Opinion: How can giagia and pappou support a younger generation of Greeks to preserve our culture in Australia?

Photo: Supplied /Tania Koumanelis/George Nikolakopoulos

As we all follow the natural progression of life, we find ourselves passing on knowledge and cultural customs as we welcome new generations into the world.

For many young Greek-Australians, the understanding of their Greek identity comes from their generational predecessors who shared their stories and native tongue amongst many other cultural tidbits.

NUGAS Socio-Cultural Officer and President of VUGS Tania Koumanelis and committee member of both NUGAS and MHSS George Nikolakopoulos share their thoughts on how our Greek elders can continue to support the preservation of Greek culture on Australian shores.

As a third-generation Greek growing up in Australia, I always took great pride in my Greek heritage and this can be mainly attributed to the guidance of my giagiades and pappoudes, who taught me all about our language, culture, heritage and also to be proud of who I am and where we came from.

The fact that the first-generation Greeks could come to a completely new country with no previous Greek influence and establish such a prevalent community that even to this day is still alive is astounding. As I get older, I am observing that we are becoming so disjointed from the first-generation Greeks and we need to nurture this relationship so we can learn from them.

For the older generations to help us continue to preserve Greek culture it’s important to acknowledge the differences that show up over generations. Naturally with each subsequent generation speaking less and less Greek at home, this is contributing to the decline of the Greek language in Australia. This means that much of the Greek youth are losing interest in the educational aspects of the Greek language including reading and writing and tend to feel more connected to their roots through cultural ties through food and music.

The older generations would be able to build a relationship with the youth through sharing recipes or even stories of their experiences of living in Greece and moving to Australia. If our elders were to share their experiences and how they were able to maintain such a strong sense of patriotism on Australian shores, we may be able to learn from those experiences and adapt them to suit our needs as subsequent generations.

As a third generation Greek-Australian, in all honesty I find it quite amazing that I, along with many others my age in a similar position, have managed to maintain such a high connection with Greek culture and traditions. This is no doubt due to the role that our elders have played in preserving and sharing their Greek culture on Australian shores.

I have very fond memories growing up of my giagiades and pappoudes telling me stories of how they came to Australia. Whilst no two stories were the same, each followed a similar theme; that being, whilst they came to Australia for a better life, there has never been one day in which they have forgotten their homeland. This shines through in everything that they do; whether that be cooking, listening to 3XY radio, watching Greek TV shows and movies or teaching me to play backgammon.

We find ourselves in a very different world now than our giagiades and pappoudes did 50- odd years ago when they first came to Australia. Now, Australia is multicultural and kids my age don’t necessarily have such a strong tie to Greece as they once had. In saying this, however, the mere existence of our giagiades and pappoudes in itself is the reason that our Greek culture and influence has survived across three generations. Knowing their struggles, living their stories, hearing their language; these are the things that have preserved and continue to preserve the Greek culture in Australia. They have done an exemplary job so far in keeping the Greek culture alive and this shines through.

Many of the second generation Greek-Australians grew up speaking Greek as a first or second language, we continue to have Greek Schools in operation for third generation Greeks onwards to learn the Greek ways, the university Greek clubs and NUGAS are still running strong; this is all directly attributable to our elders and their fight to keep the Greek culture alive and relevant, and we must commend them for their efforts.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that this great generation will one day be unable to directly touch and influence the lives of future generations as they have done so with ours. However, it is for this reason that we must not let their efforts be in vain. As they have done all they could to help preserve and share the Greek culture in second to third generation Greek-Australians, I endeavour to hopefully one day do the same with my children and grandchildren to ensure that Hellenism in Australia stays forever strong.