Saturday, February 25, 2023


It is the year 2030. After annual resurgences of the pandemic, consecutive interest rate rises and mortgage foreclosures, a sky-rocketing of power and food bills and renewed hostility against regional neighbours, an ultra-right nationalist party is elected to govern Australia. This party blames Australia’s ills on multiculturalism and has been elected to power on a platform of abolishing it, as in the party’s estimation this leads to a fragmentation in national identity and unity. 

Immediately upon being elected, the Nationalist Party passes legislation abolishing the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. Three months later, in the Victorian State Elections, the Nationalist Party also assumes the reigns of power in a landslide. Immediately, it passes a law barring persons of Greek origin from voting in State Elections, as the Greeks of Victoria are seen as the most vociferous supporters of multiculturalism. As a result, the Greeks of Victoria are not taken into account when determining the population of that State for the purposes of drawing the boundaries of Federal electorates. 

This scenario sounds implausible and so far-fetched as to be ridiculous, and yet it is not impossible, owing to archaic vestiges of a time when forms of racial discrimination were considered to be the norm in the colonies that eventually comprised the Australian Federation. Section 25 of the Australian Constitution thus provides:  “Provision as to races disqualified from voting: For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.” 

According to the Australian Constitution, the number of seats a State has in the House of Representatives is based on the number of people in that State. Thus, section 25 provides that if the State chooses to ban a racial group from voting, the people in that racial group would not be counted when working out the number of seats for that State in the House of Representatives. 

The section was proposed at the 1891 constitutional convention during the concluding stages of the Australian frontier wars, this being the violent conflicts between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous settlers during the colonisation of Australia, by Andrew Inglis Clark, the then Tasmanian Attorney-General. It and other sections that also facilitate discrimination against racial groups, were persuasive in deterring New Zealand delegates from considering integration within an Australian Federative state. 

In 1891, the Captain William Russell, one of those delegates, pointed to fundamental differences in the way Australian colonialism viewed Indigenous Peoples as compared to the New Zealand approach: 

“We recognised their right to their own land, and instead of confiscating it we admitted their claim to its full possession, administration, and disposal…” 

He went on to say: 

"One of the important questions in New Zealand politics for many years to come must be that of native administration, and were we to hand over that question to a Federal Parliament-to an elective body, mostly Australians, that cares nothing and knows nothing about native administration, and the members of which have dealt with native races in a much more summary manner than we have ventured to deal with ours in New Zealand…” 

Over a century onwards, with the abolition of the White Australia Policy, the advent of post-war mass migration and the integration of Australia within the Asia-Pacific region, it seems bizarre that vestiges of discriminatory practices as to race lie embedded and inert within the foundational document of this country. 

Indeed, it is its obsolescence that has ensured the survival of the deeply disquieting s 25, within the Constitution, although there have been a number of occasions in which there have been calls for its repeal, as far back as the 1959 Parliamentary Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. The 1975 Australian Constitutional Convention referred to the section as outmoded, recommending it be abolished, as did the Constitutional Commission in 1988 suggesting it was outmoded and archaic. Chapter 5.9 of a submission to the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in 2008 stated that: 

“Section 25 no longer has any significant legal effect, as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would prevent the States from discriminating against people on grounds of race. Nevertheless, section 25 ‘recognises that people might constitutionally be denied the franchise on the ground of race,” although it should be pointed out that racial equality is not provided for within the Constitution and the Racial Discrimination Act is an act of Parliament that can be superseded or repealed via legislation and even suspended under section 8(1) as it was through the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007. 

There have also been a number of initiatives from an Indigenous perspective to have s 25 abolished. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in 2015, and 2018 recommended the repeal of the section, as did the Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution, in its 2012 report. 

Given the above, why has not the section been removed? Simply because securing a yes vote in Australian Referenda has historically proved to be a very difficult task. In 1967, the question was included in the referendum for the abolition of the section 127, which excluded Australian Aborigines In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth , as part of an amendment to the Constitution that would have removed the nexus between the number of representatives in the House of Representatives and the number of senators in the Senate. While the question of the abolition of s 127 received 90% of the vote, the repeal of s 25 only received 40% of the overall vote and was not passed. 

In 1974, attempts were made to repeal section 25as part of a constitutional amendment ensuring electorates at state and federal level would be based on population and not geographic size or other methods. This referendum only received 47% approval and only attained a majority in New South Wales, quite possibly because it was not posed as a separate question, but instead was related to electoral reform. 

The Australian Parliamentary Office defines a Constitution as “a set of rules by which a country or state is run.” Yet it is or should be much more than that. It embodies an ethos, a broad set of principles that guide those who purport to rule over us and raise in us, expectations as to the nature of our society. It is a foundational document as to the identity of the Australian Federation to the outside world and even though s25 may not have any practical effect, its existence within our Constitution is untenable, being offensive to all ethnic groups that live within Australia and indeed to all people who subscribe to equality, everywhere. 

As we advocate for Constitutional recognition of the intrinsic role played within Australian society by its indigenous peoples, it is high time we also advocated for the reform of a Constitution that bears witness to the outmoded racist attitudes prevailing at the time of its drafting. The abolition of s 25 of the Constitution is a substantive step in the right direction. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 February 2023

Saturday, February 18, 2023



“Why should my daughter learn Modern Greek?” a friend asked. She was reading an article on the subject and began to rattle of the arguments made therein, answering them herself. 

“Lean Modern Greek for the career opportunities…” she read, scoffing out loud. A lawyer by trade, she began to reminisce: “What career opportunities? What it means is that you restrict yourself to the ever diminishing pool of clients within only one community. I remember recording in my resume with pride when I was younger that I spoke Modern Greek, thinking that this would impress would be employers. I recall attending a job interview at a mid-tier Anglo law firm and instead of being asked about my legal knowledge, I was quizzed for half an hour about my knowledge of Modern Greek, only to be told that in their opinion I wouldn’t fit into the culture of the firm…” 

“Maybe they are referring to careers in teaching Greek, or tour guides,” I suggested. 

“Yes, what an incentive,” my friend guffawed. “Beyond the rhetoric and the advertisements in the Greek community media, the number of students who studied modern Greek at VCE Level in 2020 and 2021 are so small as to be insignificant. If this trend is not arrested, hundreds of Greek school teachers will lose their habitat and will become extinct. Bring a smile to a Greek family this February: have your teenager enrol in VCE Greek and help save lives.” 

By the end of her impassioned plea, I was moved to tears and suggested that we could put Greek teachers up for adoption, like quolls or Tasmanian devils. 

“Acquiring Greek along with another language results in improved memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills,” my friend read out aloud. 

“Well that is a cogent argument is it not?” I ventured. 

“I don’t know,” she mused. “Would you class my bilingual brother, who whispers to Alexa at home: «Alexa, μεκαυλώνεις κάργα,» or the majority of the aging members of our local brotherhood who recently moved a motion to sell all the brotherhood’s assets in order to charter a jet to take them on a holiday to the Gold Coast as critical thinkers?” 

“Yes, but the dangers of monolingualism are manifold,” I retorted. “I point you gently in the direction of Alexis Tsipras, by way of example. By the way, how does Alexa respond when your brother utters Neohellenic sweet nothings in her virtual listening device?” 

“You may call me that, but I might not understand,” she responded.  

“As always, Alexa enforces the monolingualism of the dominant culture by affecting not to understand our patois,” I commented. 

“Proficiency in Modern Greek unlocks the door to a civilization that has evolved from its Classical, Byzantine, and Ottoman pasts,” she read on. “So what? All the best scholarly works on Greece have been written in either English or German.” 

“Tut,” I disputed. “You can’t really assert that. What about Vakalopoulos? What about Kitromilides?”  

“I’ll see your Kitromilides and raise you a Mark Mazower or a Roderick Beaton,” she challenged. “What is your Vakalopoulos and his ilk who hvae only discovered footnotes in the last decade to their brilliance? Do you really need to speak Greek in order to gain entry into the Greek world? All the great Greek authors and poets have been translated into English. In churches all over Melbourne, increasingly the liturgy is being chanted in English. You yourself are guilty as charged, having translated Papadiamantis’ short stories into English. The Greek language is no longer a barrier to Hellenism.” 

I considered this for a while as she read on: “Learning Greek can facilitate communication when on holidays in Greece.” 

“Now that is indisputable,” I crowed triumphantly. “The pilgrimage to Greece is a fixture on the apodemic calendar. Surely the prospect of a sojourn in Mykonos, or Ios should prove sufficient motivation to entice one to learn the language of the Eternal Summerland.” 

“Huh!” she dismissed me. “Firstly, almost all the new generations in Greece are proficient in English, much more proficient than we are in Greek, especially in the tourist traps, so speaking Greek is no barrier. And the kind of Greek we speak marks us out as unintelligent foreigners, ripe for exploitation. Secondly, who is to say that Greek-Australians will continue to flock to the flesh-pots of Hellenic tourism as lemmings in the future? How many times can you visit the Parthenon or the same beach? There are other places in the world to discover too, you know. We went to Montenegro last year. It was amazing. Much cheaper, more pristine and authentic than the overrated, overpriced Greek islands.” 

“Firstly,” I countered, “for the Greeks of Australia, the rest of the world does not and will not ever exist as a plausible destination. This is a fact that you must accept. Secondly, I have known that I will never, ever step foot in Montenegro ever since Biljana Krasic slapped me across the face for refusing to taste her Slatko in Year 11. There is only the dream of visiting Greece one day that sustains me during my wintry Melburnian daily toil and it is only those who have never visited Porto Katsiki in Lefkada who would dare to ask how many times could one possibly visit it before tiring of life. Fie and for shame.” 

“Knowledge of Greek adds depth and meaning to the life of any English speaker, considering the amount of Greek words in the English language,” she intoned. 

“They have you there,” I laughed. If I had a dollar for every facebook meme I have seen maintaining that there are a million, nay, a billion Greek works in the English language…” 

“So why not learn Latin, or Norman French, or Norse if the whole aim of learning Greek is to enhance one’s English?” she retorted, reading further: “Learning Greek allows for better communication and a stronger connection with loved ones.” 

“An incontrovertible proposition,” I pointed out. “Don’t you want your daughter to be able to speak to yiayia and pappou in their own language?” I said this slowly so that my interlocutor would realise and appreciate the semantic difference between yiayia and ya-ya, pappou and pa-poo and was immensely gratified when she acknowledged this.  

“Do you know ANY set of grandparents that speak to their grandchildren in Greek?” she asked pointedly. “Those brought up in Greece immediately switch to some sort of pidgin English so that my best friend’s son went to Greek school thinking that ντάλι, was a Greek term of endearment, a misapprehension that his Greek school teachers refrained from disabusing him of. And my parents, who came here at a young age, feel more comfortable speaking English to each other, let alone their grandchildren. It’s also complicated. My sister decided not to teach her kids Greek after her kindergarten teacher told her that this would retard their progress at school. So how will my parents speak English to them and Greek to my daughter when they are all together?” 

“Maybe you could try speaking to your daughter in Greek and take it from there,” I suggested. 

“Maybe I can hire a French nanny and get her to learn that instead,” she pondered. “French is such a sophisticated language.” I venture a few French phrases, only to be told: “Except when spoken by you. You sound like a West African people smuggler.” Despite my entreaties, she refused to elucidate the source of her knowledge in this regard. 

 “Learning Greek can lead to deeper and more meaningful friendships, and can also open up opportunities to connect with the wider Greek community,” she read and placed the article on the table before her. 

“What say you of Greek being the key to comradeship and fraternal love?” I inquired. 

“Garbage,” she snorted. “First of all, most of the Greek organisations such as they are conduct their affairs in English now. Second, from what I’ve seen, even the offspring of ‘off-the-boaters’ are keen to jettison the language in their quest to fit in and achieve greater prospects. Rather than expanding one’s horizons, knowledge of Modern Greek limits them because those who don’t have capacity in the language feel intimidated by those who do and avoid their company. And first-generation Greeks are wary of latter generation Greeks who have facility in the language because this upsets the power imbalance inherent in them using the language to exclude others from positions of power.” 

“Can I make a small observation without causing offence?” I asked timidly and having received an answer in the affirmative, made so bold as to observe: “Perhaps if you have to ask why your child should study Modern Greek, that is to say, if the answer is not already apparent to you, then perhaps the whole effort at rationalisation is redundant.” 

“So let me ask you a question,” she riposted, blushing. “Why do you send your children to Greek school? Why do you teach them the language? Not the propaganda, not the rhetoric. And don’t give me your “Greek language as an act of resistance against Anglo-Saxon monoculturalism’ spiel. The real reason.” 

I paused.  

“No, don’t think about it. If you have to think about it then it’s not the real reason,” she cajoled. “Quickly, in ten seconds or less.” 

“It was instinctive. I didn’t think about it. I just had to,” I confided at last, embarrassed at how stilted the words were coming out of my mouth. “I cannot consider life without the Greek language. It informs my entire existence – how I see the world, how I relate to others. I don’t think I can have as honest and close relationship with my children as I would like to unless that relationship is communicated or plays out in that language.” 

She looked at me for what seemed an age and I could not tell whether she was moved or about to burst out laughing. 

“I liked the Mykonos argument better,” she said finally. “Now which school should I enrol my daughter in? The one that only goes by an English name?” 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 February 2023

Saturday, February 11, 2023



J R R Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth, populated by Hobbits, Dragons, Dwarves and Elves has been rightfully considered to have been inspired by Old English, Germanic and Norse myths. However, it cannot be ignored that the master storyteller had a traditional classical education, one that informed both his reaction against that world and which facilitated the inclusion of many elements from the Greek world into his legendarium. 

Undoubtedly, despite his linguistic interest in the Germanic languages, Tolkien regarded his early introduction to ancient Greek works as intrinsic to the formation of his literary aesthetics. In a 1953 letter, he wrote: “I was brought up in the Classics and first discovered the sensation of literary pleasure in Homer.” An average student of ancient Greek, Tolkien’s world was created primarily in order to provide him with a background history for the languages he enjoyed creating. While Welsh, Norse and old English elements appear in the languages he devised for the Men of Middle Earth, Greek played a significant role in the construction of the High Elven language, Quenya, with Tolkien admitting that the language was constructed: “on a Latin basis with two other ingredients that happen to give me ‘phonasthetic’ pleasure: Finnish and Greek.” 

Commenting further about the attraction of Greek as constituent inspiration for  semi-divine language, Tolkien observed: “the fluidity of Greek, punctuated by hardness, and with its surface glitter, captivated me, even when I met it first only in Greek names, of history or mythology… but part of the attraction was antiquity and alien remoteness…” 

The impact of Homer in particular, suffuses the work, both in its epic quality and the contents. In the opening chapter of The Return of the King, the Hobbit Pippin, witnesses a procession of clans arriving in the capital city of the realm of Gondor in order to defend it. In his notes on a draft of that chapter, Tolkien has written: “Homeric catalogue,”  referencing the numbers and leaders of the various Greek clans listen in the ‘Catalogue of Ships’ in the second book of the Iliad. 

The Lord of the Rings being a saga about a small anarchic group of people fighting and ultimately defeating the homogenising forces of evil, Tolkien reveals in another letter that his premise was inspired by the Greeks in the Persian Wars, marvelling at how the: “quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off against Xerxes,” whereas in the modern world, too much power would have been placed in “Xerxes’ hands.” 

In the backstory to the Lord of the Rings, contained in the creation epic “The Silmarilion,” there are closer parallels with the ancient Greek world. In particular, Tolkien’s reference to a star shaped island raised from the sea by the gods named Numenor but also Atalantë, invited direct comparison with the Atlantis story as contained in Plato’s dialogues, Timaeus and Critias. Both Atlantis and Numenor are described as having a high mountain at their centre, on the summit of which there is a temple, covered in silver. The first kings of both islands, Atlas and Elros, are said to have divine ancestry. Most significantly, both islands are said to have been ruled in an exemplary way, their inhabitants developing a high level of civilisation which they generously shared with those beyond their borders. Plato in Critias and Τοlkien in the Silmarillion both go on to recount the moral decay and lapse into greed and violence that caused the inhabitants of both islands to lapse into predatory and violent behaviour towards others, even as they grew richer and more powerful. Thus Plato relates: “but those unable to see the life that truly leads to happiness, they were regarded as being most splendid and blessed, though they were activated by unjust greed for possessions and power,” having declared war against Athens, whereas Tolkien tells us that the Numenoreans “came no longer as bringers of gifts, not even s rulers, but as fierce men of war. And they hunted the men… and took their goods and enslaved them…” 

While parallels have also been made between Numenor and the Athenian Empire, especially given that both seem to have been established after victory in a fight against oppression, (in Numenor’s case, after a war with the satanic figure of Morgoth and in the case of Athens, that of the Persians), with Athens expanding its civilisation throughout the Aegean and displaying ever more despotic behaviour towards its allies, who it slowly subjugates, and also with the Minoan Empire which is destroyed by similar natural phenomena, in his “Notion Club Papers,’ Tolkien wryly reveals the connection between the two myths, suggesting that Plato did not invent the story of Atlantis but rather was inspired by the demise of Numenor. In another letter, Tolkien wrote that Numenor was his “personal alteration of the Atlantis myth and/or tradition and accommodation of it to [his] general mythology.” 

The Silmarillion functions primarily as Tolkien’s cosmogony in which the chief divinity brings the world into being through music and creates it via the songs of subordinate deities whose melodies harmonies with its own. This concept of universal harmony  music of the spheres has direct corollaries to ancient Greek thought, and in particular that of Pythagoras. Tolkien has his chief divinity Eru Iluvatar sing his subordinate deities into being and then teaches them music so they can partake of his creative vision. The Neoplatonist Proclus, by comparison, refers to divine planetary souls called Sirens who utter but on note, forming “a choir around a singly coryphaeus (choir leader).”  

Other elements also betray a link to Greek myth. The One Ring which forms the basis for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings grants invisibility to its wearer but ends up corrupting its owner. There is a direct equivalency in this motif, to the Ring of Gyges, mentioned by Plato in “The Republic,” to illustrate his discussion as to whether a rational, intelligent person who has no need to fear negative consequences for committing an injustice would nevertheless act justly. Similarly, in the Hobbit, upon finding the Ring, Bilbo Baggins is given the choice of using his new found powers of invisibility in order to kill the Ring’s previous owner, while in the Lord of the Rings, the ring-bearer Frodo is constantly having to guard against being consumed by lust for possessing the Ring. In both the ancient Greek and Tolkien’s myth, the finding of the ring takes place after a katabasis, a descent into the earth, in Gyges’ case via a chasm opened up in a mountainside and in Bilbo Baggins’ case, by a tunnel inadvertently stumbled across, also on a mountainside.  

The tragedy of the “Children of Hurin” is another epic within the broader legendarium of Tolkien that closely resembles ancient Greek works. Indeed, it seems to be inspired by Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus Rex,” in that both Oedipus and Tolkien’s tragic hero Turin Turanbar suffer a similar fate, based on ignorance. Just as Oedipus did not know that the man he killed was his father and the woman he married, his mother, so too did Turin not know that he had married his sister. 

Gondor, the realm instrumental in resistance to the dark forces of the malevolent Sauron, also invites comparison with the Greek world. Within its borders for example, lie colossal statues hewn on rocks known as the Argonath, reminiscent of the Argonauts and the Clashing Rocks. Gondor is the southern survivor of two Numenorian-derived kingdom, with the northern kingdom, Arnor, having been taken. The collapse of Arnor can be seen as analogous to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, while Tolkien himself refers to Gondor as: “a kind of proud, venerable but increasingly impotent Byzantium,” in a 1951. Allied to Gondor are the Rohirrim, who although portrayed as having a Viking-like mead-hall culture, are described by Tolkien in another one of his letters as “heroic Homeric horsemen.” 

The Eye of Sauron, a source of pure evil that facilitates the fascination and domination of his minions can also be said to have ancient Greek precedents. Plutarch, in seeking to describe the phenomenon of the evil eye, speculated that the eyes were the chief source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye. 

Other instances of inspiration from the Greek world include the tale of Beren and Luthien, where a grieving partner seeks to ransom the soul of their deceased loved on from the god of the Dead, similar to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, the seven gates of Minas Tirith, reminiscent of the Seven Gates of Thebes but also the concentric walls of Atlantis, while Tolkien himself suggested that the Gondorian port of Pelargir was “about the latitude of ancient Troy.” The epic scene of the Black Ships, where the steward of Gondor, viewed via magical means and taken out of context by the steward of Gondor Denethor to signify total defeat and loss, causing him to seek suicide is of course reminiscent of the myth of Theseus, where the ancient hero forgot to remove the black sail from his own ship, causing his father to also commit suicide, in despair. 

While references to the Greek world abound in Tolkien’s legendarium, sometimes blatant, other times muted and hidden, these are embedded within and co-exist with an inordinately rich cosmos replete with a myriad of other influences, fashioned via the author’s imagination and sensitivity into a perennially relevant and thoroughly moving tale. In his essay “On Fairy Stories” Although Tolkien specifically warns us against the dangers of excessive deconstruction, stating: “We must be satisfied with the soup that is set before us, and not desire to see the bones of the ox out of which it has been boiled…” By “the soup” I mean the story as it is served up by its author or teller, and by “the bones” its sources or material—even when (by rare luck) those can be with certainty discovered. But I do not, of course, forbid criticism of the soup as soup,” we can all be justifiably proud of the Greek contribution to that fulsome stew. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 February 2023

Saturday, February 04, 2023



When first learning of the prospect of our National Day March being held at Lakeside Stadium, I was sceptical. After all, a stadium cannot in any way compare to the iconic Shrine of Remembrance, which lent a severe poignancy to our march for so many decades. Given that the trustees of the Shrine are determined not to allow our community access to the public building ever again for our own national purposes, my first thought was that it would be expedient to hold the march through Swanston Street, terminating in Federation Square.  

By marching through the heart of the city, where the first Greek Australians settled and conducted their businesses, we send the message to the mainstream that we are an intrinsic part of the fabric of Australian society. Since Swanston Street is a high pedestrian traffic area, we are thus guaranteed maximum visibility and an even invite the participation of the rest of the members of the broader community. By concluding the march in Federation Square, we have an ample stage in which to make speeches in an unrushed fashion and can mingle and congregate without being shooed off, owing to time restraints. The prospect of riparian entertainments along the riverbank, with re-enactments, performances, theatre and music also beckons and could be explored, creating a much different event that the one we have been used to for so many years. 

In contrast, I was originally troubled by the choice of Lakeside Stadium as venue. The incongruity of conducting a National Day celebration that focuses upon our identity as Greeks in a stadium which houses a soccer team that was forced to deracinate by removing from its title the word “Hellas,” the very term central to the meaning of our march, continued to vex me. Further, would not the holding of one of the most important events on our community calendar, (one that for many participants of the third and fourth generations is one of the few times they can espouse their identity and associate publicly as Greeks in the company of their compatriots), away from the broader public sphere serve in effect to ghettoise our community, creating a disturbing precedent whereby while the dominant class waxes lyrical about its commitment to multiculturalism but in effect can only deal with manifestations of cultural and ethnic identity by compartmentalising these and hermetically sealing them from the rest of the populace? Are we by acquiescing to this seclusion, acting as organs of the dominant class in engaging in such self-censoring and self-segregation? 

Further, I mused? What form would a march at the dehellenised headquarters of the team formerly known as South Melbourne Hellas take? Would our children be expected to march past and salute our community fuhrers while drones fly overhead, taking photographs in order to enhance their prestige in the print and social media? What would the execution of such a bizarre pageant mean to generations of Greek-Australian schoolchildren? 

Since ruminating over these considerations, I have had cause to change my mind completely, to the point where I am convinced that Lakeside Stadium is an eminently suitable venue in which to host our march. There are a number of reasons for this: 

Firstly, while the Shrine provided an imposing backdrop to our endeavours, it must be admitted that in no longer worked for us as a venue. Every year, the trustees would impose increasing restrictions upon the duration of our event, the content and number of speeches. They purported to control what we wore, what we said, the symbols or flags we displayed, how we expressed our identity, and the nature of our ceremonials. Consequently, in its final years the march was a broken, oppressive farce. Shooed away by organisers terrified of remaining on the grounds after the expiration of the allotted time, fewer and fewer spectators would make the trek down to cheer the participants, the majority of which, if they were not flag-bearers, would be whisked away to the left, collected by the parents and taken away even prior to the conclusion of the event leaving few remaining to witness the solemn lighting of the flame, an Australian ceremony that has nothing to do with the event commemorated.  

One thing that I noticed over the years is that even though our march took place in the public arena and was an annual fixture, only insignificant members of the public at large would attend as spectators. At most, they would take a photo or two as they jogged or walked past. It is for this reason that there is absolutely no point in considering the integration of our march within the broader social context when determining upon our venue. Had we chosen to celebrate a day significant to our identity as Greek-Australians, such as the foundation date of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne, or the date of the arrival of the first Greek upon these shores, then such an event, being a date relevant to Australia would justifiably require broader participation and attention. 

The 25th of March is not such a day. It is the day that commemorates our people’s rising against oppression and the re-genesis of our nation. We do not celebrate it in connection with Australia but rather as Greeks. We celebrate it not as token ethnics to bolster the dominant class’s claim of a benign administration over the façade of multiculturalism but for ourselves only. It has everything to do with us, and we should celebrate it in a way that suits us, not in a way that we imagine, would placate a disinterested broader public and our political overlords. 

At the Shrine, or in any other public space, it is the dominant class that will prescribe to us how we will commemorate the 25th of March, a complete antithesis to the meaning of the event. In contrast, our community has the complete freedom to determine the nature of its celebration without outside interference at Lakeside Stadium, in new and novel ways that will enhance the experience for all participants and make the occasion a memorable, identity-building one for them. While this year, the change in venue may be confronting, it is hoped that in years to come, the entire community will come together in consultations to refine the nature of the celebrations so that they are truly representative of our identity as Greeks abroad. 

Finally, for those lamenting the loss of prestige occasioned by our eviction from the Shrine, it should be noted that there is historical precedent for the use of stadia for events of this nature. When my father was growing up in Melbourne in the fifties, the community marched around a swimming pool. The annual cutting of the Epirotic pita, a Panhelladic event that takes place  at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Athens every year, is the peak cultural event of the Epirotic calendar, attracting tens of thousands of spectators, and is  hybrid event composed of speech, song, dance and marching. There is no reason why we cannot make our event just as successful at Lakeside Stadium and showcase the talents of the younger member of our community. This is especially so given that even with the word “Hellas” removed, Lakeside Stadium is a place of great significance for our community given that it is the home of one of our most historically important community institutions, one that we all be justifiably proud of. Most importantly of all, we will all be able to see, and stay as long as we wish. We will be made welcome. On our terms and without the fear of having the event taken away from us for being disobedient or non-compliant. 


My daughters have longed to participate in the march since the outbreak of COVID. My son, who has never experienced the march is particularly excited that this year, he will don the foustanella and be afforded the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of his ancestors, who he knows fought for the privilege of him being able to speak their tongue and call himself a Greek today. And I look forward to donning my own considerably weight doulama and conveying them to Lakeside, where as their doting grandparents, uncles and aunts watch, they will participate in an event that goes to the heart of what it is to be a Greek and learn that they are part of something infinitely greater.  

It is for this reason that we ought to support the work of the Organising Committee, applaud South Melbourne Hellas’ provision of their facility and participate in this year’s march in increased numbers. After all, the march is not about place. It is about community and as long as that community’s heart beats white and blue, no one can take it away from us. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 February 2023