The Evolution of Greek-Australian Associations in Greece

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By Kathy Karageorgiou

It is a common dream for Greek-Australians (G.A’s), to return to their roots – to Greece, permanently.

This desire has materialised into reality for many. There are approximately 100,000 of these ‘dreamers’ who had the courage, and some would argue, perhaps jokingly – “the foolishness” to move to Greece.

Apart from missing aspects of Australian life; a lingering sense of feeling ‘different’ in either culture, is a theme that often surfaces when talking to many G.A’s in Greece. This is where associating with people with common experiences and interests can enrich and enhance well being.

Greek-Australian Associations, although mainly embodied as social clubs where entertainment is a main purpose, do much more. They are primarily meeting places where one can identify, and enjoy a sense of belonging. Even though they have evolved and changed over the decades, they nonethless continue to be spaces that acknowledge and accept the uniquely shared experiences that represent G.A’s in Greece.

Most G.A associations in Greece, are now online, on Facebook. One such group has its actual title, literally denote being caught between two cultures or identities, or on a more positive note – between two loves. It’s called ‘We are AUSSIES in Greece and GREEKS in Australia’ (with the precise capitalisations intact in their title).

Another G.A Association in Greece, is the online group that calls itself ‘Graussies’. And, there is also the Facebook group ‘Australians in Athens’ which seems to be the most active in terms of online, daily participation, while the group ‘Aussies in Thess’ seem to be the most ‘face-time’ socially active of these groups.

The older versions of G.A Associations in Greece, were somewhat different in context, due to the past pre-tech era, and seem to have been more lively.

Mr Nikolaidis, now in his 80’s was the Secretary of the Greek Australian society of Kalamata. He returned from Australia to Greece in the 70’s when he tells me the club was in full swing, with its heyday being the 80’s. “So many outings and a huge party every year in Kalamata, with 400 people attending, including our Australian consul.”

He continues nostalgically, “we’d go all around Greece on excursions and we were a very tight knit community.” He explains to me rather bluntly though with common sense, why these clubs of old, wound down their activity and gradually fizzled out: “Because of death, and those left like me just don’t have the energy.”

Another early, founding club member was Mr Dimou for the Pan Corinthian Association of Greek Australians, who also confirmed its wonderful, active years. He managed to pass the club onto his daughter, who runs a smaller Greek-Australian club based in the area. Telling me she tries hard to keep the tradition alive by organising events, unfortunately compared to her father’s day, membership has whittled down.

Ms Stephanou, in Patras, was a founder of the even earlier G.A Association in Greece, namely the Panhellenic Greek-Australian Federation which began in the 1960’s. She too refers to the club’s prime as being in the 70’s and 80’s, with wonderful memories of dances and parties that prominent Greeks and Australians attended.

“The entertainment, good-time aspect began to ease from the 90’s” says Ms Stephanou. She tells me, that it was then that a lot of G.A returnees to Greece began to reach pension age, and came to the often shocking realisation that they were not entitled to pensions neither from Greece nor from Australia, due to residency timeframe requirements. Ms Stephanou actually advocated on their behalf, even taking their case to Canberra – and winning.

The threat stemming from a potential of lessening finances on the part of the pensioner G.A’s in Greece back then, highlights the importance of the availability of funds (by members and even sponsors) in maintaining Associations. The Australian dollar’s value to the drachma in particular, was an important factor that enabled the clubs to socially thrive.

These days, financial austerity and the euro, and limited spare time hampers Greek Association meetings. The fact that most second generation G.A.’s live in Athens which is large and dispersed, does not perhaps allow as much time, or extra income for social events. The ‘Aussies in Thess’ group’s increased in-person interactions for example, are due to their smaller city locale whereby meeting up is easier due to proximity, but could also be due to a more laid back lifestyle in Thessaloniki.

Furthermore, the recent Covid pandemic had, and still has, an impact on socialising. As is evident from today’s predominantly online ‘Facebook’ groups serving as meeting points for G.A’s in Greece, technological progress has caused changes, including perhaps rendering us a bit complacent in terms of ‘live’ social event organisation and participation.

Also, many 2nd generation G.A’s came to settle in Greece at younger ages, after moving with their parents. They were hence assimilated into Greece from a younger age, and often don’t relate to G.A culture. This may also hint at the less popular participation regarding G.A associations in Greece.

Either way, the spirit of seeking, and finding the company of our fellow G.A’s in Greece is made manifest in our Associations. Thanks to their existence and evolution, we succeed in feeling at home, and having a good time in the process!

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