Festival Hellenika welcomes ‘Unpacking for Greece’ author to Adelaide

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Festival Hellenika has added a new presentation to its exciting annual line-up of cultural activities, with an invitation to NSW author Sally Jane Smith to speak at the Hamra Centre Library in Adelaide on Thursday, 11th July 2024.

The free event will feature a conversation between Smith and well-known writer, educator, interpreter and translator Paul Hellander, who has written extensively about Greece for the Lonely Planet and other travel publications.

When Smith first set out for Greece with her mother’s 1978 travel diary in her pocket, she was searching for the wanderlust she’d lost in a devastating overseas road accident. As she ventured into the heart of the Mediterranean – wandering volatile landscapes, exploring historical sites, pairing books with places and savouring the tastes of Greece – she found it was possible for a clumsy, out-of-shape woman on a budget to experience a life-changing journey. This is the story that became Unpacking for Greece, published in 2023 and named a ‘Reading Greece Book of the Month’ by Greek government website Greek News Agenda.

“I didn’t know my mother’s journal existed until a few days before my first trip to Greece. That tiny notebook with its scuffed red covers became a treasured travel companion, and helped me to make peace with the memory of my mum, who died when I was in my twenties,” Smith said.

The cover design of Unpacking for Greece, which features honey-hued stone columns against a deep blue sky, includes a family snapshot of Smith’s mother and grandmother seated on the steps of the Parthenon.

Festival Hellenika committee member Erva Bakas was the driving force behind approaching Smith to participate in the program.

“I believe her books bring a fresh perspective not only to philhellenes, but travellers in general. Furthermore, her writing highlights how Greece continues to be a source of inspiration for pathways to possibilities,” Bakas said.

Bakas also invited Hellander to lead the conversation, having trained with him as an interpreter and translator.

The event’s two speakers have never previously met, but they have something in common: a profound love for Greece despite not having any genetic Greek heritage.

Hellander, whose attachment to the country goes back more than five decades, has said, “Ultimately, I didn’t choose Greece, Greece chose me.”

After being drawn to the Ancient Greek language in high school and later Modern Greek at university in the UK, he travelled from England to Ioannina on the Greek mainland in the 1970s. He later moved to Australia to teach Greek in public schools in Melbourne and later at tertiary College in Adelaide, where he still lives.

Smith is herself an immigrant Australian, born in South Africa and living on four other continents before she moved to Australia in 2008. She credits Greece with turning her into a writer, saying, “It was Greece that gave me my kefi back in 2016, ten years after my accident.”

Smith’s second travel memoir, Repacking for Greece, came out in April 2024. Together, the two-book series travels to sixteen unforgettable destinations across the Greek mainland and islands.

According to American writer Jeffrey Siger, creator of the enormously popular ‘Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery’ series, “Fans of legendary UK travel-writer and explorer of all things Greece and beyond, Patrick Leigh Fermor, will find a kindred spirit in Repacking for Greece author Sally Jane Smith.”

The Hamra Centre Library event will take place on Thursday, 11th July 2024 at 6:30 pm. To book free tickets, visit www.festivalhellenika.org.au/event/unpacking-for-greece or phone the library on (08) 8416 6228.

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