THE inaugural Perth Greek Festival kicks off 10 days of celebration on Saturday October 19.
Along with democracy, we owe many of our delis, fruit and veg stores and fish and chip shops to Greek migrants arriving in the 50s and 60s, while many more worked in forestry, farming and on the wharves.
They settled in Northbridge and North Perth, and more recently Dianella, influencing the architecture and cuisine as they went.
Now the many groups in the Hellenic Community of WA have come together to celebrate that influence.
The festival features a Greek heritage walking tour culminating in a guided tour of Northbridge’s St Constantine and Helene Church by Father Elpidios (the first dates of the free tour were so popular they’re now booked out, so more dates have been added).
The country’s ancient history is also on show, with a talk on the Greek sea battles that changed the world delivered by former state MP Bob Pearce—not Greek himself, but such a philhellene he speaks the language.
And while a lot of North Perth residents might have seen inside one part of the Orthodox Church of Evangelismos when they go to vote there on polling days, the main chamber of the Carr Street church will be open for free tours on the afternoons of October 19, 20 and 26.
For the past decade the church has been undergoing a huge internal transformation as one diligent iconographer John Kalentzis, self-taught in the ancient Byzantine style, has covered the walls in iconography of holy figures and Biblical scenes.
Iconography holds a special place in the Orthodox Church: It’s not referred to as ‘drawings’ or ‘paintings’—they’re a more profound visual channel to the icons depicted, and Parish Priest Emmanuel Stamatiou will guide viewers through the meaning and detail of the vast works covering the walls.
The highlight of the 10 day festival is the October 26 Perth Greek Festival Day at Russell Square, a nexus of Greek settlers in the early days of migration.
There’ll be Grecian cooking demonstrations, food and market stalls in the classic style of the Agora, Greek dance and theatre, and the kids from Mount Hawthorn Primary School are heading along for “Boxopolis,” recreating ancient chariots, armour and buildings out of cardboard boxes.
There’s a full list of all events at facebook.com/perthgreekfestival
Oxi Day: Celebrating a history of resistance
THE 10 day festival builds up to the final day on October 28, an important Greek date known as “Oxi Day”.
In the early morning of October 28, 1940, the Italian ambassador demanded Greece allow Nazi-aligned Axis forces to enter their country and occupy strategic areas. He said if Greece refused, there would be war.
Greece prime minister Ioannis Metaxas’s recorded reply came in French, the diplomatic common language of the day: “Alors, c’est la guerre” (so, this is war).
But popular tradition recalls his laconic response in Greek: “όχι”, or “no”.
The population took to the streets shouting “όχι,” and it became a watchword among the members of the Greek resistance in the following years of brutal occupation by German, Italian and Bulgarian forces.
Mr Metaxas’s single word response would have resonated with Greeks familiar with their country’s long history of resistance.
It was spoken in the tradition of the “laconic phrase”, named for the Spartan region of Laconia.
2300 years before the Greeks defied the Axis, the Spartans were facing invasion by Philip II of Macedon.
He sent an ultimatum to the Spartans demanding they submit to him, and just like the Axis ambassador he threateningly asked whether he should come into their land as friend or foe.
The Spartans responded with one word: “Neither.”
Philip II told them: “If I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”
The Spartans responded: “If.”
He heeded their first answer, and did not come to Sparta.
As part of the festival, there will be an Oxi Day event held at Kings Park (details to be confirmed on the festival Facebook page)
The Jews of Greece
JEWS had a special place in Greek society dating back to its earliest years, and a photographic exhibition “The Jews of Greece: Then and Now” will tell their story as part of the festival.
Photographer Emmanuel Santos and documentary filmmakers Carol Gordon and Nathalie Cunningham have documented insights into the life of the Romaniote Jews and other Jewish peoples, telling the story of those who still carry on the cultural practices today.
Greece was a relative safe haven for Jews throughout history as other parts of Europe were stricken by waves of antisemitism.
The Romaniote Jews came after the Romans destroyed their second temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Sephardic Jews resettled in Greece after being expelled from Spain in the 1400s. More came from Russia in the 1800s, as Russian antisemitism swelled to a series of murderous pogroms.
The Nazis faced a peculiar problem when they invaded Greece: Unlike more antisemitic nations where Jews were segregated, the Jewish Greeks were well accepted into society and not so easy to spot. Greeks tried to protect their Jewish citizens, and the Orthodox Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens provided thousands of Jews with false papers proclaiming them baptised.
They saved many, but by the end of the war the Nazis had killed more than 80 per cent of Greek Jews.
Those who remain still carry on the cultural practices and ancient traditions of their forebears, documented in photo and film as part of the exhibition.
The Hellenic Community of WA and the Jewish Community Council are hosting the free exhibition at the Hellenic Centre, 20 Parker Street Northbridge, daily from October 24 to November 5 (noon to 4.30pm weekdays, and 10am to 4.30pm weekends).
Stories by DAVID BELL