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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 4 June 2016
6 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 4 JUNE 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Melbourne’s Greek seniors: a snapshot ANNA BOUROZIKAS As a young tourist travelling through Greece in the late ‘90s, what struck me most was the wider social life and nightlife that older Greeks enjoy. In contrast, life for Melbourne's older Greeks revolved around work, family, church and the odd community event. They travelled to the other side of the world to begin life in a country where they did not speak the language. Many had little education. All they had was a strong sense of youthful adventure and courage. Migration to Australia in post-war years played a major role in the development of Australia's expanding industries. According to the 2011 Submission to the Inquiry into Opportunities for Participation of Victorian Seniors by the Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS), 75 per cent of the Greek immigrants that arrived in Australia between 1947 and 1971 were unskilled. However, despite their limitations they achieved a lot. They were energetic pioneers, organising themselves to establish churches, language schools, businesses, restaurants, newspapers and welfare agencies. But this industrious generation has now aged. Last year, Fronditha Care, the Australian Greek Society for The Care of the Elderly, published the results of its research into Victoria's ageing Greek population in a report called ‘Retirement Aged Greeks in Victoria’. Using data from the 2011 census, it found, there were 49,992 Greek-born people living in Victoria, roughly 50 per cent of the Australian total, with approximately 29,000 over the age of 65. The median age for Greek-born people in Victoria is 67 years old, making them older than the broader Victorian population, which has a median age of 42. The report also found that 60 per cent of Greek-born Victorians earns $200-$599 a week, making them poorer than other Victorians who earn a median of $800 per week. As they age in Victoria, looking back on their lives, how do they feel about migrating to Australia? Angelos Kizilos arrived in Melbourne in 1948 aged 16, sent by his parents against his will to escape the civil war. He came from a small village where his family ran a successful farm. After a series of jobs, he and two friends would buy the Le Jardin restaurant in Melbourne's prestigious Collins Street and renamed it The Bacchus. "Can you imagine, three Greek country boys buying a restaurant, the location was the cream of Melbourne," he says, laughing. It was sold in the ‘80s. Married with one child, he says he would happily return to Greece but would miss his daughter. Good English, books and friends stop him feeling lonely. Kizilos says the absence of a market square in Melbourne's suburbs comparable to the ones in Greece, where locals gather and chat, probably contributes to the loneliness he thinks many older Greeks feel. He also blames their unwillingness to assimilate with the wider Australian culture. "They've been here 30, 40, 60 years and they don't know anything but their wives and the factory. They haven't been anywhere. There is a culture here. There are cinemas and bookshops. They stay in Australia but they don't live here." Part of this could be attributed to poor or non-existent English gala Community Centre in Sunshine. I'm here for a Planned Activity Group (PAG), one of ten social support groups organised by the AGWS for elderly Greeks, at various locations around Melbourne. Supervisor Harry Liapsis and his staff are warm towards the clients, who are making coasters. The role the PAG can play on the emotional wellbeing of elderly Greeks, some of whom may go days without speak- helped raise the money to build the church and was the first president of its committee. The former milk bar owner now lives with his son's family. Katerina Tiropanis arrived with her husband in Sydney 57 years ago, when she was 23. He died when she was 40. Heartbroken, she stayed single. She now shares a house with her two grown children in Melbourne. Stelios Panagiotou language skills. The Fronditha report found 35 per cent of elderly Greeks rated their English as poor or non-existent. Work commitments stopped them from formally learning English. Poor language skills inhibit older Greeks from accessing local community services. Old age can be isolating and lonely. It's Thursday morning at the Glen- I am happy that I get old here, my old years are the happiest I have ever been. ing to anyone, cannot be underestimated. They spend the morning creating art, eat a Greek lunch of beftekia and briami, and play bingo in the afternoon before concluding with an afternoon tea. Widower Stelios Panagiotou, aged 87, sits with his back to a window facing the St Andrews Orthodox Church outside. Ironically, he Niki Petropoulou "I've been unlucky in life, but as a widow life would have been harder in Greece, people in the village would talk about me." Katerina and Stelios are lucky. Evlambia, in her 80s, arrived in 1955. The widowed mother of three (one child died) lives alone. Her weekly PAG sessions are sometimes her only contact with other people.
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