Official records show that the first Greeks to set foot in Australia were seven sailors who arrived on 27 August, 1829. These were Georgios Vasilakis, Gikas Voulgaris, Georgios Laritsos, Antonis Manolis, Damianos Ninis, Nikolaos Papandreas and Konstantinos Strombolis, who were all convicted by the British Empire for piracy and exiled to Australia, a fate better than death which was the other option for their crime.
The sailors were convicted after they stopped the British ship Alceste, heading to Alexandria, and removed part of its cargo, which included pepper, utility, ropes and sulfur, in July 1827. Arrested near Crete, they went to court in Malta which was under British sovereignty at the time. During the trial, the sailors claimed they had attacked the ship because it was transporting supplies for the Turks, enemies of Greece during the country’s struggle for independence. Seven of the crew members were sentenced to death and another two were found not guilty. Following backroom negotiations and an intervention by Greek shipowner/politician George Kountouriotis in London, the death sentences were convicted to penalties of exile.
After diplomatic efforts, five of the sailors were pardoned in 1834 and returned to Greece, except for Voulgaris and Manolis who remained in Australia as free settlers. Manolis married an Irish woman and remained in NSW where he is buried at the Upper Picton Cemetery at Picton village, around 100 km southwest of Sydney.
Though 27 August is an anniversary date, the seven sailors may not be the first Greeks in Australia. Damianos Gikas, a captain from the island of Hydra, was wrongly convicted for piracy by the British navy and exiled to Sydney, however there are no records of him neither in Australia nor in Greece so it is unknown whether he came to the country.
In 1814, George Pappas came to Australia as a crew member on a ship of settlers. he married an Aboriginal woman, left his ship and settled in Sydney.
Newspaper articles from 1900 refer to a number of Greek names of people who arrived in the country between 1803 and 1920.
When the founding meeting of the GOCMV took place on 22 August 1897, the 57 members – Greeks living in Melbourne – would have never imagined that what they created would grow to become the greatest, in terms of history and massive participation, organisation of the Greek diaspora in Australia.
The Greek Community of Melbourne may be older than the Australian Federation itself, however the Greek presence in the country this year marks 190 years.