Greek City Times is proud to present a weekly historical snapshot
from the archives of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek Australians’ national project
by photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski.
DR CON CASTAN
Since the 1960s,the study of Greek-Australia literature has grown securely in stature. One of those leading its academic investigation during the later decades of the 20th century was Dr Con Castan. Initially leaving behind his Hellenic heritage, Castan rediscovered his ‘Greekness’ during the 1970s. His research into the field of Greek-Australian literature quickly followed.
Born Konstantinos Dimitriou Kastanas in Brisbane in 1931, Dr Castan specialised in 19th century English literature and later, Greek-Australian literature. He initially studied music at Sydney’s Conservatorium and later was awarded a scholarship to the University of Leicester in England, with an interest in colonial Victorian literature there becoming a focus.
His mother Sophie Lootaris (Loutarakis) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, and arrived in Melbourne in 1911. In 1927, aged nineteen, she married James Castan (Dimitris Kastanas) in Brisbane. James had migrated from the village of Kalavrita, south-east of Patras in the northern Peloponnese, just before the outbreak of World War I. Dr Castan’s maternal grandfather, Nicholas Lootaris (Loutarakis) established an alternative Greek church called the Greek Evangelical Church.
“My grandfather [maternal] opened up ‘kafenia’ come barber shops in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, and opposite the hospital on St Kilda Road… He went to Sydney after 1915 and then to Brisbane in 1924… We had relatives in Melbourne who had arrived earlier – George Panam (Pannam) was married to my [maternal] grandmother’s sister [Pliatha Lootaris (Loutarakis) née Michaelidis]… He was involved in food catering…
I initially hot-footed it away from my Greek heritage… Growing up here [in Brisbane] in the 1930s and 1940s, I had to grow up out of the ‘Greek ghetto’… [So] I hopped out of the Greek community… In the mid-1970s I began to feel a need to go back to my roots – I began to return to my ‘Greekness’… the Whitlam government had embraced a policy of multiculturalism, mass migration had stimulated a growth of ‘diaspora’ literature, and some Greek-Australian authors [first and second generation] were attracting literary grants in Australia… I took a year’s study leave to Greece and in 1979, I married a Greek girl there [Voula (Beulah) née Syrmis]…
As soon as I started talking Greek, I behave Greek! People think I was born in Greece. As soon as I stop talking Greek, people think I’m a dinkum Aussie… So I’m both! … I lead several lives – a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of existence. I’m very much at home in a totally non-Greek environment, and I’m equally at home in a Greek environment… I consider I have three homelands, three places where I’m equally ‘at home’ – Australia, Greece and England. It’s a creative tension, not a destructive one… So I’m pretty lucky!”
Dr Castan taught English at the University of Queensland for just under three decades and was Director of the University’s Australian Studies Centre. He also taught at James Cook University in Queensland and at the University of Athens. Dr Castan was additionally involved with the founding and activities of Brisbane’s Solomos Society and the Asia Minor Historical Society. His major publications focusing on Greek-Australian literature and history are: ‘Conflicts of Love’, Phoenix Publications, Brisbane, 1986; ‘Dimitris Tsaloumas: Poet’, Elikia Books, Melbourne, 1990; and the posthumously published, ‘The Greeks of Brisbane: Migration, Arrival, Home’, Beulah Castan and University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2013.
Dr Castan passed away in 2012 following a prolonged illness.
Photos: Effy Alexakis
Historical Research: Leonard Janiszewski
© In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project Archives
Since the early 1980s, Effy Alexakis, a photographer, along with historian researcher Leonard Janiszewski, have been travelling around Australia photographing and collecting stories. They have also photographed Greek-Australians in Greece and documented some amazing histories. The images and text provide personal, diverse and powerfully moving insights, about opportunities, hopes and challenges. Collectively, these stories provide personal perspectives of a diasporic Hellenic identity. Their archive encompasses photography, both historical and contemporary, taped interviews and literary materials.
They have published 3 books and numerous articles, and their projects are ongoing. The photographs have been widely exhibited throughout Australia and in Greece.
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