Piracy to politics: Greeks down under

Among the first Greek immigrants to Australia were 19th century pirates captured by the British navy and sent out to the new colonies, and sailors who jumped ship in Australian ports to seek their fortunes in the country’s newly discovered gold fields. When mass immigration from Greece to Australia ceased in the mid-1970s, a large, vital community of over 400,000 (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001) had been established. It included members of the country’s political, financial, business educational and cultural establishment. A Greek member of Australia’s academic community has authored a well-researched introduction to the history of the country’s second-largest ethnic minority (after the Italians). «The Greeks in Australia» (Cambridge University Press, 2005) by Professor Anastasios Myrodis Tamis, director of the National Center for Hellenic Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, is an interesting account of how a people with few resources and living under abject conditions, having known nothing but oppression and neglect in their own war-torn country, could inject vigor into their adopted society at the other end of the Earth. Tamis knows his subject well. The co-author, with Dr Efrosini Gavaki of Concordia University in Canada, of «From Migrants to Citizens: The Greek Migration to Australia and Canada,» he begins «The Greeks in Australia» with an historical background of the conditions in 19th century Greece that led to the beginnings of emigration, and traces subsequent waves over the following century and a half. Tamis describes how, while remaining true to their own language and cultural traditions, Greek immigrants to Australia adapted fairly quickly to the new way of life, particularly the younger generation, despite a degree of hostility and suspicion on the part of the host society in the early years, and later, cultural and social conflicts with their Australian-born children. «Contemporary Greek settlers possess the highest percentage of naturalized citizenship of all ethnic groups and most… are competent bilinguals,» writes Tamis. The book also focuses on the significant role played by the Church in community affairs and in teaching the Greek language, and Tamis explores the divisions that have arisen between the Church Hierarchy and community organizations that until the postwar era of mass migration played a major role in organizing Greek immigrants. Tamis’s sound academic background and good narrative skills could have benefited, however, from tighter copyediting. While spelling mistakes such as «Piza,» «Zangrep,» «Dodekanese» and «Syrolibanese» and oversights such as Leghorn and Livorno (English and Italian names for the same town) both appearing on a list of towns with Greek communities, do not detract from the book’s readability, they are a distraction. Meanwhile, prominent Greek Australians such as actress Chantal Contouri might not appreciate seeing their names misspelt (in this case as «Shandell Koundouris»).