Professor Con Aroney’s book ‘Bound to Two Homelands’ launched in Sydney

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By George Vardas*

On 20 May 2024 the Kytherian World Heritage Fund, in conjunction with AHEPA NSW, staged the official Sydney launch of Professor Con Aroney’s book, Bound to Two Homelands – A Kytherian Odyssey, at AHEPA Hall in Rockdale in the presence of the Greek Consul General in Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis, the President of the Kytherian Association of Australia, Barbara Zantiotis, and the President of AHEPA NSW, Jim Papanagiotou.

As book launches go it did not disappoint, with a riveting presentation by the author that captivated the large audience.

aroney book launch

First and foremost, it is a book about two great Greek Australians. But it also traverses other themes that will enthrall the reader. 

Life on Kythera. The slings and arrows of Greek migration to Australia. An enduring love story. The birth of AHEPA in Australia. Oyster bar soldier spy.  The creation of the Autonomous State of Kythera in the revolt of 1917. Fighting for country. Defending Hellenism. Homer’s Odyssey. Philosophy. Bravery under fire. Pathos and tragedy. 

aroney book launch

Associate Professor Con Aroney is an interventional cardiologist and cardiac research scientist in Brisbane, Australia, who has authored more than 200 scientific papers and book chapters and is currently a principal investigator in four major clinical trials. Before that, he worked as a clinical and research fellow at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA, before returning to Brisbane where he was awarded a Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Queensland.

But he is also a historian who loves to research and write. His first book, “Flames on the Water – Tears in the Sea” dealt with the Smyrna Catastrophe of 1922 and was inspired by the author’s Asia Minor familial connections.

His new book is based on the extraordinary lives of two Kytherian immigrants to Australia – one the author’s grandfather, Panagiotis (Peter) Aroney MBE, who bravely fought for his homeland and the other, Constantine (Kostas) Aroney BEM, who was the only Kytherian-born dual ANZAC, having fought in both world wars, firstly in Gallipoli and the Western Front and then later in Greece, Crete and New Guinea. He was a deserved recipient of the British Empire Medal for bravery.

The story begins when the two young boys hear of a great southern land and dream of travelling there and fulfilling their dreams. Arriving in Australia without a knowledge of English and little or no support they endured great hardship but never wavered in their determination to succeed. Despite their bravery and loyalty to their two homelands (which inspired the title of the novel), they took different paths.

aroney book launch

Although a novel, Bound to Two Homelands is in the genre of historical fiction and is based on actual historical events and archival records with the author weaving documentary evidence with imagination in bringing both Aroney boys and their extraordinary lives to life.

Much like the acclaimed writer Louis de Bernières whose historical war novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, was based on true historical events in Greece during the Italian and subsequent German occupation of the Ionian island of Kefalonia and captured the literary imagination of readers, Dr Aroney has done a similar job with this tale of two of Kythera’s favourite sons, life on Kythera itself and the Greek diasporic community in Australia that was so heavily influenced in the early years by Kytherian migration to these shores.

As it turns out, Constantine Aroney’s incredible story was recently featured in The Greek Herald as Kalie Zervos and Amalia Samios of the Kytherian Genealogy Project, the forerunners of Kytherian family history worldwide, were invited to a flag raising ceremony at his graveside in Melbourne to honour those who served as part of ANZAC Day commemorations. 

Whilst he loved his new country, Peter Aroney’s heart and soul were Greek which accounted for his return to Greece to fight in the Balkan Wars and later serving with British counter intelligence in Athens during the First World War and then the Greek Army.

aroney book launch

At this point, Dr Con Aroney’s discussion of what some may see as Kytherian exceptionalism caused mirth amongst the audience. Many Kytherians at the time were not impressed that during the first three years of WWI, Greece had taken a neutral stance in the war (partly due to the fact that King Constantine’s sister was married to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, although that issue was itself debated in the hall in the Q&A that followed).

aroney book launch
Autonomous Administration of Kythera Seal

This lead to the formation of the breakaway Autonomous Republic of Kythera in 1917 when the island declared war on the Axis Powers. This turned out to be short-lived when King Constantine was ousted and the pro-British Eleftherios Venizelos became prime minister and pivoted the Greeks towards the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.

Ironically, Dr Panagiotis Diamadis, the Secretary of AHEPA NSW Inc, who moved the vote of thanks at the end of the presentation, wrote an article in the Sydney Journal in 2011 about how the Great War brought to the surface deep political divisions within the local Greek community in Sydney and in 1916 another prominent Greek community leader in Sydney, John Comino, had written that the Hellenes of New South Wales “were declared friends of the Allies from the commencement of the war.”

Peter Aroney was clearly not alone.

After his return to Australia, Peter Aroney would go on to be one of the drivers of the establishment of AHEPA in Australia.  He was also a  successful businessman and respected community figure in Queensland and great family man.

Constantine Aroney returned to Melbourne where life would present other challenges for this traumatised veteran. 

But at its core the book captures the essence of two great Kytherian lives, as the Chair of the Kytherian World Heritage Fund and emcee on the night, Matina Zervos, explained.

aroney book launch
L-R: George Vardas, Matina Zervos, Professor Con Aroney, Barbara Zantiotis and Dr Panayiotis Diamadis.

Bound to Two Homelands is a compelling read. As the former Chief of Defence Force of Australia, Admiral Chris Barrie AC RAN (Retd) – who is also married to a Kytherian – writes in the foreword to the book, an “indomitable spirit shines through… into a spellbinding narrative of the history of the twentieth century.”

aroney book launch

The publication of the book by the Kytherian World Heritage Fund is part of its core commitment to preserving our common Greek heritage and publishing and translating works that will be of interest to the wider community. 

Bound to Two Homelands – A Kytherian Odyssey is also available for purchase at: https://shorturl.at/2NztY

*Member of the KWHF Committee and former President of the Kytherian Association of Australia.

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