Greeks in Australia
In Australia for Australia Day
In contemporary Australia, celebrations reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation, and are marked by community and family events. It is a time when folk remember Australian history, give community awards, and perform citizenship ceremonies at which new immigrants are welcomed into Australia.
This Monday, 26th January, is the official National Day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson in New South Wales where the Flag of Great Britain was raised.
It was not until 1935 that all Australian states and territories had adopted use of the term "Australia Day" to mark the date, and not until 1994 was that date marked by a public holiday by all states. The meaning and significance of Australia Day has evolved over time. Unofficially, or historically, the date has also been variously named "Anniversary Day", "Invasion Day" and "Foundation Day", Invasion Day the name given the holiday by many aboriginal groups.
Greek migrations to and from Australia
Since the arrival of the First Fleet there have been many other arrivals to these shores. The Greek government encouraged post-war migration as a way of solving poverty and unemployment problems, with the most favoured destination being West Germany although large numbers also went to Australia and Canada.
Since the year 2000, Greek immigration to Australia has slowed down and in the years 2000-2009 many Greek-Australians both native Greek and Australian-born, returned to Greece, to discover their homeland and reconnect with their ancestral roots.
Greek immigration to Australia slowed since the 1971 peak of 160,200 arrivals. And, as the economic crisis in Greece has grown, and the opportunities for temporary resident Greek Australian's in Greece became at risk many Greek Australians shortened their planned long term stays and returned to Australia.
Australian Greeks Today
Like other Australians Greeks too will celebrate Australia Day by gathering in their backyards with lamb chops sizzling on the barbie, and kids running amok. They will wear shorts and thongs and a floppy hat. They will eat sausages and drink a few beers.
Within Australia, the Greek immigrants have been "extremely well organised socially and politically", with approximately 600 Greek organisations in the country by 1973, and immigrants have strived to maintain their faith and cultural identity.
But this Australia Day many Greeks in Australia are very worried. They are very concerned about the outcome of an election to be held this weekend in Greece. They fear that if Syriza is elected Greece may exit from the European Union and return to the drachma. It is not easy for overseas Greeks to vote though they can cast an absentee vote.
In The Age newspaper a recent article highlighted the mixed feelings of many Greeks living in Melbourne. They felt that Greece’s reputation as a nation had been damaged. And that folk did not realize how many successful, enterprising and full of initiative Greeks there were.’
Australian Greek Dilemmas
For many Australian Greeks there is enough similarity between the countries for them to feel at home in Australia. There is an apparent bareness in the outback of Australia that recalls the dry interiors of places in Greece. And in both countries the population tends to cluster along the coastline, this too reminds Greeks of towns they left behind.
The situation in Greece is one that tugs at their hearts. They see problems back in there and want to help, and many have tried. The situation is one that they hit their heads against time after time. Like Takis they may have tried to do something and been rebuffed then found themselves mired in family and legal problems. In spite of this Greece still pulls at their heartstrings.
‘Greeks, like the Jews whom they resemble in so many ways, have long been able to adjust themselves as merchants in many climes and to many ways of life. But, also like the Jews, they have preserved in their heart of hearts a vital memory of the homeland to which they yearn to return.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica
Greek Australians know that the Athens share market has plunged. They know that if they own property in Greece they now are required to pay new taxes for that property; they know that land and property has been significantly devalued. Yet they still want to help.
I read a quote in a book by Adam Nicholson about the renovation of his grandmother’s house in England, how he felt like Odysseus, wanting to reform the situation. He wrote,
‘Odysseus’s home coming was to Ithaca and his ferocious desire, in the middle of his life, after twenty years away, was to reform the place he found, to steer it back onto a path it abandoned many years before.’
This quote reminded me of Takis and his attitude towards the house on Lemnos. However he knew what he was letting himself in for the situation in Greece was one he’d encountered before when planning to set up a business there. Takis wanted to contribute something to his parent’s homeland, and he persuaded his business partners to join him, but then too he was rebuffed, and found beurocracy blocking their way.
Greece a Land of Politics and Poetry
This is a country that has lived through almost constant change from before the Great Wars. This current political drama is not a new one, just a variation of what has gone on in Greece for years.
So when we took on the project we new it would not be easy. And we have enjoyed our house on the island, accepting this is a land of both politics and poetry.
Not more beautiful than other countries, for each country has its beauties. But it is a country that lies between Europe and Asia and it has suffered many deprivations and migrations, and myths have grown up around these migrations.
The Diaspora often look back to a ‘fairy tale’ place and time, while those that have stayed behind as others left are often bemused by the dissonance between what they see around them and what these returning Greeks imagine. The Diaspora and other tourists tell them about a Greece of their dreams but the locals know it is not sunny all year round, that taxes do not get paid. They suspect that it is not wise to party as if its summer all year round, but that myth of a laid back Greece is a hard one to kick!
From the last chapter of my Book ‘It Began with a Watermelon’
Though I well knew there’s a danger in unquestioningly accepting the stories you’re told, while trying to recreate (Takis’) mythical past I found I was also able to give sense to my new life by researching Lemnos’ storied past. However I balanced this by also connecting to its political present. I write,
‘I’ve found the experience of living here has gradually given me a sense of the past, and of being ‘at home’ here in the present. Though this has mostly come about through my engagement with the house, the island too has become more familiar. And this isn’t just because I’m experiencing something that Takis finds familiar and appealing, but because the house links me to the generations that have previously lived here.'