The Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) hosted deputy opposition leader, Richard Miles, and the Opposition Minister for Multiculturalism, Andrew Giles, at its Greek Centre in Melbourne on Monday, December 20.
In a meeting scheduled for an hour, the conversation and analysis of issues relating to the Greek Community ended up lasting over two hours.
Bill Papastergiadis along with Chris Sikavitsas, Vasso Zangalis, Tass Sgardelis and Leo Vlahakis took the two senior labour members of the Federal Parliament on a tour of the 15-storey Greek Centre.
Richard Marles was amazed at the breadth of language services offered by the Greek Community and expressed an interest in how the language programs could be further developed noting that the majority of students were now born in Australia.
Mr Marles and Mr Giles were shown the education wing, library facilities, meeting rooms and rooftop restaurant.
Mr Papastergiadis referred to the long history of the Greek Community of Melbourne noting it was formed in 1897. He noted the role it originally played in the ecumenical needs of the then-Greek population to a more diverse offering that is now related to a vibrant and cosmopolitan community. Equally Mr Papastergiadis emphasised the extensive relationships the GCM has with numerous other ethnic organisations in Victoria.
Mr Marles inquired as to the importance of the relationship between the Greek community of Melbourne and Greece.
Mr Papastergiadis responded that it is a relationship born of heritage but effected by the strong connection people of Greek background have with language and culture. In any given year, over 100 events are organised by the Greek community of Melbourne and although COVID affected its cultural output, importantly student numbers did not decline to a significant degree.
Mr Marles emphasised how important it was for him to be on the ground having a conversation with the Greek community of Melbourne.
Mr Marles said: “Celebrating Greek culture from the Greek Australian community is about as Australian as it gets and its what makes the tapestry of our nation so rich and so wonderful and we all experience that in the festival every year in Lonsdale Street… The Centre is so impressive for what it does and you can definitely get a sense that the Greek Australian community is in good hands through the Greek Centre here in Melbourne.”
We emphasised that the Centre was used as a community hub for all forms of cultural activity. This included lectures, film, theatre, comedy and music. We noted that the Community plays an advocacy role and noted the collaboration we had with Government on vaccination hubs. We noted how the model of the Greek Centre has attracted the interest of other ethnic communities in Victoria.
Mr Giles, as Minister for Multiculturalism, emphasised that a national curriculum on languages would be an important part of any Labor government.
“It really is impossible to understand Melbourne in 2021 without thinking about the enormous contribution of the Greek Australian community but what is exciting to me about our visit today is that its not something about our past. It is something about our future… and to see the energy that you and your board have for the future of this physical place and the new initiatives you’ve got planned and your commitment to culture, language, to the identity of this diasporic community is something that I’m excited about and hope to be an effective partner in.”