Despina Tanner’s love for Kastellorizo sees her leave Perth to become a full-time local islander

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Despina Tanner has always had a strong passion and connection to her Kastellorizian culture while growing up in Perth, Western Australia.

Her father, John Kannis, was 21 years old when he arrived in WA in 1946 with his five older siblings and his parents. They came as refugees who’d been displaced by the war and forced to flee Kastellorizo.

Despina’s mother was born in Perth, but still had Kastellorizian roots from her mother.

Both of them instilled in their children not only a rich cultural heritage of recipes for traditional Kastellorizian sweets, but also music, dance, and Greek Orthodox traditions which were celebrated with relatives and the larger Kastellorizian community in Perth. It’s clear the Greek language was also always present.

Despina’s great-grandmother with her husband and children, in a photo taken on Kastellorizo in 1924. Photo: Greece Is.

“At home, I spoke Greek with my father, my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. My siblings and I went to a special Greek school once a week and we also attended Sunday school,” Despina told Greece Is.

Moving to Kastellorizo:

Despite being so immersed in the Kastellorizian culture from such a young age, Despina says the moment which truly cemented her pride in her roots was when she visited Kastellorizo with her father in 1973.

“We took the boat from Rhodes, arriving in the middle of the night. The waters of the harbour were calm and the town was quiet. As he disembarked, my father made the sign of the cross and kissed the ground,” Despina tells Greece Is.

A photo taken with her father, John Kominos Kannis, in 1973. Photo: Greece Is.

“This vacation was life-changing; coming here as a descendant of the island was very emotional and a pivotal experience. I fell in love with the place and from that moment onward dreamt of renovating a house and living here where my ancestors had lived for centuries.”

At the time, that dream wasn’t possible as Despina returned to Perth, opened her own gift shop and cafe called Boucla, and had to deal with the death of her father and two years later, her only brother.

“We spent years in mourning. I feel blessed that I had this heritage to hold on to, and the supportive network of my family. With my father’s death, my love for Kastellorizo grew,” Despina says.

Eventually, Despina returned to Kastellorizo with her mother in 1981, with her husband and son John in 1989 and then, in 1990, her daughter Evana was conceived on Kastellorizo.

“I really wanted to buy a house but, as it turned out, we didn’t get back to the island for another 15 years. When we finally did, our son and daughter, by then 18 and 15 years old respectively, fell in love with the place as I had,” she tells Greece Is.

Despina Tanner and her Australian husband Brian Tanner in their home on Kastellorizo. Photo: Nikos Pilos / Greece Is.

“We bought a plot of land and, in 2007, we built a house. From 2008 onwards, I came back every year and then, in July of 2018, my husband and I started our newest adventure and moved to Kastellorizo.”

Since then, Despina and her husband have been enjoying life on the island by going on morning hikes to Avlonia, exploring old farms and gardening. Despina’s husband is also a devoted bread maker and has sourced a biodynamic-grown ancient grain from Crete. 

“The greatest beauty of the island lies in its the landscape. It’s strange, but this rugged beauty is similar to that of Australia,” Despina says.

“I feel blessed to have two homelands, Kastellorizo and Australia, two places which, at the end of the day, are not as far from each other as you might think.”

Source: Greece Is.

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