‘They called me Vi — The Greek’: Violeta Vryoni on her experience living in Australia


By Kathy Karageorgiou

Violeta Vryoni, who is now 50 years of age and works in an Athenian suburb’s local cafe, related to me her experience of living and working in Australia for five years. I decided to interview her to find out, among other things, why she left the ‘lucky country,’ thinking that she mustn’t have liked Australia very much, due to returning permanently back to her homeland – Greece.

The reason for Violeta initially going to Australia was to visit her brother Kostas who lives there. Alas, fate intervened when on that first visit of hers to Australia (with her mother), on the Olympic Airways flight, Violeta met a fellow passenger who would tempt her back Down Under. He was a businessman returning from a holiday in Lefkada – his island of origin, who had been living in Australia since he was 15. 

Violeta Vryoni

“He was a kind man who was impressed by my decades of work experience in hospitality, including running a few of my own small, related shops, so he offered me a job at one of his food stores. Then, after Mum and I visited my brother and his wife in Melbourne for a month as planned, I returned to Greece, tied up loose ends and flew straight back to Australia to begin work,” Violeta reminisces.

Violeta, quite savvy in business herself, explains that while in Melbourne on holidays visiting her brother that first time, she did some research in lieu of deciding on whether working there would be a wise move. 

“I went to industrial places where they make and package food and then retail food shops, to see if they did things to my liking, and they did, so I accepted his job,” she explains.

Her employment opportunity in Australia was in a take-away food shop in country Victoria’s Nagambie (137kms from Melbourne), with a population of less than 1,000.

“The owner asked me to make Greek cakes to vary the menu – baklava, kourabiedes, melomakarona, as well as Aussie ones like orange and poppy seed cake that I still make here in Greece,” she says smiling.

Though born-and-raised in Athens, perhaps Violeta was always a country girl at heart as she took to life in Nagambie well. 

“I loved it. I went to the pub there, met people and they called me ‘Vi – the Greek’, which a shearer named me! I would put the song Miserloo on the jukebox there and tell them proudly it’s Greek! And I went to parties and BBQs in people’s backyards, and I even saw snail races,” she exclaims. 

Violeta also mentions how impressed she was by the bush, especially its beautiful multi-coloured birds.

“I had my driver’s license and drove to other small country towns and often to a winery near a lake,” she adds.

Once a week she’d visit Melbourne to see her brother but to also explore the city area and suburbs alone.

“I wasn’t scared and got to know other Greek Australians. The first-generation Greek Australians seemed kind of stuck in the 1950s,” she quips, adding “but they’re amazing and have accomplished so much – bought properties, educated their kids; they’re admirable.”

She then mentions a Greek Australian wedding she attended that reminded her of “being stuck in the 1980s” mainly due to the Greek music they were playing there.

“Greek people in Australia don’t have access to our great Greek rock music,” she explains.

So adamant is she about this, that she’s considering making her own YouTube channel to talk about Greek rock and play music clips aiming to introduce the genre to Greek diaspora audiences.

Music is not her only passion, as after returning to Greece, Violeta became involved in acting at a local theatre. 

“It was either a psychologist or the theatre,” she jokes, explaining her divorce and being a single mother. 

“Our theatre is an independent, non-profit one called the Markiza Theatre Company. Our up-and-coming production is a comedy.” 

I ask Violeta why she returned to Greece since she liked Australia so much. Telling me she somewhat regrets it, she goes on to praise “the great social welfare system of Australia. Like, the doctor at a public clinic who gave me diet tips when I had a cold.”

“Here, in Greece it’s straight to the antibiotics. And the police were so polite – always ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry.’ And here we didn’t have second hand shops, but there I’d even go to garage sales,” she adds.

“Also, I never saw any poisonous animals as one would think. I thought I saw a huge huntsman spider on the wall at my brother’s house, but he was playing a trick on me – it was fake.”

Sighing, she adds, “I was tired, working hard and I got lonely, so I returned to Greece.”

“Australia made me a better, more cultured person through being exposed to people of other

ethnicities. I grew. The overall experience taught me to appreciate small moments as joyous, like being in nature,” she concludes with a smile.

“I felt more Greek than ever there; as a kind of representative of my country, even though Australia made me a citizen of the world.”



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