The 32nd Sister Cities Festival has come and gone, but this year’s event has been particularly special following the unveiling of a White Tower replica.
An initiative of Melbourne’s Thessaloniki Association, Vice President Christina Despoteris saw the project as an opportunity to honour the ongoing connection between the two cities with a tangible gift to the City of Melbourne that can be passed on from one generation to the next.
Thousands gathered at the Federation Square for the Festival on Sunday, where Ms Despoteris made an emotional speech.
“What started out as an idea around the dinner table when I was acting president of the Thessaloniki Association, developed into a multi-faceted, cross-cultural, intergenerational community project,” she said.
“I just didn’t want to chair meetings and organise tavern nights. I wanted something more tangible, long lasting and a tribute to the sister city relationship.”
Ms Despoteris spoke about her love for Thessasloniki, which started while working for the Ethnic Affairs Commission. She produced a concert to celebrate the coming together of the two cities based on the initial agreement signed in 1984 by the Mayor of Thessasloniki, Theocharis Manavis and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Cr Kevin Chamberlain.
She also thanked Susan Campbell-Wright, Chairperson of the Art and Craft Committee of the Royal Melbourne Show who contributed many hours of her own time to work on the project.
“What you see in front of you today is a magnificent work of art. The White Tower Melbourne is immaculately decorated by hand made laurels, crocheted and knitted by ladies from the Greek and broader communities of Melbourne, Athens and Thessaloniki,” Ms Despoteris said.
“These ladies have contributed either by crocheting one or two laurels at workshops or have made several hundred and in two cases, 1,000 laurels each,” which are the national flower of Greece, and an emblem of prosperity and fame.
Also presenting on the day were the Thessaloniki Association’s President Paul Mavroudis, Federal Member for Calwell Maria Vamvakinou MP, Minister for Families, Children & Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos MP, President of the GOCMV Bill Papastergiadis, and Secretary General of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association John Pandazopoulos.
Attendees also had the chance to see snippets of the project from start to finish with a video produced from the many photographs taken throughout the process.
Food trucks were set up with the smells of meat cooking over charcoal filling the air and sweet Nutella covered loukoumades, while dance groups took to the stage to entertain those gathered throughout the day.
“The event went very well, there were people going through continuously. The whole afternoon there was dancing and singing, and the food stalls went very well,” Ms Despoteris told Neos Kosmos.
“I have never been as proud, as overwhelmed, nor have I been as grateful for the Greek community and the broader community here in Australia. But I wasn’t surprised because I really believed in the project, and in the people around me.”
The tower has since been relocated to its new home at the administration entrance of the City of Melbourne’s Community Services Centre next to the Town Hall on Swanston Street, with hopes that it will one day find a place in a gallery.