Unneeded and deserted buildings thrown into decline

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

In the beginning, the historic Communities of the Hellenes (Greeks and Cypriots) were founded and operated, one in each State capital city of Australia. Concurrently the pre-war islander colonies of Kytherians, Kastellorizians and Ithacans were also established.

Back then, the pre-war Hellenism of Australia did not exceed 15,000-17,000 souls. Then came the post-war migration and settlement of  270,000 Hellenes. They arrived and settled without systemic order, without a designed program, without infrastructure.

The Greeks of the pre-war period, and their community institutions, displayed little interest towards their welfare. Most treated them with prejudice, perhaps even with hostility. They did not welcome them as their compatriots. They assessed them as socially inferior.

Most of the Greeks of the pre-war period, after all, were not economic migrants and did not belong to any government-control immigration program. Most were curious merchants, certain deprived businessmen, restaurateurs, café owners; Many of them were literate, some were adventurers, others were gold diggers, others were people who had already made their own history in Egypt and in eastern European countries.

The Greeks of the pre-war period had structured their organization on a class basis. They had the middle bourgeoisie, the stakeholders, the restaurateurs, and merchants, the educated who also wrote in the English-language newspapers.

The Greek immigrants of the post-war period were agrarians and proletarians, unskilled and untrained labourers. People of hard work, thrift in spending, trying to amass some savings to accomplish their dream. To raise and house their family, to educate their children. There was no middle class, there were few literate people, even fewer stakeholders, and patrons.

The vast majority of them were unskilled labourers. They were lacking people to guide them, to formulate a program, a strategy for their future. They were devoted Orthodox faithful, they worshipped their homeland, especially their village, and were keenly interested in the Greek education for their children, what they had been deprived of. That’s it. They built humble temples, erected economic buildings according to their financial ability. They also constructed or acquired some halls, after renting them for their social events. They too were poor buildings, in which they attributed great names, “Parthenon”, “Olympus”, etc.

After the first twenty years, when they overcame the stone years of survival, after 1975, and for the next twenty-thirty years, recklessly, without a program, without understanding of the future, they began to be dominated by parochial chauvinism. They began creating their associations, fraternities, organizations, ramparts, and fortresses for their specific villages; thus, satisfying their social needs and egos.

They were rightly overwhelmed by the desire and passion to guard the local customs, to promote the local customs, to meet each other, to socialize and create an opportunity to marry their children. And together with the genesis of their clubs, and with the hard work and the human face of volunteerism, they bought houses, shops, buildings, and halls to accommodate their communal organizations. They were captivated by the idea of privately owned, by the illusion of the property ownership.

THE BRICKOMANIA

It is true that this epidemic crisis of brickomania that dominated the community life of the Greeks (1975-2005), also substantially united them. The effort to pay off the debt, forced them to collaborate, to keep their clubs and of course to have the opportunity to argue, quarrel and project divisive practices.

The primary purpose of each president was not simply the harmony between the members,  but the acquisition of housing. And success was not considered to be the service of the members, neither the provision of culture, or the provision of entertainment to the members, but to what extent the income of the association increased in the “bouko” of the bank (passbook of deposits).

And then all those who ruled and all those who acter as recipients and members of these services were only young, at their forties, in their fifties. They still had stamina to quarrel, resilience  to fight, compelling with their mode of behavior, prospective young members to abstain from being members and successors. 

AGEING

After 2010, when fifty years passed since the first mass migration and those who were born in the thirties were by now eighty-year-old, severe ageing and decline began. Almost 93% of Greek immigrants were born from 1920-1949. In 2021 their average age was 83-84 years old. In 2032, the average year span will rise to 93 years old (how many of the 270,000 immigrants will be fortunate to live until their 93rd birthday?).

Ageing has brought the forced emergence of nursing homes (I call them leprosy islands, a lucrative operation of a burial vestibule), along with the devastations of the community organizations, their inability of the aged members to meet, and in several cases having the ambulances  stationed outside the meeting offices. 

Ageing also prevented the functions of the General Assemblies. There were no quorum in most cases and thus not deliberations, as less than 50-60 tired, and dug from life, ageing members of the generation of the 1930s, and 1940s attended.

Postponement of meetings everywhere, cancellation of meetings, inability to take decisions. The decline appeared with the face of levelling our clubs. Many of them have two and three years to convene. The mass weddings of the 1960s and 1970s were replaced now by mass funerals and memorial services. Wedding and christening shops were replaced by funeral parlors. The sale of houses and blocks of land was replaced with sales of tombs in luxurious cemeteries, and indeed as the advertisement emphasized three years ago, “blessed plots by the hand of our Archbishop…”.

THE DESERTED BUILDINGS

If we exclude the building complexes of our Greek and Cypriot Communities, the buildings of our Orthodox Archdiocese, including the churches, if we exclude our day schools with their facilities, the nursing homes, the social welfare organizations of Hellenism and several large associations that have strong self-municative and autonomous financial budgets, such as the Greek Clubs, the buildings of our associations and fraternities are in the process of sublimation, of leveling.

Only buildings of organizations that provide services and create relationships of dependence of the operator with the receiving members, that is, those who accept the services, will be able to be kept in the coming years. Only these buildings of the institutions of dependency with the base of members, and those Greek and Cypriot institutions subsidized by the state coffers, will survive. Only buildings that receive annual grants from the Government for the work carried out will be able to stand the test of time.

What about most buildings and properties belonging to the community associations and fraternities: The geometrical ageing of Hellenism has brought the abandonment of buildings, their desolation. Bats and spiders, grassy doors, windows that have been stuck by time in their crates, floors that have now sunk from uselessness, buildings that enter water and air.

Most of these buildings remain in ruins,  because their restoration, or their renovation so that they can finally at least be rented and bring about income for their beneficiaries, requires spending tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some dare and move on, respecting their institutions. They renovate and rent them. Others, most of them, live with the state of inaction. Some leave buildings in decline because they have in mind some selfish appetites. Some rent them to then benefit the few remaining members.

These buildings belong to the Diaspora, because these buildings were bought and paid with the obolus of the Omogenia. It is the property of the Greeks of Australia. The destiny of these properties must be the subject of deep thought, of wise reflection. Their temporary owners should try to put the common interest above their own personal benefit and their egos and transfer these properties to those foundations and organizations that will continue in the future.

The institutions that have continuity and mission in the years to come are the historical Greek Orthodox Communities in the capitals of the States. The Communities are mother feeder of the historical structure and well-being of Hellenism.

The historical Communities must accept the donation of the buildings and as a consideration and in return to create new services of offer to the Hellenes and their children. They should create numerous pre-school centers, bilingual centers in many suburbs, also bilingual kindergartens and child-minding centers, sports academies, schools of theatre and choir for young people, a cultural centre with demands – theatres, cinema, Members’ Clubs with prestige and status, not gambling and card-playing centers.

Naturally, such a decision is difficult, because we Greeks by nature are competitive, narcissists, mainly suspicious and uncompromising. That is why we created democracy, so that we can all be in charge…

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).

READ MORE: Returning after decades of silence

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