Memories are a curious thing. You don’t know what you remember until your memory is jolted. Like by the old faded colour photograph Neos Kosmos printed last week of Greeks past celebrating Australia Day by dancing Greek alfresco. (English Edition, 25/1/2020).
Growing up, Australia Day meant one thing only to my family and me: a Sunday mega picnic at Sorrento Historic Park with thousands of other Greek Australians and their community groups or silogoi. My mother, sister and I would cook for three days before the event. The day before the picnic, my brother and father would pack folding chairs and tables, rugs, and beach umbrellas into my father’s green Valiant. At 5.00 am on the day of the picnic, they would load up the blue foam portable fridge with ice, put in the drinks and organise the food. The other families that came with us would do the same.
We would leave our Oakleigh house that morning at 7.00 am, meet up with the other families on the road somewhere halfway and, convoy-like, head for Sorrento.
Sometimes, we arrived early enough and got a space in the historical park high on the hill. That’s where the action was: the throng, the bands, the dancing, the meat cooking.
Other times, it was so packed, we had to settle for the Sorrento foreshore, under those magnificent huge trees. There were no bands on the foreshore, but we had a battery-operated cassette recorder. We swam in the beach and the men buried the watermelons and canteloupes in the sand by the shore to keep them cold.
The Australia Day picnic of Sunday 26 January, 1986 was particularly special. That year, The Age sent a journalist and photographer to report on the event.
That Australia Day we arrived early at Sorrento and got a great spot in the thick of it. We went with my father’s oldest friend, Pavlos Zavaleris. My father and he met during World War II as seven year olds in Asprovalta, after my father’s near-by village, Lower Kerdillia in northern Greece, was destroyed by the Nazis. They found each other in Australia in the 70s and continued the friendship. Pavlos brought his 68-year-old widowed mother, Paraskevi Zavaleri, to the picnic. This was her first time in Australia. She came to visit the country at the end of the earth that had taken her son away.
That Australia Day, the barbecues were cooking in overdrive and the bands were belting out Greek songs. My father convinced Mrs Zavaleri to dance. Petite and clad in black, my father put her at the head of the dancing circle, and held her hand tightly as she twirled around. That’s the moment The Age photographer snapped them, immortalising these two Greeks celebrating Australia Day by dancing Greek alfresco, in Sorrento, of course.
READ MORE: What does Australia Day mean to you?