Photograph, John Owens.
My family came from a village in central Greece near the city of Larisa. Our village was one of the richest in the area because there was a lot of good land nearby. My father had a bit of property and we didn’t have any financial problems. If we’d stayed in Greece we would have been alright but we came here to be with my aunt.
My aunt came to Australia in the early 1950s and we received many letters from her telling us about Australia. In 1962 she visited us and my grandmother decided she wanted to be with her daughter. Likewise my father could not think of living anywhere without his mother so we packed up and came to Australia. We were a family of five: my mum, my dad, my grandmother, my sister and myself. I was 17 years old and my sister was two years younger.
We arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in February 1965. Even the smell was different. Greece is on the Mediterranean and the weather is dry while Fremantle smelt tropical and sticky. I loved it. Travel is in the blood of the Greek people.
My aunt and uncle lived in Clayton South so we came here and this is where we’ve stayed for 35 years.
Coming to Australia was much easier for us than many other migrants because we brought some money with us and we had my uncle and aunt to help us settle in. They had already rented a house for us and I immediately started work on my uncle’s chook farm. There was plenty of work in Melbourne at the time and my parents found jobs in factories. Within a year of arriving in Australia we bought our own house with the money we brought from overseas.
The most difficult thing for me was learning English. I was too old to go to school so I went to night classes for four or five hours a week for many years.
When it came to building my own house, I could have built it anywhere in Victoria but I chose Clayton South because this is where I grew up. I know many people here and we have made our own community. I feel I have a bond with this area.
When Greeks go to a strange country our nature is always to get together and build little communities so that we don’t feel lost. Wherever we go we try to bring culture and community with us because people from a country with as much history as Greece want to preserve their culture. We like to build our own churches and schools and create something to leave for our children.
We had a Greek Orthodox church in Oakleigh but that was too far away so we built a little church in Bevan Avenue, South Clayton. Next to it we built a hall where people can gather. The church and hall have been there for 27 years now and they are an important part of the Greek community in this area.
Many Greek Australians are getting older now. The church is a place for elderly people to get together as well as go on picnics and outings. My father couldn’t speak English so it was important for him to go somewhere to meet other Greeks.
Years ago when we started our Saturday Greek language school we had about 300 students. Now we are down to about 100 children from second and third generations. My oldest son went to Greek classes and can read, write and speak the language. My other two children know some Greek but they don’t really like to speak it.
Greek people do not migrate to Australia now. Second, third and fourth generation Greeks - Australian Greeks - have other needs. The Greek community is not as important to them as it was for us. My son has friends from all over the world: China, Uruguay, Argentina. In Australia, everybody seems to mould together and that is a very good thing. There is racism but people can still talk together, work together, live together and sometimes even share culture.
When we first came to Australia, we hoped to stay for four or five years and then go back to Greece. It was everybody’s dream to return to Greece. But those five years became 35 and we are still here. I have been back to visit Greece about five times since we left. I always look forward to going back and when I get close to my village I am trembling as I remember my young days running around and working the fields.
But after four or five weeks I always tell my wife its time to go home. Home! I feel that my life is where my family lives. I was 17 when I left Greece and I have lived here for 35 years. You tell me which is my country.
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