GREEK AUSTRALIANS: AN INTRODUCTION

BY DEMETRA EGAN

Greek migration to Australia dates back to 1827. The vast majority of Greeks migrated to Australia after World War II and between 1945 and 1982, 239,723 arrivals of Greek-born settlers were registered. The 1991 Australian Population Census recorded, on the basis of "language spoken in the home", 274,723 Greek-speaking people. Greeks of Australia, including the Australian-born, (whose first language is English) Greeks from Cyprus, Egypt and some European countries are more correctly estimated to be in excess of 650,000, a figure generally accepted by both Greek and Australian Authorities.

Greek-born residents of Australia constitute the third largest non-English-speaking population (after the Italian and the Vietnamese). Between 1955-1981, 85% of Greeeks migrated to Victoria only and today 47% of Greek-Australians live in Melbourne, which is considered the largest centre of Hellenism outside Greece and the fourth largest Greek city. Of the total of Greek-Australians 49.80% were born in Australia, 39.30% were born in Greece and the remainder in Cyprus, Egypt and other countries.

The Greek Orthodox Church is headed by the Archbishop Stylianos and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand is centred in Sydney. The Greek Embassy is located in Canberra, Australia's capital city, and Greek Consulates are established in the major cities of the seven states and territories of Australia. Some 93% of Greeks who live in Australia state that they have Greek Orthodox affiliation. Australian citizenship has been taken out by 95% of Greek-Australians with residence of 20 years and over, 87.3% with residence between 10-19 years, and 61.6% with residence between 3-9 years.

Greeks in all parts of Australia are extremely well organised socially and politically throughout the country, despite the vastness of the country (Australia is 57 times bigger than Greece with the population of 17.5 million), and the distances seperating the major cities which make communication and close co-operation difficult. They have established community organisations and institutions in all Australian major cities, dating as far back as 1897 when the first Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne was established and the Greek Orthodox Community of Sydney followed the year after. Most Greeks in Australia today belong to a Greek community, cultural, political, educational, or professional organisation and are committed to themaintenance, preservation and promotion of the Greek culture, language and identity in Australia. Their etsablished organisations and institutions, including Greek churches, schools of language and religious instruction, educational and cultural institutes, have constituted the back-bone of the Greek community in Australia and have greatly assisted the settlement and development of successive waves of Greek migration to Australia.

Currently there are 14 elected members of Parliament of Greek descent in both the Federal and State Parliaments of Australia. The Greeks in Australia are recognised as having contributed to Australia's multicultural society, taking a keen interest and involvement in the affairs of the country in which they live. In the Federal Government the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs is Greek, and elected politicians of Greek origin hold high positions in the governments or opposition in the state's parliaments.

The majority of the Greeks maintain traditional families with two or three children and often have aged parents living with them in houses they own or are purchasing. The initial occupational segregation in industrial inner-city suburbs in the early days has gradually given way to expansion and establishment, with increased property ownership, in suburbs of a higher socio-economic status. Improved employment conditions and increased self-employment have also enabled Greeks in Australia to become more active, socially and politically, creating extended networks around the country and improving their contact and involvement with Greece and Cyprus in matters of national importance.

The majority of Greek-born living in Australia today speak Greek even in the workplace, especially the older Greek-born who seem to have limited competence in the use of English. The formal education and qualifications of their children have always been important issues. Greeks have very high hopes and expectations that their children will obtain good results in the Australian education system and consequently will obtain high paying and high status professional jobs. Today, 19% of second generation Greek-Australians between the ages of 25-35, hold university degrees or other tertiary education qualifications. The formal education for Australian-born Greek youth, and their subsequent employment, continue to remain issues of high priority among Greek-Australians.

The modern Greek language is one factor that has served to unite and define the Greek community in Australia. The Greek language print media in Australia number today 53 publications, 30 of which are printed in Melbourne, 16 in Sydney, 5 in Adelaide and 2 in Canberra. (The first Greek newspaper was printed in Melbourne in 1913.) The language used in the media is 38% Greek and 62% a combination of Greek and English. There is no publication by the Greek community printed entirely in English. There are 29 Greek language radio programs; of these 86% of the program content is broadcast in Greek and 14% in English. There are also two television programs in Greek, one by the Special Broadcasting Service (part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and one by a community channel. Two television programs are also received directly from Greece, totalling 2 1/2 hours of daily broadcasting from Greece.

The modern Greek language in Australia is taught through a range of programs at all levels of eduaction, from primary to tertiary. It is taught at government schools and colleges, ethnic schools, including the Greek Orthodox schools and colleges, correspondence schools, Saturday schools of languages, Catholic and independent schools, private language centres and private tuition classes. In the higher education system, Modern Greek courses have been available in the Tertiary and Further Education sector, and for the past 25 years, in Australia universities at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Until 1988, Greek was recorded as having the lowest language shift to English (12%) of any ethnic group in Australia. Some 55,000 students attend Modern Greek classes in Australia today with Modern Greek retaining its popularity as the third, other than English, language in Australia.

Greek cultural life is well developed and manifested through a prolific production in literature and the arts. Greek authors, poets, artists, film makers, and musicians are now well established and recognised by the Australian community at large, having overcome initial resistances of inclusion in areas traditionally considered the preserve of a largely Anglo-Celtic society. Encouraged by Australia's multicultural policies in more recent years Greek cultural activity expanded in more contemporary areas of the arts where a number of Greek origin artists, writers, and musicians have made their mark, although Greek musicians have also made their mark in Australia as composers of classical music. A great number of Greek concerts, art exhibitions, theatre productions, book launches, and literary events take place every year, while the literary production continues undiminished manifesting the Greeks' loyalty to Modern Greek.

The Greeks in Australia today are very different from the migrants of the early years and the post-war period. "Greek immigrants' participation in Australia has developed over 150 years from the short-term ambitions of the early adventurers to the long-term committment of settlers, and Greek-Australians' perception in the mainstream of Australian society, commerce and culture has now reached the point of maturity where they assert their cultural identity from positions of material affluence, political influence and cultural attainment. In parallel with this ascent, their attitudes to language maintenance have transcended the early isolationism and preparation for the promptest possible repatriation, to the point where Modern Greek functions as an assertion of Greek-Australian cultural identity and efforts are made to disseminate knowledge of the language and culture in the host community". (Gauntlett, 1993)

REFERENCES:

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Housing and Population Census, 1991 James Jupp (ed.) Australian People, An Encyclopedia of the Nation, its People and their Origins, Angus & Robertson, NSW, Australia 1988 Hellenic Sudies Forum Inc. "Greeks in English Speaking Countries, Proceedings of the First International Seminar", Melbourne, 1993 High Gilchrist: "Australians and Greeks, Vol. I: The Early Years", Halstead Press, New South Wales, 1992 George Kanarakis, "H Logotexhiki Parousia ton Hellinon stin Afstralia", Idryma Neoellinikon Spoudon, Athens, 1985 A. Kapardis & A. Tamis (eds.), "Afstraliotes Hellenes: Greeks in Australia" A.M. Tamis, S. Gauntlett, "Unlocking Australia's Languages Potential, Profiles of 9 Key Languages in Australia, Vol. 8, Modern Greek", National Languages and Literacy Institute of Australia, Canberra, 1993


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