Malcolm Turnbull’s tumultuous elevation to prime minister may have come and gone, but one Greek Australian close to former PM Tony Abbott says the nation has lost not just a great man but a Philhellene.
Kytherian-born Paul Dracakis has been a close confidant and friend of Mr Abbott for more than 20 years – as a fundraiser and loyal supporter in the Liberal Party machine.
“Tony Abbott had a real admiration for Greek Australians and a deep respect for the sacrifices many had made after adopting Australia as their homeland,” Mr Dracakis told Neos Kosmos.
“He did all that he could to show that, and as a community, we should never forget this.”
Mr Abbott’s attention to the Greek community included his many media events in the Barton electorate, held by Liberal MP Nickolas Varvaris.
In the 2013 election, Mr Varvaris snatched the traditional Labor seat for his party for the first time since the 1980s by only 491 votes, making it one of the most marginal Liberal seats in the country.
Dracakis says the former PM broke new ground when he attended Greek Easter celebrations in Kogarah this year.
“Tony was the first and only PM that I’m aware of that came to celebrate Greek Easter with Greek Australians at a Greek church,” he said.
“I think people found a new respect for him for doing that, and that includes people from the other side of politics.”
Emigrating to Australia in the late 1950s as an 18-year-old, Dracakis settled in the town of West Wyalong in central western NSW.
After visiting Sydney’s north, he fell in love with the scenery of Seaforth and decided to relocate there.
He later opened a delicatessen in beachside Manly and served as an independent Manly councillor.
In 1980, he opened his first Dracakis Jewellers boutique and never looked back, but his continued advocacy for small business issues brought him into contact with his local Warringah MP, Mr Abbott.
Mr Dracakis, who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the Manly-Warringah community and to business, used his characteristic drive and determination to establish a fundraising organisation, the Warringah Club.
“It was a club of about 40 business people and I was honoured and even surprised a little to be made its chairman,” he said,
“We had professors, solicitors, barristers and other business owners. They were all there to support Tony Abbott.”
According to Mr Dracakis, the member of Warringah was a natural leader.
“No one is perfect and Tony Abbott is not perfect, but if there’s someone you would want to have on your side when the chips are down, it’s him,” he said.
“Sometimes he was too loyal to some of his friends.
“It can come back to bite you but it’s devastating to see the flaws of those you once called friends, exposed in a way that your enemies can prey on.”
He declined to identify which of Mr Abbott’s former friends he was referring to, but former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop was undoubtedly among them.
Most commentators believe Mr Abbott damaged his political standing by initially refusing to remove her from her role in the ‘choppergate’ scandal (involving a $5,000, taxpayer-funded helicopter trip) until public opinion forced him to. Reports suggest Bishop repaid the favour with a vote for Turnbull in the leadership spill.
Mr Dracakis says Mr Abbott never sought kudos for his work in the community, as a volunteer for the NSW Rural Fire Service and for his involvement in surf lifesaving.
“How small-minded people were, when they continually attacked him for wearing swimming briefs and joked about his ‘budgie smugglers’ when really they were symbolic of his work for the community,” he says.
“I never heard Tony bad-mouthing anyone and I have spent enough time with him to know the man to know.
“Sometimes I would become frustrated and angry with him when he refused to criticise or show animosity to those who mistreated him.
“I believe in the next 10 years or so, the Australian public will appreciate him more, especially his honesty and refusal to put a fellow Aussie down.”