Fred Maddern may not be of Greek descent, but in spirit and action, he embodies the essence of the Hellenic spirit. The most Greek things about Maddern was his love of local community, of local politics and his role as a bridge between the post-war Greek immigrant community and Australia, a society that often felt alien.
Maddern’s became a cornerstone of Footscray, so much so that a square was named after him, Maddern Square.
“People used to jokingly say that Moscow’s got it’s Red Square, but we’ve got our Fred Square,” Madden says. The former mayor of Footscray between the early 1970s and 1980s helped Greek immigrants sustain their identity, establish a community in the west of Melbourne, and find their place in Australia.
During a time when other “counsellors were reluctant to become involved,” as Maddern said, he immersed himself into the community’s life, and formed lifelong friendships with Greeks that he cherishes to this day.
“I would go into the Greek clubs, sit down, and have a coffee with them and sometimes something else, a bit stronger, in the coffee,” he laughs.
He was “designated as the honorary Greek ambassador of Yarraville, a joke that “used to go around” he says.
Yarraville “a little Greek community”
Maddern says the Greeks were fast to “establish an identity,” in the Western suburbs during the 1970s and 1980s.
The ekklesia as centre
At the same time, Father Amanatidis, founded St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which soon became an essential faith and community centre.
Madden begane to ensconce himself in the church’s rituals, he would take part in the Good Friday procession with the Greek community along the streets of Yarraville.
He continues to receive invitations for Easter Sunday gatherings, where feast on the lamb on the spit. “Christos Anesti!” he calls out.
“The church became the center of everything,” he noted, and believes this “was one of the reasons why people settled in Yarraville,” which in turn allowed them to “get organised in their sporting activities.”
Founded by Melbourne’s Greek community in 1966, now known as ‘Yarraville Glory FC,’ the Yarraville Doxa Football (soccer) club transformed into a hub for Western suburbs Greeks.Father Amanatidis’ son, Jim was club president, and the soccer club “played a very, strong and important part in providing an outlet for the young Greek community” Maddern says.
On a cultural level The Sun Theatre, owned by Greeks, screened Greek movies. Madden was witness to the development of the suburb’s Greek community, its churches, sports clubs, theatres, cafes and retail strips.
A bridge between two communities
Maddern served as a link between what was largely an Anglo Australian society and post-war Greek immigrants, who he says, due to language barriers, “did not always understand the law.”
By being “a good listener,” who “carefully worked through their issues, articulated what needs to be done in a concise sort of manner, and simply showed that your hand is there to help them,” he became their trusted mediator.
“You make a friend of a Greek person; they never forget you. They’re always there. They’re a friend for life, and I think that’s something which, people of Anglo-Saxon background, could take a lesson from.”
“I just found that if you join them and make them know that they’re welcome …the returns you get back in return are tenfold.”
You make a friend of a Greek person; you make a friend for life
Sometime in the 1980s, the mayor desperately needed a venue for an Anzac Day commemorations, the municipal buildings were in the midst of a major renovations. His mate Tom Papadopoulos, a self-taught musician and restaurateur, who ran Footscray Receptions with his siblings, stepped in to offer the venue.
“So, we marked it for Tom’s place,” recalls Maddern.
With Tom living “down the street” from Madden, he says their friendship “has lasted many years.”
“Last week, I was down there for a cup of coffee. If I don’t go for a while, I’ll get a phone call and he’ll say where are you? What are you doing?”
“Whatever I’ve done for them, they’ve repaid me many times over with their friendship and support.”
Maddern is Footscray
Maddern says that Footscray’s central business district, powered by Greek and other post-war immigrants, became one of Australia’s most successful and organised retail and commercial hubs. He points out something few of us know: “Footscray is the first in Australia to establish a pedestrian shopping mall.”
Maddern initially sought the fray of state politics as a Labor MP. Still, it was as a councillor, as a servant of the people of Footscray, and as an advocate for new Greek migrants that he achieved much. He served for 26 years and as mayor twice, from 1972 to 1973 and from 1983 to 1984.
Born and raised in Melbourne, he was the first Labor president at the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV). His knowledge and experience in local government saw him advise the Victorian government and become the Australian Local Government Association president.
Throughout the years, he has “always been involved in politics in some shape, manner, or form “and maintains an ongoing interest in politics.
Fred Maddern, the working peoples’ and migrant advocate, the politician, loves Footscray. At its soul, a traditional working class and migrant hub, which he went some way to ensure remained one of the most vibrant multicultural and now sought-out inner city burbs in Australia.