Melbourne’s Greek Independence Day function heralds new post-COVID era

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By Mary Sinanidis.

Many guests arrived a little frazzled at the South Melbourne Hellas FC Stadium on Sunday to attend an event held by the Greek Consul General to Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis, for Greek Independence Day. Obstacles included Grand Prix works causing blockages and the Run for Kids marathon causing traffic mayhem.

Australian Hellenic War Memorial President Steve Kyritsis (left) and former Afghanistan veteran Ken Tsirigotakis (centre).
(L-R) Evelyn and Sarah Craig (President of the Hellenic Museum).

Even so, nothing could dampen spirits at the function – the first March 25th reception since the swanky 2019 affair at Melbourne’s Hellenic Museum. It was also the last year the parade took place at the Shrine of Remembrance after booing and plastic bottles were thrown at Greek deputy parliamentary speaker George Varemenos by way of protest against the Prespes Agreement.

Then COVID-19 darkened the next two years, marring the 200th anniversary of Greece’s Independence Day.

Sunday’s celebrations marked the dawning of a new era with a new Consul General, a new Archbishop, a new parade venue and an official reception overlooking a football stadium with past South Melbourne Hellas players emanating from a large screen between other footage showing the beauty of Greece and reels from other sponsors. Guests were numerous, nibbling on dim sims, falafels and other multicultural delicacies, including spanakopita and souvlaki.

(L-R) Vicky Papazoglou, Christina Despoteris and Bruce Atkinson (former president of the Legislative Council of Victorian Parliament).

Tony Tsourdalakis, Chairman of the Victorian Council for Greek National Day, told The Greek Herald he was pleased with the celebration – the first in Melbourne attended by an Archbishop.

“When Archbishop Makarios arrived in Australia, we discussed the National Day parade in our first meetings,” he said.

“His predecessor would not come to Melbourne as it was held on the same weekend as in Sydney. Archbishop Makarios said he did not want to differentiate between Melbourne and Sydney and wanted to be present at both. We thought we could solve the problem by following the model of the Cretan Federation.”

VIP guests at the Consul event.

Mr Tsourdalakis said that in future there would be flexibility so that the parade would not clash with Grand Prix dates, estimating that 5,000 people attended the parade at the new venue, despite problems, which gave welcome respite to elderly people who took advantage of the seating area.

John Pantazopoulos, Chair of the Board of Directors of Parks Victoria, told The Greek Herald it was a shame not being at the Shrine.

Function attendees.
Invited guests.

“I hope someday we can revisit that as a community. But, you know, it’s great to be here, and we made whatever efforts we could. At Parks Victoria, we pulled out all the stops with the Grand Prix Corporation giving us access to the site. Traffic is bad, but the weather is good. We’re Greeks. We’ll make it work,” Mr Pantazopoulos said.

“Where we put the parade pales in comparison to the achievements of the amazing people we are here to honour.”

Kris Pavlidis, head of the Whittlesea Multicultural Communities Commission, told The Greek Herald that she always feels a “tingle” at such events.

Everyone enjoyed themselves at the event.
The Consul’s event heralded a new era for Greek Independence Day celebrations in Melbourne.

“I am very proud of my Greek Australian heritage. Today is an opportunity to come out, put egos aside and work together, to collaborate,” she said. “At the end of the day there is power in numbers. We say that in politics, but it is true.”

Her sentiment was shared by AHEPA Vice President George Keskerides, who said “we should all work together,” adding the parade this year felt “a little bit more isolated” and he wished that 2019 hadn’t been politicised.

Politics aside, people mingled. Arcadian Vice President Betty Kosmas and Mr Keskerides made plans for an upcoming function while others discussed plans to collaborate for the good of the Greek community. Then everybody left the function room for the main event – the parade.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald.

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