Father and daughter fight for the Pan Corinthian Greek Australian Association in Greece

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By Kathy Karageorgiou

Although there is a Pan Corinthian Greek Association in Australia, there is also a Pan Corinthian Greek Australian Association of Greece – which was once the largest club of its type in Greece. ‘Was’ because although it still exists, its membership has dwindled significantly. 

The President of the more successful original association was Anastasios Karahlis, now 90 years of age. He passed on the running of this group for Greek Australians in Greece’s wider Corinthian area to his daughter Mary, an accountant in her early 60’s. 

I met up with both father and daughter in their home in the Corinthian locale of Kiato, the prefecture which incidentally served as the Pan Corinthian Greek Australian association’s main base. 

In terms of its popularity and ensuing activeness, the heyday of the association was from the 1980s to the mid-1990s.

“I’ve tried to attract Greek Australians from the area into our association, but they’re of a different generation to that of my father and our parents. Most of the Greek Australians here now are more Greek as they’ve grown up in Greece and have assimilated here, hence shedding much of their Greek Australian identity,” Mary says.

“Our parents’ generation, who moved back to Greece from being migrants in Australia, were more united in their migration experiences and as returnees to Greece after many years of working and living in Australia. 

“This common experience saw them being very keen to participate in the Pan Corinthian Association, as it was their voice from and for Australia.” 

Her father, with a lively sparkle in his eyes, nods along and adds that at one point there were over 600 members in the group in the early 1990s. 

I ask him what the association was all about and he tells me that it was about having fun through shared activities and events, like dances and celebrating special occasions. He also proudly asserts that the group went on many excursions, not only around Greece, but also to Bulgaria and Turkey. 

Mr Karahlis then composes himself and adds, “we did a lot of good, serious work,” while Mary, on cue with her father, presents me with an article from a Greek publication regarding one of the philanthropic projects that the Pan Corinthian Greek Australian Association offered to Kiato’s large Health Centre. 

Pointing to the photos in the article, Mr Karahlis proudly explains that “the machines are for x-rays, and this other one is for blood analysis. They cost the equivalent of 25,000 euros back then and we even donated an air conditioning system.” 

I am fascinated to learn of Mr Karahlis’ background, which led to his very active role as President of this important Greek Australian association. Did he work in an administrative capacity in Australia?

“I was a builder here in Kiato since I was young, because I lost my father when I was eight years old and had sisters to look after. So I had to go to Australia to save for their dowries,” he answers.

Mr Karahlis arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1954 and stayed at the Bonegilla migrant reception centre for a while. 

“I was very satisfied with how they looked after us there – the food was good, the staff were polite and the place was clean,” he says. 

“Then I got a job for the airline TAA as a driver, followed by working as a builder, until I had 35 employees working under me in the construction industry.

“I brought my wife from Greece a year and a half after I arrived in Australia, who is from the same village as me in Kiato, and we’ve been happy together ever since – and have two children and even great grandchildren.”

Now back in Kiato and pointing to a magnificent view of the sea from his spacious home, Mr Karahlis says: “I loved Australia, and always will. We were poor and Australia gave us all this.”

“I wanted to give back what Australia did for me so I became President of the Pan Corinthian association in the early 1980s, after I had returned permanently to Greece. 

“I was instrumental in supporting the law whereby Greek Australians returning to Greece got a pension from Australia. This affected 100,000 Greeks and took many years of fighting and negotiating with authorities with the invaluable help of other Greek Australian associations particularly the Patras Greek Australian Club’s President, Vivian Stefanou – an amazing woman.” 

He signals towards his daughter Mary smiling and says: “now she’s in charge.” 

Mary sighs and says COVID-19, as well as the Greek economic crisis really put a hamper on the association’s activity. 

“Not to mention the unfortunate passing away of many of the older members, so now we have under 40 members,” she says.

Anzac Day memorial

Asking Mary of her experiences in Australia, she tells me that when the family returned to Greece she was 12 years of age, and that it was difficult adjusting to school in Greece as she loved her life in Australia, growing up in the Sydney suburb of Pennant Hills. 

With affection she recalls and shows me photographs of her family, including many of their fond memories there. 

“I’m going to keep working on our Pan Corinthian Greek Australian Association,” Mary resolutely says. “Because… our ties with Australia are unbreakable and deserve to be honoured.”

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