Ouzo Festival in Melbourne: The next best thing to a shot in Mytilene

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By Mary Sinanidis.

“We can’t all travel to the isle of Lesvos to experience the Ouzo Festival there, but this is the next best thing. How wonderful that this is happening right here in Knox,” said Knox Councillor Sorina Grasso, addressing hundreds who gathered at the Ouzo Festival on Sunday.

Organised by the Palesviaki Enosi (Lesvos Culture Club), the day was filled with entertainment, good food and of course, dancing. Greece’s Vice Consul General to Melbourne, Dimitrios Linardos, who attended the event with his wife, Georgia Tsimbanagianni, and his son, was impressed by the jovial spirit.

“It gives me hope for a lovely day ahead,” he told The Greek Herald.

The Ouzo Festival.
(L-R) Palesviaki President John Karanikolas, Vice Consul General of Melbourne Dimitris Linardos and Knox Cr Sorina Grasso.

Palesviaki President John Karanikolas came to Melbourne from Skala, Mytilene in 1982, two years before the 10 acres for the club were brought following the amalgamation of the clubs Arion and Pittakos. Shortly after, the Ouzo Festival kicked off, one of the club’s most popular events.

“We’re here to honour our island and our product – ouzo. It’s a place with rich history, cultural heritage and important people of the arts as well as products known around the world,” he said.

“We are here to remember experiences from our homeland… and keep our traditions in our second homeland.”

Attendees at the festival.
More festival-goers.

Nicky Tsakos, serving calamari, remembers the excitement of coming from Mytilene as a newcomer 49 years earlier and states the first Ouzo Festival took place shortly after the creation of the Club, however Fotini Athiniotis said there were gatherings with plenty of ouzo since 1959.

“Ouzo gatherings were organised well before the Club,” she said, adding that “ouzo means happiness.”

Doukissa’s god-daughter.
Dancing.

Memories vary, but one thing everyone can agree on is the hard work that goes into the event. Planning starts months in advance as the group reaches out to sponsors, organises food and marketing of the event. It is one the entire community of Australians from Mytilene look forward too, though on Sunday there were Greeks of many backgrounds present.

Mr Karanikolas told The Greek Herald he’s glad to see young people show up, but admits the club faces the problem of many clubs in Australia as youth aren’t as interested in carrying on events.

Loukoumades at the festival.
Ouzo being poured at the festival.

“They have found other means of entertainment, bars for instance, and though they come to the festival, few are willing to put in the effort to organise events,” he lamented.

Marianna Alepidis, a young member of the Club, was churning out food orders.

“For me, it’s a chance to give back to the Club I grew up with. As a girl, I’d play at the bouncing castle and now I’m serving salads,” she said.

Marianna Alepidis and her mum, Rally.
Androulla’s Sweets.

“We always need help and money is always going to be an issue. Some places are rundown, and we need to keep it up.”

The festival itself is intergenerational, apart from the Alepidis family manning stations at the event, the Club’s Secretary Stella Corlentinis was helped by her daughter Renee and son Steve.

Palesviaki President Stella Corlentinis and her daughter, Renee.
Sophia Giovanidou (middle) lives on the Club’s acreage. She wants the traditions to be kept alive by people of her generation.

“We have three generations from our family helping out here today,” Stella said.

Sophia Giovanidou, also in her 20s, lives on the acreage.

“Four years ago we came here from Greece and lived in share accommodation before coming to live here as guardians of the place,” she said.

Festivalgoers.
Face painting.

“When we left Mytilene in 2019 things were hard there due to the refugee crisis but we recently went back and things were very different. We liked it! We can’t be there but it is good to be here today, surrounded by our people.”

*All photos copyright: The Greek Herald.

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