AHC

The Australian Hellenic Community

Who are Australian Hellenes?

“Hellenes” are those people who identify with the Hellenic language and culture, regardless of birthplace. Whilst the greater proportion of Hellene migrants to Australia originated from the areas that now constitute the Hellenic Republic (commonly known as Greece), substantial numbers arrived from countries such as Cyprus, the former Soviet Union, and Egypt as well as the territories that now constitute the Republic of Turkey. Smaller groups of Hellenes have come from New Zealand, South Africa, Israel/Palestine and Romania.

Origins

The Australian Hellenic community traditionally dates its origins to 27 August 1829. On that day, seven young men who had been convicted of piracy, arrived in Port Jackson aboard the Norfolk. Two years earlier, these sailors from the Aegean island of Hydra, in the Saronic Gulf, west of Athens, had stopped the Alceste (a Maltese owned British vessel) in the waters south of Krete and taken some items they thought would be useful. The British vessel had been transporting supplies to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, then in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Antonis Manolis, Damianos Ninis, Ghikas Voulgaris, Georgios Vasilakis, Konstantinos Stroumboulis, Nikolaos Papandreou and Georgios Laritsos were not pirates, but pallikarria, freedom fighters in the Hellenic War of Independence. They were fighting for the freedom of Hellas from the Ottoman Empire.

The seven Hellenes were assigned to various settlers around the Sydney colony. Setting the model for the hundreds of thousands of Hellenes who followed them, the Hydran sailors used the skills learnt in their island-home to develop and enhance what became their new home.

Following their pardon in December 1836, five elected to return to a now independent Hellenic Kingdom. Ghikas Voulgaris and his Irish-born wife, Mary Lyons, became pioneer settler-graziers in the Monaro district of south-eastern NSW. He lies today in the Old Nimmitabel Cemetery, an alpine town near Cooma. His descendants bear names like Bulgary, Macfarlane, McDonald and Stewart and are scattered across the globe. His shipmate Antonis Manolis spent his remaining years in the Picton district of New South Wales, south-west of Sydney. Dying heirless, he lies in the town’s Old Anglican Cemetery, overlooking the fields he had cultivated for decades.

The first female Hellene settler to reach the Antipodes was born Aikaterine Plessos in the Epiros region of north-western Hellas. Like so many Hellenic women who followed her, it was her husband’s career path that brought her to the Harbour City. Raised by her mother in the regional capital, Ioannina, her extraordinary life included being betrothed to Dr Ioannis Kolettis (a future Prime Minister of the Hellenic Kingdom), meeting Lord Byron in the town of Mesolonghi, fleeing to the British-occupied Ionian Islands, marrying a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo (Major James H. Crummer), moving to England, Ireland and then the colony of New South Wales and outliving her husband and nine of their eleven children. Between her husband’s death in 1867 and her own on 8 August 1907, Catherine Crummer lived in the Kings Cross area of eastern Sydney. She lies today in a family grave in Waverley Cemetery.

Who are Australian Hellenes?

“Hellenes” are those people who identify with the Hellenic language and culture, regardless of birthplace. Whilst the greater proportion of Hellene migrants to Australia originated from the areas that now constitute the Hellenic Republic (commonly known as Greece), substantial numbers arrived from countries such as Cyprus, the former Soviet Union, and Egypt as well as the territories that now constitute the Republic of Turkey. Smaller groups of Hellenes have come from New Zealand, South Africa, Israel/Palestine and Romania.

Origins

The Australian Hellenic community traditionally dates its origins to 27 August 1829. On that day, seven young men who had been convicted of piracy, arrived in Port Jackson aboard the Norfolk. Two years earlier, these sailors from the Aegean island of Hydra, in the Saronic Gulf, west of Athens, had stopped the Alceste (a Maltese owned British vessel) in the waters south of Krete and taken some items they thought would be useful. The British vessel had been transporting supplies to the Egyptian port of Alexandria, then in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Antonis Manolis, Damianos Ninis, Ghikas Voulgaris, Georgios Vasilakis, Konstantinos Stroumboulis, Nikolaos Papandreou and Georgios Laritsos were not pirates, but pallikarria, freedom fighters in the Hellenic War of Independence. They were fighting for the freedom of Hellas from the Ottoman Empire.

The seven Hellenes were assigned to various settlers around the Sydney colony. Setting the model for the hundreds of thousands of Hellenes who followed them, the Hydran sailors used the skills learnt in their island-home to develop and enhance what became their new home.

Following their pardon in December 1836, five elected to return to a now independent Hellenic Kingdom. Ghikas Voulgaris and his Irish-born wife, Mary Lyons, became pioneer settler-graziers in the Monaro district of south-eastern NSW. He lies today in the Old Nimmitabel Cemetery, an alpine town near Cooma. His descendants bear names like Bulgary, Macfarlane, McDonald and Stewart and are scattered across the globe. His shipmate Antonis Manolis spent his remaining years in the Picton district of New South Wales, south-west of Sydney. Dying heirless, he lies in the town’s Old Anglican Cemetery, overlooking the fields he had cultivated for decades.

The first female Hellene settler to reach the Antipodes was born Aikaterine Plessos in the Epiros region of north-western Hellas. Like so many Hellenic women who followed her, it was her husband’s career path that brought her to the Harbour City. Raised by her mother in the regional capital, Ioannina, her extraordinary life included being betrothed to Dr Ioannis Kolettis (a future Prime Minister of the Hellenic Kingdom), meeting Lord Byron in the town of Mesolonghi, fleeing to the British-occupied Ionian Islands, marrying a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo (Major James H. Crummer), moving to England, Ireland and then the colony of New South Wales and outliving her husband and nine of their eleven children. Between her husband’s death in 1867 and her own on 8 August 1907, Catherine Crummer lived in the Kings Cross area of eastern Sydney. She lies today in a family grave in Waverley Cemetery.

Early Organisations

Early Organisations

Once a sufficient number of Hellenes had arrived in the Australian colonies, communities began to form. The Greek Orthodox Community of New South Wales (GOC) was established in 1898, the Harbour City’s oldest Hellenic organisation. A year later, the Greek Orthodox Community of Victoria was born. It was the need for their own house of worship that served as the trigger for their formation. A combined effort of Hellenic and Arabic-speaking Orthodox faithful produced the oldest Orthodox Church in the southern hemisphere: Ayia Triada (Holy Trinity), Bourke Street, Surry Hills.

The first resident Orthodox priest in Australia was despatched by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Born in the town of Maidos on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Father Serapheim Phokas took up the position at Ayia Triada.

A steady flow of migrants, mostly from Megisti (Castellorizo), Kythera and other islands of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, arrived in Sydney but largely scattered to rural centres around New South Wales and Queensland. Chain migration was the dominant factor so new arrivals would join relations or compatriots in established businesses.

The second decade of the Twentieth Century was a time of great turmoil for the Australian Hellenic community. Hellenism became embroiled in a series of conflicts that lasted for many years and impacted immensely on Hellenes worldwide: the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War One (1914-1918) and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). In relatively close contact with their loved ones in the eastern Mediterranean, Sydney’s Hellenes responded to the call for aid. A small number returned to their places of birth to enlist in the Hellenic armed forces. Others chose to enlist in the armed forces of their adopted homeland, serving on the battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula, the Western Front and elsewhere. Large sums of money and quantities of supplies were also assembled by the Sydney Hellenic community and despatched to the families they had left behind.

It was in the inter-war period that the first regional associations appeared. Formed by migrants from particular locales in the Hellenic World, they served multiple purposes including settlement services for new arrivals and a social network. The first one to emerge was the Kytherian Association (1922), identifying with the Ionian island of Kythera (between the Hellenic mainland and Krete). Two years later, the Castellorizian Club (1924) was founded by settlers from the easternmost of the Aegean islands, Megisti (better known as Castellorizo). About the same time, the Ithacan Brotherhood appeared, followed in 1929 by the Cyprus Community of NSW. Similar bodies were established at about the same time in other major metropolitan centres.

This foundation of these organisations also informs researchers of the patterns of migration and settlement of Hellenes in the Greater Sydney Region. That there were enough migrants from these particular islands to form such bodies illustrates the ‘chain migration’ phenomenon.

The Australian-born generation began to emerge at this time, favouring the professions over business. As noted by The Argus, by the mid-1920s, Sydney’s Hellenes were “becoming strong enough numerically to be noticeable as a well-defined section of the community”.  Examples include George Takhmindzis became the first Australian Hellene graduate in medicine from The University of Sydney in 1922. Two years later, C Don Service (Servitopoulos) was admitted to practice as a solicitor. Also in that decade, the first professional diplomatic representative, His Excellency Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, was despatched from Athens. This was partly a response to Australia’s support during the years of conflict in Europe and the genocide in the Near East, as well as a response to the growing size of the Australian Hellenic community. Mr Chrysanthopoulos established Australia’s oldest Hellenic diplomatic mission, in Sydney, in 1926.

Australian Orthodoxy

Australian Orthodoxy

In many ways, the pattern of settlement of Hellenes in Australia, can be charted by the creation of Orthodox churches between the first one in 1898 and the latest one in 2008. Beyond the religious aspects, the Orthodox churches serve as communal focal points: secular functions such as commemorations of historic events, departures of tour groups, birthday parties and others are held either in cooperation with the parish or in the church hall. In March 1924, the Oecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), assumed jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox churches in the Antipodes. Dr Christophoros Knitis, Metroplitan of Serres, a city in eastern Macedonia, was appointed the first Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand, with a flock of little more than 5,000 persons.

Four years later, Metropolitan Christophoros was transferred to Hellas, to his home island of Samos. Father Theophylaktos Papathanasopoulos was appointed Patriarchal Representative. It was not until 1931 that the post of Metropolitan would be filled, with the election of Father Timotheos Evangelinides as the second Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand. He arrived on 28 January 1932 and served in this post until 1947.

This time of metamorphosis for Australian Hellenes as a whole was mirrored in the changes the Orthodox church in the Antipodes also underwent. The third Metropolitan of Australia and New Zealand, Theophylaktos Papathanasopoulos, was elected on 22 April 1947. He served until his tragic passing in an automobile accident on 2 August 1958. His successor was Bishop Ezekiel Tsoukalas of Nazianzo, Assistant Bishop of the Archdiocese of America. Elected in February 1959, he arrived in Sydney on 27 April. A few months later, the Metropolis of Australia and New Zealand was elevated to the status of Archdiocese, with Sydney as its seat. A distinct Metropolis of New Zealand was created in January 1970, due to the practicalities of ecclesiastical administration.

Archbishop Ezekiel was promoted by the Oecumenical Patriarchate to the Metropolis of Pisidia in August 1974. The Holy Synod elected Metropolitan Stylianos (Harikianakis) of Miletoupolis as the second Archbishop of Australia on 3 February 1975. Following his arrival on 15 April, Archbishop Stylianos was officially enthroned on 26 April.

Mass migration

Mass migration

Between 1950 and 1973, an estimated 200,000 Hellenes settled in the Antipodes. The diverse range of travel documents they used in making their way here, makes it difficult to precisely determine their numbers; this is however a fairly safe estimate.

This was the time of the community’s most rapid expansion and development, as a myriad of churches, afternoon schools, athletic and theatrical groups, as well as regional brotherhoods, were created. While some have since disbanded, many are still operating or have merged with others to form larger bodies.

Alongside the parishes, afternoon and Saturday schools sprang up. The migrant generation was keen for its Australian-born offspring to develop fluency in the Hellenic language as well as an understanding of the history and culture of the ‘mother’ country.

In a pattern very familiar to other European migrants, the communal life of Australian Hellenes revolved around the church and its affiliate institutions, and the regional brotherhoods. Each one of these bodies was constituted by migrants from a particular region of the Hellenic World, often with one particular district! It was within these bodies and through their functions, that the regional identities and dialects continued to be developed. Activities such as dinner-dances, picnics, excursions, theatrical performances and folkloric dance troupes served to maintain the distinct regional cultures and dialects so far from their origins.

Amongst the most significant initiatives of the post-war period have been the foundation of a number of key Orthodox educational institutions in the Great South Land:


In 1999 the Archdiocese announced the formation of the Millenium Choir, a specially-recruited 200-voice ensemble, to perform at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games and the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Sydney. It was the first time since the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 that the Olympic Hymn had been sung in the original Hellenic. The symbolism was striking: a choir largely of Australian-born Hellenes, singing in Hellenic, in Sydney, in the last Olympic Games of the 20th century, with the first Olympic Games of the new millennium to be held in Athens, four years later. The names of all the volunteers (including the Choir members) are now on display outside the Olympic Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park.

Repatriation and Emigration

Repatriation and Emigration

The early 1980s saw two monumental events in Hellas dramatically influence the Sydney Hellenic community. First, the Hellenic Republic joined the European Economic Community as a full member. Second, the first socialist government in the history of the modern Hellenic state was elected. These twin events initiated a period of political and economic stability in Hellas unprecedented in the modern history of Hellenism. Only a decade later, Hellas would become a magnet for economic and political migrants from eastern Europe and the western Asia.

This epoch of prosperity impacted greatly on Sydney’s Hellenic community as the prevailing trend of migration was reversed and developed into repatriation of migrants and emigration of their Australian-born children. Today, Hellas is home to the second largest Australian Diaspora community in the world, some 135,000 citizens; only the United Kingdom is home to more Australian citizens!

Present and Future

Present and Future

As the migrant generation ages and passes away, an increasing number of Hellenic community organisations are faced with dwindling membership and participation. In particular, organisations based around regional affiliations in the Hellenic World (islands, mountain districts, countries other than Hellas and Cyprus) are facing up to the fact that the Australian-born generations do not place a high priority on involvement in such groups.

According to the 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census, barely 20 per cent of the Australian Hellenic community today is of the migrant generation (55 years and over). Many existing community organisations are based on affiliations that are not a priority to their Australian-born children.

The world wide web has a large number of sites catering to the Australian Hellenic community. Amongst the most popular and prominent are Greek City, SBS Radio, O Kosmos and Neos Kosmos. These not only provide fora for news from the exchange of views, they also serve a major role of binding together individuals and groups who (literally) live thousands of kilometres apart and yet are within the same country. A glance at such websites provides an insight into the diverse collection of people the Australian Hellenic community has evolved into.

Younger Australian Hellenes, most of whom have parents from different parts of the Hellenic World or have only one parent of Hellenic descent, either lose all contact with the community or associate with what may be described as ‘Pan-Hellenic’ organisations such as the Archdiocese; the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria; the Order of AHEPA Australasia; South Melbourne Football Club, Sydney Olympic and other athletic organizations; and similar groups. A number of professional bodies have also emerged, such as the Australian Hellenic Educators’ Association and the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HACCI).

Other Resources

Other Resources

 

Hellenism’s Contribution to Australia.

Keynote address by the President of the Australian Hellenic Council, Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, on the occasion of the 7 th Annual Nike Awards Dinner held in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, on Monday, 24 June 2002.

Greek Australians: In their Own Image

Instigated by photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski in 1982, the In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians project is attempting a detailed documentation of the historical and contemporary presence of Greek-Australians in both Australia and Greece.



Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom (Ayia Sophia) South Dowling Street, Paddington Built 1927

Gravesite of an early Greek settler pioneer - Antonios Manolis, arrived 1827.Buried in the Old Anglican Cemetery, Picton, NSW

Detail of Gravesite of Antonios Manolis