It’s great to integrate into the culture which we have chosen to settle, such as I was born in Romania of Greek father. We came out as refugees, 300 Greek families from Romania who had been released by the Russians to leave due to our Greek nationality and from Greece on the Marshall Plan (agreeing to be declared stateless) choosing Australia and arriving on the transport ship – General Ballou at Sydney in March 26th 1950 with my family. We settled in our new country nicely – my father George Polimeris, mother Eugenia, brother Apollon (5) and myself Aphrodita (6) all speaking Greek and Romanian, except that my mother spoke self taught Italian, French, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Hungarian, Spanish, and my father learned Italian in Australia, we all learned English too
The Greek Romanians formed the Hellenic Cultural Association Acropolis (Greeks from Romania) and they organised regular get togethers such as the New Year’s Eve Dance and a picnic in the Royal National Park each year. In my thirties I became an Office Bearer on the Committee of this organisation then moved away and now I have returned to them and been voted on again at the end of 2013. This January we had a picnic at Ashfield Park and it was well attended with the Romanian Consul and his wife being there. There was music played on a violin by Olga just as she did when I was younger and we ate bbq skinless Romanian sausages with salad and shared the New Year’s Cake (Vasilopita) hoping to be the one to win the $400 gold coin. I felt warm and fuzzy inside with a bit of sadness because my father, mother and brother have died and yet it all seems just like yesterday with all these familiar people who know me and I know from so far back, how amazing is that – it’s like I’ve come home from a trip away.
I remember the first time I learnt to dance at 8 was when all the children my age bounced around close up in front of the band as they played. Then my father began (my mother had abandoned us taking my disabled brother with her), teaching me how to dance the tango and waltz. After that I learned for my debut Greek folk dancing which as a mother I taught my children and other children making up the multi ethnic children’s dance group performing at festivals. This came about when I became an ethnic community worker as my profession – I was educating people on the importance of honouring their heritage. In this dance group some of my children’s (Paul and Tina) friends were Italian, Yugoslav (as it was called then), Chinese, Greek Egyptian, and Anglo heritage. So I took my kids to, say, the Chinese Youth dance group and they taught us how to do the scarf dance and to the Romanian dance group who taught us how to dance some folk dances etc. The whole group then were able to dance a variety of ethnic dances regardless of their ethnic origin. The dancers ranged in age from 7 to 14 and they performed to celebrate events such as Children’s week in the Town Hall square to the opening of the Ethnic Child Care Development Unit in 1979 of which I was the founding Co-ordinator and which was funded by the Federal Government Dept of Social Security. As Senator Guilfoyle was not available to carry out the ceremony the Hon Bob Ellicott, Minister for Home Affairs represented her. To my delight in 1980 Minister Bob Ellicott included me as one of the community representatives in the contingent funded to attend the United Nations Women’s Conference/Forum for Peace & Equality – Copenhagen. I had worked with him when he was the member for Wentworth and I was Co-ordinator for NicNac Community Centre in Surry Hills as I had invited him to come and meet his constituents once a month to assist them with problems they were experienced with, say, their unfair telephone bills when they were just pensioners. He was indeed helpful especially as he was a good lawyer and had ministerial clout. Bob was known as a small “l” Liberal Minister.
As an ethnic community worker it was my role to impress on everyone how important multi-cultural thinking is providing it means being proud of our heritage while at the same time integrating into the host society – that is trying to keep our customs because they are part of our identity – who we are, as well as adjusting those customs that clash too much with the host society so that we fit in more harmoniously. My daughter (18) won the double title of Miss Central Suburbs and Miss Central Suburbs Highest Fudraiser of Miss Australia Quest Spastic Centre (entered from the Greek Australian Region of MAQ ). We all know which those clashing customs are and so I will not list them all here except to mention that I do not believe it is acceptable to continue to persist with woman wearing head gear that covers their faces when being tested for/and driving which can be dangerous to others; or habits which support warmongering and riots, or rape, or female circumcision etc. In cases such as these the host society needs to rethink the setting of legal limits for multiculturalism before we “shoot ourselves in the foot” as has been witnessed in other advanced minded countries which have been forced to backtrack their multicultural policies due to major conflict and unrest as a result of antiquated customs from other cultures of immigrants entering into these progressive cultures (as in parts of France and the Scandanavian countries to name some).
Also I was for some years an Office Bearer in the Australian Hellenic Educational Society of Australia (AHEPA) and enjoyed the fellowship it brought including encouraging my children when they become adolescents to join and my daughter, Tina, experienced her debut with her brother, Paul as her escort, which was lovely however is not something that takes place nowadays (too bad).
All I can say is Honour Your Heritage but make sure you take the part that is useful and loving and let go of the part that is hurtful and painful! It is a powerful feeling to know you belong to a group of like minded people who have the similar “roots” to you.