“My first visit to Greece was the beginning of an ever-lasting love affair.”
With those words, Greek Australian author Doris Falidis Nickolas describes the first time she travelled to her parents’ homeland in March 1976.
Despite being only nine years old, Doris says she felt an instant connection with the country of her ancestors.
“To me spending six months in my parents’ beloved homeland was the holiday of a lifetime and a dream come true,” Doris said, who together with her seven year old sister Efthimia and two year old brother Ioannis in tow, couldn’t wait to meet their grandparents for the first time.
Doris’ father Eleftherios, had not seen his parents and siblings since migrating to Australia, in April 1965, while her mother Niki had not seen her family since migrating Down Under in February 1964. So, they anxiously awaited the reunion with their beloved families and the moment they would introduce their children to their parents for the first time.
“The excitement of finally arriving back to my birthplace, Elassona, after so many years, is a feeling I will never forget. To me the only thing that mattered was seeing my elderly parents and spend some time with them,” Eleftherios, who left Greece at the age of 24, said.
After meeting yiayia and pappou for the very first time and, especially yiayia Minodora, who Doris was named after, the young Greek Australian felt like she was the luckiest girl in the world.
“We felt so much love. Our grandparents kept hugging us, as did our aunties and uncles. I loved seeing my dad so happy, proudly showing off our family. I really felt like I belonged there even though Australia was where I was born.”
The time had come for the young family to visit Niki’s village, Panteleimonas.
“I could not believe the time had come for me to see my parents, brothers and sisters after so many years in xenitia. I had left Greece as a young nineteen-year-old girl and I was coming home to my parents, as a thirty-one-year-old married woman with three children, whom they had never met before,” Niki said.
Whilst everyone was still wiping their happy tears, Doris sneaked out and wandered onto the street. She says she remembers being in awe of the beautiful village with the historical Byzantine Castle as its landmark.
“I could not help but feel as if I had been there before; something about the Greek spring breeze, the enormous mountains that sat as a backdrop to the village again. I felt this kind of belonging,” she said.
In 2010, after 34 long years, Doris was fortunate enough to travel back to Greece, this time with her husband Dimitrios.
The connection, formed back in 1976, reignited and since then Doris’ family has travelled back home five more times.
Interestingly, Doris reveals that her 2010 visit was the inspiration behind her first book ‘Life Has Two Doors’ which is a memoir about four young women from Panteleimonas in Central Macedonia, reciting their journeys, as they embarked on a new life in Australia in the mid-1960s.
“I will never forget those six memorable months in 1976, meeting our Greek family for the very first time, and forming bonds and connections while travelling this extraordinary land of the Gods. I am just forever grateful to our parents who sacrificed so much to give us the life we live now and I am trying to do the best I can to instil and inspire that same love for Greece, into my own children.
“The love affair continues,” Doris concluded.