Hellenism makes triumphant return to Sydney Opera House for Greek National Day

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As a former student at St Euphemia College in Sydney’s southwest, I vividly remember March 25th celebrations every year where we proudly marched from the Martin Place cenotaph to the iconic Sydney Opera House in honour of Greek Independence Day.

Whilst the march was often long and tiring, the feeling of pride in our Greek culture, heritage and history, as well as the sense of connection we felt with Greeks from across Sydney, was enough to keep us going.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

It’s for this reason that many people of all ages were disappointed when the annual Greek Independence Day march to the Opera House was first cancelled in 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New South Wales.

In the years after 2020 when the state government lifted pandemic restrictions on outdoor gatherings, The Greek Herald reported that the parades were axed predominantly due to the uncertainty around public health orders, as well as the issue of allowing only a certain number of community members to attend the festivities.

Honouring the memory of the fallen 1821 Greek Revolution fighters

Fortunately for Sydney’s Greek community, 2024 was the year of the triumphant return of Hellenism to the Opera House on Sunday, March 24.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

The event was organised by the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW in conjunction with the Inter-Communities Council of NSW of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (GOAA).

The historic occasion began with a wreath laying ceremony at Martin Place, where members of local Greek and Cypriot community organisations and students and staff at Greek Orthodox schools in Sydney paid tribute to the fallen heroes and heroines of the 1821 Greek Revolution.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
Some of the official guests.

Some of the official guests in attendance included Greece’s Alternate Interior Minister Theodoros Livanios; Archbishop Makarios of Australia; the new Ambassador of Greece in Australia, Stavros Venizelos; the Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Yannis Mallikourtis; the High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus in Australia, Antonis Sammoutis; the NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, Sophie Cotsis MP, representing the NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper MP who was absent; the NSW Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Bourke MP; the Liberal Member for Miranda, Eleni Petinos MP; the President of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW (GOCNSW), Harry Danalis; and the President of the Inter-Communities Council of NSW of the GOAA, Kosmas Dimitriou; among many other community leaders and school students.

The Martin Place ceremony began with a small memorial service conducted by Archbishop Makarios, followed by the Greek and Australian National Anthems. The Last Post and Rouse was then played, the Ode was read by NSW Greek RSL member Peter Tsigounis, and a minute silence was held.

This was followed by the laying of wreaths from many of the official guests present.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
Irene Anesti from OEEGA.
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
Eleni Petinos MP.
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
The Samian Association of NSW.
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
The Mytilenian Brotherhood of Sydney & NSW.
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
Wreath laying at Martin Place.

Greek flags fly proudly

The highlight of the event was the parade through Sydney’s streets towards the Opera House.

With a large Greek flag carried by youth dressed in traditional Greek costumes leading the way, Sydney’s Greek community walked together in sweltering heat and up multiple steep hills until the stunning Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House came into view.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

Once at the iconic venue, emcee Dimitri Kallos introduced each Greek and Cypriot community and Greek Orthodox parish individually. The three Greek Orthodox schools of St Spyridon College, All Saints Grammar and St Euphemia College were also strongly represented by large contingents of staff and students who wore their school uniforms.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

Other youth and members of community organisations also proudly waved Greek and Australian flags, with many traditional costumes from Crete, Pontus, Kalymnos and Mytilene standing out prominently against the sails of the Opera House.

Each arrival was greeted by loud applause and cheers of ‘Zito i Hellas’ from the people gathered on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

‘Zito i Ellas’

After everyone was seated, official proceedings began with the singing of the National Anthems of Greece and Australia from the Combined Choir of the GOAA Day Schools – St Spyridon College, All Saints Grammar and St Euphemia College. The choir also later performed ‘Natane to ’21.’

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

Students from the GOCNSW Afternoon and Saturday schools, Emmanuel Kasadelis and Lia Pappas, then recited a number of powerful poems, before Archbishop Makarios took to the microphone to give a speech.

In his speech, the Archbishop had the crowd loudly chanting ‘Zito i Ellada’ and said it was a “great joy” to have all Greeks and Philhellenes gathered at the Sydney Opera House after a five year break to commemorate the start of the Greek Revolution in 1821 and to celebrate the Annunciation of the Theotokos.

“We have gathered here not to prove that we are strong, but to convey a message of unity to all people. We are united because the history of our ancestors inspire us. We are united as Greeks because together we seek the light. We are united as a people, as a nation and as Orthodox Christians because we share the same aspirations, the same history and the same suffering,” Archbishop Makarios said.

The President of the GOCNSW, Mr Danalis spoke next and gave a brief historical background to the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. He also thanked everyone for attending and taking part in the parade after a long hiatus.

Breaking up the speeches was a performance of three traditional Greek dances – the Tsamiko, Syrto and Hasaposerviko – by the Dancing Schools of the GOCNSW (instructed by Paroula Thurban), the GOAA (instructed by Sophia Haskas), and the Hellenic Lyceum of Sydney (instructed by Dimitrios Papapetrou).

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

Their spectacular performance was followed by a speech from Greece’s Alternate Interior Minister, Theodoros Livanios. Mr Livanios said it was an honour to be representing the Greek government at events marking Greek Independence Day in Sydney. He also spoke of the bravery of Greeks during the 1821 Revolution and how they fought for our freedom.

The High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr Sammoutis spoke next of the strong ties between Greeks and Cypriots during the Greek Revolution until today.

After a round of applause, attendees were treated to another dancing performance from the Macedonian region by the Rallis School of Greek Dancing, the GOCNSW, the Pan-Macedonian Dance Group and the Institute of Hellenic Dance & Culture.

The NSW Minister for Finance, Courtney Houssos MLC, representing NSW Premier Chris Minns, was next to approach the microphone to speak. She said it was great to see everyone back in front of the spectacular backdrop of the Sydney Opera House, given the last time the iconic building turned blue and white was in 2021 to mark the bicentenary of the Greek Revolution.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)
Courtney Houssos MLC.

Performances of traditional Cretan, Cypriot and Pontian dances followed by the Cretan Association of Sydney & NSW, the Cyprus Community of NSW Dancing Group, and Pontoxeniteas NSW respectively. The dancing groups of the Parishes & Communities of the Archdiocese and the GOCNSW also performed some nisiotika dances.

To close the official programme, the President of the Inter-Communities Council of NSW of the GOAA, Mr Dimitriou gave the vote of thanks.

greek independence day sydney opera house (8)

As the sun set over the Sydney Opera House, local Greeks returned to their homes with a sense of pride for the motherland and those men and women who fought for our freedom. Their minds were also on next year’s celebration – with hopes for it to be even bigger and better than ever.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.

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