Saturday, March 25, 2023



In 1952, a motion to allow women to become members of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria was defeated at an Annual General Meeting with members present making comments such as “Let women look to their own households,” and “Let women concern themselves with washing their dishes.” 

Vignettes of this nature which speak volumes about the ethos of members of our oldest community organisation are carefully selected in Georgia Harpantidou’s recently published: «Σάρκα και Οστά της Μακρινής Πατρίδας», (Flesh and Bones of the Distant Homeland), a history of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria from its foundation, to 1972. The title is somewhat disconcerting, until one discovers within the pages of the book that this exactly how GOCMV president Dimitris Elefantis characterised his organisation at the 1972 Annual General Meeting, going further to also describe it as an Oasis and an Ark in which a member can “spend his life within Greek Orthodox Ideals.”  

If there is a running theme within Harpantidou’s study, and there are several, surely one of the most important is to highlight the ever evolving sense of mission possessed by those in charge of running the GOCMV. Through extensive study of the GOCMV archives, especially minutes of meetings, Harpantidou allows the reader to follow a Community founded primarily for religious reasons, torn between catering to the needs of multilingual and multicultural co-religionists and excluding them on the basis of race as ethnic narratives evolve or are created, struggling to determine whether the operation of Greek language schools is within their purview, grappling with the appearance on the scene of rivals for the secular and religious representation of Greek migrants in the form of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, and finally, seeking to define itself against new and to some subversive notions of socialism or communism, with the conservative leaders of the GOCMV going so far as to brand Metropolitan Theophylaktos, a dangerous communist sympathiser. 

Even before the reader is plunged within the heady waters of intrigue, skulduggery and internecine strife that characterises much of the culture and ethos of the GOCMV during the period covered by the book, Harpantidou makes a valuable contribution to the historiography of the Greeks in Australia by seeking a historical and socio-cultural theoretical context in which to place them. Whereas other writes such as George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nicolacopoulou have convincingly chosen as the starting point for their analysis, the violent seizure of Australia by the white colonialists and the formation of organisations according to laws that are made by and acknowledge the hegemony of the ruling class and thus legitimise their dispossession of the First Peoples, Harpantidou sees the formation of the GOCMV as belonging to a lineage of Greek migrant associations, first formed in Europe during Ottoman rule, that have their origin in the merchant associations and companies formed in the West during the early years of the development of capitalism. Her brief discussion of various earlier Greek communities founded in the diaspora provides an invaluable benchmark for comparison and analysis. In effect, Harpantidou is asserting a historical and socio-cultural precedent for the structural inclusion of the GOCMV as an institution and diaspora communities within a broader Greek historical narrative, in a manner never before attempted. This approach, along with many of the matters that she raises within the book cries out for further research and discussion. 

As the study is based primarily on GOCMV archival material and in particular minutes of meetings, the historical evolution of the Community is presented in a matter of fact, neutral manner. Nonetheless, the pace is relentless and this is perhaps a good thing, for this is no hagiography. If anything, it is a study of the nature of power and how our founding fathers employed that power in order to perpetuate ruling classes and exclude others. As a chronicle of conflict, between Greeks and Syrians, between Ithacans and Samians, between “Old” Greeks and “Ottoman” Greeks, (and her exposition of the emotional attachment Greeks from unredeemed Hellenic regions had to the Ecumenical Patriarchate as opposed to those who derived from free Greece is as fascinating)  between GOCMV members and the Church, between Conservatives and Communists, Harpantidou’s narrative makes for confronting reading. There are no attempts to tie the motivations of the main protagonists to lofty ideals of patriotism, nor to make generalisations about the perennial nature of Hellenism, no matter the land in which it thrives. Instead, a “warts and all” approach is adopted, which while extremely unedifying in relation to our ‘hallowed’ founding fathers, makes us wonder if the real achievement of the GOCMV and indeed our broader community in general in the period examined, is managing to remain in existence with some semblance of coherent sense of common identity despite our fractious and antagonistic nature. In this regard, Harpantidou’s mention of barely attended Annual General Meetings and periods of complete alienation of the membership allow us to adopt a macroscopic view of the progression of the GOCMV, albeit as an opportunity that privileges the written word. 

This is where Harpantidou’s work, like all good histories, provides innumerable jumping off points for further research. No amount of meticulously kept minutes can shed light on the inner monologues of the main protagonists of the period, such as the born-to-rule magnate Lekatsas, the motivations of the members, especially those from regions other than those of the ruling caste or indeed the perspectives of other rival organisations. Harpantidou’s extensive discussion of the uneasy relationship between the GOCMV and the Orpheus Club, for example highlight the fact that there has never been attempted a proper historical survey of Orpheus. Similarly, although the 1952 Annual General Meeting is most probably indicative of the manner in which the place of women was conceived within the organisation during the period studied, the minutes reveal nothing of the aspirations or opinions Greek women held at the time regarding the GOCMV, or the manner of their participation. Harpantidou’s inclusion of this salient event underscores a need for a further future historical study in gender relations within the GOCMV. 

Likewise, while Harpantidou positions within her text instructive and indicative accounts of prominent members of the GOCMV defending Greek interests, such as the continued union of the Ionian Islands with Greece, and briefly discusses, among other things, the Kalgoorlie riots and the White Australia Policy, the minutes cannot provide us with a full picture as to how the Australian broader populace or minority groups within it saw or engaged with the GOCMV and indeed, conversely how the GOCMV saw and/or engaged with them, or how this changed over the seventy five years that the book covers, although the inclusion of the Grecian Ball 1950 programme within the text, comprising of a photograph of Queen Frederica and an oleaginous profession of thanks to the Australian community provided us with some clues. This too is a matter for further research. 

Harpantidou’s analysis of the conflict between the GOCMV and the Church similarly cannot purport to be an extensive or exhaustive account, considering the fact that she has not had access to the Archdiocesan archives. The historical material she does analyse however, paints stakeholders as variously employing the running and construction of churches as a religious imperative, a national  obligation, a means of maintaining power or outmanoeuvring rivals, and as a source of income. There is much here that the reader will find distasteful and rightfully so. Mercifully, Harpantidou avoids the interminable blow by blow accounts provided by other historians of the conflict and merely provides us with the broad schematic. There is enough there for the reader to draw their own conclusions. 

Few historians of the Greek community and its institutions have been able to offer more than a chronological narrative. In tying her account to broader theoretical and thematic perspectives, Harpantidou has provided us with an invaluable resource that goes a long way in arresting the historical amnesia that each successive generation of Greek-Australian experiences when attempting to view or understand the past history of the community in which we all belong, as well as fostering debate and inspiring deeper examination. As such, and in the hope of understanding just how far we have come together and why, «Σάρκα και Οστά», a volume whose translation into English is pending, (hopefully with a much needed index, which is lacking in the Greek)  is a must read both for all those who purport to be the Flesh and Blood of a Distant Homeland and those who seek to understand the historical evolution of ethnic communities within the Australian context. The GOCMV is to be commended for making the publication of a resource of such integrity, possible. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 March 2023

Saturday, March 18, 2023



The village of Perama is mostly known for its remarkable cave, replete with stalactites and stalagmites more twisted and tortuous than the inhabitants themselves. Extending for over a kilometre it is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Other than that, Perama, which sits somnolently on beautiful Lake Pamvotis on the outskirts of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus, is also known for its large conglomeration of souvenir shops that all purvey exactly the same items. What is not known however, even to most of the villagers themselves, is that the village proved instrumental in housing and then in suppressing perhaps the most novel and radical social experiment ever to be attempted within Greece. 

It is May 1900 and Ioannina is still firmly under the eroding but ever vigilant Ottoman rule. Within the city, an event takes place which shocks the conservative mores of Ioannitan society: A mutiny. Fourth year students of the renowned Zosimaia School, one of the most significant Greek educational institutions during the last period of Ottoman rule, founded in 1828 through the personal expense of the merchant Zosimas brothers, and still functioning as a high school today, decided to rebel against the harsh internal regulations and rules, including some rather extreme punishments meted out to the disobedient. 

Somehow, the fourth year roll went mysteriously missing, a significant loss, given that the roll also recorded the grades of the class. The principal of the Zosimaia School interrogated the students thoroughly. He made threats of a dire nature against them. He pleaded, cajoled, begged and demanded, offered bribes and incentives, all to no avail. The students, steadfastly refused to divulge the identities of the perpetrators of this heinous act. Exasperated, both at the theft of the role and the exposure of his own impotency, the principal to punish all thirty seven students of the  year four class by not permitting them to take part in the graduation exams. 

As late as half a century onwards from the commission of this crime, opinion in Ioannina was divided as to the identity of those responsible. Writing in the journal Epirotiki Estia in 1957, Giorgos Pamvotis (the literary pseudonym of Giorgos Stoupis), who was a student at the school at the time, identified a 21-year-old student named Nikos Volias , who had enrolled in the school after being expelled from the Patriarchal Academy in Constantinople, as the main instigator of the heist. 

According to Pamvotis, Volias was a devotee of the night and party life of Ioannina such that it was and this resulted in him consistently earning low grades. Consequently, seeking to cover up his poor performance, by means deep, dark and nefarious, he  convinced the school superintendent, the delightfully named  Gavopanagos (Cross-eyed Panayiotis), to help him purloin the student roll. 

 Historian Panos Tziovas who has actually undertaken research among the archives of the Zosimaia School corroborates parts of this version of events but has more to say on the identity of the victims. Apparently Gavopanagos’ real name was Christos Panagos and Nikos Volias was actually Christodoulos Vouliotis their names having been changed by Pamvotis because even fifty seven years later, he did not want to reveal the true identity of those responsible. 

Unable to accept the collective punishment meted out to them by the Zosimaia School and absolutely resolved not to implicate the mastermind of the theft, the year four students decided that it was not just the principal or the  School that was to blame for their plight, but rather society. Facing a future where they would have to deal with social hierarchies, competitiveness and capitalism from the bottom rungs, considering they had all collectively flunked the year, the students decided to turn their backs on the decaying society of their time and instead decided to flee to the extensive giant reed beds that fringed Lake Pamvotis, there to found on democratic principles, the so-called “People’s Republic of the Reeds.”  

The thick reeds, especially around Perama, provided an ideal habitat for a wide array of waterfowl and fish, which could be used as sustenance, while the reeds themselves could be woven into huts to provide shelter. Such activities, and the order and manner in which they were to be undertaken were determined after a wide-ranging debate, followed by voting by a show of hands, as was the election of the leader for the day, for revolving leadership was one of the key components of the Reedian Constitution. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that given the amount of moving of motions, seconding of proposals, tabling of regulations and tallying of votes, that the students actually managed to create their small state, replete with streets, squares and corridors through the reeds, to which they gave decent republican names such as Commonwealth Square or Parliament Place. Their inspiration seems to have been a good dose of Robespierre tempered by a sprinkling of Oliver Cromwell, both dangerous subversives according to the staid mores of late Ottoman society. 

Man cannot live by waterfowl alone, neither can world revolution be fuelled by fish and the considering that Peking duck had not yet been invented, the revolutionaries resolved upon conducting forays into the nearby villages in order to plunder gardens for vegetables, snatch poultry and other edibles, an innovative way of exporting revolution. For their raids, they compulsorily requisition old boats, discarded by the side of the lake which they repaired, making them possibly the last lake pirates in Balkan history. 

 All this constant looting dampened the revolutionary spirit of the otherwise docile and placid residents of Perama, who apart from a few anti-social elements who were known to be secretly supplying the Reedfolk, decided enough was enough and that it was time to take matters into their own hands, it being unknown whether proper democratic procedures were followed when this resolution was made. Pamvotis claims that the villages then proceeded to acquire the services of a well-known local bandit named Zikos to kidnap the head of state of the Reed Republic and demand a ransom from his family.  

Zikos, in a nocturnal incursion upon the Reed Republic did manage to abscond with its fearless leader in tow. According to some accounts, the family of the chief revolutionary refused to pay the ransom and thus, Zikos murdered him. Other accounts have the cowering leader duly redeemed by his family and sent away from the city in order to purge the shame. 

The Reed Republic did not survive Zikos’ assault for long despite the fact that in all time of its existence, only one of its thirty-seven citizens deserted it. By December 1900 when the winter cold had well and truly set in, they all had had enough of revolutionary zeal, collectivised consumption and the all-pervasive damp: "The citizens of the Reed Republic, silent and sombre, with the collars of their overcoats raised, as one sees in mourners after the funeral of loved ones, abandoned their state. The Reed Republic faded away in ignominy and humiliation,” Pamvotis writes. 

The revolutionary students’ efforts were not all in vain however. Upon their return home, their exasperated parents convinced the principal to permit them to take their final exams. Having spent the better half of the year on the lake, however, most failed to obtain their high school diploma. However, their rebellion was proved the catalyst for the drafting of new, less strict school regulations at the Zosimaia School. 

Reeds still stubbornly fringe the shores of Lake Pamvotis, despite decades of environmental devastation in the region. When they sway in the wind, their rustling takes the form of Pelasgian whispers, recounting stories of the ancestors that are lost to time. Yet to this day, some one hundred and twenty-three years later the true identity of the last leader of the Reed Republic and his fate, along with what truly transpired during those heady months of the revolution, are yet to be revealed. Reeds keep their secrets well. 


First published in NKEE on 18 March 2023

Saturday, March 11, 2023



From sixth century Byzantine poet and courtier Pavlos Silentarios comes this deeply disquieting epigram, whose narrator describes the violent assault and rape of a woman who he finds asleep:

«Δειελινῷ χαρίεσσα Μενεκρατὶς ἔκχυτος ὕπνῳ/κεῖτο περὶ κροτάφους πῆχυν ἑλιξαμένη:τολμήσας δ᾽ ἐπέβην λεχέων ὕπερ. ὡς δὲ κελεύθου/ἥμισυ κυπριδίης ἤνυον ἀσπασίως,ἡ παῖς ἐξ ὕπνοιο διέγρετο, χερσὶ δὲ λευκαῖς/κράατος ἡμετέρου πᾶσαν ἔτιλλε κόμην

μαρναμένης δὲ τὸ λοιπὸν ἀνύσσαμεν ἔργον ἔρωτος./ δ᾽ ὑποπιμπλαμένη δάκρυσιν εἶπε τάδε:σχέτλιε, νῦν μὲν ἔρεξας τοι φίλον, ἔπι πουλὺν/ πολλάκι σῆς παλάμης χρυσὸν ἀπωμοσάμην οἰχόμενος δ᾽ ἄλλην ὑποκόλπιον εὐθὺς ἑλίξεις: ἐστὲ γὰρ ἀπλήστου κύπριδος ἐργατίναι».

“One afternoon pretty Menecratis lay outstretched in sleep with her arm twined round her head. Boldly I entered her bed and had to my delight accomplished half the journey of love, when she woke up, and with her white hands set to tearing out all my hair. She struggled till all was over, and then said, her eyes filled with tears: " Wretch, you have had your will, and taken that for which I often refused your gold; and now you will leave me and take another to your breast; for you all are servants of insatiable Cypris."

This is a thoroughly confronting work. At first, it appears that the reader is enjoined to become one with the narrator and thus becomes an accomplice not only to the rape of the hapless Menecratis, but also to the manifest delight which the rapist feels in committing this vile act, while she is at her most vulnerable. It is as if, through the poem, Paul is setting a trap for the reader: seeing to what extent if any, the reader can identify with the perpetrator and to determine their level of implication in this perverted scenario.

This can be evidenced by the fact that the narrator is not just recounting the events that took place. Instead, his tone is triumphant. He is boasting of his violent sexual subjugation of Menecratis, going so far as to make a repulsive joke at her expense, bragging that had she accepted his offer of gold in the first place, she could have avoided the rape and been financially better off, whereas now, he has obtained what he wanted without losing any money and will go off to find other lovers, leaving her alone.

Significantly, although the perpetrator quotes Menecratis, especially her lament that her violator will obtain another lover, abandoning her, it is not her voice we are hearing but rather her words as retold by the narrator, denying her very personhood and her ability to make available her true reaction to her rape known to the reader. It is almost as if the narrator is using her as a ventriloquist’s doll, placing the requisite words in her mouth to allow the reader to lessen the extent of her victimhood, so that the only loss suffered by this outrage is that she will no longer have the benefit of his erotic attentions, nor the benefit of his money.

 In scholar Steven Smith’s study of the poem, he points out however that the read the poem in this way, is to “privilege the attacker’s perspective from beginning to end and to allow him to dominate the discourse about rape.” Yet there is more to Pavlos Silentarios’ poem than a crude celebration of cruelty, misogyny and rape. Indeed the name given to the victim, Menecratis, provides the first clue. Although the only other reference in Greek literature to this name as far as we know, is to an hetaira or courtesan who became a married woman, the name itself is an empowering one, meaning “she who abides in strength.”

With the use of one cleverly chosen name, Paul Silentarios thus subverts the entire discourse of his poem. Instead of condoning or applauding the perpetrator, the poet is actually undermining him by calling into question that very element of his that he believes is most dear to him: his masculinity. A man who must seek to purchase the sexual favours of another because they will not be freely given to him cannot be a particularly attractive man, let alone one who is so repulsive that not even his gold proves sufficient to buy love. Thus, while he may boast all he wants that Menecratis has lost a lover, the facts speak otherwise: Pavlos Silentarios portrays a narrator who has been rejected as a lover and is consequently also a failure as a man, having to resort to force to obtain what he wants.

In subverting the narrator’s hypostasis in this clever way, Pavlos Silentarios empowers the victim in a manner novel for the genre. He reinforces her freedom of choice and authority. Despite his entreaties and his provision of financial incentive, Menecratis chooses to reject him as a lover. While being violated, rather than being subdued, even in the narrator’s words, she struggles against him and attempts to tear out his hair. This too is a snide swipe at the rapist, for in ancient Greek literature, bald men were treated as smarter, more attractive and more accomplished on the battlefield, highlighting the fact that this ideal is the complete opposite to what we are dealing with in this poem.

Most importantly, Menecratis, having being raped, is neither subdued nor willing to accept her violation. Though the perpetrator may attempt to boast, even through his agency, she still has the last word in determining just how he will be viewed in the readers eyes. She calls him «σχέτλιε», a wretch, a word associated in Apollonius’ Argonautica, which recounts the story of Medea, with Eros. This connection with Medea thus reinforces Menecratis’ voice as one of potency and authority.

In seeking to empower Menecratis, Pavlos Silentarios does not only subvert the hypostasis of the perpetrator but of the genre in which the poem belongs as well. The poem is written in the manner and style of a traditional erotic epigram. Yet the language which he has Menecratis employ, is that which more properly belongs to mourning and lamentation. The act of her pulling her attacker’s hair, is expressed in the same words as those used to describe what mourners traditionally did to themselves at funerals. When in her lament, she states that he will leave, she uses the word οἰχόμενος, the word which was traditionally employed to denote “the departed.” Thus, Menecratis, is signifying that her attacker is dead to her, completely effacing his existence in a way that he is unable to achieve.

Not content with subverting the genre, Pavlos Silentarios ventures even further, endeavouring to subvert love itself. He has Menecratis describe Aphrodite, the goddess of love as ἄπληστος or insatiable. This adjective is rarely used within the corpus of ancient Greek literature in conjunction with the goddess and on the few occasions that it is, it is invariably in connection with death. Instead, it is a term more properly associated with Charon, whereas the Byzantine hymnographer Romanos Melodos employs it so as to label Death an insatiable glutton. Thus, when Menecratis excoriates her rapist as one who is in the service of “Insatiable Cypris,” she is disconnecting his acts from belonging to love proper. Instead, these are acts that belong to the realm of the dead. Menecratis has banished her rapist from the land of the living, to the land of the dead. In effect, she has terminated his very existence.

Pavlos Silentarios’ nuanced and layered epigram is remarkable in the sophisticated manner in which as far back as sixth century Byzantium, loaded language and a plethora of embedded intertextual references serve to highlight and condemn violence and abuse against women. By ridiculing the sense of entitlement, superiority and misogyny felt by the perpetrator that gave rise to the perverse act of transgression, Silentarios delegitimises not only both those feelings and the act, but also the sexuality, the gender and finally the perpetrator himself. In the light of the celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is instructive to re-evaluate texts such as these, which establish valuable precedents of resistance to inequality, violence and abuse of women.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 March 2023

Saturday, March 04, 2023



“Georgie, come on. We are going to get a souvlaki.” 

“But I wanna watch the puppets mum.” 

“Come on. You’ve seen enough. Souvlaki time now.” 

“But the puppets, mum.” 


Ordinarily, I find the sound of a child crying deeply distressing, but when little George burst into tears and had to be forcibly dragged away from the Karagiozis tent at the most recent Antipodes Festival, I could not smother a sense of relief. 


This was because, when asked to perform Karagiozis plays at our community’s premier street festival by the far seeing committee of the GOCMV, I faced a dilemma from the outset. As Karagiozis traditionally belongs to the realm of children, how does one perform for the increasing number of Greek-Australian children who have little Greek and who have not been exposed to the formulaic structure of Karagiozis’ world? It was clear that the classical repertoire, comprising of such stories as “Karagiozis and the Accursed Serpent,” or “Karagiozis the Doctor,” would struggle to find appreciation amidst a youthful Melbournian audience. 


One option was to perform plays in English, thus making the plays accessible to all. Although English, marking the confluence of a multiplicity of languages that have contributed to its vocabulary lends itself eminently to endless rhymes, punning and world play, it was felt that it is a language too alien to the genre for use in this regard. Further, my conviction was that the shadow puppets themselves, their movement, and intonation should convey most of the story, even when the audience lacked the fluency to comprehend all of the dialogue.  


In this regard, the constant presence of Asian members of our community who faithfully sat through the plays we performed and recorded them, laughing at all the bouts of slapstick, proved ample vindication, as did a visibly delighted Malaysian member of the audience who took in a performance with her children and then came backstage to inform me that our setup reminded her of the wayang tradition of shadow puppetry in her own country. When I pointed out that her tradition is the well-spring whence our Karagiozis sprung, she beamed. Similarly, an elderly Egyptian bystander was moved to tears, remembering through our Karagiozis, the lost Aragoz performances during Ramadan, of his youth. Even in this seemingly obscure artform, there is much to share and to remember. 


Eventually, I decided to write a series of plays in Greek reflecting our own reality here in Melbourne, interspersed here and there with the kind of Greeklish that we all use or hear used. I also decided to pitch the play to two levels: that of children but also that of adults who are nostalgic for the Karagiozis of their childhood, and who would be surprised to find him transposed into the twenty-first century. The scripts that ensued had qualities that I believe to be essential to the Melbournian zeitgeist: Firstly, while combining traditional characters from the old Karagiozis set, these characters would have to refer to modernity and especially our own Greek-Australian reality. Secondly, there would have to be much satire and word play, even if this was not readily understood by the younger members of the audience. Thirdly, dialogue would have to be interspersed with songs, preferably famous Greek songs with lyrics suitably adapted to the topic at hand, thus providing an element of humour but also introducing children to the Greek-Australian received musical repertoire. Lastly, Karagiozis would have to preside over a scenario where all are the recipients of benign jibes, but in which good invariably triumphs and the unity of the community is emphasised.  


As is fitting, the plays revolved around the Greek Community, and in the first play, Karagiozis and Coronavirus, GOCMV President Bill Papastergiadis, who has his own stylized shadow puppet, and a local prelate, negotiate for arts funding with the ruling Pasha only to be thwarted by the onslaught of Coronvirus, a particularly nasty pest. Prior to Karagiozis, with the help of the President, banishing him and saving the community only to have the local prelate attempt to take the credit, the President attempts to broker a pact with the Pandemic for the carve up of Melbourne into zones of influence. 


In “Karagiozis at the Antipodes Festival,” it is announced that the GOCMV is holding a song contest. Karagiozis is determined to obtain the first prize and thus misdirects all of his usual friends, Barba Yiorgos, Stavrakas, Sior Dionysios and Morfonios away from the location of the contest. The running gag here is that although the rules stipulate that all songs sung in the competition must be in Greek, Karagiozis continuously reprises songs that while popular and a mainstay of Greek music, do not have Greek lyrics, such as Kazantzidis “Rampi,” and of course the divine Efi Thodi’s “I love you baby.” Having dispatched his competitors through means nefarious, Karagiozis’ voice is so bad, that the President, willing to do anything to get Karagiozis to stop assaulting his ears, gives up his presidency and bestows it upon him. 


In the most recently written play, Karagiozis and the Elections, I decided to meld current events in Greece with our Australian reality. Eva Kaili, the former vice-president of the European Parliament languishes in jail on corruption charges, causing Karagiozis and his side-kick ample concern as they worry that the evil Schäuble Pasha will claw back the European development  grants awarded to Karagiozis to set up a fishery on Mount Olympus. They and their friends, thus lament Kaili’s incarceration through the medium of demotic Greek poetry. In the meantime, President Papastergiadis decides to enter the lists in the battle of the European Vice-Presidency, enlisting some of the greatest Greek singers of all time to come up with campaign jingles.  


One after the other, Vasilis Karras, Dimitris Mitropanos, Lefteris Pandazis, Stratos Dionysiou and of course Alkistis Protopsalti audition for the role, each of them performing garbled versions of some of their greatest hits. This scene is the most challenging, not only because it requires of the performer some decent impressions of Greece’s most euphonious bards, but also because it is inordinately difficult to not collapse laughing at fellow performer and GOCMV drama teacher Jeremy Artis’ impression of Vasilis Karras, or colleague Vangelis Stamatiou’s  ear-splitting, glass-shattering Alkistis, uncannily identical to the original article.  


Eventually, none other than  former British PM Boris Johnson announces the successful candidacy of Karagiozis, expressing his solidarity with the Greek hero, given that all politicians are a bunch of Karagiozides. Though he also throws in the return of the Parthenon Marbles, these are confiscated by the local prelate, who claims that since the Parthenon was longest in use as an Orthodox church, its reliefs properly belong to him. An aggrieved President chides the European Vice-President Karagiozis for stealing his position, only to be told that one who has achieved the exalted rank of President could never lower himself to a humble vice-presidency and thus Karagiozis has done him a favour. 


Preparing this play, which we performed over and over again on the weekend was taxing, especially the preparation of the Greek singer’s puppets, which no only had to capture their likeness, but also render it in Karagiozis form. Further, it was my conviction that rather than using recorded music, the music used in the scenes should be live in homage to hallowed tradition. Yet scratching out tunes and sound effects on the violin, manipulating puppets and performing the voices of our heroes proved a daunting prospect indeed. Assisting Jeremy Artis, Vangelis Stamatiou and I in this endeavour, the puppetry and everything else, was the indefatigable and multi-talented Ms Vicky Petalas from the Greek Community’s Greek language and culture schools and we were most thrilled to break the fourth wall, or screen and have our puppets venture out in the open in order to sing her a happy birthday on the Saturday of the Festival. Karagiozo-brecht would have been proud. 


The brilliance of the Greek Community’s Street Karagiozis at the Antipodes Festival is that it is as relaxed and as informal as the Festival itself, requiring nothing of the viewer. One can take in the whole performance, or merely pass by, take a glance, move on, come back and bring friends. The amount of community luminaries who swung by requesting that they also appear in a future play, with ancillary puppet-likeness have been recorded securely, for later use. But more heart-warming for us was having the children of our community assist us backstage, earn our techniques and parrot our lines when they thought we were not looking, as well as the many second generation Greek-Australian who visibly moved, recounted their own stories of how they were introduced to Karagiozis on trips to Greece and the VHS cassettes their parents still have stashed away. We reassured them that Karagiozis is now a public fixture on the Lonsdale scene. 


Long after the final curtain, as I was walking up towards the Love Lonsdale Stage in order to play Epirotic music with the aptly named “Epirotiki Kompania,” I was accosted by someone who yelled out exuberantly: “Hey Karagiozi!” In the ordinary course of neohellenic events, this constitutes a slur and yet the smile that crept onto my face could not be effaced for hours afterwards. Thanks to the GOCMV, I consider it a badge of honour. Ε ρε γλέντια! 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 March 2023