Australian threads woven into Greek history

The Lochs, a couple that marked the history of Ouranoupolis

The story of Sydney and Joice NanKivell Loch, a Londoner raised in Scotland and Australian from Queensland, who helped 150 000 Greek refugees fleeing Turkish persecution, is a story that not many Greeks and Australians are familiar with. The life and work of the Lochs – who dedicated their lives to the service of Hellenism – was the subject of a History Week event in Sydney this week. Titled Threads of Blue and White and presented by Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, lecturer in genocide studies at the University of Technology in Sydney, and director of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The lecture was a celebration of the extraordinary lives and contributions of two individuals. As part of the programme to take Australian-Hellenic history beyond the limits of our community, the Centenary of Thessalonike Joint Committee selected History House in central Sydney as the venue for this unique event. “This is 16th History Week, an initiative of the History Council of New South Wales to showcase the rich, diverse history being produced by organisations and individuals across the state. With over 100 events across NSW, History Week is about celebrating the best in community and professional history, highlighting its role in our cultural life and inviting people to get involved,” Dr Diamadis told Neos Kosmos. During History Week, community groups, local councils, libraries, archives, museums, universities, cultural institutions, professional and amateur historians across NSW open their doors to present the latest in today’s historical research. “The story of the Lochs of Ouranoupolis is but one example of the symbiosis of Australians and Hellenes. Australian heritage in Hellas goes far beyond the battlefields and cemeteries of the World Wars. I wanted Greek and Australians to get the message of history of genocide, not necessarily through war and blood, but outside of the war. And also, from Australian point of view, through the contribution of couple Loch,” Dr Diamadis said. Sydney and Joice NanKivell Loch dedicated their lives to the relief of suffering, helping refugees in post-World War 1. In the 1920s, the couple settled in a medieval tower of Prosforion in Ouranoupolis, Macedonia – the village built by survivors of the Hellenic Genocide by the Aegean Sea. The Lochs revitalised the rug industry of the seaside village, with designs inspired by the nearby monasteries of Mount Athos. One of these rugs, named Tree of Life, now adorns the Loch Museum in Ouranoupolis. The other rug Creation is now housed in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Fascinating stories, artefacts and experiences are being presented during the History Week to shed light on the past and present of the Hellenic people. The theme of this year’s History week, ‘threads’, goes behind the wardrobes of the past and inspired Dr Diamadis to speak about decorations made of threads, not for the body but for the home. The Lochs even have their own story embodied in the design of a rug. It is a story woven out of Australian goat’s fur and made into Greek rugs, the same way as the Loch’s story is woven into the history of village of Ouranoupolis and of all Greeks in the village. The story of the Lochs and Pyrgos Rugs, being one of the great chapters of the Australian Hellenic relationship, as Dr Diamadis says, is part of a programme of systematically promoting Australian Hellenic history in the broader community. “Such forgotten stories are powerful tools for the promotion of the truth regarding such National Issues as the identity and heritage of Macedonia. We seek to make the Hellenic history of Macedonia part of the broader Australian Story, through Australian voices. “As a community, we should be promoting places such as the Pyrgos of Ouranoupolis as must-see places for all Australian visitors to Hellas. Places where Australians gave helping hands when they were most needed,” Dr Diamadis said. The Lochs, heroes of Ouranoupolis Joice NanKivell Loch was born in 1887 on a Queensland sugar plantation. She was the granddaughter of Australia’s richest man, Thomas NanKivell. After the abolition of black labour, the family fortune was lost. She grew up in poverty in Gippsland, earning money by writing children’s book and as a freelance journalist. She worked with the Armenian and Greek Relief Fund in Australia in the 1910s. After leaving the farm at the age of 28, Joice went to Melbourne where she worked for the Professor of Classics at the University of Melbourne. At that time, Scottish-born Sydney Loch, a veteran of the Battle of Gallipoli, wrote a book Hell and Back, the banned account of Gallipoli, that will be banned soon after. Sydney Loch and Joice NanKivell met in London, and got married in 1918. “It was literally a forgotten story, a lot of people have never heard about. A couple that for decades, helped save thousands of refugees in war-torn Europe, saved thousands of Greek refugees in skew remote corner of Greece,” Dr Diamadis explained. The compassion is what made Joice a self-trained doctor to tens of thousands of refugees – Jewish, Poles, and Greeks. Self-trained doctor and humanitarian activist, she was also the author of ten books, one of the first Australian female journalists, and a designer of rugs. After joining the Society of Friends (The Quakers) and helping refugees on their mission in Poland, the Lochs couple moved to Greece in the early 1920s to help 150,000 refugees escape Turkish persecution. They arrived in Thessalonike in 1922, to work with the flood of genocide survivors landing there by the shipload. They spent some time at the American Farm School at Hortiates (now in the city’s southern suburbs), before learning about the forgotten community at Pyrgos. In that time, the small seaside village of Ouranoupolis, on the third Chalkidiki peninsula, was built by refugees who arrived in 1923 from Asia Minor, from Marmaronisia and Caesarea, bringing with them the art of carpet-making and weaving. The Lochs couple saved the village from starvation, by developing a cottage industry of carpet weaving, the Pyrgos Rugs. As the refugees were missing the proper technical means, Mrs Loch helped them set up a workshop with looms in the arsenal of the Tower, showing them some new techniques. Beautiful handmade rugs were made, woven by goat’s fur. As Mrs Loch recalled in an interview with The Australian Women’s Weekly in 1965, “there were 600 to 700 of these people. They were supposed to farm, but they were traditionally rug-makers. They were starving and dying. They showed me one or two rugs they had and a lot of hand-dyed silk. So we got them to make up six rugs in black, white and grey from sheep in the area – we had no colours – and sent them to a handicraft show in Salonika,” she said. “The villagers thought they were awful, but they were snapped up. Two of our villagers, who had walked about 150 miles to see what had happened, were astounded. Buyers wanted every one we could make.” Mrs Loch taught the villagers how to dye with natural colors, which they made from flowers. The traditional Anatolian designs were deemed too oriental by Mrs Loch, who sought a more ‘Greek’ feel to the products. The designs were originally motifs from frescoes and manuscripts, photographed by Mr. Loch in several Mount Athos monasteries, always featuring Byzantine and other non-Turkish designs. “I became interested in art and I gave the weavers designs, using all sorts of material, drawn from photographs Sydney Loch took of illustrated manuscripts in the monasteries of Mount Athos,” writes Joice Loch. Thus, in the small village – which since 1018 belonged to the monastery of Vatopedi and was called Prosforion – a carpet industry was born, playing a key role in rebuilding the villagers’ life. The well known Ouranoupolis carpets were sold for high prices in the Athens market. In 1928, the couple settled in an old Byzantine tower in the village, marking the history of Ouranoupolis. The famous tower of Prosforion, built before 1344 , was the main building of Metochion Prosforion of the monastery Vatopedi, the one that hosted the Bishop of Thessalonica, Ioannis Palaiologos in 1379. From 1986, the tower is in possession of the Ministry of Culture. Sydney and Joice Loch resided in Ouranoupolis until their deaths in 1952 and 1982 respectively. The Pyrgos Rugs industry in Ouranoupolis was in production until the death of Joice Loch’s death. How could have such a philanthropic story be forgotten? “As Greek-Australians, we have never promoted the story here. We were completely preoccupied with other things, instead of the real heritage of Greeks and Australians that we share. When Greek people needed help, the Lochs couple was there to help, in the other part of the world. They never came back to Australia, and were even buried in Greece,” said Dr Diamadis. In 2006, the Lochs were honoured with the opening of a Loch Memorial museum in the couple’s old home, a Byzantine tower in Ouranoupolis, dedicated to their philanthropy. However, Dr Diamadis said, the Museum is often closed today. “It’s our fault, the fact that we don’t promote this amazing story of couple Loch, and other stories and places that have direct connection to Greek – Australian shared history. “The Lochs are two sides of a coin – on one side is Greek diaspora in Australia, on the other – Australians in Greece. This story complements the things what we have done in Australia for last 200 years. Their work complemented our Australian story,” Dr Diamadis says. Next events The Hellenic Open University of Sydney continues the ‘A Short History of Macedonia’ course on Wednesday 19 September with The revolution of the nation-state (1789 – 1904). The fifth session of the course deals with the introduction and impact of nationalism on Macedonia. In the sixth session (Wednesday 26 September), the topic is ‘Zenith and Nadir: independence and catastrophe (1904 – 1929)’- from the highs of liberation in the Balkan Wars to the depths of the Hellenic Genocide and its aftermath. The Hellenic Open University of Sydney is located at AHEPA Hall, 394 Princes Highway, Rockdale.