On Thursday, Neos Kosmos celebrated six decades of continuous publication with a thick, heavy, memory-filled edition spanning 72 large format pages.
To put this into perspective, consider that it all started with a meagre four-page edition on 13 February 1957. Those four pages were crammed with news from Greece and about Greeks in Melbourne, and put together in a tiny office on Niagra Lane in the CBD by a group of passionate people under the leadership of Dimitris Gogos.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEOS
Neos Kosmos was not the first Greek newspaper to be printed in Australia. Greek papers have been printed in Australia for 114 years now, starting with Stratis Venlis Australia, first published in 1913. Sicne that time more than 110 Greek newspapers have been issued in one format or other. When Neos Kosmos was first published, there had been at least 17 serious, persistent attempts of newspapers catering for the needs of Greek migrants. But Neos Kosmos was different from the start, which is why it remains Australia’s oldest Greek newspaper, the one with the largest circulation, and by all accounts the largest and most influential Greek publication outside Greece.
In a way, Neos Kosmos’ success is all about momentum. The paper was the original product of its time, chronicling the wave of mass migration coming from Greece in the 1950s and 60s. The paper became the voice of these migrants, helped them set foot in Australia, to find an identity and become an integral part of the community, while at the same time, Neos Kosmos itself became an advocate of multiculturalism, migrant rights and workers’ rights.
Important as it may have been for this large population of Greek migrants to have a platform of information about the motherland, at a time where information was a luxury, if Neos Kosmos became a success, it is because it was never just about the news. It was – and remains – an example of journalism as engaged citizenship.
Neos Kosmos was the first newspaper in Australia to advocate for migrant rights and to bring to the forefront the endemic racism that existed in some sections of Australian society at the time. It became an important voice in the debate on creating a multicultural nation.
A HUB FOR LEFT-LEANING GREEK MIGRANT WORKERS
Having moved to Little Bourke Street, the offices of Neos Kosmos soon became a meeting point for Greek migrants. The paper acted as a sort of welfare agency for them, covering the gap left by the Australian Government, when the economic crisis of 1961 hit.
Having gained people’s trust with its reporting of the news, the paper provided Greeks with information on their rights, and served as a hub for Greek job-seekers to meet with potential employers within the community. And it was never just about the Greek identity. From the early days, Neos Kosmos was associated with progressive-thinking, left leaning people, organisations and unions, to an extent unprecedented by any other ethnic newspaper. In a way, Neos Kosmos was the news outlet that the founders of Democritos were hoping to have one day, when they founded the Greek communist union in 1935.
The paper became a voice for Greek migrant workers, writing about their rights, their struggles, their continuous effort to tackle racism, discrimination, injustice and make a place for themselves within the community. In doing so, it has been tightly connected with Democritos and the other Greek migrant workers’ associations, such as Plato (in Adelaide) and Atlas (in Sydney). The 60s was an era of political turmoil, both inside Australia and abroad and there was no cause that Neos Kosmos was not involved in, from workers’ rights within Australia, to the ongoing struggle for the self-determination of Cyprus to the fight against dictatorship. At the time Melbourne was filling up with graffiti urging the restoration of democracy in Greece, Neos Kosmos was campaigning against the shameful regime – which fell apart after committing the ultimate act of betrayal against Cyprus. Neos Kosmos’ anti-junta campaign was not restricted to editorial. The paper was instrumental in bringing to Australia one of the world’s most acclaimed contemporary composers, Mikis Theodorakis, a living embodiment of the anti-dictatorship struggle internationally.
Another leader of the international anti-dictatorship campaign, Andreas Papandreou, made a stop in Australia while in exile, before his triumphant return to Greece, which resulted in him becoming the prime minister who led Greece through the 80s, defining the decade.
THE GREEK COMMUNITY TO THE FOREGROUND
Closer to home, Neos Kosmos helped establish the first Modern Greek choir at Melbourne University, the Australian Greek Welfare Society, the Greek Song Festival, the Antipodes Festival, Greek Language studies at La Trobe University and successfully advocated for the portability of migrant pensions from Greece.
This was the 1970s, a time when Neos Kosmos was located at 235 Russell Street, near the Lonsdale Street corner in the heart of the CBD i.e. at the epicentre of Melbourne’s Greek precinct where many Greek businesses thrived. The first wave of Greek immigrants had settled and thrived. Migrant workers were on their way of becoming middle class. A second generation of Greek Australians were growing; their grasp of Greek was limited but they wanted to be in touch with the community and their parent’s motherland. Neos Kosmos started printing news in Greek to address their needs. It was now a large newspaper, selling over 30,000 copies a week; its readership had some core things in common – Greek ethnicity, progressive values, forward thinking – and becoming a diverse group. Meanwhile, Australia was reinventing itself as a multicultural country, a policy largely associated with Gough Whitlam’s brief – but largely impactful – stint as prime minister. Neos Kosmos used any leverage it had gained to support and advocate multiculturalism, to the point of lodging the first application for what would become the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), Australia’s international beacon of what a state-run multicultural media organisation should be like.
The outstanding growth of the 80s saw Neos Kosmos cementing its place within the community media ecosystem, profiting from healthy revenue, through advertisements and classifieds. This continued well into the 90s. The paper had relocated to 600 Nicholson Street in North Fitzroy, and, more importantly, it was moving to cyberspace, developing its first website in 1996.
Technology was transforming the world of communication and this is still going on. Neos Kosmos was moving in all directions. The Monday and Thursday editions – by then a staple of the Greek community – were printed in full colour; the English pages were on the way to becoming what is now Saturday’s edition (which was launched in 2010), with a parallel newsroom of its own; the paper focused on strengthening its ties with the community, becoming the go-to place for local news; meanwhile, the online edition was gaining readership and followers from around the world, confirming what is now common knowledge: that Neos Kosmos is the most significant news outlet of the Hellenic diaspora.
WITH AN EYE TO THE FUTURE
The launch of Neos Kosmos’ new website in 2000 resulted in 30-35 per cent of the traffic coming from beyond Australia, including Greece, Cyprus, and the US. This was further enhanced after the website was redesigned in 2009, becoming bilingual.
It is now a point of reference for the broader diaspora – and its next overhaul is under way, with an aim to make the user experience even better. By 2010 the English supplement was almost forty years old; it was time for it to become a proper weekly print edition of its own, catering for the needs of the third-generation Greeks who needed to stay in touch with their culture.
Now, six decades on, news is still our business, and so is education; language; the mission of educating Greeks on language, culture, politics, history. Offering them the complete Hellenic perspective.