Come find yourself
Thomas Andronas and Hellenic Museum Director Vicki Yianoulatos, delve into the history of the Greek community at the State Library in Victoria
Even before John Batman strode ashore from the Rebecca in 1835 to establish the city of Melbourne, there was a Greek link to the town.
Tucked away somewhere in his luggage was a copy of Homer's Odyssey. Undoubtedly a source of inspiration and courage for pioneers such as Batman, his copy now rests - signed in his own hand - in the State Library of Victoria.
It's the only book in the State collection that was previously owned by the founder of the city, and it happens to have been written by a Greek.
Last week Neos Kosmos joined the Director of the Hellenic Museum Vicki Yianoulatos, as she was taken on a behind the scenes tour of the State Library's Greek holdings, which span hundreds of years of European and local history.
Ms Yianoulatos is now in talks with the Library to design a program of collaboration between the Hellenic Museum and the State Library, in order to better enable the Greek community access to this vast historical record of itself.
"Something like this means so much to people like us," says Ms Yianoulatos, "people who are stuck in this quagmire of, 'are we Greek, or are we Australian?'"
The State Library's collection of materials relating to the Melbourne Greek community is expansive. It ranges from some of the oldest existing printed Greek texts, to photographic archives and homegrown poetry from more recent times.
Most importantly, most people don't realise the collection exists.
Being led through the Library's cavernous halls and into the heart of its Greek-focused collection by Executive Director Michael van Leeuwen and Rare Printed Collections Manager Des Cowley, is a strangely moving experience. Laying eyes and hands on the centuries-old Greek-focused books is truly special.
One of the oldest and most important texts in the Library's Greek holdings, dates back to the 1490s.
'The Works of Aristotle' was among the first books in the world to be commercially printed in Greek typeface. It was produced in Italy by Venetian printer Aldus Manutius in 1495, and can be viewed and read at the State Library.
"Where Manutius made all of his money was actually printing in Greek, all of the classic Greek texts," Mr Cowley says. "All the students in Italy at the time, doing their Classical education, were actually reading people like Aristotle and Plato in Latin."
Manutius had the idea of returning to the source, so he began to print all the classical works in their original form.
"It was a huge task because…he had to get letters cut and set in metal to be able to typeset it, letter by letter. Then he had to get compositors that could actually do all that work, he had to get proofreaders - a whole army of Greek people working for him," Mr Cowley says.
The Library also has in its collection a swathe of historical records from the period of The Grand Tour - when well to do Britons and Frenchmen would travel to Greece and Italy in pursuit of classical enlightenment.
This was the period in which classicism became trendy, and treasured.
One such work is The Antiquities of Athens by James Stuart, written and illustrated in five volumes. It documents every classical building and sculpture still standing in Athens in 1794, and has helped shape our understanding of what buildings such as the Parthenon looked like, pre-Elgin.
Another important work is the catalogue of William Hamilton's art collection - a massive four-volume work that documents each piece in his collection as a hand-coloured, pressed engraving.
There's also a 1574 atlas by Abraham Ortelius, one of the first atlases printed in book form.
Perhaps the peak in the crown of the Library's Enlightenment period collection is the Flora Graeca, or The Plants of Greece, a gloriously detailed account of a horticultural study conducted by John Sibthorp and Ferdinand Bauer in the 1780s.
According to Mr Cowley, Bauer provides another very early historical link between Greece and the state of Victoria. Bauer was both the illustrator of the Flora Graeca and the botanical artist who sailed with Captain Matthew Flinders aboard the Investigator, to survey the Australian coastline in 1801.
"This is one of ten volumes, and it was only published in 25 copies. It was the most expensive botanical book ever produced," Mr Cowley says.
"We bought it 1930. We were really lucky to be able to get one because it's one of the rarest of all botanical books. We paid a fair bit but it was worth it because one hasn't come on the market ever," he says.
The Library's passion for classical works, and its belief in the importance of studying them, stems from its founder Sir Redmond Barry. Sir Redmond is inextricably tied to the foundation of Melbourne, not least for presiding as judge over the trials of Ned Kelly and the miners at the Eureka Stockade.
"He wanted to raise the education standard of Victorians," Mr Cowley says. "One Journalist commented when the library opened, that there were walls and walls of classical learning, from Greece and Rome…which of course the average punter in Victoria had no interest in."
"There was nothing on sport and no popular novels in the Library's collection," he says.
Beyond the library's classical holdings, there is a seemingly endless archive of local Greek community materials.
Among them, the State Library has every copy of every major Greek community newspaper printed, since printing began. All are available, either in original or digital formats, for public viewing.
Flicking through one, a beautiful broadsheet called the National Bugle from the 1920s, uncovers the daily existence of some of the earliest Greek migrants to Melbourne. Births, deaths, marriages, festivals and politics - nothing really changes.
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