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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 April 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 APRIL 2015 13 FEATURE Aboriginal connection death of Vlase Zanailis, the Northern Aborigines lost a true friend and Australia one of its most dedicated and sincere artists, a man able to get to the inner truth of a subject and to put it on canvas. He was a pioneer of the North and Australian Art.” The scientist Dr Archie Kalokerinos devoted the best part of his life in the last part of the 20th century to caring for Aboriginal health. The Greek Workers Leagues would also regularly participate in Aboriginal rights campaigns. Platon, in Adelaide, was affiliated for a long time to the Aboriginal Advancement League. In the 1997 Reconciliation Dr Archie Kalokerinos was named Greek Australian of the century in 2000 by Neos Kosmos. 1 3 A a b a L I b s u t 1965 it had 2,000 members and 36 branches throughout the state. Alick, who had developed a greater awareness of politics in general, became deeper involved in political activity in the Aboriginal cause. Alick Jackomos’ life is documented in the book A Man of All Tribes: The Life of Alick Jackomos. church in Gore St, Fitzroy. (Yarra Bank just this side of the tennis courts, had been an open forum for radical Sunday afternoon speakers and public meetings. May Day marches concluded there.) Nicholls was a prominent political leader and 'spokesperson for the Victorian Aboriginal community'. The developing Aboriginal movement against assimilationist policies in the 1950s began to “heat up in the 1960s taking Alick along with it”. Bill Onus, president of the Australian Aborigines' League, was with others promoting the Aboriginal political cause through cultural activities which attracted Alick's interests. ASIO kept a file on Bill, claiming he was a "Communist simply because he had spoken to Communist (and Christian) meetings about the Aboriginal cause”. The formation of the Aboriginal Advancement League in Victoria in 1959 found Alick and his wife Merle there from the beginning. By LABOR MAN - SOCIALIST INCLINED In 1998 Alick told me he had been a Labor man way back and socialist inclined. In 1963 he was unanimously elected president of the Australian Aborigines' League. He was, with Arthur Rusden, the only non-Aboriginal member ever to be allowed into the organisation and was nominated by the radical Bruce McGuinness. In 1964 Alick became the Victorian secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, a position h H o e o b s t he held until 1976, agitating for A Aboriginal equal rights on citizenship, e education, health, employment and wages, and an end to discriminatory legislation. In 1967 VCAATSI added the right to retain language and culture and the right to control land. The migrant rights movement had begun to take up similar issues at the time. Alick worked as a public servant from 1968 to 1989, first with the Victorian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and them from 1974 with the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. His journey in the Aboriginal community was not always troublefree. Being a non-Aboriginal he occasionally came under attack from those advocating Aboriginals only for positions of authority. But more often than not, his contribution was valued by those whose rights he fought for. ‘MAYBE WE DID NOT KNOW UNCLE ALICK AS WE SHOULD HAVE’ The title of the book A Man of All Tribes was borrowed from the eulogy at this funeral in 1999 by Arnold Zable, an Australian Jew who (like Alick) grew up in working class 'dagobash' Carlton, married a Greek Australian hailing from Ithaca and became Australia's best-loved storyteller of multiculturalism. The funeral revealed to many of his Greek relatives the extent of Alick's contribution to the Aboriginal cause and the love and respect he had earned from so many. His niece Yvone Parisi remarked: “Maybe we did not know Uncle Alick as we should have. Once he passed away we realised what he had achieved in his life.” She could have been speaking for the entire Greek community. His cousin Theo Conos simply said, “his funeral stunned me”. Alick adopted Greek Orthodox rites in hospital, but wished to be buried from the Aboriginal Advancement League headquarters. As it was being rebuilt, his funeral was held in the Northcote Town Hall, on 12 March, with candles and the Greek, Australian and Koori flags on the wall. About 1,000 people crammed inside and many more hundreds milled outside. UNDER FOREIGN SKIES Many Greek Australian political and community activists, writers and scientists had taken up the Aboriginal cause with passion and conviction. Alecos Doukas, the doyen of Greek Australian literature, had an Aboriginal as one of the protagonists in this 1966 novel Under Foreign Skies, about the travels of the unemployed in the depression years. The Greek Australian Review (1951-52) and later Neos Kosmos regularly featured Aboriginal stories and campaigns. Yota Krili translated into Greek the famous book (and later film) Women of the Sun, published by the University Press of Thessaloniki. In her bilingual poetry collection Triptycho, one of several poems devoted to Aborigines refers to Rosy, an Alice Springs woman, lamenting the black peoples' lost parents and country, descent into hopelessness and the call to rise. VLASSIS ZANAILIS PUT ABORIGINAL FINDINGS ON CANVAS Another Greek Australian who put the best part of his life's work and talent to the service of Aboriginal culture was the painter Vlassis (Vlase) Zanailis who came to Australia from Kastellorizo, aged 12, in 1940 and settled in Perth. Although little known in the Greek communities, he was recognised as an important artist in the wider community, especially among the Aboriginal tribes of central and north-west Australia. Floros Dimitriadis, a well-known journalist and Greek and Cypriot community leader from 1932 to the late 1960s and a close friend of Zanailis, wrote in the 1987 issue of the Greek Australian literary publication Chronico: “Zanailis' conscience made him a rebel against the obvious and unforgivable white Australian indifference and indeed attempts to banish the thousands year old Aboriginal history and culture.” He put to canvas Aboriginal findings which he discovered in caves, rocks and cemeteries in his many expeditions into 'unknown' lands. He was captivated by the Aborigines' magnificent world creation mythology. This attracted media and public attention and created a huge interest in Aboriginal art and history. In appreciation of his work and the trust he won among the Aboriginal tribes with whom he lived for several extended periods, he was made a blood brother and given the honoured names of Linjulmara and Kaladongari by the Dadaways in the Kimberleys. On the first anniversary of his death Dimitriadis wrote: “With the Conference in Melbourne, when Prime Minister John Howard thumped the podium against a treaty, amongst the first to stand up and turn their backs to him as a sign of contempt were the Aboriginal community broadcasting leader Jim Romedio, Tom Gergos of the Democritus League and myself, in an action that stunned the conference and made the media rounds. The Greek Australian left became aware of the Aboriginal question though the CPA in the early 1920s, as it was the only party to have a view - and a sympathetic one - on Aboriginal rights. In 1939 Tom Wright, a CPA central committee member and union official, published the pioneering booklet A Call for Aboriginal Land Rights, endorsed by the NSW Labor Council. Michael Tsounis (interview 3 February 2000) told me how as a young man in Adelaide in 1943, he met Aboriginal people for the first time at a CPA meeting - the Williams and Paise families: “It was something entirely new for me to hear speeches with so much passion for the rights of Aborigines.” In May 1946, just when the mass immigration schemes were taking shape, 800 Aboriginal station hands in the Pilbara in the North West walked out en masse, demanding a minimum wage of thirty shillings a week, and the right to organise and appoint their own representatives, astounding their employers. “With the migration explosion and the foundation of new national minorities came also a big Aboriginal revival,” wrote veteran Melbourne Communist leader Ralph Gibson when commenting on the Pilbara walk-out - a most profound observation, the significance of which guided the dynamics of the relationship between the ethnic and Aboriginal rights movements. Many actions of that type were to follow. Their struggles for recognition as people, with rights to their land and a better life, grew as they took control of their destiny and other Australians joined them. Their demand for a treaty between themselves and the white settlers which will enshrine these rights in law is still to be won. Their right to be counted as Australian citizens had to wait until 1966 and their right to be recognised in the constitution as Australia's first people still has to go through a referendum.
18 April 2015