The Department of Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies at the University of Sydney was in focus on the weekend in honour of its 50th anniversary, highlighting past and present voices to showcase the influence and impact it has had on the community since its foundation.

The 50-year celebration was held on Sunday afternoon at the Chau Chak Wing Museum as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney (organised by the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW).

The event combined the voices of both former and current members of the department’s teaching staff as well as former and current students

These came in the form of a panel of speakers which consisted of the retired Drs Alfred Vincent and Panayota Nazou, Professor Vrasidas Karalis (current Chair) and Associate Professor Anthony Dracopoulos, and Andrew Thanos and Joyce Kolevris (both of whom have studied Modern Greek at USYD).

The celebratory cake. Photo: Supplied

The event opened with a quick address from the chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris, who praised the incredible stamina and wealth of teaching staff that have worked at the department over the past 50 years.

“The Greek Orthodox Community is committed to promote the Greek language and its culture, and it is very important that all of us here today continue to support that,” the Festival Chair said.

Following her was a brief address from the Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis, who recognised the Greek government’s contribution to the Department (before the country’s Financial Crisis) of financial support and supporting interested tutors from Greece.

“I am now exploring possibilities and am at the disposal of the teaching staff of the university to see how we can at least partially revive some of this support,” he said.

Andrew Thanos, Dr. Alfred Vincent, Joyce Kolevris, Prof. Dracopoulos, Prof. Karalis, Dr Panayota Nazou. Photo: Supplied

The event then proceeded to its panel with the first speaker being Dr Vincent, who was the founding member of the department’s teaching staff and taught there for 25 years.

The esteemed academic spoke on the origins and early history of the Department, noting the contribution of Sir Nicholas Laurantus who worked hard (and donated significant personal funds) to help establish the department.

He discussed how many language studies at the time focused on literature, and there was a conscious effort to diversify the topics into areas like Greek history, music, art and shadow theatre.

Dr Vincent remarked on the introduction of the first new additions to the staff which commenced in 1976, starting with Dr Michael Jeffries, who along with his now late wife Elizabeth were big supporters and contributors to the department.

He added that Dr Jeffries became the first Chair of the Department in 1983 and that he had called his former colleague over the phone, who sent his best wishes and greetings for the success of this event.

Dr Vincent closed his speech by acknowledging the downturn in language studies in the country, noting that the value of developing an advanced knowledge of a language other than English has diminished greatly.

The crowd. Photo: Supplied

“In my opinion, members of different language communities need to get together with academics in many language disciplines to convince our leaders to support language learning at all levels,” he said while mentioning the need to also adapt and try new approaches to address the problem.

Dr Panayota Nazou, who taught for more than 40 years at USYD, was very critical of how the university authorities treated the funds designated for the Modern Greek Department.

In saying that, she also admitted that if she had to choose from the beginning her professional career she would have an easy and clear response: “I would have followed exactly the same professional path”.

The conversation slightly pivoted at this point to hear the perspectives of some students who engaged in Modern Greek Studies, beginning with Andrew Thanos (who is also a past President of the Sydney University Greek Society)

“In essence, the establishment of the Department of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney ignited a cultural renaissance that transcended generations and communities, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to shape the landscape of Modern Greek Studies in our country,” he said.

Building on this, Joyce Kolevris (also from the Department) added on the great value in engaging with Modern Greek Studies even as a Greek-born student such as herself, highlighting the tremendous learning opportunities and guidance the department’s teaching staff provide.

“They have always been our biggest supporters in everything we have accomplished, as mentors, referees for job applications and advocates for better education from all levels,” she said.

The focus then shifted to the department’s current senior staff, starting with Dr Dracopoulos who has taught for more than 30 years.

Photo: Supplied

He expressed a great deal of pride in the many successes of the Department, including its ability to accommodate students from other universities like UNSW, UTS, and the University of Western Sydney.

“By any means, all these constitute a significant contribution to the discipline. I am confident that Sir Nicholas Laurantus would be very proud with what we have achieved so far,” he said while concluding on the need to think to the future.

“Under the current conditions at the tertiary level, there is no other way but to work hard as a community so we can make Modern Greek disciplines financially self-sufficient.”

The final speaker was Professor Karalis, the current Chair with more than 30 years’ experience, who spoke glowingly of all the staff that has worked at the Department over the 50 years.

While admitting the concern regarding the current situation, he added a positive finish to his speech as we look towards the future.

“I feel the love for Greek and Greek studies should be something that unites us all, and the love of Greek is that which makes me optimistic for the future,” he said.

“We will survive, and we will abide. We will triumph. We will never because we love what we are doing.”

The proceedings, which were emceed by former USYD student and Sophia Kormarkovski, then concluded with the cutting of a celebratory cake to mark the anniversary.

The event was attended by various members of Greek community organisations as well as current students from SUGS, many of whom are currently studying Modern Greek at the university.