Nicholas Kotsiras: between a rock and a choc wedge

Immigration and Cultural Affairs Minister Nicholas Kotsiras remembers his experiences all too well as a young child of migration

Immigration and Cultural Affairs Minister Nicholas Kotsiras can tell you just how much he likes choc wedges.
“There were two types of ice creams: there was the icy-pole, which was just ice on a stick and flavour; and the choc wedge. I could never afford the choc wedge, so I would always purchase the icy-pole. It wasn’t until a few years later that I first got my first choc wedge. And I have to tell you I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it so much.”
As a young Greek migrant, there were many things Nicholas Kotsiras soon discovered were different from his Australian schoolmates’ habits – much like the sandwich fiasco.
“Of course, at lunch time, my mother used to pack those split vienna sandwiches, with zucchini and feta cheese – and I was so embarrassed,” he says.
“I never told my mum (of the sandwich problem), because I respected her. I tried to encourage her to copy the sandwiches my friends were eating. And she would – the poor lady – try to cut the slices even thinner, but it wasn’t the same; it was never the same.”
Growing up in Melbourne was, for the most part, enjoyable for the Minister. He learnt pretty quickly of the obsession with AFL – or VFL, as it was called back then. Early Monday mornings were avoided, as his pupils would talk extensively of the game, dumbfounding the young Greek. Such was the confusion that Kotsiras made it his prerogative that he was never early on Mondays.
The push to fit in made him push aside his Greekness and embrace a new culture, mimicking their way of life.
“Unfortunately, it was a time when assimilation was ripe,” he says.
“Everyone demanded that you become the same as everyone else. And so if you stood out, if you were different because of the clothes you wore or because of what you ate, you were ostracised. You were pushed aside. And that was the time I was growing up. It was difficult for me to fit in.”
His Greekness never left him. In fact, a resurgence happened when he visited Greece again in his school holidays. On his return, he made sure to enroll in Greek language classes and took an interest in Greek music.
“I realised that is my identity, that’s who I am. So I began to appreciate my culture,” he says.
The push to make something of himself was directly related to his parents’ hard work ethic. Working two jobs, their presence in the household was not frequent, and this made Kotsiras strive to make them proud and not see their hard work go in vain.
His election into parliament was a defining moment, both for Kotsiras and his family.
“When I entered parliament it was the proudest moment for my parents,” he says.
“I can still remember them on that day, when they came to parliament to see me being sworn in; they were so proud.”
Kotsiras is the first Greek born front-bencher and has tirelessly worked to ensure an easy passage into Australian life for all migrants.