Members of Melbourne’s Pontian community joined with the Ballarat RSL to commemorate 100 years since the foundation of the RSL. A major celebratory dinner was held in Ballarat last Saturday.
The function was well attended with over 100 attendees, including the Mayor of Ballarat Samantha McIntosh, Catherine King, federal MP for Ballarat and Sharon Knight, state MP for Wendouree. The Royal Australian Navy band performed at the function.
Many members and supporters of the Central Pontian Association of Melbourne and Victoria (the Pontiaki Estia), the Philanthropic Association of Merimna of Pontian Ladies Oceania and the George Devine Treloar Memorial Committee made the journey to Ballarat for the occasion.
Kostas Tseprailidis, president of the Estia, and his wife Vicki attended, along with Nick Krikelis and Penny Tsombanopoulos leading the Pontiaki Estia’s dancers and musicians.
One of the longest-serving members of the Pontiaki Estia and supporter of the George Devine Treloar Memorial project, John Salpagtidis, also made the journey.
The Ballarat RSL was founded on 30 January 1917 by returning soldiers from the battlefronts of the First World War to support veterans and their families – as it still does 100 years on. In 1920, General Sir John Monash came to Ballarat to open its then premises.
Many local residents from the city and surrounding areas served in the war as soldiers and nurses, a number of whom served on Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign, and indeed some remain there in the Commonwealth War Cemeteries of Lemnos. Others served in what was called the Salonika campaign in northern Greece, which spread above Thessaloniki from Thrace to Macedonia for four long years. One of those was Ballarat’s Nurse Grace Munro, who lies in Thessaloniki’s Mikra War Cemetery.
Alexandra Tascas, president of the Ballarat RSL, whose father hailed from northern Greece, told Neos Kosmos that Ballarat had played a proud part in the Hellenic connection to Anzac.
“From the soldiers and nurses who served on Lemnos in 1915, through those who served in the three-year Salonika campaign, including Nurse Gertrude Munro, to Major George Devine Treloar who went to Greece to help its refugees after the First World War, and finally to the diggers of the area who fought in the bitter campaign across Greece’s mainland and Crete in 1941 – Ballarat and its service personnel have a strong connection to Greece,” she said.
A feature of the night was a performance of the famous dancers and musicians of the Pontiaki Estia. All were impressed by their performance of traditional Pontian dances in traditional costume. This is the second performance of the Pontiaki Estia dancers in Ballarat, the first being late last year at the celebration of George Devine Treloar held at Ballarat Town Hall.
Nickolas Krikelis, the former president of the Estia, addressed the assembly, explaining the story of the Pontian people, their culture, music and dance. The performance represented this ancient Greek culture, from the shores of the Black Sea known as Pontus. He explained that as the descendents of the Greek people of Pontus, they were proud to perform at the event given the connection between one of Ballarat’s most famous soldiers and refugee helpers – George Devine Treloar – and the Pontian people.
Litsa Athanasiadis, president of the George Devine Treloar Memorial Committee and the Philanthropic Association of Merimna of Pontian Ladies Oceania, told Neos Kosmos that it was an honour to take part in this important commemoration in Ballarat.
“We feel it is only right and proper that descendents of Greece’s Asia Minor refugee communities come to Ballarat to honour the support given by the residents of the city to our forefathers in their hour of need,” she added.
Ms Athanasiadis pointed out that local residents had risen to the challenge in the years after the First World War and raised funds to assist the refugees in Greece. And of course, Ballarat is the home of George Devine Treloar, the WW1 veteran who worked in northern Greece to help resettle over 100,000 refugees from Asia Minor’s Christian communities.
She added that the celebratory dinner was another opportunity to build relationships and support for the coming erection of a new memorial in Ballarat to Major George Devine Treloar.
“We all took the opportunity to congratulate the new Mayor of Ballarat, Ms Samantha McIntosh, who is a strong supporter of the memorial project. We look forward to working with Samantha to make this a reality,” Litsa said.
The dinner was accompanied by a military display of military vehicles, artillery and small arms, military bands, gunfire demonstrations and guides in period uniforms.
Neos Kosmos congratulates the Ballarat RSL on its 100 years of service to the war veterans and their families of Ballarat.