Hellenism takes over Brighton-Le-Sands as Greek Fest makes triumphant return

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Walking down Bay Street in the Sydney suburb of Brighton-Le-Sands on any normal weekday, you would see cars calmly driving past and locals sipping their coffee at nearby cafes. But Sunday, May 26 was not any ordinary day.

On Sunday, Bay Street was packed with hundreds of thousands of people rushing to get a taste of Hellenism as the Greek Fest made its triumphant return after 21 long years.

The festival marked the end of the 42nd Greek Festival of Sydney supported by the Greek Orthodox Community of New South Wales (GOCNSW) and presented by the Bank of Sydney.

All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos

Long queues of people lined up to nab themselves a sizzling souvlaki, whilst the scent of succulent lamb-on-the-spit or loukoumades drew in others. Young children chased after each other, giggling and with huge smiles on their painted faces. Their parents took in the multitude of stalls with authentic Greek products and services.

90-year-old Yiannis couldn’t contain his excitement about the return of the Greek Fest and everything that was taking place on the day.

greek fest brighton
90-year-old Yiannis (second from left) with his family at the Greek Fest Brighton-Le-Sands.

“I’ve been to the Greek Fest before, years ago, and it makes me happy to see it here again,” Yiannis said with a smile.

“I came to meet some friends and to have a good time. I’ve had the best day. I’m having fun because I took my wife out today.”

Elsewhere, Greeks of all ages gathered around the main stage to watch as dancers from Sydney’s Greek and Cypriot dance schools performed modern and traditional dances, much to everyone’s delight. Dance groups who took part included the Greek Dance Rhythms, Aristotelian Academy, Sydney Sizmos, Kalymnian Association of NSW, Cyprus Community of NSW, Pontoxeniteas NSW Senior Group, and the GOCNSW.

The Greek Orthodox Community of NSW dancers.

There was also a School Band performance from St Spyridon College featuring students Dionysia Dragonas, Peter Mangafas, Sam Kalamaras, Spyridoula Karagiorgiou, Julian Stathis and John Pascalis.

At 3pm, the official ceremony of the Greek Fest began in the presence of a number of distinguished guests. Emcee Stavros Tsilimos introduced the officials which included the Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Yannis Mallikourtis; Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney MP; NSW Minister for Multiculturalism and Member for Rockdale, Steve Kamper MP; NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, Sophie Cotsis MP; Leader of the NSW Liberals, Mark Speakman MP; NSW Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, Mark Coure MP; NSW Shadow Minister for Finance, Eleni Petinos MP; Bayside Council Mayor Bill Saravinovski; President of the GOCNSW, Harry Danalis; Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris; as well as many local councillors and representatives of Greek and Cypriot associations, schools and cultural organisations.

greek fest brighton
greek fest brighton

Mr Tsimilos read out a message from the NSW Premier Chris Minns and Bank of Sydney CEO Melos Sulicich before there was a traditional Welcome to Country and Smoke Ceremony, as well as the singing of the National Anthems of Greece and Australia by Anya from the GOCNSW Afternoon and Saturday Greek schools.

Mr Danalis then took to the stage and thanked the NSW Government and Bayside Council for making it possible for the Greek Fest to return to Brighton-Le-Sands after 21 years.

“It’s been a long time and it is worthwhile, as you can see by the support we have from all of you today who turned up on this glorious day to witness the closing event of the 42nd Greek Festival of Sydney,” Mr Danalis said.

The Consul General commended the Greek Festival of Sydney for their program of events over the past three months and encouraged them to continue going above and beyond to promote Hellenism across the state. Speaking to the grandparents and parents in attendance, Mr Mallikourtis turned to the issue of Greek language in Australia and said it was very important to speak Greek at home to preserve heritage and culture.

Minister Kamper addressed the crowd next and referenced the NSW Government’s commitment of $880,000 over four years to ensure the longevity of the Greek Festival of Sydney. He said he was proud to see the festival return to Brighton-Le-Sands.

“It’s so important that we keep this [the festival] alive,” the Minister said. “I can see four generations here today… maybe five. How good is that? We need to continue to celebrate our Greek heritage and our culture.”

Mr Speakman spoke briefly about the history of the Greek Fest and said it was a celebration of the contribution the Greek community has made to NSW.

“Today is a celebration of everything Greek, it’s a celebration of Greek culture, Greek heritage, Greek civilisation. It’s a celebration of Greek diaspora – 140,000 people in NSW who claim a Greek heritage,” he said.

The Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ms Burney spoke from experience about the importance of hosting cultural events such as the Greek Fest as a way of giving the local diaspora a voice.

“It really is a sea of humanity out there and it’s so wonderful to see,” Ms Burney said, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of people crowding Bay Street to take in the festival.

“We live in a world where we know there are many, many difficult issues and to see the Greek community led by Harry [Danalis] and Nia [Karteris] here in the thousands really reinforces the importance of sharing culture, the importance of maintaining culture and the importance of strength in culture. And that’s what I see when I look down Bay Street today.”

In his speech, Mr Coure called on Bayside Council to help fund the Greek Fest and ensure it can be held again at Brighton-Le-Sands next year.

“It’s wonderful that everyone is here celebrating everything about Greece and Greek tradition and Greek food. This [the festival] is bigger than Darling Harbour, I have to say, and I hope we are here every year moving forward because the Greek community deserves it,” he said.

Bayside Council Mayor Saravinovski approached the stage next and welcomed everyone back to Brighton-Le-Sands. He also acknowledged the support of his Council colleagues and Minister Kamper in helping bring the Greek Fest back to the Sydney suburb.

“So when Nia [Karteris] comes and speaks after me, I want to hear these words: ‘We are coming back next year’,” Mayor Saravinovski said.

When Ms Karteris did speak, her response to the Mayor and NSW Government drew loud applause from everyone in attendance.

“If the Mayor of Bayside Council and the Councillors want the Greek Fest back, if the ministers want us back, if the federal government wants us back, we know how to run a festival so give us the Grand Parade. We need a promise that next year we will have the Grand Parade and then we will consider it,” she said with a smile, referencing the main street of Brighton-Le-Sands.

The Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney went on to thank all the volunteers who helped make the event possible, and said she was honoured to hold her position of leadership.

“I started as Chair at the Greek Festival of Sydney in 2003 here in Bay Street… and 21 years down the track I was still bestowed that honour and I thank them [the board of directors of the GOCNSW] for allowing me to bring this festival to new heights,” Ms Karteris concluded.

“It is not just a festival of souvlakia and Greek music. It is a festival of major cultural events. Recognising our young people right through to the ages from eight years old to 50 and 60. This is what the 42nd Greek Festival of Sydney did this year.”

Greek dancing after the official speeches.

With that ending, the GOCNSW Dance Group, under instruction by Paroula Thurban, gave an impromptu dance performance and official guests joined in.

Later in the day, IHO NYX band drew crowds with its unique style and sound, before internationally acclaimed singer Dimitris Basis closed the festival with an impressive repertoire of songs that had everyone on their feet dancing and singing the night away, hoping for an even bigger and better Greek Fest in 2025.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.

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