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Bougias of Bourke Street

Dean Kalymniou talks about his friend Ilias, the low-key hero of the 20 January tragedy

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Lou Bougias Photo: The Age.

27 January 2017

I want to introduce you to my friend Liako, a member of our community who is proudly of Maniot descent, and with whom all of Melbourne is currently well pleased. Twenty years ago, when I first met him at his parents' house, I was immediately struck by his penetrating eyes, the simplicity of his demeanour and his acerbic sense of humour, which divests you of any pretentions to egotism you may harbour, even unwittingly.

Over the years, we have argued passionately about almost everything, especially Greek politics and history, for, in Liako's world view, everything that needs to be done is settled and crystal clear, whereas for me, everything is nebulous, uncertain and untested. He exudes confidence where I exude doubt, conviction in the face of my indecision. Liako articulates his views with firmness, unyielding, but always listening, appreciating, but never retreating from his deeply-held convictions. Fiercely independent, devoted to his ideals and his family, it is his solidity and stoicism that mark him as true friend, one with whom you can have an intellectually brutal argument over abstruse points of Byzantine history one minute in the small hours of the morning, and the next rely on him for absolutely anything, brushing previously spoken angry words aside, for this a person both of thought and action, a true elemental in the Olympian sense, who can melt the sum of human expression in the crucible of experience, reducing his relationship with people to their fundamentals.

I am unsurprised, therefore, that Liako (known to the populace at large and lionised in the media as Lou Bougias) acted the way he did during the horrifying Bourke Street massacre, stopping his taxi and calmly and confidently attending to victims and those traumatised by what they had seen. For those who know him this is no aberration in behaviour: he acts in this way every single day of his life, for he is deeply imbued with a sense of decency and love of humanity that is expressed subtly and with deep humility.

Consequently, to have had Liako not assist victims in the kind and sensitive way he did would have been perverse. When I spoke to him in the aftermath of the massacre, he was unchanged, curt and considered, though somewhat perturbed by all the publicity he has received and puzzled at the way people have made so much of what he deems to be a simple, logical and natural reaction to the circumstances in which he found himself and acquitted himself with such nobility.

In an age of disquiet, when there are fears that community aggression and dysfunction are increasingly eroding our social fabric, unassuming but extraordinary Liako truly is an urban hero, a righteous role model, and I am both proud and glad to call him a friend.

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