


Also, unlike the Melbourne Cup, which is blandly unpolitical, the races of Constantinople were ideal for the Byzantines’ favourite pastime: bringing down tall poppies. In 713, Emperor Philippicus was blinded while in the hippodrome, deposed and sent into exile. In 766, iconoclast Emperor Constantine V ritually humiliated nineteen high-ranking officials in the Hippodrome to the delight of the punters, after discovering a plot against him. He executed the leaders, Constantine Podopagouros, the delightfully soubriqued crab-foot and his brother Strategios, as the crowd went absolutely bananas, indicating just how effectively iconoclasts dealt with cabinet spills. 


Historians are not kind to horse-racing afficionado Alexander III who become emperor in 912.  They depict him as lazy, lecherous, drunk, and malignant. He is also accused of idolatry, including making pagan sacrifices to the golden statue of a boar in the Hippodrome, during the races, in hope of curing his impotence. 


Sometimes, tall poppies combined at the races to cut down other tall poppies. This was the fate of Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos 1185 who was in deposed after his attempts to exterminate the aristocracy of Constantinople. Having been tortured and mutilated for days, he was led to the Hippodrome of Constantinople and hung by his feet between two pillars. 


If one considers that Aussies are sports mad, it is worth remembering that the Byzantines located their courts underneath the bleachers of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, for easy access during sporting events, and one would venture to speculate, to allow betting on the outcome of litigation (cue Courtsbet TM litigate responsibly voice-over). 


Just like their modern Greek-Australian tight-shirted and even more tight-panted captains of industry and commons, the Byzantines too had their own equivalent of the corporate box for which all vied for access. In the Byzantine case this was the Imperial box and to be admitted to the Empress’ box was a sure signal that one had arrived. 


For all their bluff and bluster, for all their talk of το τότιthis being the totalisator, a concept they tried to explain to me every year without success, for all their claimed affinity with «τους μπούκηδες,» for all their encyclopaedic knowledge of the backround of all the τζόκηδεςmy uncles were, as their wives called them, «μαγκ πάντες» (mug punters), who rarely if ever won enough money to cover their expenses. On the rare occasion they did win, they would present us magnanimously with five-dollar notes and we would fetch them beers, dumfounded by the unexpected windfall and prying that the next year would prove just as lucrative. 


It was only when I visited the Athens Hippodrome at Markopoulo years later that I discovered two remarkable things: that τζογαδόρος does not necessarily mean someone who jogs towards the TAB to make a bet and that I cannot enjoy a horse-race unless it is accompanied by the smell of burnt meat, ice cold VB and pastizzis, freshly thawed. It is to those memories and my youthful and rather bizarre capacity to recite all the Melbourne Cup Winners from Van Der Hum in 1976 to Black Night in 1984 that I most ardently cling to, exclaiming in Byzantine Hippodromic fashion NIKA!, each time I view the latest champion, in the news bulletin, a day later. 



First published on Saturday 12 November 2022