How council collaborations in Australia keep OXI Day and the Anzac legacy alive

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By Theodora Gianniotis (Outreach and Engagement Officer, Australian Archaeological Institute of Athens).

It is very easy for third- and fourth-generation Greek Australians to lose sight of the meaning of significant days to our cultural calendar without a recognisable relevance. This is not a phenomenon specific to Greek Australians, but something shared across cultural groups in Australia’s beautiful ethnic melting pot. These days of significance spark something in us that we distantly recognise and feel and grounds us. We want to share them but are not sure how. For Greek Australians, October 28 – OXI Day – is that day, and the pride it invokes makes us want to share this day and its legacy in mourning and commemoration.

Collaborating with the Inner West Council, Australian Archaeological Institute of Athens and Sydney University allows us to create recognisable relevance for this historical event, not just for Greek Australians but also for all Australians. More importantly, it will enable us to share with all our friends and family. This date’s intergenerational impact on Greek Australians and all Australians is why this day needs to be shared outside the realm of Greek Australians. Instead, we must be telling the story through these collaborative efforts, which will occur this Sunday, 30 October, at Marrickville Town Hall.

Photo: Private collection of Dr Michael Bendon.

Nothing defines a greater example of “mateship” or as we Greeks call it “philotimo” between our two cultures than ANZACS and Greeks fighting for our freedom during WWII against all odds. Though we, as Greek Australians, may think this day is confined to Greece’s history books, the reality tells us differently. The theatre of war that was Greece captured the ANZAC spirit and even today presents a relevant and relatable point in the current Australian psyche. Therefore, collaboration such as this will ensure this legacy continues. It will be an opportunity to share stories and commemorate the grandparents and great-grandparents who fought together.

October 28, though commemorated by us Greek Australians as the day we said ‘OXI’ (NO) to the invading forces of Mussolini and drove them back, unfortunately, it also marked the beginning of the invasion by the Nazi war machine. Greece was about to be plunged into the horror of war. Horrors unimaginable suffered by our parents and grandparents. “Eίθε να μην δείτε ποτέ τέτοιες μέρες” (never may you see days like that) my grandmother would tell me, the worst of humankind laid bare. In that darkness, though, hope and friendship developed. With the eminent German invasion, the ANZACS were sent to Greece from the borders in the north to the final stand in Crete.

Photo: Australian War Memorial.

No other theatre of war blurred the lines between military and civilians more than in Greece. As the chaos descended, Greeks, both women and men, took to fighting as resistance fighters and worked closely with the ANZACS. The ANZACS, as testimonies attest in many military records and photographs currently held by the Australian War Memorial, helped evacuate many men, women and children, many of whose descendants migrated to this country. Many of our families recall those days when they fought for freedom alongside the ANZACS. This is more than a Greek story; this is as much an Australian story, and we should be proud to share our October 28 story to keep its legacy.

On their return, ANZACS never forgot the effort of these civilians, and many were executed and killed to save ANZACS. In the Australian War Memorial, the theatre of Greece and Crete is honoured, and the legacy of the Battle is as it is every ANZAC day.

Photo: Australian War Memorial.

This collaboration marks an event not just for Greek Australians but for all Australians and an opportunity to stand united and commemorate those that paid the ultimate sacrifice, to pause to think of those who survived and ultimately migrated to this country. This is an opportunity to share as Australians a moment in history where our two cultures united in the depth of darkness and rose victorious so we today can have the privileges we enjoy.

This event and collaboration will mark the first of an annual event and a roll-out of future research that will ensure the relevance of OXI Day for all Australians, Greek or otherwise and ensure the Greek-ANZAC legacy will remain relevant for future generations.

And I can only end on the following words: “Until now, we used to say that the Greeks fight like heroes.
Now we shall say: Heroes fight like Greeks” – Winston Churchill on OXI.

Lest we Forget.

More details of this FREE event can be found here: https://soh-events.sydney.edu.au/calendar/aaia-30-10-2022/.

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