Veterans, pollies and unionists join to honour Greek history at Australian Hellenic War Memorial

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By Mary Sinanidis.

Come rain or shine, each year the Australian Hellenic War Memorial in Melbourne, Victoria is decked with flags for wreath laying at noon, on the exact date of Greek Independence Day on March 25.

Everything works like clockwork, first a church service, then the noon wreath laying and a small ceremony at the Shrine followed by traditional Greek cuisine at the Hellenic RSL in South Melbourne.

Officials at the Shrine. All photos copyright: The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
Three students from Oakleigh Grammar and one from St Catherine’s.

One could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu on Saturday, when the event took place again with the only difference being that this year there was continued friction in Ukraine and, closer to home, last Sunday’s decision by a group of men to perform the Nazi salute at Victorian Parliament during a clash between protesters for and against transgender rights.

Regardless of what is going on in the world, ex-veterans, who had once been willing to put their lives on the line, organise the wreath laying to honour the sacrifices of people who died for their country. This is followed by a small ceremony at the Shrine, where the Hellenic RSL has full access.

Ladies from the Anemones group.

Australian Hellenic War Memorial President, Steve Kyritsis, a Vietnam veteran, told The Greek Herald the Hellenic RSL has full access to the Shrine because it sits under the umbrella of the Returned and Services League of Australia.

Victorian Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Steve Dimopoulos MP, said that despite the plethora of events taking place around Melbourne on this particular afternoon, from Oakleigh glentia to a museum gathering, he could not miss this particular ceremony. Member for Bentleigh, Nick Staikos MP, was also in attendance.

Hellenic RSL President Manolis Karvelas and Steve Dimopoulos MP.

“This is our place in the prestigious parklands in Melbourne. And it is very meaningful because it is this country, not Greece, that has recognised the sacrifices of our ancestors in fighting for our independence,” he said.

“There wouldn’t be many places in the world to have public parkland dedicated in a very significant way to another country’s battle for their independence.”

The historical link between both countries did not go unnoticed by St John’s College student, Andreas Cartledge, who comes from a bi-racial family with an Australian father and Greek mother.

“I like to see both countries come together,” he said. “It’s sometimes a struggle with different practices but at other times [like this one] it is good.”

A group of CFMEU unionists wearing jumpers with the CFMEU logo and the Greek 1821 catchcry “Freedom or Death” had their own unionists’ perspective. Nikitaras Milonopoulos told The Greek Herald that union delegates created the design for this jumper because they could relate to the struggle for independence.

“Australia is made up of many different nationalities, many different faiths and religions, and though we are proud Australians and put Australia first and love what this country has given us, we honour our roots,” he said.

Wreath for the Hellenic Medical Society of Australia.

“We honour those who have come before us and we honour above all the sacrifices made by individuals who gave us our freedom, our independence and made us proud to call ourselves Hellenes and to be proud of our democratic freedoms and rights.”

The ceremony was about wreath laying, honouring heroes and heritage, but it was also about perspectives.

Greek Consul General to Melbourne Emmanuel Kakavelakis told the crowd to “water their roots” to keep alive their heritage.

But for others there from a non-Greek background, from Opposition Parliamentary Secretary David Davis to Field Regiment Association President Malcolm Fallon, it was also very much an Australian celebration.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

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