Four young voices come on board

Recent elections in the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria have resulted in a record number of second generation Greek Australians sitting on the board of the 113 year institution. Jeana Vithoulkas profiles four of them.

At a time when most of us baulk at the idea of being involved in a Greek organisation with all the histories of division and petty factionalism, I decided to profile four members of the board people from very diverse backgrounds and working in different fields, seeking to find out what their motivations were for running and what they hoped to achieve now that they’re elected.

The Greek Community is the only recognised forum to express ourselves politically and culturally – it’s an important institution and there are a myriad of issues that we must involve ourselves in, not least among them the welfare of our aged parents.

– Nick Parthimos

Given they, like many of us, represent the past and present, our parents’ migration, their values and aspirations, and our Australian reality, I decided to let them speak for themselves.

George Koletsis: National Education Coordinator Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Background: George was born in Adelaide and moved to Melbourne with his family when he was 10-years-old, settling in Brunswick. In 1990, George left Australia to work in Europe in labour relations and community development for the International Labor Organisation and the European Union. He returned to Australia in 2005. This is his first time on the board.

Motivation: I nominated in the election because I believe it’s important that we have a vibrant organisation representing the interests of Greek Australians. As a child and a young man, I had very little interest in my Greek cultural roots and knew next to nothing about my ancestral home. It wasn’t until I lived in Europe that I learned more about my heritage: Greek history and culture. In fact, my children are much more interested in their Greek heritage than I was at their age.

Travelling through Europe I have met many Greeks both individually and in a community – like the town of Beloyannis in Hungary (named after left Greek political activist Nikos Beloyannis) and there is always a connection when you meet another Greek.

We are a big community in Australia – one of the largest and we need an organisation that is on the map and speaks on important issues that affect us. I want an organisation that is transparent and inclusive that encourages more input from the rest of the community. We also need to cultivate activism in the next generation.

I would like to see an organisation that becomes more active on social, economic and political issues. We should be speaking out against racism and in defence of multiculturalism. We also need to encourage more women to become involved. It concerns me the paucity of women on the board.

In my time, I hope to see a building of networks among Greek communities from around the world and of course Greece itself. I also will do my bit to ensure that the shenanigans and disgusting behaviour of previous administrations that were wracked with division will not happen again.

Vasso Zangalis: Social Welfare Officer

Background: Vasso was first elected to the Greek Community in 2006. She was born and bred in Melbourne and comes from a family of political and community activists. She works in the social welfare sector, mainly in the area of disability.

“My first term on the board was very frustrating. The real issues for the community were not being aired because of the terrible divisions on the board. I want to work towards a more open and transparent board that is democratic and disciplined.”

Motivation: My Greekness is very important to me and forming links with other Greek Australians is one of the main reasons I ran for the election and stuck it out during the tough times of the previous administration. There are many important issues that confront us: many first generation Greeks are pensioners with health and welfare issues. 80 per cent of working Greek Australians earn an average of $40,000 per year and our organisation needs to represent the interests of our community.

We must improve communications with our membership. Digital broadcasting, Web 2.0 and email lists are essential tools to bring us into the contemporary age.

The Greek Community must make itself more visible and speak out on prominent issues. We should be making comments about discrimination suffered by other ethnic minorities and emerging communities and publicly showing our support for their plight.

We must also develop some sort of recognition and awards for high achievers whether it’s in medicine, the arts, sport, human rights, education or business. The under representation of women is shocking and it should be a priority for the new board.

Theo Andrianakos: Businessman

Background: Theo was raised in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne and as a young man worked in the family business. His family are well known benefactors in the community and before being elected to the board Theo was already prominent in community issues and causes. This is the first time Theo has been elected.

Motivation: I ran in the election because I wanted to step up and take responsibility and carry on the work done by previous generations. It’s important for me to contribute to the community and inspire other young people to be community focused.

I consider myself a true Greek Australian as I am influenced strongly by both cultures. One of my mentors was our neighbour in Reservoir where I grew up – Digger – a man who fought in the Second World War and he inspired the love of Australian Rules Football in me which I follow to this day. In fact, I support Carlton because that was Digger’s team.

On the other hand, from a young age I was passionate about the bouzouki and have been playing it since I was nine years old. It’s never been ‘either/or’ for me. I am enriched by both cultures and I want to pass this onto my children.

As one of the largest ethnic groups in Australia the Greek community has an opportunity to make a significant contribution to this country. A culturally diverse society can only enrich us and it’s important for our children to ensure the continuity of our culture in Australia.

The older generation deserve respect for the work they did, but today’s Greek community is very different from that of our elders and we need innovative ways to attract more people to our organisation. We need to be more visible, work better with government and other communities.

We need more cultural events that are promoted properly to get us on the map again. Being Greek Australian makes me feel that I am part of a bigger family and it’s a family that I want to grow and strengthen.

Nick Parthimos: Lawyer

Background: Nick Parthimos grew up in Brunswick where he still lives. As a student, he studied law at the Australian National University where he impressed the local Greeks with his command of the Greek language. He is passionate about the maintenance of the Greek language and its preservation amongst the next generation. It’s his first term on the board.

Motivation: I must admit… I was shamed into running for the Greek community because I saw others who gave their time and commitment while I was doing nothing. The older generation have given us something special by sowing the seed. It’s up to us now to continue their work. It’s incumbent on us to get involved and to encourage others to get active in our community. I grew up in Brunswick which was a very Greek area and still is despite its new trendy status.

A few months ago there was an issue over the erection of a statue of King Leonidas in Sparta Place just off Sydney Road. The newer traders objected to it claiming it will ‘get in the way’ and all sorts of other nonsense which was basically elitism from new middle class. I weighed into this debate because it was our parents’ generation that made Brunswick the vibrant community it is today and they have every right to have their culture represented.

I think GOCMV must address the issue of education of our language, otherwise it will die out by the next generation.

The Greek Community is the only recognised forum to express ourselves politically and culturally – it’s an important institution and there are a myriad of issues that we must involve ourselves in, not least among them the welfare of our aged parents.

The Greek Community should not shy away from being a prominent player in the political fabric of Australia. This means asserting ourselves more in the media and in other forums. -I would like to eradicate the petty politics that characterised previous administrations and encourage more participation from others in our community.

As Lao Tzu said: ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.’