The heartbeat of Hellenism: Antipodes Festival returns to Melbourne with a bang

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If one were lost over the weekend in Melbourne’s CBD, there were ample Hellenes and Philhellenes adorned in blue and white that could lead the way. 

They were moving as a single body, making their way past road closures and the occasional cyclist to enter a space that could only be described as home.

It was a crowded space filled with the aroma of lamb and sheftalies on the karvouna, loukomades drizzled in honey or Nutella, and coffee emanating from the frappedes, whether sketo, metrio or glyko.

These were the trademark sights and smells of the Antipodes Festival that took place on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne over the weekend – the largest celebration of Greek culture outside Greece. 

Alongside the rides and 80 pop-up market stalls, the Festival’s two-day program, organised by the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM), featured face-painting, competitions, giveaways, traditional shadow puppet shows, and a series of traditional music and dance performances. 

Headlining day one of the event was Greek superstar, Nikos Vertis, who entertained the crowd with his greatest hits during a 90-minute performance. 

On the Saturday, a number of officials also gave speeches, including the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews; the leader of the Victorian opposition, Matthew Guy; Federal Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles; Greece’s Deputy Defence Minister, Nikolaos Chardalias; the Mayor of Kalamata, Athanasios Vasilopoulos; Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne, Nicholas Reece; and Bishop Kyriakos of Sozopolis. 

Opening his speech with a boisterous “yiasas!”, the Victorian Premier was met with loud applause and a reciprocating “yiasas.” 

Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews.

“It is great to be here in one of the great, Greek cities of the world,” Premier Andrews said, placing the Victorian capital city alongside Athens and Thessaloniki. 

“We of course gather here to celebrate all that the Greeks have given us in Melbourne, in Victoria, in Australia and across the world.”

Shifting from English to Greek, he then proceeded to list all the things the world has to thank Greeks for including democracy, education, architecture, medicine, and the more local favourites: Oakleigh, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne and Victoria. 

State Government pledges $800,000 to continuing the Antipodes Festival:

Following this, the Victorian Premier announced that if re-elected his government would commit $800,00 over the next four years to support the Antipodes Festival “so it can be bigger and better than it has ever been.” 

This promise was followed by Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, who said: “Tonight Melbourne is Greek and this festival has been a wonderful part of our city’s multicultural foundation.” 

“Whatever happens at the end of the year at the election, this committee who runs this wonderful event will receive $800,000 to keep it going,” Mr Guy added.

Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy.

Melbourne: A city ‘built and enlivened by Greek migration’:

For his part, the Federal Immigration and Multicultural Minister congratulated the committee and the volunteers who worked tirelessly to host and run the Festival. 

Mr Giles then passed on the well wishes of Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and described Melbourne as “a city that’s been in large part built and enlivened by Greek migration.” 

“An event like today, which is about a celebration of culture, is also a sharing of Greek culture with the wider community which is so important,” Mr Giles said. 

It was a sentiment shared by Greece’s Deputy Defence Minister, Nikolaos Chardalias, who said: “I am deeply moved to be here in Melbourne today, where the heart of the motherland beats so hard.” 

“The city is filled with people who love Greece. We are grateful for that love in Greece, because you are the ambassadors who ignite the Greek flame wherever you are and often under difficult circumstances,” the Greek Minister said.

Victorian Premier renews calls for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece:

During the formalities, the Victorian Premier also unveiled the completed Frieze of the Parthenon Marbles on the GCM’s Greek Centre. 

Mr Andrews, whose government funded the monument, demanded the return of the Parthenon Marbles. 

“I again call upon the United Kingdom government for the immediate return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece,” he said. 

The frieze’s Greek creators, Kostandinos Vousis and Panagiotis Vasilakis from The Art of Marble and Stone, told The Greek Herald about the initiative of the GCM, the Victorian Government and the Greek Ministry of Culture. 

“It is a huge work for all Australia,” Mr Vasilakis said.

“Australian culture is richer because of it and the Greek community has been pivotal in its creation.”

The emblematic work took one and a half years to complete, and under difficult circumstances due to COVID-19. 

The frieze’s Greek creators, Kostandinos Vousis and Panagiotis Vasilakis.

Also speaking with The Greek Herald about the frieze was the President of the GCM, Bill Papastergiadis, who said: “The replicas of the Parthenon Marbles that adorn our 15-storey cultural centre are a direct link with our cultural heritage.” 

“The frieze is a strong symbol of the Hellenic culture in Melbourne. We thank the State Government, the Greek Ministry of Culture and the kind donations and support by the Tsalikidis family, the Koukouvitakis and Karamitos families, as well as Merkon Constructions. Importantly we thank the Greek sculptors,” Mr Papastergiadis said.

President of GCM Bill Bill Papastergiadis seated next to Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews and Federal Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles.

In his official speech, the Mayor of Kalamata, Athanasios Vasilopoulos said: “A few minutes ago, the Parthenon frieze was unveiled at the Greek Centre.”

“Two pieces are missing because they are not at the Acropolis Museum, and they need to return there, but it is worth mentioning that the sculptors are from Kalamata,” the Mayor added.

“I can’t describe in words what I have felt the last few days. In Melbourne I saw a Greece outside of Greece but more vibrant, more creative and more humane.”

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