The response from Neos Kosmos readers to provide information about the Greek community of Yarraville has been very encouraging for Olympia Koziaris who is compiling a history of the Melbourne suburb and its environs from the 1950s onwards.
“The Neos Kosmos social media post has generated a lot of interest and I’ve received dozens of emails,” said Ms Koziaris herself a former resident of the area to the west of the Melbourne CBD.
Ms Koziaris was given an Auspicious Arts grant by the City of Maribyrnong to go out to past and present residents of Yarraville to record the stories of the area when the Greek community had a strong presence between the 1950s to the 1980s. At the end of the year, she will have completed a book that will tell their stories accompanied by pictures. She will also record stories for posterity.
“Housing was affordable, there was easy access to the industrial and manufacturing jobs in the west. Yarraville, Seddon and Footscray each have a train station – it takes about 15 minutes by train from Footscray to the city centre,” said Ms Koziaris who grew up in Yarraville.
“I was very young when I lived in Yarraville. We moved away and moved back later. Over time, I have spent a total of 20 years in the area. For some reason Yarraville always feels like home to me.
“The demographics have changed over the years. It is now a gentrified, trendy and hip area. It started to change in the late 1990s,” said Ms Koziaris who lives about 5km from Yarraville.
“I remember a lot of kafenia, the men drinking ouzo and coffee, eating mezethes and playing cards – but I was not allowed to look inside. My papou (grandfather, dad and uncles used to go there to relax.”
Recently, as part of her project, she visited a retirement home to interview former Yarraville residents and she noticed a table there for the men who were talking, drinking coffee and playing cards.
“This time, I could look,” she said. “The women stayed at home and had different ways of relaxing.”
Community life, she recalls, was vibrant.
“The families would come together at the community dances. I miss them now but I would have to be dragged there as a teenager. But they were the best of times. Now you don’t get that. The dinner dances were a chance to chat and eat, and dance as much as you wanted. “
“Everyone was ‘thia’ or ‘thio’. While I had my own grandparents everyone called them ‘Papou’ and ‘Yiayia’.”
Today she still keeps in touch with a friend from her childhood. They still several times a year to catch up on their lives.
Ms Koziaris has worked in the public service as a corporate trainer for over 20 years. In the process she produced numerous training and technical manuals and also taught the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment at Victoria University. She is also a writer.
”Last year I had a short story, Yiayia goes to Wlliamstown published in Stories from the suburbs – Moonee Valley .The year before that I won a short story prize with the Moreland city council- the story was about an older Greek lady who lives in Brunswick and sees her life change irrevocably.”
In applying for the grant from Marinbyrnong council, she approached a number of organizations for information including the Maribyrnong Library historian, Footscray Historic Society, the Immigration Museum and Living Museum of the West as well as the State Library and the Public Records Office of Victoria.
“The most valuable information is what our residents and community have,” she said.
She has a number of volunteers to help with the project. The Yarraville Writers’ Group will help with the proofreading and Lyndel Caffrey of Writers Victoria will provide editorial advice.
“The most important work, however, is the contribution of each and every community member who takes the time to share their stories,” said Ms Koziaris.
“I want the children involved so that they go to their grandparents and sit down and have conversations with them. It will be a positive way to get the children involved and understand their grandparents’ lives. The project has the potential to bring the generations together. I want them to go past the day-to-day to have a bigger conversation between the generations.”
“I have always had a connection with Yarraville. Even when I am not there I have a sense of peace and calm (remembering it),” she said.
Ms Koziaris is asking Greek people who lived in the Yarraville and Footscray areas to share their stories, pictures or contacts of former residents. She can be reached through her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org