George Zangalis came to Australia on 15 February 1950, as a political refugee, aged 19. Working at General Motors and living in a single room apartment his life was lonely but soon made friends as he joined Demokritos, his Union and became a member, of the Communist youth and finally of the CPA.
I first met GZ in 1967 at a meeting against the newly imposed junta regime in Greece. He had to wait for 23 years till finally in 1973 he could be granted citizenship and get a passport to visit his brother in the Soviet Union and other family members in Greece. In the last few years he used to visti Drymades, his native village regularly. I saw him five days before his death and told me half of his heart was in Drymades and half in Australia.
GZ as a young refugee brought to Australia his youthful ideals for the victory of the working class and bringing the people to power, whatever this might mean, but he was also a realist, fighting for the urgent needs of migrants, workers, students and the elderly. For 70 years, after that hot day in February 1950, he was in the forefront of social struggles for the rights of migrant workers, for the teaching of the community languages in the Australian schools, for the broadcasting of community languages programs. He wanted also to stress to the ABC that the community languages were not foreign but Australian languages. He found a racist and monocultural Australia and he fought against the White Australia policy and aimed to make Australia multicultural and inclusive for all. To do this he wrote a number of books, broadcasting and writing regularly.
George Zangalis’ way of promoting issues was participating not only in Greek community committees but first and foremost in action committees that included members of many other ethnic groups and mainstream members of Australian society, like the 1973 First Migrant Union Conference for the rights of Migrant workers. The same was with the issues concerning the teaching of community languages, or creating and supporting broadcasting programs in Australian languages other than English. These struggles had successes and failures but to his mind no given struggle is ever lost. He looked at things with optimism. There will always be a reaction. “The dogs are barking but the caravan is moving forward”, he used to say. He was a great member of the Greek and the Australian community.
*The celebration of the life of George Zangalis, the well-loved Communist Party of Australia activist, unionist and multiculturalist, that was planned before his death on 25 March, will still take place as scheduled on the afternoon of Sunday, 25 April at Alphington Grammar’s Multi-purpose Andrianakos Centre in Alphington.