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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 November 2015
NEWS FEATURE 8 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Growing up Greek Award-winning Australian historian Professor Joy Damousi shines a light on the immigrant experience for refugees of a bygone era I am the child of Greek postwar immigrants. I grew up in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The landscape of my childhood was bound and defined by the narrow, meandering streets and lanes of the area. And I loved it: the laneways, the alleyways, the bitumen and solid old historical buildings. My parents may have came from the tobacco farms of rural Greece, but my earliest memories are of being an inner-city kid. Childhood is a time of roaming and freedom, and mine was eventful. We lived next door to a decrepit and decaying boarding house for single elderly men. It periodically caught alight and the fire brigade would use our passageway to put through their massive hoses in the early hours of the morning. My mother ran about keeping us out of the way and my father raged through the house cursing the owner (who he believed lit the fires to get the insurance). I loved the excitement of the fire sirens and lights going full throttle, neighbours spilling and milling onto the street just as the sun was rising. The things I adored about growing up in the inner city were the very aspects my parents despised. The squalid, dilapidated boarding houses, the drunkards on the streets and the century-old Victorian houses in desperate need of light and repair drove my parents' ambitions to move out as soon as they possibly could. And you can't blame them. The suburb had been condemned and the sensationalist press undertook a major campaign to highlight the outrageous poverty and slums this oncegracious suburb had descended into by the 1960s. My mother would remind us repeatedly that this was not what she had given up her life for in rural Greece when she made the life-defining decision to abandon her village, her family and community, to travel to the other side of the world. My father, George, a village boot maker, migrated from the northern Greek town of Florina in the Olympian year of 1956, and then arranged for my mother Sofia, a dressmaker, and one-year old sister Mary, to join him in 1957. In migrating when they did, George and Sofia were part of the massive post-war migration of Greek immigrants to Australia, one of the largest in the country's history. The immigration policy implemented after the Second World War saw large numbers of Greek immigrants arrive in Australia. Between 1945 and 1959 there were around 63,000 permanent ar- migr grant the l histo polic the S larg imm trali 195 George Damousi (in sunglasses) and wife Sofia (C) with family and friends in Florina in 1956 before making the momentous decision to leave. rivals from Greece, of whom 24,000 were assisted by the Australian government. My childhood locale was a village within a village of marginality, a gaggle of Greek communities, working-class Irish and Aboriginal families. But I didn't feel marginal in my grand universe. The social workers and sociologists of the 1960s may have labelled us ‘latchkey kids’, but the freedom of the streets provided a gigantic playground which was decidedly lacking in the tiny concrete backyards of our un-renovated turn-of-thecentury terraces. Language was not a barrier for us kids, coming from Greece, Italy, Turkey and Yugoslavia, when we played ootball in the streets together. For a child like me, with no English but an ver-abundance of energy, it was through another religion - football - that ‘Australianness’ would enter our home. o e c n u in I a w fo st e li George Damousi in Gertrude Street in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb of Fitzroy, soon after arriving in Australia from Greece in the late 1950s. Every day Sofia Damousi pinned the latchkey to her elder daughter Mary’s school clothes before heading off to work in a boot factory in Fitzroy. (Detail of Fitzroy Primary School Grade 2B in 1963.) It may be a familiar story now, but it's remarkable how for kids from non-Englishspeaking back- En ov of th re - t ne ou It mi bu abl fro sp grounds football immediately brought us into the mainstream, which our own parents found difficult at that time. It was also, I suppose, a way of rebellion for me. My father made a point of saying how inferior Australian Rules football was to soccer. It was a point of slight friction between us. Looking back, it was an indication - the first of many - that my identity was not going to be simply Greek, and that this embrace of football signified an immersion in things outside Greek culture. The Vietnam War came close to home when one of our boarders - a young Greek lad called Perecles - was smuggled out in the dead of night to be mysteriously and dramatically flown back to Greece to avoid the draft. His number had come up but his mother, a widow, was not going to have her only son fight in a remote, meaningless war. By the time the uniformed police arrived the next day to collect our draft dodger, Perecles was well on his way to seclusion on the island of Rhodes.
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