The heart of Yarraville was transformed recently into a Hellenic festa. One would have thought that you had been transported to one of those lovely village panayiri’s in Greece. The occasion was the holding of the annual Yarraville Festival on Sunday 17 March.

Like many events the Festival this year had to be postponed a week due to the heat wave that struck Victoria. But that didn’t stop people coming out in great numbers to enjoy this year’s event. Yet again the Festival brought together great entertainment, great food and other offerings – all to be enjoyed under a lovely warm and sunny Melbourne day.

Part of the crowd enjoying Yarraville’s Greek Precinct. Photo: Jim Claven

The key area of the Festival was again the Greek Precinct, stretching along Canterbury Street, surrounding the iconic Sun Theatre with its Hellenic connections. As with last year’s Festival the Sun had planned to show some famous old Greek movies as part of the Festival and was screened in the week running up to the event.

One of the great things about the Yarraville Festival is its showcase of Greek music. Throughout the day two stages offered a range of music, from traditional rebetiko and pontian music, to the sound of the clarino with the music of northern Greece – as well as the iconic Zorba’s dance by Mikis Theodorakis! The musicians included those from Melbourne’s Demotika and Gkazi. I particularly enjoyed the pontian music of Lambi Anastasidis on lyra supported by his daughters Eleni and Parthena – a real treat. It wasn’t long before the crowd was dancing and smashing plates as they were overcome with emotion and joy!

The plates are smashed as the dancing continues to the Gkazi band at the Eleni’s Kitchen stage of the Yarraville Festival. Photo: Jim Claven

Again the crowd was able to enjoy the magnificent hospitality of the famous Eleni’s Kitchen and Bar – one of Melbourne’s more important Hellenic culinary institutions. It was such a pleasure to see Natalie and Stylianos who take the Festival to their heart, putting on offer the best of Greek cuisine. What better way to enjoy a Greek panayiri than with the aroma and taste of roast lamb as the bazoukia fills the air! And for dessert you only had to walk up to St Nicholas’ Greek Orthodox Church to enjoy the fresh loukamades. Great to see my friend Vicki Papazoglou helping out there.

Author Kathryn Gauci at our combined literary stall at the Yarraville Festival. Photo: Jim Claven

And of course any celebration of Hellenic culture needs to include food for the brain! Yet again the Festival encouraged myself and two other writers – my good friends Kathryn Gauci and Dr John Martino – to promote our books and provide other intellectual offerings to the public. Thanks to my partner Vicki Kyritsis for all her help getting me there and providing refreshments. On behalf of all of us I can certainly say that we were kept busy with interesting discussions and book purchases. We were regaled by stories of trips to Greece’s many sights and delights, as well as musings on the best hellenic and philhellenic authors. We were certainly lighter by many books on the return journey home. Thanks to Bendigo Bank for the stall.

More of the crowd at the Yarraville Festival. Photo: Jim Claven

We were joined for a time by my good friend Malcolm MacDonald and his wife Flora who hails from Serres in northern Greece. An old Yarraville boy, Malcolm had us in awe with his stories of selling papers as a young boy in these very streets and watching the building of the Sun Theatre in the years before the war!

The iconic Sun Theatre in Yarraville. Photo: Jim Claven

The Greek Precinct was blessed to be visited by our Greek Consul Emmanuel Kakavelakis and the Hon John Pandazopoulos, former MP and Victorian Government Minister. Mr Kakavalekis said it was an indication of the vibrancy of Melbourne’s Hellenic community that it continues to thrive in the suburbs of the city.

The Demotika band entertain the crowd. Photo: Jim Claven

Mr Pandazopoulos was amazed that after the great success of the recent Antipodes Festival in Melbourne there was still such enthusiasm from the public to join in a celebration of Hellenic culture in Yarraville. Both praised the organizers for their efforts and the many volunteers who keep such community festivals alive.

Yarraville Festival organizer and stalwart volunteer Con Fescos (left) with the Greek Consul Emmanuel Kakavelakis. Photo: Jim Claven

Con Frescos and his sister Nikki are stalwarts of the Festival, whose heritage stems from Kiparrisia in the Peloponnese, are both tireless Festival volunteers. Con said that it was important that these sorts of local community festivals were kept alive and included the celebration of the heritage of the local community.

The author presents his books to Stylianos and Natalie Amanatidis from Eleni’s Kitchen and Bar. Photo: Jim Claven

“The Greek community has a long and active history in the Yarraville area, centering on St Nicholas’ Church and embracing local community organizations, including the Yarraville soccer club. We have worked to ensure that the Greek Precinct thrives as part of the Festival, celebrating and reminding all who come that the Hellenic community was and remains an important component of the local area”, Con said.

The amazing Anthony Quinn wall mural in Eleni’s Kitchen and Bar. Photo: Jim Claven

And what better way to finish a hard day’s work at the Festival than with a lovely meal at Eleni’s Kitchen, enjoying the food, Mythos beer and hospitality put on by my good friends Stylianos and Natalie Amanatidis. Stylianos has been a great supporter of many of my commemorative activities – including hosting fundraisers for our George Treloar Memorial in Ballarat – and it was my pleasure to present him with copies of my latest books, Grecian Adventure and From Imbros Over The Sea.

Another happy book reader at our literary stall – the author with good friend Joe Adams. Photo: Jim Claven

We look forward to returning ext year to the Yarraville Festival and its Greek Precinct Panayiri!

Jim Claven OAM is a trained historian, freelance writer and published author, his most recent books include Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed, Grecian Adventure and From Imbros Over The Sea. He was recently awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to veterans and community history. He can be contacted via email –

The author (left) with Nikki Frescos, The Greek Consul Emmanuel Kakavelakis and Dr John Martino at our literary stall. Photo: Jim Claven