The Australian Embassy Athens is proud to support the photographic exhibition Greek Australians: In Their Own Image by renowned Greek Australian documentary photographer Effy Alexakis at Shedia Home.
The exhibition will run from 22 October to 12 November and features select works from Alexakis’s photographic archive that capture the depth and diversity of Australia’s Greek presence through individual migration stories that move and resonate.
Effy Alexakis is a renowned Greek Australian documentary photographer who, together with historian Leonard Janiszewski, has been researching the Greek Australian historical and contemporary presence in both Australia and Greece since 1982.
"I met Leonard at the beginning of our studies,” says Ms. Alexaki, explaining how her collaboration with Janiszewski began.
"He was interested in the history of Australia and discovered Greek names amongst those of the first miners who arrived in Australia in 1850."
Recognised as one of the most significant collections in the country on Greek-Australians. Alexaki and Janiszewski’s archive encompasses visual, oral and literary material, together with memorabilia, and is based at Macquarie University, Sydney, in partnership with the Australian History Museum.
“My father’s early death had a huge impact on me and this is the main reason the project began for me,” says Alexaki's about their work, which is not just a photographic recording, but a great social and cultural project.
Alexaki says that she and Janiszewski gave the project the title Greek-Australians: In Their Own Image because they wanted the people themselves to share their own story.
“The selection in this exhibition at Shedia is based on images and stories that have had an impact on me, as well as those photographs that give a narrative about Greek migration to Australia and that Greeks in Greece can identify with,” says Alexaki who has presented lectures with Janiszewski in Greece about their work over the last few years.
“Interestingly, apart from the interest shown by returned Greek-Australians, there is also interest by Greeks because they are becoming familiar with the opportunities offered to those that are migrating after the Greek Crisis.”
The Australian Embassy in Athens is sponsoring the exhibition after purchasing a series of Alexakis photographs to display in the foyer of their new building in Athens in 2019.
“By sponsoring the exhibition, the Australian Embassy wishes to pay tribute to the wonderful contributions of the Greek Australian community which has been a pillar of Australia’s multicultural society and whose role has been nothing less than nation-building,” says Lousi Kalfagian, Public Diplomacy and Visits Officer, Australian Embassy Athens in a press release about the exhibition.
“The Australian Embassy also wishes to express its solidarity with Shedia for its valuable work in assisting vulnerable people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion, in line with Australia’s commitment to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.”
Shedia – meaning 'raft' in Greek – is a not-for-profit organization that works to employ and empower people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion in Greece.
Homelessness in Greece is a significant social issue and was exacerbated by the Greek Financial Crisis that started in 2009, during which an estimated 111,000 Greek companies filed for bankruptcy.
There is currently no accurate record of how many Athenians are experiencing homelessness, but the official unemployment rate hit almost 28% during the economic crisis that devastated the country over the last few years, with youth unemployment especially surpassing 50%.
Shedia runs a vast number of programs including a soccer team, an art project, a street paper, an educational social tour of Athens led by homeless guides, and the café-bar-restaurant in the historical center of the Greek capital called Shedia Home, which is the venue for Alexakis's exhibition.
Through its programs, Shedia has provided 150 people experiencing homelessness and social exclusion with the opportunity, through working and not begging, to earn an income to cover some of their most basic daily needs, while 20 full-time employment positions have been created in the recently launched Shedia Home.
In their quest to document immigration history, Alexaki and Janiszewski have published three books together; Images of Home, 1995 and In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians, 1998 published by Hale & Iremonger and Greek Cafes & Milk Bars of Australia, 2016, published by Halstead Press
They are currently preparing a Volume 2 Greek Cafes & Milk Bars.
Ranked as one of the top 10 portrait photographers in Australia, Effy’s work has already been extensively exhibited around Australia and internationally and is held in various collections including the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
Laurence George Williams holding his paternal grandfather’s portrait and hunting rifle
Hillside Station, Dunedoo, NSW, 1997
Laurence George Williams is a grandson of Jeremiah Williams (Gerasimos Vasilakis) who was born in the Ionian Islands in 1838. Jeremiah arrived in NSW in 1863, and married Elizabeth Carty two years later.
‘Grandfather was supposed to be a shipbuilder before he migrated to Australia... Mum and Dad told me that Jeremiah befriended a Welshman with the name Williams, and that’s how the name changed... I knew that Jeremiah worked in the mines at Hill End and that he helped with the raising of the Holtermann “nugget”.
Grandfather lived at the foot of Bald Hill at Hill End. His cottage is still standing – no one living there now... My Dad, George Williams, knew a lot of people in Hill End... Another Greek family, the Totolos family, lived near Dad’s – they were friends... can’t speak any Greek - no Greek words... I’m just an ordinary Australian... everyone had to come from somewhere.’
George Poulos, The Rio Milk Bar
Smith Street, Summer Hill, Sydney, NSW, 2014
George (Georgios) was born in 1923 in a small village near Thessaloniki in northern Greece. He migrated to Australia when he was 27 aboard the Cyrenia.During the very early 1950s, he and his father Philip (Philippos) took over the milk bar from its previous British-Australian proprietor.
Philip, who had experienced the harsh conditions of working on the Queensland sugarcane fields, was keen to undertake other work.
George, who had fought in World War II and the Greek Civil War, was desirous of stability and ‘a better life’.
In its heyday, The Rio had a jukebox and booth seating. George recalls that ‘we had a picture theatre here’ and that ‘after the pictures closed at 10.00 pm, we were very, very busy... two to three [staff ] worked here when busy... now we only have ten or twenty people [customers] a day’. George passed away in 2015 aged 92.
Doula Papas (née Patounias) with her daughters
Hobart, Tas., 1994
Clockwise from centre: Doula, Kathy, Esta, Electra and Elli. Doula arrived in Australia in 1956 and in 1969 she married Nick Papas. In 1993, Nick was killed in a car accident.
His sudden death followed soon after the collapse of the family’s Devonport-based onion export business, which had been undermined by high interest rates.
Doula: ‘My husband was gone, my business was gone, my house was gone... The girls were here [Esta and Kathy were studying medicine in Hobart], so we decided to come together... Before I was the one that took instructions. Now I’m like their Dad – even if I didn’t agree with him.’
Kathy: ‘He was really strict. What he said happened, you just didn’t question it at all... he could see we were not in a privileged class and he did everything he could to get us there... Mum didn’t have much power over us before Dad died. She’s different from other Greek mums – they were almost like an alternative Greek couple.’
Esta: ‘We were the first Greek girls in Tasmania to leave home and go to university – most Greek girls wouldn’t leave their home to get an education... Even though he [Dad] encouraged us to become involved in Greek culture – we went to Greece three times – he said not to forget that we were in Australia and were Australians – “Australia’s your country”.’
Greek Australians: In Their Own Image photographic exhibition:
Exhibition duration: October 22 - November 12
(Due to the measures against coronavirus, no official opening will take place)
The entrance is free. First come first served.
Kolokotroni 56 & Nikiou 2, Athens
Tel. 213 0231220 inf[email protected]
Read also on Greek City Times:
'Glorious Victories. Between Myth and History' Exhibition