Standing up for Canberra

Oxi Day and the Contribution of the Greek Community 2010

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant contribution of one of the most dynamic and influential groups in my electorate: the Greek community of Canberra. Last month I took part in the annual commemoration of Oxi Day at the Hellenic Memorial on Anzac Parade. ‘Oxi’ is the Greek word for no. Oxi Day commemorates 28 October 1940, the day the then Greek Prime Minister, General Metaxas, rejected Mussolini’s ultimatum that Italy station troops in his country. Italy then invaded Greece through Albania, and Greece found itself at war with Italy. Greece amazed Italy and the rest of the world by successfully rejecting the Italian advance, and won the first victory for the allies in the Second World War. This achievement was all the more significant because, at the time, Greece was a small country of only seven million people, compared with Italy’s 44 million.

Oxi Day has become a symbol of Greece’s independence and is commemorated in the thousands of expatriate Hellenic communities around the world each year. My colleague the member for Hindmarsh tells me that Oxi Day holds the same significance in the national psyche in Greece as our Anzac Day, so it is an incredibly important day. It was a pleasure to take part in the ceremony at the beautiful Hellenic Memorial on Anzac Parade, with its intricate mosaic map and the little islands that play havoc with your high heels. The Canberra commemoration was attended by representatives from the Embassy of Greece, the Cyprus High Commission and the New Zealand High Commission, the ADF, the ACT government and the Canberra Greek community, including John Kalokerinos. We even had members of the large Melbourne Greek community join us.

The Greek community has been a major contributor to Canberra for more than 80 years and, for a community of around 5,000 people—some say it is 10,000—it really punches above its weight. The first Greek cafe, the Highgate Cafe, was opened in Kingston in 1927, in the same year as Old Parliament House. The cafe was owned by Harry Notaras, a migrant from the island of Kythera. Theo Notaras started the Capital Cafe in Civic later that year, so they have played a major role in this community. The Notaras family has been a major contributor to the cultural fabric and development of Canberra for decades, along with a number of other families, including the Efkarpidis and Liangis families.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Canberra and Districts was formed in the late 1940s and became the catalyst for community life and centres. The community built the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in Kingston in 1968. Father George Carpis has been its parish priest since the 1960s and has dedicated his life to the spiritual life of the community. The community is currently led by its president, Paul Levantis, who runs one of the largest ethnic language schools in Canberra. In the 1990s the Greek community added a preschool in Yarralumla and an aged care home, with 20 residents, to its suite of services. The aged care home was a collaboration between the ACT government and Sotiria Liangis, a philanthropic Canberran who in 1996 was honoured with the Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to the Greek community.

Canberra’s Greek community organises a range of cultural and charitable activities throughout the year and these include the Greek Glendi, a day-long festival of Greek food, dance and culture which is part of the ACT National Multicultural Festival. No discussion of the Greek community in Canberra would be complete without commenting on the Hellenic Club of Canberra in Phillip, which is also in my electorate. The club opened its doors in 1979 and, since then, it has grown into the largest club in Canberra, boasting over 50,000 members, with more than one in six Canberrans as members. The club makes a significant contribution to the wider community and gives almost $1 million each year to support local charities, cultural activities and sporting groups. The president of the club is Greg Diamond, and I commend him, the board and the staff for their service to the Canberra community.

As the great romantic poet Percy Shelley wrote in the preface to his poem Hellas: We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece … we might still have been savages and idolaters;

The Greek community has contributed an enormous amount to Canberra. They have enriched our cultural, spiritual, linguistic and business life and have generously helped those in need, along with youth community organisations and sporting organisations. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge their significant contribution and I thank them for all they have done for Canberra.

Download a copy of this speech.