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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 September 2014
14 SATURDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2014 Home, away from home As the first - and every subsequent - wave of Greek migrants reached Australian shores, associations and brotherhoods were formed; foundation stones of Greek communities laid around Australia. It was their same background; the country where they were born that tied them close. In a reverse phenomenon and many years later, in circumstances different to those of forced migration, a group of 'Aussies' united in Thessaloniki. Their connection - their Greek background and Australian upbringing. For Greek Australian Anastasia Skliros, returning to Greece was a destiny she couldn't avoid. Her father, who migrated to Australia from Lefkada, took her pregnant mother back to Preveza on a ship - for the sole purpose of giving birth to their first born on Greek soil. Anastasia now says her father's recipe seems to have worked - it's not by chance that she has been living in Greece for over 20 years now. "My family was very Greek orientated in Australia. My father promoted Greekness in our family, we went to Greek school, Greek gatherings - he didn't allow us to think that we were Australians. I was always drawn to Greece, as a child. Even though we were so far away from Greece, the Greek element was a strong part of growing up in Australia," Anastasia tells Neos Kosmos. "After growing up in Mornington, and finishing my degrees, it was a common thing to go travelling around Greece. On the island of Paros, I met another tourist - a Greek from Thessaloniki, later on my husband." Twenty years on, Anastasia's home is Thessaloniki, where she lives with her husband and two children. It was several years ago that she felt the urge to finally bring to fruition that reverse phenomenon idea she though about so many times - to bring together all (Greek) Australians in Thessaloniki and Northern Greece. The group Aussies in Thess was founded in 2011, and after just three years of existence, it now counts over 1,000 members. "I was feeling the connection with people with common background and experiences similar to mine. I remembered how in Australia our parents used to get together with brotherhoods - so I thought, why not do that here? I had two Greek Australian friends; there must be so many more I thought... "We just click; we know how we relate to each other. We do differ to Greeks from Greece, we are Greek Australians. We connect because we have this bi-cultural thing going, and we know what it feels like to grow up as Greeks abroad," she explains. "I regard the group as my baby. I have met so many great people with whom I share a similar background and whole cosmotheoria - simply because we have the same growing pains and background. We are just Greek Aussies together, when we meet we speak English." The group gathers a few times a month, and is a very active one. Charitable events, tavern nights with families, walks for autism - are just a few of the events the group takes part in. In Anastasia's words, this is what makes their friendship real. "This is the whole meaning of the group to me. It's like group therapy in a way. For what we've left behind, what we have here, desires to return or to stay here. We nurture it, as if it was our baby." Despite the optimism and love for Greece that keeps Anastasia and other group members there, she tells that due to the recession and over 35 per cent unemployment in Greece, many group members have already moved back to Australia, having spent as much as 20 or 30yearsinGreece-alotofthematan advanced age and as blue collar workers. Those who leave, Anastasia says, are doing so as they have no other choice left in Greece. "It's very difficult to get up and leave and start life from zero at that age. The only reason I would return is for the future of my kids, to give them a better future." Other members of the group have their own stand on the issue, Anastasia recognises. "They want to stay in Greece, but they are afraid whether they will be able to. We don't know what the situation is going to be like, if we will be able to handle it. We have a bit of a sense of insecurity here - something that is missing from life in Australia - where, from the day you are born, you feel secure and supported." For another member of the Aussies in Thess group, Konstantinos Kallianides, it was after he finished grade five that his parents decided to return to Greece - in 1983. They returned to their village of Rizari, in the municipality of Edessa. Over 1,000 members of the group Aussies in Thess, that unites Greek Australians living in Northern Greece, regard both countries as their home. Their current home, however, may not be able to support them all MAJA JOVIC Welcome event, at Paralia, for a visiting member from Australia. Greek Aussies at one of the charitable events they take part in, Food For Good. L-R: Anastasia Skliros, Kon Kallian- idis and Vicky Mantzouranis.
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