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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 July 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 JULY 2019 25 OPINION GEORGE MPLIOKAS It's been just over one month since the fateful elections of the Hellenic Village in Sydney. A new hope: Sydney’s OFSE out of the shadows “ Greek community around them. At the most recent Annual General Meeting (AGM) of ΟΦΣΕ – Ομοσπονδία Φιλανθρωπικών Σωματείων Ελλήνων ΝΝΟ, Federation of Hellenic Associations of NSW or just simply OFSE – membership voted to move away from an historic status quo and decided to vote for change, to turn the page for a new generation and a new hope for the Greek community in Sydney. After a marathon four-hour AGM, the newly elected Board met a few days later to elect its office bearers, and I became President of OFSE. An initial media release was issued to publicly advise of the outcome, and within which I conveyed my thanks and my commitment to my new role in the community for the two-year term. Since then, there have been many messages of congratulations and some notable silences from across the community, young and old. There have been remarks of disbelief and amazement – 'OFSE, as in, the OFSE?' – but most telling perhaps have been the many insights from elder generations and the many questions from our youth. Together, they paint a telling picture about the state of our community today. From those older than me – I'm 30 years of age, does that make me young or old? – and particularly from those involved in our historical community institutions, they have been eager to volunteer their anecdotes, their experiences with OFSE over the years. From those younger than me, many of whom I worked with together on committees for our student and youth organisations, and still do, the questions are still more basic – 'What is OFSE? Who are its members? What makes it so important? What does it all mean?' I'll try to lay some groundwork on all that a little later. In meeting with our elders, listening to their stories and reading the various bits of paperwork dug up from their respective archives, it's fair to say that the history behind OFSE is anything but straightforward. In addressing the questions from our youth, I see again a yearning from them to understand and a desire to contribute, morphed with a systemic disconnect from so much of the These disconnected youth are the same young men and women who will one day – if we let them – inherit the positions and titles and responsibilities of our community, many who already now cook souvlakia and organise parties but also learn our language and share our customs and culture through their events. At his enthronement in Syd- ney at the end of last month, Archbishop Makarios spoke passionately that the youth are not simply the future, but also the 'present' of our community. Likewise, at a soldout youth screening at last year's Greek Film Festival, Nia Karteris, Vice-President of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, spoke about engaging with our youth in a new way that is creative and fruitful. At the launch of the photography exhibition, 'Cypriots. Romioi. Greek-Australians', co-hosted by students in March, the Greek Consul-General, Christos Karras highlighted the potential for youth-driven community collaborations as a way forward. In my experiences with our youth, I have often found in them a desire without a means, a curiosity without a voice, a journey without a guide. In speaking with them, eating with them, partying with them, arguing with them, crying for them and walking alongside them over many years, I found that they invariably want to express themselves, if only somehow, to be proud of their identity as Hellenes, for their parents and grandparents to be proud of them, in a broader Australian context. They are our children and grandchildren, our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews; they ask about their surnames, about the food on their tables, about yiayia and pappou. They are reaching out to the rest of us as best they can. And, bless them, they haven't the slightest clue about OFSE and what it is meant to stand for. If they are going to make decisions for this community in the future, if they are both the future and the now, then they deserve for the pillars of our community, OFSE included, to reach back out to them and enlighten the way. The groundwork I promised: OFSE is a federation of 21 member-organisations formed in the mid-1980s and that together own more than 100 acres of land in Sydney's south-west, commonly These disconnected youth are the same young men and women who will one day – if we let them – inherit the positions and titles and responsibilities of our community. referred to as Kemps Creek. These member-organisations include associations like the Hellenic Club, AHEPA NSW, the Pan-Thessalian 'Karaiskakis' and my ancestral Meteora. Truth be told, OFSE existed even prior to all this, when individual associations first started negotiating with the NSW State Government for the land and turned to member-organisations to contribute financially. Some did, others didn't, and then this, and then that, and then there was a name change, a new entity, a switcharoo of some member-organisations but not all, and then and then. All hand-in-hand with how things used to be. The generally accepted narrative nowadays is that even after the purchase, nobody cared much about Kemps Creek while it sat mostly idle throughout the years, except now with Sydney's second international airport marked for construction nearby it's estimated that the land is now worth many millions of dollars. Millions of dollars, supposedly, for the Greek community of Sydney. And just who is that, again? Looking back, the community leaders of decades past that have left their mark on Kemps Creek have also left some tangled written records and opaque objectives. Asking our elders and community leaders for their opinions, many of whom supported my election, I've been inundated with all sorts of views and all sorts of requests, from buying a clubhouse to building a cultural centre, to having an athletics track and owning a museum. I ask them, humbly, whether they've asked their children or grandchildren about how they might envision their own future as Greek Australians. In our first media release as a new Board, I promised to listen, and I will continue to do so because I believe it is the responsibility of a President to do so. But more importantly, as a descendant of this community and as a matter of decency, a decency informed by my upbringing as a Hellene, the day has arrived for a new and better example to be set by our leaders. I offer an anecdote of my George Mpliokas. PHOTO: TOM PSOMOTRAGOS own. During my time with the Macquarie University Greek Association, MUGA, and with the inter-varsity organisation, CUGA, I remember vividly the countless conversations with my university colleagues on the evergreen topic of 'being Greek', who can claim the identity and how we might measure or balance competing identities. 'You're only Greek if you're Orthodox,' would say one. 'Only if you speak Greek!' 'Only if your parents are Greek' – just some of the many positions put forward. 'You want to talk to them about Greekness?' another, less optimistic colleague asked me just the other day. I asked my Greek lecturer, at the time. What she said to me I will keep for the rest of my life. 'Γιώργο,' she said, her gaze cold as ice, 'being Greek is a state of mind.' In the same classroom where I chose to learn our ancestral language, the same classroom where I read Aristotle proclaim that man is a political animal, I first came to appreciate that the question of our identity as Greeks and Greek Australians is so profoundly intellectual, social, living and political. I stood up and read out Page 1 of OFSE's Constitution to members at last month's AGM, to the pride of some and irritation of others. There it states, clear as day, that OFSE exists 'To promote the welfare, education and advancement of the Greek Community of New South Wales' (sic). Having a thorough, intellectual and informed conversation about who we are is not simply beneficial, it is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve this aim, execute a coordinated strategy for our future and reconnect our community with itself. And so it is that looking forward, it is our manner and our actions that have the potential to restore trust in our Federation. Simple things like issuing accurate minutes of meetings and keeping our legal and financial obligations in order will go a long way from the OFSE of previous years. More complex, surely, is the need for all parts of our community, social, cultural, educational and religious, to accept a common responsibility for the Greek community in Sydney and to act towards ensuring its welfare and advancement into the future. My belief is that my election and our mandate as a Board point to the day when people in our community are empowered through knowledge and transparency, goodwill and consensus. There is a new hope, that that day is just around the corner.
13 July 2019
27 July 2019