Kafedaki with Gerry Georgatos

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What is your name and line of work?

Gerry Georgatos – Γεράσιμος Γεωργάτος. I have knocked around in various careers and diversely so- in multiple roles during certain periods of my working life. My predominant work while in and around the tertiary sector has been in the humanities. During the last five years I have focused my research in understanding the extensiveness of suicide.

Where were you born and where do you reside?

 I was born in Sydney, the eldest of six children and grew up in the inner west. I now live in Perth, however travel extensively around the continent for more than two-thirds of the year.

Where in Greece do your ancestors come from?

 Both my father and mother were born in Kefalonia.

What are you currently working on?

 I have an inquisitive mind and my work fits in perfectly! My predominant work continues in researching ways forward in suicide prevention, early intervention and suicide related trauma. To put it more simply- it’s all about how to better be there for others. At this time, I’m also working on restorative and transformational programs. They assist people to move on from prison and helping with their wellbeing, training, education and work programs.

What does this mean?

It means how we can improve lives, especially for those who are in jail. In general people come out of jail in a worse state than they went in. Most people who finish up in jail have not finished school- in fact 86 per cent of all prisoners. So, I am working on programs to help people in jail to heal from whatever traumas haunt them and in training, education and employment for them.

As a society and for the sake of generations unborn we should not be incarcerating people punitively and instead focus on redemptive meanings. By redemption I mean in giving those who have done whatever wrong to others and finished up in jail to score forgiveness because without forgiveness it’s difficult for an offender or perpetrator to positively move on. We must never give up on anyone; this should be foundational to trauma counselling. There is no greater legacy than the one where we improve the lot of others, to the point of changing lives, saving lives.

Much of what I deal with is pretty confronting and to mix it up for my own self-care I do other things, like my longstanding involvement with various charity work, including contributions through Wheelchairs for Kids and the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights. With Wheelchairs for Kids, we manufacture children’s wheelchairs and so far this 100 per cent volunteer organisation has donated 36,000 kids’ wheelchairs to 71 countries. It is a beautiful thing to see so many come together and deliver great good to others so easily.

How has your upbringing influenced what you are doing now?

My parents were predominately factory workers – my father worked long hours on the assembly lines of automobile factories. My mother was a seamstress. Both were prosocial communitarians doing everything they could for their local Greek community during the 1960s and 1970s. They were campaigners for the establishment of a local parish church, which they made happen and also helped set up afternoon Greek language schools – the first school in our neighbourhood was established from within our home and soon after moved to the local primary school. They also contributed heavily to wider community needs and not limited to the migrant Greek communities. Obviously I soaked up a lot of what they did for others, which was relentless, and their meanings became also my own, in that what we do with our lives for others dawned on me. It matters what we do with our days on this earth.

Apart from your family, what Greeks have influenced your life?

Greek was my first language and I remain relatively fluent. When I started school I could not speak a word of English. I was an avid reader of Greek history, philosophy and philology and all this combined has influenced my life and meanings, my form and content. Rather than any individuals or events influencing my meanings it is premises out of Greek history, philosophy and philology that have influenced- such as the Spartan creed who effectively never compromise on what one believes is right ‘Mo’lon La’veh’. The words from the civil rights anthem, ‘Malamatenia Loyia’ (Gilded Words) also profoundly continue to resonate.

Do you regard yourself as Hellenic (idealist) or Greek (pragmatist)? 

I have a dio-genic view of the world, that we are all its children, on this ‘pale blue dot’ within the multitude of an endless cosmos. Within this welcoming narrative my form and content shines; of someone who is also Hellenic, and an idealist and a pragmatist. We are multifactorial and intertwined. We are who we are 24/7, at the coalface and in all our engagements. I am generally described as the perennial idealist but I understand the need for outcomes and strive to this end at all times while never setting aside the big picture and what needs to be chased down. However, we must fight to never leave anyone behind.

What advice would you give your Greek cousins?

I never advise others on who they should be. My way is to engage, with discussions, and to lead by example. If some of what I believe in and in what I do is soaked up by others- then good. I do what I do because I believe in it.

What is a piece of ancestral knowledge you still remember to this day?

Everything – on my father’s side the majority of my ancestors during the last two centuries till the Great Depression were effectively ‘serfs’ and despite their impoverishment and tribulations they lived ‘honourable’ lives and looked out for one another not letting difficult socioeconomic disadvantages degrade their meanings. I love the village looks after everyone thematic. It was also pretty much so with my matrilineal ancestors.

Have you been to Greece?

Many times – the first time in 1971 as a nine-year- old during the Junta, the military dictatorship and I have never forgotten the toll of the ‘fear’ and the ‘silences’ of the people. We made it to Greece – to Kefalonia – in time to see my paternal grandfather – whose name I carry – he passed away 8 hours later. We landed in Athens and were greeted by many relatives at the airport however we travelled to Patra, missed the ferry, and caught a taxi to Kylini and boarded the last ferry for Kefalonia and after disembarking at Sami port we caught a taxi to my parents’ village and to my grandfather.

The last time I was in Greece was in 2004. Greece was alight with its win after winning the European Soccer Championship.

What is your favourite Greek food?

Greek salad and okra dishes.