As our wonderful Greek Diaspora this week warmly welcomes the Culture Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Dr Lina Mendoni, we are delighted that the Australian Parthenon Association has the opportunity to meet Minister Mendoni on our home territory.

Dr Mendoni’s connection with our Committee indeed goes back to 2000 after she had been appointed Secretary-General of the Culture Ministry. Our President Dr David Hill and Vice President George Vardas had met her in Athens during the filming of a report by 60 Minutes conducted by Jeff Kennett.

Since then, our Committee has developed a close working relationship with Dr Mendoni. From 2011, Dr Hill has worked closely with her and was appointed manager of an archaeological study of the ancient Greek city of Troezen, the birthplace of the hero Theseus, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. Troezen was also the place where the great Themistocles sent Athenian women and children for safety before the Battle of Salamis in 480BC.

In 2019, Dr Mendoni was appointed Culture Minister by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and since then she has overseen the important work of the Culture Ministry. A particularly outstanding achievement was the culmination of her team’s endeavours in securing the return of the ‘Palermo Fragment’ of the Parthenon Frieze from the Antonio Salinas Museum in Sicily which found its way to Palermo via the British Consul for Sicily, Mr Robert Fagan, in 1816.

The return of the fragment was a wonderful and highly symbolic event held at the Acropolis Museum in February of this year and I had the great fortune to attend a small ceremony of distinguished guests including Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Dr Mendoni, Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis, the Director-General of the Acropolis Museum, Dr Pandermalis, the Chairman and former director of the Acropolis Museum and representatives from Sicily.

It was an emotional ceremony with the Sicilian entourage proud and honoured to return the fragment and proclaiming that it is ‘right and proper that it should be reunited to the frieze in Athens’. Dr Mendoni delivered a powerful address at the opening and when I spoke with her afterwards she stated “this is the beginning”. She was referring to our work on the reunification of ALL the extant Parthenon Sculptures to the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

I have been fortunate to meet Dr Mendoni in Athens on several occasions to discuss the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. The Australian Committee is part of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS) which holds biennial conferences in Athens at the Acropolis Museum that houses the sculptures on its magnificent Parthenon Gallery on the top floor in line of site with the great temple. Sadly, the remaining half are still held hostage in the British Museum in London and our work continues to secure their safe return to Athens.

We have had many discussions on the Parthenon Sculptures campaign and our work to support the Culture Ministry and Greek Government on this issue continues unabated and is stronger than ever. Our Australian team headed by President Dr David Hill, George Vardas and myself as Co Vice Presidents, Jim Mellas and others are focused on supporting the campaign wherever we can, including through the press and social media.

Together with some of our English colleagues from the British Association for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures, we have founded The Acropolis Research Group to further reinforce our message internationally. It is crucial that international public opinion, and especially in the United Kingdom, exerts pressure on the UK Government to change their intransigent stance on the current stalemate.

Our team will be in Athens in September this year to meet again at the IARPS conference with Dr Mendoni to plan out future work on the campaign.

This week, however, we rejoice that the Greek Culture Minister is here is Australia. Her trip is the culmination of combined efforts of The Hellenic Museum, Greek Australian politicians and the Greek Community of Melbourne to bring to Melbourne the ‘Open Horizons Exhibition’ , an extraordinary exhibition of rare artefacts from the National Archaeological Museum of Greece that have never left that country before. Minister Mendoni is here to open the exhibition and in doing so, acknowledges the strong ties between one of the most important Greek Diasporas and its motherland, Hellas.

Elly Symons is the Vice President of The Australian Parthenon Committee and Co-Founder of The Acropolis Research Group.