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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 22 August 2015
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 22 AUGUST 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Helen’s Tax A theatrical play exploring the odyssey of Greek migrant women NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU The more everything changes and evolves, the more we move away from our beginnings ... the more fascinated we become with our past. People of migrant backgrounds are even more susceptible to this form of nostalgia, to nostos as it is called in Greek, which is what Taxithi - an Australian Odyssey touches upon. Taxithi is the child of a survey involving more than 20 Greek-born women who have called Australia home since the 1950s and 1960s. Their stories have been adapted into a successful musical, which performed at the Hellenic Museum in March, exciting and moving the audience at the same time. Patterson came up with the idea for the musical after her maternal grandmother, Eleni Constantinou, died in 2010. Those last few days she would mainly talk about the baby she lost while she was trying to come to Australia, and how that child would have been 80 years old. "I grew up with my yiayia in the house, and Greek is all that was spoken to me at home up until the age of five," says Helen Yotis Patterson, writer and director. "When you are away from your land of origin, you try harder to connect to your heritage and preserve your national identity." When her grandmother passed away, her fourth baby went to school, and for the first time in 15 years, she had to find a creative outlet. Instead of taking her little boy to the cafe, she took her computer. She would sit there and watch people until one day she began to write. "I started to consider the number of changes migrants endure, arriving in a foreign land, most of the time so far away from home, and unfamiliar with the spoken language," Patterson says. "All my life I'd come across these ladies on the street with their broken English, but once I told them 'I speak Greek', their personalities would come to life." Travelling back to Greece, she noticed that Greeks there have actually been able to move on, but for most diaspora Hellenes, time stands still. "In my father's mind Greece is still in 1964. Migrants tend to think that they'll always go back to their country," she muses. Having all that free time on her hands, she ventured on to interview as many women of Greek background as she could. She asked them all the same three questions: “Why did you leave”, “what happened on the ship”, and “how did you feel when you arrived”. The incredible variations of those answers surprised and moved her so much that she became determined to give voice to these women's experiences. "I heard some incredibly sad and happy things that these women had never told anyone before," she adds. "All it took was just a gentle push. Taxidi kind of wrote itself." Patterson is still fascinated by the many different stories out there which have proven to be of great historical and cultural value, providing younger generations with an insight into the migration experience. A lot of the women who took part in her survey are in their 60s or older, giving in to depression after exhausting their tremendous energy resources. "These women had to keep moving forward in order to succeed in a new country, to provide their families with a better quality of life," Patterson continues. "Their rhythm finally slows down, only for them to be confronted with a crude reality. So many people before us had to part with their homeland, family and friends ... to sacrifice an entire life so that we can enjoy the fruits from their struggles today." Patterson, who is also a professional singer, has incorporated songs from the era in the production, which she says capture the hopes, fears and dreams of the women who were heading into an unknown future. Helen remembers that during certain songs in the piece, a lot of people in the audience nodded their head and reminisced, cried even. Then they too shared their stories. Stories that burn. Stories that never heal. Stories like this one... "One lady from the audience convinced her I guess this is a pain we are all aware of. Migrant children know that their parents carry around pain. It doesn’t belong to us, but we feel it. The audience at Taxithi, back in March. Greek migrants in the cinema of the ship The Ellenis from Greece to Australia. Helen Yotis Patterson’s father, Tim, is pictured sitting at the front (R). The three ‘fates’ of migration, performing under Andrew Patterson’s musical direction. Georgia, Helen Yotis’ paternal yiayia, who lost her arm before migrating to Australia.
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