The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census 2021 revealed that 92,314 people declared that they were born in Greece, and 16,737 in Cyprus.
Over half of all Australians, 51.5 percent, reported thy were born overseas, or had a parent who was.
Leading Australian academics, Professor James Arvanitakis and Dr Andonis Piperoglou welcomed the census but raised questions on how the ABS seeks information on cultural identity.
Sociologist, Professor James Arvanitakis, from Western Sydney University said, “the ABS has come a long way in trying to capture the richness and diversity of Australian society but has its limitations as a snapshot in time, and with the categories chosen.”
“There is fluidity in identity: as people journey through life, and how they define themselves changes,” said Prof Arvanitakis.
For example, a “25-year-old living at home with his Greek parents who strongly identifies with that Diaspora, four years on, is married, have children and have a weaker connection to the Greek community – will provide a different response.”
Dr Piperoglou the inaugural senior lecturer in Global Diasporas at the University of Melbourne, said the ABS census was “robust” but that it needed “fresh questions” to provide a more detailed picture of heritage and “transcultural” developments in Australia.
“The census may not reflect the larger number of Australians that identify as Greek, or part Greek,” said Dr Piperoglou.
Over 5.6million Australians speak a language at home other than English, some of the time, and of them, 229,643, claim they speak Greek, down 7,357 from the 2016 census.
The leading languages in Australia, other than English, are Chinese including Mandarin and Cantonese, at just over 1.1 million, followed by the Indo Aryan languages at 947,509, incorporating Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and other South Asia languages. Greek has dropped from the top five in the 2016 census, to take sixth spot.
Dr Andonis Piperoglou, said that it was significant that more than 40 percent per cent of Australians have one parent born overseas that, “which means many more have grandparents born overseas, which taps into our Greek Diaspora.”
“The ABS is respected and runs on its own accord,” Dr Piperoglou said, but he questioned the “legacy of a British imperial colonial” past and its impact on “how we categorise, and position people of different cultures in this country.”
He said that questions that seek to identify people’s cultural and linguistic background and identity “are hard to design.”
“To say, ‘I speak broken Greek’, or ‘I have a distant Hellenic heritage’, forces people to narrow themselves into more singular definitions, that do not represent the modern Greek Diaspora,” Dr Piperoglou said.
While close to 230,000 in Australia claim “they speak some Greek, what of those that perceive to be Hellenes but don’t speak Greek?”
“What if you are Greek of Egypt, what if you consider yourself a Hellene, not linked to the nation of Greece, but to the Diaspora?” said Dr Piperoglou.
Many of our Greek Australians live in families with multiple cultural backgrounds, and that is not picked up in the census.
Dr Piperoglou said that there is a need for at least one question that allowed citizens to “identify with multiple cultural backgrounds.”
Such a question Dr Piperoglou said may help, ” journalists, academics or researchers to better assist public policy, at state and federal level.”
It would be more “representative, and accurate way to deal with cultural segmentation, cultural exchange and interaction, which is happening in our society all the time.”
“We can move away from the narrow singular way of defining culture, like the CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse), and that’s important in public policy,” Dr Piperoglou said.
More nuanced questions on identity is important for governments when designing better services.
“Governments can then design better services in education, aged care, childcare, and health care” Dr Piperoglou told Neos Kosmos.
He pointed to two new questions in the census as examples of how better data can be drawn from Australia’s population.
“They asked if people were in a same sex marriage… and there was a big uptick of people identifying with Indigenous heritage, so there are mechanisms within the national survey to ask fresh questions, that can provide us with new data,” Dr Piperoglou said.
Given that this newspaper has hundreds of thousands of readers online, the data on Greeks in the census seems to have limitations.