“I’m not going to take any of this for granted,” says Bill Papastergiadis, President of the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria (GOCMV). “I believe that we need to work hard and demonstrate our credentials.”

His comments set the tone for Sunday’s elections to determine the new board of the GOCMV and renew his Presidency – something that is practically secure, given that 19 of the 26 candidates are part of his ticket.

The President himself sees the election as an opportunity for “members to form a view and form a judgement about past activities of the board.”

As for the reason why he should be reelected, he points to the work done during his tenure. “When one looks at the body of work over the last 8-9 years, [they] will see that there are over 100 cultural events per annum, an extended schools program, a very successful Alphington Grammar academic program and also a much broader political and social connection with other institutions both domestically and overseas,” he said.

However, what he describes as the current board’s “outstanding achievement” is that it has “galvanised a cooperative environment amongst different parts of our community, whether it’s the entrepreneurs, whether it’s the service industry, people offering education and culture programs, whether it’s the welfare aspect of our services, or the church.

“Historically, as we know, the community was divided and largely unresponsive to many other segments of our community, both locally and nationally. […] What we’ve done is to unite many aspects of our community and find ways to collaborate.”

Another equally important achievement has been demonstrated in the GOCMV’s finances. “We were able to raise significant level of funds, unprecedented in the history of the Greek Community, not for the sake of raising funds, but to develop the infrastructure that will allow and facilitate the organisation to move into its next phase”.

The most tangible evidence of this is none other than the GOCMV’s 15-storey tower – the “Vertical Precinct” – standing on the corner of Lonsdale and Russell streets, the building that Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece, Terens Quick, described as a “global icon” for Hellenism. This is why the Greek Centre was chosen to host this year’s ‘Nostos- Return to the roots’ project, a forum that will bring together the Greek, Cypriot and Egyptian diaspora, as part of a trilateral cooperation.

Nostos is the GOCMV’s first priority for 2019, along with another ambitious event. “We will organise a symposium and also a public discussion on the diaspora and hellenism, and we are going to invite leading academics from Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne and engage on their views of Hellenic Studies and then do a workshop with philanthropists and universities,” the President says, outlining his vision to create an academic program of hellenic diaspora studies.

“These two things will be the vanguard of our cultural and educational signposts and foundations,” he explains. “They will help define the community in the next 10 years.”

When it comes to infrastructure – particularly since the Bulleen site development is all but dead – the GOCMV’s focus is on the CBD.

“We are going to further develop our precinct, not from a vertical but also a horizontal perspective, within the areas around our Centre,” he says. “We are the proud recipients of a $2.5 million grant, which is the largest grant I believe ever given by a Victorian government to a community organisation, which is for infrastructure purposes – particularly for new buildings. So we will be working with the Victorian government to expanding our cultural footprint within the Lonsdale and Russell street precinct area, so that we have more stores and buildings that reflect the cultural history of that precinct its hellenic roots.”

In order for this to happen, new businesses have to come to the precinct. Attracting them might be a challenge, one might think. Mr Papastergiadis is optimistic.

“If you don’t charge exorbitant rent, because the community is a non-profit organisation, then you can make it financially viable, whether it is a bookstore, a food-based offer for the elderly, if we are not charging exorbitant rents we can make this possible and I think that is the purpose of the Greek community.”