Last week saw the planting of an olive tree and the placement of an associated memorial plaque in the grounds of the Victorian Parliament.

This new memorial honours the solidarity forged between the Greek and Australian people – from the Island of Lemnos in 1915 to the battles of the Greek and Crete campaigns of 1941 – and in the waves of post-war migration to Australia. The memorial was erected by the Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Greece, supported by the Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council (the Council) and the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee (the Committee).

The memorial was unveiled by the Premier of Victoria, the Hon Daniel Andrews MP, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Matthew Guy MP, and Lieutenant General Konstantinos Floros, Deputy Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff.

The event was attended by the Consul-General of Greece in Melbourne Christina Simantiraki, government ministers and MPs, other dignitaries from Greece and representatives of Melbourne’s Greek community.

The assembly was honoured to be joined by the descendents of some of the Anzacs who served in Greece across WWI and WWII. Deb Stewart is the granddaughter of Sister Evelyn Hutt who served with the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos in 1915. Shirley Devery’s father Tom served with the 2/6th Australian Infantry Battalion across the Greek mainland and on Crete in 1941. Peter Ford is the son of Frank Ford who also served in Greece and Crete in 1941 with the New Zealand 22nd Wellington Battalion.

The Premier stated that Melbourne’s large and vibrant Hellenic community had made an important contribution to the social and economic development of Victoria. He went on to say that the memorial acknowledges the depth of the connection between Australia and Greece, a bond formed across both world wars.

Steve Dimopoulos MP, the Hon Bruce Atkinson MLC and Murray Thompson MP agreed with the words of the Premier and expressed how glad they were to have played a role in bringing the memorial to reality. Bruce and Murray reflected on their connections with the Melbourne’s Greek community.

Steve stated that he was proud both as an Australian of Greek heritage to acknowledge this bond between Greeks and Australians but also as the Member of Parliament for Oakleigh, “My electorate is not only the location of a vibrant part of Melbourne’s Greek community, it is also home to some of these strong bonds. The father of Private William Withers resided in William Street Oakleigh when he was informed that his son had been killed at Gallipoli and was buried in Lemnos’ East Mudros War Cemetery. Brigadier Ned Herring – who rededicated Oakleigh’s Cenotaph – served on the Salonika front in the First World War and in Greece in 1941. This olive tree and plaque honours them, as well as the thousands of others who served in Greece.”

Consul-General Christina Simantiraki said that the planting of an olive tree was a beautiful and appropriate symbol for the memorial.

“The diggers who arrived in Greece in 1941 marvelled at the sunshine and smell of eucalyptus trees as they marched north. The planting of one of Greece’s most famous trees at this spot returns the sentiment expressed by these brave young Anzacs. They would have been proud to see an olive tree planted here today.”

Ms Stewart, Ms Devery and Mr Ford all expressed how Evelyn, Tom, and Frank would have appreciated this token of remembrance by the Victorian Parliament.

Tony Tsourdalakis, secretary of the Council, said that he was proud to have been able to play a part in realising this important acknowledgement of the bonds between Greece and Australia, “The people of Greece have never forgotten the Anzacs – soldiers and nurses – who came to help defend them and their freedom in the dark days of the Second World War. This bond is kept alive in the folk-memories of hundreds of thousands of families in both countries. And now it has been acknowledged by the Victorian Parliament.”

Lee Tarlamis, President of the Committee, said that as an Australian of Greek heritage from Lemnos, the memorial’s acknowledgement of the role of Lemnos in Australia’s Gallipoli campaign was important:
“This olive tree symbolises the fruit and hospitality of Greece, a hospitality that greeted the Anzacs in 1915 and beyond. The bonds of friendship forged between the Greek people and their new Australian friends stretches back to my own Greek relatives who welcomed the Anzacs on Lemnos – one of whom was my Australian ancestor Blackburn’s Private Edward Tozer.”

Ms Christina Despoteris (of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee), Ms Arlene Bennett (of the Nurses Memorial Centre), Ms Litsa Athanasadiadis (of the George Treloar Memorial Committee), Deb Stewart (grand-daughter of Sister Evelyn Hutt) and Ms Shirley Devery (daughter of Private Tom Devery).

A feature of the memorial plaque is a dedication taken from the words of Australia’s war correspondent and historian, Charles Bean. These were written by Bean on his viewing of an ancient Greek text in Athens after the end of the war. The memorial carries the words in both the Greek and English language.

The words are:
“They gave their shining youth, and raised thereby Valour’s own monument which cannot die.(Θυσίασαν τα νιάτα τους για να εξυψώσουν το μνημείο της ανδρείας που είναι αθάνατο).”

I was honoured to be asked to write the text of the memorial plaque by the commissioning committee and felt it was very appropriate that these words be included:
“These words transcribed by the eminent Australian Charles Bean – who came to Lemnos in 1915 and after – in a way can be said to embody the deep connection between Greece and Australia through Anzac. He saw in the words etched in honour of Greek soldiers who fell at the Dardanelles in 440BC a resonance with those Anzacs who had fallen in 1915. What better way to honour Greece and Australia.”

The memorial plaque. Photo: Jim Claven

The unveiling was also witnessed by Lieutenant Colonel Christos Anastasiadis (Deputy Director of Public Relations Directorate of the Hellenic National Defence general staff), Georgios Aerakis (of the municipality of Maleviziou, Iraklion, Crete) and Kostas Trigonis (municipal library of Maleviziou, Iraklion, Crete).

The Premier acknowledged the work of the Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Greece, whose joint convenors – Steve Dimopoulos MP for Oakleigh, and Murray Thompson MP for Sandringham – had played a key role in bringing this memorial about.

He also recognised the support for the placement of the memorial of the Victorian Parliament’s presiding officers – The Hon Bruce Atkinson MLC, president of the Legislative Council, and Colin Brooks MP, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

The memorial committee anticipates that the olive tree memorial will be the place of future commemorative services.