Lockdown in Oakleigh – a Melburnian Greek girl returns to her roots

You can take the girl out of Oakleigh, but you can't take the Oakleigh out of the girl

For more than 20 years I have lived in a  Richmond flat within walking distance of the Melbourne CBD. Fat lot of good that did me in early March with  social distancing and stay-at-home rules.

It was absolutely useless by 23 March when my inner-city job was furloughed indefinitely.

It would be positively cruel by 30 March  with stage  three restrictions that basically locked me inside. The city would be a mirage fro my balcony; my flat a prison.

But there was another issue. The city wasn’t being very nice anymore. There were signs everywhere asking me  what I was doing in the city and that I should be at home.

An electric sign on top of the Young and Jackson pub, opposite Flinders St station, told me to “Go home.”

So, I did.

On Greek Independence Day, Wednesday,  25 March and  five days before Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews introduced stage 3 restrictions, I went back to live at my parents house at the south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Oakleigh – with its large number of Greek shops and Greek-Australian  residents – to ride out the Coronavirus lockdown.

I wondered what I would do all day there, and I wondered what my 87-year-old parents did all day.

Within five days I found out – shopping is what they did all day.

I counted that there were 76 Greek strip  shops, including  eateries and  offices within a one kilometre radius.

READ MORE: Isolation with parents becomes an opportunity to record family’s story

Many of these shops were closed because of COVID-19, so I couldn’t shop at them.

But, it wouldn’t have mattered. My parents’s shopping agenda was clear.

I had to go to the nut shop for nuts and legumes, a fruit shop for special olives, a different greengrocer for fruit and vegetables,the supermarket for groceries and the delicatessen for cheese. I had to buy meat from  the butcher, fish from  the fishmonger, chicken from the poultry shop and Neos Kosmos three times a week from the newsagent. I had to pay the bills at Australia Post and withdraw their pension from inside the bank.

It took me six days to do the weekly shopping.  I prayed to go to church on Sunday so I could get some rest, but the churches were closed.

So, the second week I did it my way and cut corners.

Fed up with Oakleigh, I went to Coles, near the corner of Centre and Clayton roads, Clayton, to buy the lot.

That was my fatal mistake. At least if I had gone to the  Coles in Oakleigh Central, with the welcoming sign: “Try our olives from Australia, Greece, Sicily“,  I would have stood a chance. But not in  the Clayton Coles. I knew it as soon as I walked in.  It had no delicatessen section. There were only two refrigerators of refrigerated deli goods. Sacrilege.

READ MORE: Coronavirus, Christ and the prodigal daughter who returned to Oakleigh

“I can’t understand, why you can’t understand,” my mother told me.

“I told you where to buy it from.

“I can’t eat this. Here, you eat it.”

So, I ate it, and began to repent.

I went back to Oakleigh’s shopping strips and plaza and started shopping the right way, which is the Greek way.

I unfolded my metal trolley at the top of Portman St and was transcendentally transported to health food shop and cafe,Botaniko, to read the day’s inspirational message on the shop window.

I detoured into the post office, in the plaza. I had to pay my parents’s paper bills and post Easter cards to Greece.  I stood at the cross on the floor and waited.

But the air was tense. A Greek man with good English wondered why he had to pay $10 for a $9 bill because he used his debit card.  I wondered why, too. Just because it was the Australia Post policy wasn’t an answer. Frustrated, he told them where to go. Someone in the store returned the compliment and told him to:  “Go home and self-isolate yourself.”

I didn’t know if the man would and took a right into the plaza to Crystal Poultry. I read the signs about social distancing and stood on the markers. I chose the whole chicken I wanted and gave instructions to cut it up.

I bought extra chicken breasts and legs.

I scurried outside to queue up at the Squirrel’s Den.

Once inside, there was abundance everywhere. There were sacks of food.

READ MORE: Banks, rents and rates still problems for Oakleigh traders

I learnt there were four types of brown lentils and four types of legumes. The honey was straight from the beekeeper. For Easter fasting, I bought sesame bars, halva and fig preserve. I learnt I could buy salted, unsalted and coated nuts by the kilo, so I did. In fact, I learnt that Greeks liked to buy in bulk.

“The Americans made this virus and the Chinese know it,” one elderly Greek man said as I was leaving.  Maybe, maybe not, I thought.

I took my trolley to the next queue outside Lemnos Butchers.  It was my turn to be served. I was ordering the ingredients for minced tripe soup “mageritsa”.

I read off my list. The butcher told me  I needed stomachs and liver, but they weren’t on my list. I was instructed to ring home.  So he waited while I rang my mother on my mobile. Luckily she used her good ear to hear me. The butcher was right, of course: he had seen the amateur likes of me before.  I bought the lot and helped my mother on  Easter Saturday boil the soup for seven hours. I made pate with the leftover liver.

I disinfected my hands, left the shop and joined the queue at Bakaliko. I bought the right olives, haloumi and kefalogravgera. I bought a kilo of each. I also bought Greek feta cheese. They gave me a separate container for the brine.

I crossed the road into Eaton Mall.

Two Greek men, standing one-and-a-half metres apart had the coronavirus worked out.

“It’s a conspiracy,” one man said.

“They’ve done this on purpose to eliminate a few million people because the world is over populated.”

That’s  as good a conspiracy theory as any I thought and progressed to the next queue.

I stood in line outside Niko’s Quality Cakes to order my parents lunch:  two heated-up spinach and cheese pies with Greek coffee.

I walked through Eaton Mall to Alimonakis Pharmacy. It was so empty I was going to do cartwheels to get there quicker, but I was wearing a skirt.

So, I queued up to get my parents’s medication.  Generic brands of pharmaceuticals are forbidden in my parents’s household, and Alimonakia dispenses the brands the doctor prescribes.

At 11.59pm tonight, I will go back to my inner-city flat and resume my pre-Coronavirus life and let my parents resume theirs.

There will be one exception for my parents though. As of last Thursday they get the Neos Kosmos home delivered.

If only my father could find it in his garden; if only the plastic wrapping didn’t buckle the entire paper.

Better we cancel it. Better he goes to Oakleigh and buys it there.

*Dora Houpis shopped at these  Oakleigh shops at her parents’s instruction. Her parents paid for all the goods bought.

Just like ‘Little Athens’, but in the heart of Australian suburbia

THERE were many more Greek shops in Oakleigh  I could have visited, but either the crippling Coronavirus trading laws forced their closure or I ran out of time.

In my opinion, the Oakleigh shopping strips are like no other in Melbourne or, indeed, Australia.  I would call the area “Little Athens”.

Within a 1km radius of the area bound by Chester, Portman, Station and Hanover streets, and  Atherton Rd and Eaton Mall, I physically counted 76 Greek shops.

They included the following:  21 eateries, 6 clothing stores including the famous Ktena Knitting Mills factory, five jewellery shops, 12 lawyers, accountants and offices, the  Greek welfare organisation, PRONIA, three clinics named after their Greek- Australian health professionals and six grocers.

Neos Kosmos welcomes robust dialogue on matters concerning expats living in Greece and the Greek diaspora from around the world. The views and opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor or the Opinion pages of our newspaper and website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the publisher. Send your opinions, interesting photos you’d like to share with us or story suggestions to mary@neoskosmos.com.au The newspaper reserves the right to edit contributions.