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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 29 September 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2018 25 OPINION The next day, seething as I threw my books into my locker, I felt an arm on my shoulder. It was Bruce, a fellow hockey trainee, about as enthusiastic as I was, about his chosen sport. "What a drainer," he offered. "I reckon it's below the belt getting picked on for having to do wog things as a wog. I mean a wog is as a wog does, right? My pop was in Greece during the war. He hid out in the mountains with the Resistance and says the Greeks were the maddest of the mad wogs. That guy is getting too big for his boots. He is just sore because they don't let him coach the proper teams. If I can do anything, let me know." It was his evocation of Australian soldiers hiding in the wilds of Greece that caused the seeds of an idea in my mind to germinate. Leaning over, I whispered in his ear: "Actually, Bruce, mate, I've been thinking…If you can get the boys together…" Saturday came. I arrived at school bearing my aunt's relic of a hockey stick, in full school uniform. "Galamoo!" bellowed the teacher, with the tunefulness of a drill serjeant. "Where the hell is your gear?" "Gear, sir?" I affected complete incomprehension. "Your sports gear, boofhead," he replied. "I didn't know I needed it, sir. I've never actually played on Saturday, so I didn't know that I had to bring it." "Nice try Galamoo, but you're not getting out of this one. Oh no! You can play in your uniform and our school shoes. Now get out onto the field and play, you sneaky little w…easel" He had caught himself just in time. We all shifted into position. Unlike us, the members of the opposing team seemed enthusiastic. More than that, they actually appeared to know what to do with their hockey sticks. They huddled around their coach, discussing breakouts and game plans learnedly, and even executed stretches, emitting whoops of enthusiasm as they pranced around the field. We looked upon them, and their shin guards, with incredulity and awe. The screech of the whistle broke our fascinated reverie, as they sprung into action. Seizing control of the ball, a few short passes saw them fling it into the goal. A short time later, another goal, then another and another…in rapid succession. "What the hell is wrong with you people?" our teacher shrieked. "Move your bloody arses. Do something!" For no member of our team was moving. Instead, we stood there, tossing and catching our hockey sticks, oblivious to the action around us. Bruce was even whistling. At the outset, our opposing team had indulged in taunts and trash talk as they scored one goal after another. A good deal of hand and butt slapping had taken place on their part. Now, mystified, they looked at us, leisurely sauntering around the astro-turf, me, with my hockey stick held horizontally across my back, like a shepherd's klitsa, and Franco, the aesthete among us, casually leaning towards the ground, to smell an imaginary synthetic flower. They then stared incredulously at their coach, who was observing us with his mouth open and began to exhibit signs of extreme mental distress. It was precisely at that moment that Bruce gave the signal: "Now!" With that, swinging our hockey sticks high above our heads and emitting Whitmanian barbaric ululations in chromatic unison, we charged directly at our opponents and scattered them from the field, our teacher pulling at his hair in disbelief. Ignoring his screams, cries and finally, desperate pleadings, we proceeded to solemnly form up in the middle of the field and shouldering our hockey sticks like rifles, began to chant, each one of us in various degrees of plausible pronunciation, according to our capability, though we had been rehearsing all week: "Say gnoreeze apo tin copsea..." Next Saturday, I was back at the Greek Academy of Melbourne, studying the Treaty of Versailles. In the two years that followed until I completed high school, I would often afford our hockey teacher a most hearty greeting whenever I chanced to across him, but he would never return it, instead, changing direction, muttering to himself as he did so. I never trained again. The Greek Academy of Melbourne Reloaded DEAN KALIMNIOU "Myrivilis' «Η Ζωή εν Τάφω» is an anti-war novel." "No! Did you read that bit where they meet the Russians on the hill and they are speaking Greek? It glorifies Greece." "Garbage, did you read the parts where he is writing about the trenches? It's an action novel." «Βγάλτε το σκασμό!» my aunt yells at my cousins and me, and puts on a Stratos Dionysiou tape in the cassette deck. It is the early 90’s, and we are being driven to Greek school. On the way, we are debating the literature we are studying and, having divergent opinions, are almost coming to blows. This is how passionate our Saturday schooling made us about things Greek. The Greek Academy of Melbourne, for years in Collins Street in the old Theosophical Society Building, operated between 19671992. During that time, thousands of Greek children passed through its doors. As its proprietors, Spiros and Koula Liolios were possessed of the highest commitment to Greek education. They ensured that these students all benefited from a holistic Greek education. The teachers that had the privilege of inculcating a love of Greek letters in their charges were also of singular talent, the famed Mr Pyliouras being a standout. A lawyer from Sparta, he taught ancient Greek on Saturdays and was a bricky on weekdays. Students still remember the lesson where he listed the declensions of the verb «γαμῶ» on the board, informing the shocked students that it means «παντρεύομαι» in ancient Greek. Stelios Menis, Mimis Sophocleous, Leonidas Sophocleous, Makis Kasapidis, Cleo Mavrothalassitou, Paresa Antoniadis-Spanos and many others also loom large in Greek Academy of Melbourne Lore. These were the unsung heroes of the age, teachers who gave of themselves selflessly, in order that the coming generations would preserve a sense of who they were, and more importantly, who they could be. Their students remember them with gratitude, reverence, and a good deal of awe. For the rest of the community, unjustifiably, they are but a footnote, a Heraclitean toe dipped in the rivers of time, never to be revisited, and this is a great shame, because the teachers and the Greek Academy of Melbourne provided the highest standard and most comprehensive instruction in Greek in the history of the entire Greek community. In doing so, they resisted commercialisation, (after all, Mr and Mrs Liolios selflessly helped their teachers branch off and set up Greek schools of their own) degrading the syllabus in order to retain enrollments or pitching language acquisition as something frivolous, fun and easy. For them, Greek was a labour of love, and one with infinite rewards for it provided an entry into a cohesive and broader Greek community, in which all Greek speakers had a stake. Many of their students have thus gone on to make lasting contributions to the Greek community. It would be trite to mention the many acts of kindness visited upon students by Mrs Koula Lioliou, one of the most charismatic and beloved practitioners of Greek education in Melbourne. Her irrepressible energy, untiring devotion and boundless love for the Greek language and her students imbued the whole institution with a sense of singularity and dynamism. Some time ago, I was sent a copy of a Christmas card I wrote to Kyria Lioliou, at the conclusion of my last year of Greek school, which characteristically, she has kept. In that card, I wrote about my regret in no long- er being her student. Her response, delivered personally, was neither soppy nor sentimental. "I want all of you to go out into the world," she smiled, in a manner reminiscent of Maxim Gorky's My Childhood, "and make me proud". Wherever we are and what- ever we may do, we, her students, recall her with immense affection and awe. A gifted educator and gargantuan humanitarian, she receives, in her retirement, little formal community recognition for her invaluable work in instilling an immense love of Greece and competency in the Greek language in successive generations of Greek Australian children, newly arrived, or locally-born. Yet perhaps this is commensurate with her self-effacing personality, for her achievement is exemplified in the love her students still bear for her and their own endeavours to pass on undiminished, the flame she lit in them, so many years ago. It is for this reason, to honour past teachers and reconnect with students, that the Greek Academy of Melbourne reunion is being held on Saturday 7 October at Hellenic Republic, Kew at 2.00 pm. Tickets $25 for adults, $10 for children (5-13), under 5 are free.
22 September 2018
6 October 2018