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Hellenism 2221: Tales from the antipodes

'The Centre'

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A futuristic Cross # Tower in Seoul, South Korea.

12 January 2018

The House Unit's Transport jets fired intermittently. Its guidance system had secured a landing square and was now positioning itself in the correct line. All around it hundreds of others mirrored its movements. The manoeuvres were simple but the sight of HUTs jostling in the morning sky was impressive. It had become an iconic image, the symbol of this modern age.

They began their descent to the Lonsdale Russell Landing Hub.

This area of Melbourne was always busy but pedestrian landings were greater this year. It was the 400-year anniversary of the independence of 1821 and the original Hellenic Centre was located here. To celebrate, it was offering a series of events; retro authentic lectures, real dinner dances and virtual reality walks in the CBD of the first migrants' era.

Education Sequences were also continuing as normal. As the building had come to life so had this area.

Seconds after landing, the HUTs' darkened quartz glass doors opened. Out stepped men and women, young and old. From all over Victoria they came. Most turned to walk to The Hellenic Centre. To the naked eye they were all dressed the same way; white material chiton and cape garments. But no-one now saw with the naked eye. No-one now saw the world as it was. Natural vision mode was tedious; a simple view of what was physically there.

Sophisticated mode was far more relevant.

It tailored what you saw and heard based on your preferences: vision beamed directly to lenses soldered onto the iris and sound transferred to headphone implants in the earlobes. Microphones installed in the larynx allowed secure and direct speech. The world was individualised to life more than ever before.

They walked into the foyer of the Hellenic Centre and a hologram greeted them by explaining the history of the Greek community in Melbourne. It told the story of multiple waves of migrants forced to leave Greece during times of war and depression. Of a people who loved their homeland, a people desperate to keep their traditions and their connections, a people who formed clubs to bring themselves together. Of glorious dinner dances and magnificent celebrations. But of a continual decline; as they passed; as links dulled; as descent became lost in time and intermarriage. And it told of the great transition. Of when clubs transformed from social organisations for their members only, into beacons of Hellenism, repositories of knowledge existing to educate and enlighten all; firstly as separate bodies presenting highlights of their region but later together, as a coordinated body forever true to the hearts of the long departed first migrants. Echoing their words. Speaking their names. Championing their loves.

Four people entered an elevator. And each voiced a destination.

A middle-aged lady voiced 13. And the elevator responded. 'Enhancement 13 – proudly funded by the Hellenism Foundation – Crete Legacy.' And all around her, pictures of the men and women of the Pancretan Association and the Cretan Brotherhood played. And in her ears she heard about the creation of these clubs in 1972 and 1956; of their achievements, of their struggles, and of their notable members.

She had selected this educational module because of her interest in music but had come to understand a people and a way of life. She had sat next to Nikos Xylouris and Psarantónis in a café in Anogeia; lyras under their chin, fingernails against the side of their strings, bows masterfully criss-crossing as they played for the locals.

She was on the front table of the Teygetos nightclub in 1930s Athens, watching Agapios Tomboulis strum his oud next to Roza Eskenazi and Dimitris Semsis. She sat opposite Panagiotis Toundas and his mandolin in a workshop in Smyrna. He played Εγώ θέλω πριγκηπέσα, stopped, and began a discussion of the difficulties of playing this song.

Her work was now concluding with a study of lyrics. As homework she had selected one instant in her week. One situation. One location. One moment. Today she would swap this moment with a partner and each would create a μαντινάδα; a 15-syllable verse that would make clear the very essence of human interaction.

She was excited by today's class. She looked at the world ready to respond in song, just as a traditional Cretan of the old Greece. The door to level 13 opened and she enthusiastically sprung into the room.

A lanky boy voiced 19. And the elevator responded. 'Enhancement 19 - proudly funded by the Hellenism Foundation – Epirus Legacy.'

And all around him pictures of the men and women of the Epirotic societies played. And in his ears he heard about the creation of the Panepirotic Union in 1991; of their achievements, of their struggles, and of their notable members.

He had selected this educational module because of his interest in whole foods but had come to understand a people and their way of life.

He had travelled virtually through their geography – through Vikos Gorge, up Zagori Forest and down Arachos River.

He had experienced its climate – its rain and its clouds. He had assessed the interplay of climate and geography and how it directed the planting of the seasonal vegetables. He had seen goats milked and tsima fished, milk turned to yoghurt, feta turned to tiropita.

He had understood the delicate nature of a food system from seed to kitchen, a system that respected the dignity of human, animal, and soil and the final form this took on a plate.

His work was now concluding with a study of the link between food and celebrations. As homework he recreated a dish made by a specific region for Christmas. He had made spargana (Τα σπάργανα του Χριστού), a traditional food of Zagarohoria.

The night before Christmas these were made with flour and water on a heated stone or metal. Sprinkled with honey, walnuts and almonds, and then piled, symbolising the covers of Christ in the crib. Overnight they absorbed the honey of those above, remaining fluffy and sweet and ready to be offered to visitors.

He was excited by his new knowledge and looked forward to making a legacy food for his family this Christmas. The door of level 19 opened and he enthusiastically sprung into the room.

A young girl voiced 23. And the elevator responded. 'Enhancement 23 – proudly funded by the Hellenism Foundation – Zakynthos Legacy'. And all around her pictures of the men and women of the Zakynthos Philanthropic Association played. And in her ears she heard about the creation of the Zakynthos Philanthropic Association; of their achievements, of their struggles, and of their notable members. She had selected this educational module because of her interest in poetry but had come to understand a people and their way of life.

She had looked over Cavafy as he drew on his personal experience to write Ithaca, tears in his eyes as he considered what he had passed. She gazed at the sky with Elytis and saw him take inspiration for The Sovereign Sun, his chest full of pride for the trials faced by the Hellenic people. As homework she had assessed categories of love; family, friends, possessions, country. Today she would sit next to Dionysios Solomos and peer out into the Ionian Sea, Ottoman ships guns blazing at resistance fighters in the Peloponnese. She would watch him write verse after verse and she would herself write one stanza to match his own. She was excited by today's class. She looked at the world ready to respond in poem. The door to level 23 opened and she enthusiastically sprung into the room.

A young man voiced 64. And the elevator responded. 'Enhancement 64 – proudly funded by the Hellenism Foundation – Ithaca Legacy'. And all around him pictures of the men and women of the Ithacan societies played.

And in his ears he heard about the creation of the Ithacan Philanthropic Society in 1916; of their achievements, of their struggles, and of their notable members. He had selected this educational module because of his interest in exploration but had come to understand a people and a way of life. He had been there as Caretta Caretta hatched. Run with them into the water and swum out to sea.

He had dived into shallow waters of the Ionian Sea to see long-snouted seahorses, rainbow wrasse, and painted combers. He had dived further and found underwater caves, caverns, and reefs. He had swum into ditched fighter planes and sunken submarines; war machines now at one with the ocean bed. He had looked up to see the fisherman of the past, sailing above him on their boats.

As homework he had sought to find the true Cave of the Nymphs; the mythical location where Odysseus was abandoned. He had analysed pictures of multiple sites against the text of Homer in the thirteenth book of The Odyssey.

His conclusion was that the lake cave of Melissani was the one. Today he would lead a virtual expedition to this location. If he was correct an authentic visit would follow allowing him to actually dive here.

He was excited by today's class. He looked at the world with the sense of adventure and wonder it deserved. The door of level 64 opened and he enthusiastically sprung into the room.

The enhancement lessons end and the learners exit the building. They each walk out into the anonymity of existence in this antipodean metropolis. Whether they have family links to Greece they do not know. Possibly long ago. Maybe an ancestor on a grandmother's side or a grandfather's side. But they are glad the Greeks arrived in this country. They are glad the Greeks were proud of their traditions. They are glad the Greeks fought to make clubs, to keep them, and to use them to teach their culture.

The Hellenic Foundation has enriched their lives. It had allowed them to understand, see, hear, touch, and taste beauties that they would not otherwise have. It has allowed them to know Greece. They are better people for the Greeks coming to this country. The Greek community made a difference to them. And they thank them.

They thank those who came three centuries ago. They remember them and they thank them.

This picture is repeated all across Melbourne. In hub after hub people walk back to their HUTs smiling for their new experiences. And so the Hellenic Foundation educates. And so the love for Hellenism grows. And Hellenism shines brightly. It flourishes. It enlightens. And it sows.

- 2021 is the 200th anniversary of Greek independence. What do you believe the Greek community of your city should look like?

- 2071 is the 250th anniversary of Greek independence. What do you believe the Greek community of your city should look like?

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