Passionate members and friends of The Athenian Association of New South Wales gathered at The Grand Roxy in Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney on Saturday, December 2 to celebrate its milestone 70th anniversary.
The atmosphere on the night was one of excitement and pride as people shared personal memories of one of the oldest Greek associations in Australia.
The Athenian Association of NSW was founded on March 8, 1953, under the leadership of Ilias Zarakostas as the first President and Dimitrios Dervos as General Secretary.
Mr Dervos’ daughter, Maria Sallos, was present at the anniversary ball and told The Greek Herald she could not be prouder her dad was a founding member of the Athenian Association.
“The first ball we had was at the Paddington Town Hall in 1953 and I was allowed to go because we didn’t have a babysitter then and it was a very successful dance. They had lovely Greek songs and mostly it was people who had migrated from Athens,” Maria explained.
Maria looked around her in amazement at how far the Athenian Association had come since then, and said she plans on donating her father’s vast book and poetry collection to the Athenian Association in his memory. She’s proud to be able to continue his legacy.
“It’s wonderful [to be a member] because I grew up and I was born in Athens and we practically go every year or every second year,” she said.
‘The spirit of Athens continues to shine brightly’:
Maria was one of many attendees present at the anniversary ball who enjoyed a three-course sit-down meal, with live Greek music by George Doukas and his band playing softly in the background.
Emcee and Committee Member Stella Sorotou began the official proceedings and welcomed distinguished guests on the night. This included Bishop Iakovos of Miletoupolis; the First Secretary for Public Diplomacy at the Consulate of Greece in Sydney, Anastasia Christofilopoulou; the NSW Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, Mark Coure MP; the President of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW (GOCNSW), Harry Danalis; the Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris; and the President of the Athenian Association of NSW, Cathy Valis; among many other Greek community leaders and representatives.
Following a performance by young girls dressed in Athenian outfits and carrying ornaments and candles, there were a number of speeches by Bishop Iakovos, Ms Christofilopoulou, Mr Coure and Ms Valis.
Ms Valis thanked everyone for attending and for their support, before giving a brief history of the Athenian Association and its rich legacy.
“The President’s past and present have successfully preserved and perpetuated the spirit of Athens by ensuring the younger generation maintains its Greek identity and older generations can continue to thrive in their second homeland,” Ms Valis said.
“The Athenian Association of NSW stands as a testament to the power of preserving cultural heritage. The Association’s commitment to promoting Greek culture and traditions within the community ensures that the spirit of Athens continues to shine brightly in the Antipodes for generations to come.”
Ms Valis also thanked her Committee which includes Vice President Antigoni Hadzipanagiotou, Secretary Sotiria Plakias, Treasurer Maria Bolos, and Committee Members Mrs Sorotou, Panagiotis Tsintilas and Efrilli Kandilas.
In his address, Bishop Iakovos expressed the well wishes of Archbishop Makarios of Australia for the Association’s 70th anniversary, and also stressed the importance of the next generation to maintain the Athenian culture.
“I want to mention the work of the Association in cultivating and in instilling, not only in themselves but in their children, the high values of faith and country, the high values of Greek Orthodox civilisation,” the Bishop said.
“I pray and hope that each one of you and your friends and your siblings follow in the tradition of your parents and your grandparents and continue to nurture within yourselves and within your own families in time, the very same values.”
Ms Christofilopoulou had the audience in laughter on the night as she made a joke in her speech about Athenians.
“You know what they say in Greece? There’s no actual Athenian in Athens because all of them can be found in Sydney,” she said with a smile, before expressing her well wishes for the Association to enjoy the next “fruitful and prosperous” 70 years.
Mr Coure was last to speak, congratulating the Association on its 70th anniversary and thanking its members for their contributions to NSW.
“Since 1953, the Athenian Association serves as a testament to the significant strength of the Greek community here in NSW, playing such an important and vital role,” Mr Coure said.
“NSW is better off thanks to the work and efforts of organisations such as this one. Your dedication, your compassion and your commitment to your community and to the broader community is outstanding. I cannot thank you enough for being such a strong voice for the NSW Greek community.”
Following these official speeches, Ms Valis called on her Committee and past President Nick Vertzagias to cut the 70th anniversary cake and take a group photo.
The night ended with a dancing performance by women from the Joanna Papoulis Dance School, followed by raffle prizes. Guests later danced the night away to music by the live band.
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.