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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 30 May 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Greeks A NEW ZEALAND AND CRETAN WAR PERSPECTIVE FROM WOMEN IMMIGRANTS Meeting with Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki at UNITEC, I could see that she too had been on an incredible adventure, a journey that had taken her to the most unique areas of the world including Papua New Guinea. She enthusiastically described her stay and developmental work in this part of the Pacific, in a country where there is not one common language, as there over 750! This was the first day of the new semester, yet Evangelia, at short notice, agreed to meet with me and ensured that I was not hungry as I invaded the university lunch. We were soon joined by her colleague, Athina Tsoulis, a film director originally from Adelaide, who is currently preparing with Evangelia a documentary on Cretan women migrants in NZ. The two academics have overseen a wonderful oral history project documenting the experiences of Cretan women who came to New Zealand as domestic servants between 1962-1964 as part of a work visa scheme. Their project, funded by the NZ Ministry of Culture and Heritage, explores the historical link between Crete and New Zealand that was forged during WWII, and the impact the war had on a group of women (mostly Chania) who decided to migrate. The study also provided a perspective on how women deal with migration and the impact migration can have on young women who come from traditionally patriarchal societies. The study outlines how young single women from Crete took a massive gamble, "moving to a country they knew very little about and which had a very small Greek community that could provide them with support, unlike the many post-war Greeks who migrated to Australia". Their research provided a voice for a group of women who had been neglected in historical records. Having read through some of the transcripts, it almost brought a tear to my eyes knowing what these women went through. Arriving in such a foreign place, one that was much colder than the sub-tropical temperature of Crete, would have been difficult for any person, let alone someone who did not know the English language. I was told that a significant number of these women migrated back to Greece or to Australia (chain migration) around 1980 onward. GREEK COMMUNITY Arriving at the home of the Honourable Consul of Greece, I was sure to find an enthusiastic man who wore his heart on his sleeve. This much I had gleaned from our email exchanges. And I was not to be let down. Mr Nikos Petousis has the passion of a young man. A look around his home and study revealed a large library collection and pointed to a man with a thirst for knowledge. Our conversation soon revolved around the steady maintenance of the Greek community. Born in Greece, I asked how he came to be a resident in Auckland. He told me that his uncle had met a Kiwi soldier in Kalamata, Ernest Clarke, after the war. He had been left behind in Greece. The soldier was grateful of the protection and support that the locals had given him. As a thank you, "the ex-soldier obtained a six-month visa to work in Auckland". The young engineering graduate, who did not speak English, made his way to the other side of the world at the age of 19. It was a two-month voyage in 1956. Despite initial disappointment in the very rural surroundings, he would eventually grow to love New Zealand and chose to stay. He taught himself how to speak English and with his thirst for engineering was soon making 11 pounds 6 shilling, a salary more than his Kiwi sponsor. Mr Petousis told me that he took his Auckland-born grandchildren to Greece, which in turn inspired them to learn more about their heritage, including the classics. Since 2012, there has been a steady stream of Greek professionals arriving, though not enough to make a huge splash. In essence it will become a difficult task to maintain the Greek way of life in Auckland in generations to come, therefore it is important that Apokries party in New Zealand. THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 30 MAY 2015 13 FEATURE everyone in the community contributes. Donald Montes was one of the first of recent arrivals, touching down in 2010. Born and raised in Athens, Donald has opened a business that imports food products from Greece, supplying delis and shops. A convenient way to make up for the lack of Greek eateries in Auckland. Having become the vice president of the Greek Community, he told me "we organise all the national days and try to promote other initiatives through our school that promote our culture" (lectures, movie screenings). The closeknit community uses the Community Centre as a hub to bring them together as they strive to maintain their culture in a distant land. THE EARLY GREEK SPEAKERS IN NEW ZEALAND New Zealand has a population of 4,500 Greek speakers; less than 1,000 of those are in Auckland. The Greek media is located in Wellington, which has traditionally gained the lion's share of Greek migration. Many have gone on to become chain migrants, moving on to Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps for the better weather or being closer to Greece, reducing flying time to just 24 hours. Greek migrants seem to have come from the Ionian Sea, Crete, the Peloponnese, Lesbos, Makedonia and Cyprus. In 1798, a Greek sailor is said to have settled in Dunedin - Mr Constas, who was from Sparta. It is believed he is the first to have moved to the country permanently. In 1832 Captain Economou arrived probably in Auckland and fell in love with a Maori girl. The captain was present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. It is rumoured he was an advisor. Seaman Nicolas Demetriou Mangos from Syros arrived in New Zealand in 1844. The 17-yearold jumped ship because his Dutch captain was reportedly cruel. He was sheltered by an Irish family, and later he married their daughter. The 1874 census recorded forty men and one Greek woman. Nikolas Fernandos (or Mantzaris) from the island of Ithaca is considered the first known immigrant to New Zealand. From 1890 Greek people arrived to establish themselves in the fish trade, as street vendors, confectioners and restaurateurs in major cities. WAR REFUGEES In 1951, New Zealand, as is evidenced time and again by its hospitality to refugees and new migrants, took in 1,026 ethnic Greeks from Romania, persons who had been displaced by the Greek Civil War (late 1940s). Stop for a minute and think about what these people went through. The disaster of the civil war which followed the Nazi occupation of Greece, then having to flee to Romania before finding a new home in a country with few Greek speakers. A plaque was unveiled in 2012 in Wellington to commemorate their arrival in the country by boat all those years ago. A play by John Vakidis, Tzigane, explores what these people went through. This was a well-received play that touched upon the very real stories of people who did not deserve such a fate, to be separated from Greece due to their communist sympathies. By the 1960s, there were possibly up to 7,000 Greek speakers as Greece felt the effects of famine and poverty outside of Athens. This is a sad period of Greek history. Despite the economic crisis the country currently experiences, nothing can compare to having little to put on your table during this period. One million people, around 20 per cent of the Greek population, migrated. Auckland and indeed New Zealand have always been welcoming of new settlers. The intransigent attitude that many of us experienced in Australia has never been evident here, at least that is the feeling I was able to glean. Auckland, the community and the city were as welcoming to a Greek Australian as they have been to Hellenes over the years. Therein lies their charm, for they are as hospitable and open as any person I have ever met in Greece. And as long as there is a church and a community centre, and a sense of pride in Greece, the community will remain. *Billy Cotsis is a freelance writer and short film director. Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki with a PNG tribesman.
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