The great divide – Kostas Karamarkos explores the Greek Australian identity

Kostas Karamarkos

They’re almost everywhere. They stroll the streets of the CBD and Melbourne’s suburbs speaking Greek. They frequent various parks where people and children gather. They attend social events, work in the markets or in
restaurants. They are young, single, middle aged and parents. I do not know how many of them have returned to Australia because of the Greek crisis, but clearly their numbers are increasingly visible in Melbourne.

It is estimated that the Australian born Greeks, or Australian citizens of Greek descent who live in Greece with their families number in their tens of thousands. Since the onset of the Greek crisis, more and more of these expatriate Aussies and other Greek nationals are searching for salvation in this country.

Many are highly qualified ready to do whatever it takes in order to earn a living. Some may be more “relaxed”. Others might be culturally alienated or somewhat distant from the Australian way of life and the Australian
work ethics. Either way, the gap between their expectations and work prospects in a difficult and demanding Australian job market is evident, a number of times.

The transformation of the Greek Australian community was addressed in Melbourne at a Community Dialogue organised by La Trobe University. PHOTO: DIMITRIS LEVENTIS.

The transformation of the Greek Australian community was addressed in Melbourne at a Community Dialogue organised by La Trobe University.

What is most noticeable though, is the great divide that separates the new arrivals from Greece from the broader established Greek-Australian community. It is not enough just to be born in Australia, or to be able to identify ones-self as Greek in order to establish a common ground between these two groups.

The new arrivals from Greece have been shaped culturally, intellectually, socially, historically, politically and professionally, in a faraway country and a different way of life. The Greek Australians of second, third and subsequent generations that now make up the majority of the Greek community, make up mostly a heavily Australian influenced community, with Australian, Greek-Australian and Greek cultural, religious and other traditions, modified at an alternate time and under different social and historical circumstances.

Will these two different worlds meet by necessity or by “design”? Do they have to meet? It may be a difficult but not an impossible task, provided they manage to find common ground, where they both can benefit.

Clearly, the established Greek Australian community has the upper hand in this endeavour. The question is whether or not the established “old timers” have the means, skills or the willingness to take the first step in order to meet the “new” migration while enriching their own lives and rejuvenating their own communities.

Australian born Greek “new comers” can offer to the established Greek Australian community a reconnection with present day Greece with an insider’s knowledge of the way the Greek state, businesses and society think, work and operate on a national, European and global level.

It can be to the advantage of the Greek Australian community, if these “insights” and skills of the new comers can be included in our organisational and Greek-Australian community life.

On the other hand, it can be to the advantage of the new comers from Greece, if the established community and its leadership undertakes a well-coordinated effort in order to even partially service, their work, welfare, educational or social requirements.

A challenge of this magnitude can only be taken, as a well-coordinated project by our broader community, welfare and other organisations. The funds needed to support such an effort, may have to be generated through the Greek communities real estate assets that sit idle in various cities around Australia. These assets will probably be lost to worthy or not so worthy charities, once our numerous associations wither away.

However, the response does not need to be from only the Greek-Australian community. Local, state, and federal government agencies need to be involved. Political lobbying can influence decision while alliances with other established migrant communities who have or are facing a similar migratory situation can be explored.