In the mid 1960s when I started school in the inner city, my parents encouraged me to make friends with the Greek kids; and as I got older I was told I had to marry someone Greek. Looking back I understand their concerns about the wider community. Things were different then, Melbourne was not the multicultural nirvana that it is now generally accepted to be.
Even for someone who lived through that time, as I did, it's difficult to imagine just how different Australian society was 40-odd years ago. For a start, the only people who wore black were Greek and Italian widows – now look along any tram stop or train platform and a sea of black clothing will wash over you. Exotic food was Chinese – period; forget African, Middle Eastern or, heaven forbid Japanese. And milky tea was the drink of choice. Cafe culture was restricted to glassed in shop fronts where Greek men drank thick black coffee from small cups, with a side glass of ouzo and a cigarette. There was no feta to be found in the average grocery store, no olives or olive oil – Australians cooked with lard or butter.
I don't think I was a naturally rebellious child, but I knew who I liked to play with and later who I wanted to hang out with, and it wasn't necessarily the Greek kids. I was a late bloomer, and at high school I found the Greek girls difficult to relate to. Most were developing physically ahead of me and all their talk was of boys and Greek dances and who did what to who.
In the late 70s while all the other Greek teenagers were into disco, I was into punk and live gigs. I remember being the only girl at my Greek Saturday morning high school who wore flat shoes. I rocked up, week in and out in jeans and dessert boots (this was before Doc Martens were the go). All the other girls were dressed as if for a night out – stiletto heels, tight skirts and lots of make-up. Forget about finding someone Greek to marry, even if I had wanted to. The Greek boys thought of me as a novelty act, a weirdo.
Many, many years later – when I finally did get married, it was to a Skip, though strangely he likes to think of himself as half Greek.
But now, now things are very different. Since the release of my book of fiction All Windows Open, a month ago, I've met a ton of very cool Greek Australians, who are clever, accomplished, and fun to be with (though I have to say they are all a bit younger than me), and they have been very encouraging and supportive of my book.
Although I'd never seen myself as fitting into Greek Australian society, when I started to write fiction these were the themes that I found compelling and interesting. I see now that being Greek was never about high heels versus flats, or disco versus punk; being Greek is about family and food and community – and that is exactly what I write about. My stories are about relationships; between siblings, cousins, friends, and neighbours; and about the rituals of eating, socialising and living together – about knowing how to live. Something we Greeks excel at.
This picture of my parents, my sister (left) and I was taken before or after a Greek School concert, outside of the church, possibly in Northcote. It was before my brother was born, c1968.