Growing up in a Greek household, Australia Day wasn’t a particularly significant day of celebration. While my parents have forever been thankful for the opportunity to migrate to this country, my father, who has never forgotten the racism he endured in the 60s, has always maintained that this country belongs to the Indigenous communities. So instead of having a ‘barbie’ and parading around draped in an Aussie flag, it was a day that we would come together with the little immediate family we had in this country and the friends we had adopted as such, often for a picnic like many other Greek families. They are fond memories; school holidays, a balmy summer’s day, Greek music blaring from the radio and pre-packed mezedes shared around as the men played cards, the women relaxed and gossiped amongst themselves, and their children took advantage of the freedom nature afforded.
Australia Day is one of the country’s more controversial holidays, with the debate gaining momentum each year about whether the date should be changed, given the trauma 26 January evokes for many Indigenous communities.
As a contentious day, with different meanings depending on who you speak to, we set out to uncover what the day means to members of the Greek community.
“A day to celebrate all that makes us different in this beautiful country that has brought us all together,” Bill Hatzimihelakis told Neos Kosmos.
“It means a day to reflect on all the opportunities that were offered to our parents, a better way of life for the children of all these migrants,” added Thimitra Kallaras-Van Waes.
John Tritsaris, who moved to Australia at the age of four with his parents, shared the sentiment.
“If you worked hard you were rewarded. [I] love this country and wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he said.
For Penny Costa, Australia Day is reflective of the sacrifices made by her parents in leaving the motherland.
“I reflect back and I feel lucky and appreciate the opportunities this beautiful multicultural country has given me,” she said. “We may all look different but we smile the same and all have a heart … and a thought of respect for our Australian Indigenous people.”
Kay Korkotidis said that she will be celebrating with a lamb and a beer.
“Australia day is a day to recognise what an incredibly lucky country it is we live in and how fortunate we are,” she said.
This year Rita Kotsoglo is taking the opportunity to give back with a bushfire fundraiser.
“We will spend the day celebrating in a private home with up to 100 people of several racial heritages, ages, levels of education and political views with a sausage sizzle, a pavlova competition and fundraising for the bushfire victims,” she said.
For Deborah Williams, 26 January is a particularly special day, as it is also her birthday, “so the whole county celebrates on the 26th along with my family,” she says.
For Annette Floros, Australia Day brings back memories of long weekends as a child, celebrating with a BBQ in Sorrento with Greek music and dancing.
“I was born here in Melbourne so having the opportunity for all Greeks from our part of the region (Messinia) to get together was fun,” she said. “In a way all our parents embraced the life of Australians. That I think has always helped me to feel that I belong. I can truly call myself Australian as well as embrace my wonderful Greek heritage.”
Angela Travas agrees, the day serving as a reminder that she is “made from Greek parts”.
“Growing up as a child of migrant parents in the harsh outback, enjoying the beauty of this wonderful country and experiencing the harshness of floods, drought and at times racism. Sharing of cultures with my Indigenous and Anglo Saxon school friends has taught me tolerance and respect for people and country, and of course immense pride of my Greek heritage,” she said. Chris Richardson says since moving to Athens, Australia Day brings his “dear ones in Australia closer” to him.
A DAY OF MOURNING
For others like Sam Mavraganis, he is unable to get past the history of colonisation and the negative impact it has had on Indigenous communities.
“I don’t celebrate. I show respect to the original owners of this land,” he said.
Koula Karandaglidis Papagiannopoulos feels the same way.
“While I was growing up, Australia day for me was a day off school. Little did I know and little was I taught about the actual definition of this day. Do I celebrate it? No!”
Helen Kavouras said that she will celebrate only when the date is changed.
“It just doesn’t sit right with me to celebrate at the expense of the Indigenous population,” she said.
Christos Iliopoulos is also among those who would like to see the date changed, saying that 26 January celebrates “the act of colonisation and dispossession”.
“I think 3 June, the date when the Mabo decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, should be the date upon which we celebrate Australia Day. Australia Day would then celebrate all Australians,” he explained.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE PAST & MOVING FORWARD
For Nick Verykios, as well as being a day to celebrate “the miracle of immigration”, it is a chance to honour “the legacy of the past, in particular our Indigenous family” and “apologising for the mistakes and allowing these learnings to amplify our longing for correction when those before us were so early in the process”.For Irini Kassas, who moved to
Newcastle at the age of 14 in 2011 and was honoured as Newcastle’s Young Citizen of the Year in 2018, Australia Day has special significance.
“Australia Day has become for me a day of unity and acceptance in order to learn from one another and work together for a united country,” she said.
Lawyer and writer, Konstantinos Kalymnios shared he sentiment, using the celebration as a chance to recognise the past, rather than turn a blind eye to the atrocities perpetuated against the First Nations.
“We celebrate the diverse tolerant and progressive fabric of Australian society and the fact that it is a haven for persecuted people everywhere and a beacon of democracy and decency without glossing over the fact that our current polity was achieved historically by the violent dispossession of the land and sovereignty of its original peoples,” he said.
“Our very identity as a minority group serves to corroborate and to legitimise the violent assumption of sovereignty by the dominant class. We rightfully celebrate our achievements, in full acknowledgement of the terrible cost.”
Maria Rologas says the song I Am Australian sums her feelings up well.
“We finally, after a woeful and horrendous past, are reconciling, apologised, are showing due respect and are working to give back the dignity owing to the First Australians. We have a great land, that we must learn to work with and nurture for the future generations. Finally Australia Day represents the the hard toil of the past by the pioneers, convicts, migrants and refugees, the holistic developments of today and the sustainable planning and management of this country for the future.”