August is a very significant month in the history of the Greek Community in Australia, as it marks two different anniversaries. It was in August that the first Greeks set foot in the country and it was in August that the Greek Orthodox of Melbourne and Victoria was founded.
When the founding meeting of the GOCMV took place, 119 years ago, on 22 August 1897, the 57 members – Greeks living in Melbourne – would have never imagined that what they created would grow to become the greatest, in terms of history and massive participation, organisation of the Greek diaspora in Australia.
The Greek Community of Melbourne may be older than the Australian Federation itself, but Greek presence in Australia is even older.
According to the official records, the first Greeks to set foot in the country, were seven sailors, who arrived on 27 August 1829: Georgios Vasilakis, Gikas Voulgaris, Georgios Laritsos, Antonis Manolis, Damianos Ninis, Nikolaos Papandreas and Konstantinos Strombolis. The seven sailors were convicted for piracy by the British Empire and were exiled to Australia, a fate better than death, which was the other option for this crime.
They might not be the first Greeks in Australia, though. Damianos Gikas, a captain from Hydra, was wrongly convicted for piracy by the British navy and exiled to Sydney, but what ensued is unknown, since there are no records of him, neither in Australia, nor in Greece. In 1814, Giorgos Pappas came in Australia in 1814, as a crew member of a ship of settlers. He got married to an Aboriginal woman, left his ship and settled in Sydney. Australian newspapers in 1900 state other Greek names arriving between 1803 and 1820, but the first confirmed arrivals are the seven convicts from Hydra that came aboard the ‘Hercules’, captained by the Athenian Antonis Manolis. The seven convicted pirates had raided the commercial freighter ‘Alkistis’, without harming the British crew, on 29 July 1827, in Maltese waters. Their loot included pepper, utility items, ropes and sulfur. Two days later, they were arrested by the British ship ‘Gannet’, patrolling south of Crete.