submitted by Nicholas J Comino on 02.03.2007
DR NICHOLAS J COMINO
60 Hardgrave Road,
West End 4101
Nicholas J Comino Pty Ltd
ABN 12 010 470 667
KYTHERAISMOS –THE BRISBANE PERSPECTIVE
Mr Chairman, distinguished overseas and local guests, fellow Kytheraismos members, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Nicholas Comino and I was born bred and raised in the Sunshine State of QUEENSLAND in this, without a doubt, the best country in the world; Australia. I feel that I am truly blessed, in that I had the good fortune to be born in this country, and had the privilege of a tertiary education at one of the top 8 sandstone universities of Australia. I therefore have a fine pedigree that I can boast about, but also that I must strive to uphold its standards as countless of Queensland medical graduates have done before me.
I also am fiercely proud of another pedigree, one that is centuries older than my Queensland one, one that has marked me as different from the rest of the greater Australian community . I am an Australian of Greek heritage, AND I also happen to have roots from the magical island of Kythera, which as everyone present here today knows, is tantamount to God’s own country!
What a wonderful pedigree this is to have –an origin from a small hunk of rock at the junction of the Aegean, Ionian and Cretan Seas, which has spawned so many fine people from all walks of life – the arts, the humanities, the sciences the industrial, political and commerce sectors. Who can forget the late great Alex Freeleagus, Queensland’s consul-general for Greece, who together with his father before him, served Greece and Kytheraismos for over a century! And it is also awe inspiring that when our parents’ generation were chatting about this hunk of rock, the eyes would brim, the stories were endless and exciting and time would be standing still for us – the children who were avid listeners and took it all in.
Because ladies and gentlemen, if we had not taken it all in back then, surely we would not be here now, taking an active interest in the island and in meeting here, to attempt to find solutions to our problems, in the main being how to pass the baton onto the next generation. How to maintain that generosity of spirit, which so characterises the Kytherian. A generosity of spirit when it came to collecting money to build our first church, then our community centre, then our next church, then our youth programmes, then with the kind help of the Federal Government, our various Welfare services, our nursing home and hostel complex and the list goes on. This wonderful Kytherian generosity of spirit which made the late great Dr George Stratigos – κοινώς γνωστός ώς Καστάνης – NEVER to charge a Kytherian patient because of a promise he had made to his late father. His father like many others, came out to Australia and worked hard to send money home to educate his son, with one proviso: that he never charge a Kytherian patient! This wonderful Kytherian generosity of spirit – it is really a Greek characteristic, because after all, that is what we are first and foremost – Greek. We Kytherians like to think though, that we are something a little special from the rest when it comes to helping out the island in its various needs.
And I must say that we in Brisbane have not been backwards in the recent past, in coming forwards with help for Τσιρίγο. The idea of a mortuary for the island is not the first thing that springs to mind when one is about to start a holiday στό Τσιρίγο. But these things are a part of life and if not for the stirring work of 5 Brisbane Kytherians, John Carras, Nick Leon, Jim Feros, John Marendy and the late Theo Castrissios, there would be no such facility. It took this able group of Brisbanites 5 years to collect the finances required. Incidentally, the very first time that this macabre yet necessary piece of equipment was used, was in the tragic case of my good friend the late Stavros Stelliou, whose wonderful wife Poppy is a Trojan for this symposium, and whose brother Tony is also in attendance. I will allude to my good friend John Carras later in my talk.
Sadly though, all is not happy and bright in Brisbane. Where once upon a time, the marble plaques in St George Church and the Gk Community Centre show that 80% of the benefactors were Kytherians, we are now conspicuous by our absence from the great Brisbane Panigyri, and where once upon a time the great Myrtidiotissa dances of Brisbane squeezed over 1200 patrons from far and near into the famous Cloudland ballroom, now there is no Myrtidiotissa dance – indeed no get-together of any significance. The committee tries valiantly to bring people into some functions but alas the older generation are just that – older and tired – and we the younger generation, are too busy working hard and attaining affluence and wealth, to bother about the Kytherian dances. A prime example of this was our 2004 Ball. The less than 300 patrons that attended that night were predominantly elderly who had a grandchild performing.
So therefore what was once a proud Kytherian institution, the education of the children at all cost, has indirectly brought about somewhat of the undoing of the fabric of Kytheraismos, in that as education brings about wealth, wealth undermines traditional practices as material standards of living increase. Education also by its very nature broadens horizons and brings forth a diversity of interests, and this can, at times, take us away from what we should be pursuing – eg., long weekends that fall on significant days in the church calendar.
Education can also create new social circles and we may thus end up socialising less with our Kytherian friends and more with our professional peers. Historically in Brisbane – and I guess in other Australian communities – the church and the various Greek associations were the only way to satisfy one’s social needs. In any given event in the Kytherian social calendar of 1970’s eg, the majority of patrons were Kytherians and were in the food industry. This meant that there were common interests work wise also.The same social event in 2006 might reveal a patronage of less than 30% Kytherian and less than 30% food industry involvement, with a far greater spread of vocations and far less commonality.
In today’s world life has a frenetic pace and the younger generation who can keep up on the wild ride do so to the fullest. But at what cost? I will not go into a sociology exercise about the perils of life in the fast lane – I am sure that we are all well aware of the tragedy of family break-ups that occur in our Greek communities as much as the wider Australian society. No, I am talking about a sad ending to a beautiful story – the story of the Kytherian with his βαλίτσα standing στό Καψάλι η στήν Αγία Πελαγία; of his mother and father crying uncontrollably because they know from neighbourhood experience that they will probably not see their son again; of that boy coming on that long boat ride to Circular Quay or to Hamilton and of being picked up by someone who may or may not be a relative, taken to a single room and working from dawn til midnight at some café somewhere; and eventually he has paid τα ναύλα του and he starts to save; he buys a little shop; he gets married either by προξενιό, or he goes back to Kythera to find a wife – he is the smart one; the other fellow works until his mid-fifties and goes back to Kythera with his pockets full of Aussie pounds and gets a 17 year old girl! That was how it was done in a LOT of cases.
In any event our first fellow marries, has children and works like a Trojan to put them through university. And when at last he sees his first grandchild he is overjoyed. And years later when his mate asks him if he is coming to the Panagia dance to see his εγγόνα perform the spaletta, he states sadly that the grandson is on holidays down the Coast with the girfriend!! Καί ο γιός πάλι δουλεύη overtime καημένε!!
What I am talking about of course is the traditional side of our culture. That is what is missing from today’s youth. That is what this symposium should be focusing on – how to get our youth back into Kythera mode. And I don’t mean that they spend a summer in Τσιρίγο and “ Yeah, Dad it’s great !!” Yes it is great, but it is not the essence of Τσιρίγο. At least it is not the essence of Τσιρίγο that I grew up with. People always ask me when are you likely to visit the island. I suppose it would appear to most observers that I am chained to my desk and to my work because I have not been to Kythera anywhere near as much as most other people. To them, (and to the PM & to Peter Beattie if he were here) I say when I can get my hands on a locum!! Yes, Nick but would you visit the island in the summer? Now I know that summer on the Greek islands is absolutely fabulous. But again, my version of Τσιρίγο, is, that summer is also the time of the great πανηγύρια of the island – οι εσπερινοί of all the feast days – July and August is packed with εορτές. I happen to be one of the “queer” ones who love the Byzantine chanting of δεκαπενταύγουστο. Granted, I am in the minority, but even if that stuff is boring to some, the atmosphere in the church, with all the faithful present – I tell you, you feel decidedly different at the end when you come out.
However, my favourite time on the island is when the silly season is over. On the 2 occasions I have visited the island as an adult, it was in the off season, and I mingled with and interacted with the locals and it was marvellous experience. What is the point of going over there just to be with the same old people who barely speak to you back home, yet make a loud beehive for you at the Παζάρι in Potamos, για τα μάτια so to speak!! No, I’m afraid that I am old fashioned and enjoy the βεγγέρες and the total involvement in their topics of conversation and discussion. I love to visit every nook and cranny on the island, to revisit every story my parents told me about how they lived their lives, their hardships and daily toils. To me, that is the essence of Τσιρίγο that we must convey – how they had it tough, to go and physically see just what they were talking about.
It is interesting to talk to our other Greek friends when the topic arises, of generational changing of the guard in their various associations. It would seem to me that most of them are undergoing the same difficulties that we, the Brisbane Kytherians are facing – the problem of 2nd generation apathy and loss of the youth involvement.
The characteristics that are common to Kytherians the world over – hardworking, resourceful, community minded etc – are present by and large in our youth, don’t you worry about that , as Joh used to say! They are very much upwardly mobile, excellent business and professional or trades people. They just do not see the Kytherian association or the organised get-togethers as having a high enough priority in their busy daily schedules. Perhaps the exception to the above generalisation, would be the Cypriot Youth of Brisbane. This community by and large has a much more recent presence in Brisbane, with a huge influx after the tragedy of July 1974, with the result that their 2nd generation is still very much aware of their island’s affairs etc. And so therefore it would follow that their association’s activities would have a much greater youth attendance than most of the other communities, ours included.
We in Queensland have certain issues which are peculiar to our great state. We have the tyranny of distance, with some Kytherian families isolated by many hundreds of kilometres to the nearest Greek church, let alone a Kytherian function. We also in Qld, tend to be a fairly lay-back sort of people, certainly more lay-back than our southern cousins from the cockroach state! I suppose that this a very feeble excuse for some not to actively pursue their Kytherian or Greek identity. However the majority of Kytherians that I talk to, are of the justifiable opinion, in my view, that we are Greek first and foremost and that all our energies - and by default I guess, all our financial efforts – should be directed to the mother Greek Orthodox community and its church and surrounding infrastructure.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I have attempted to give you a thumbnail sketch of the state of play with the Kytherians of Brisbane. True, it sounds bad, and as Prof Emmanuel Aroney put it to me over our telephone conversation recently, it is a tragedy that the state that produced so many bright lights in the Kytherian and Greek Australian communities, should now be at this all time low.
But all is not lost – YET. We DO have a few wonderful and energetic souls who are trying to keep the embers alight. We still attempt to present a biennial Spaletta dance, thanks largely to the undying efforts of Aspasia Poteri, who for 25 years now has taught our kids dancing. We STILL attempt to organise picnics and other similar events. There IS a small core of young kids who are regularly called upon to perform at functions etc. The parents who constantly chip in and help manning the stalls or the door, supplying and helping with costumes, bringing foodstuffs etc. We all know these circumstances from experience.
Now to attempt some suggestions.
Mr Elias Massellos has coined the term INTER-KYTHERAISMOS as a thematic unit for this symposium, which at first I thought was a fatuous concept. Having put my thoughts down on paper and seeing the stark reality for what it is, I now think that this would be a marvellous weapon. The ability for our youth to instantly communicate with and exchange ideas and thoughts with fellow Kytherian youngsters – and not so youngsters!- from around the world, may be just the ticket, given our kids’ love affair with the computer. I am sure that we have all visited the Kythera-family site on the net. I envisage a similar setup by our young bright sparks in all the Kytherian outposts that are represented here today, with the ability for someone to log on and after appropriate security measures etc, be able to go on a virtual journey of all the cities and to make contact with all the Kytherians who may be registered on the various country sites. I do not profess to understand the workings that go into building a web site but I trust that the listeners here today are getting a drift of what I am imagining – to trace relatives or friends long forgotten, to check out points of interest, to make new net friends – as against the old pen friends.
Another perhaps much more adventurous suggestion. The old NUGAS trips thing could be re-visited, with a Kytherian flavour. That is, a fund or something, be set up to pay for a group of youngsters from all parts of the Kytherian world, to take a trip to Kythera. Where they would be billeted at either relatives or certain other accredited establishments, and proper guides WHO ARE BILINGUAL, to take them on an eye opening fortnight through Kythera. The youngsters would learn about καμάρες, how they were made, what is a καμίνι, what does it do, what is an αλώνη, what do the terms, θέρο, τρύγο, λανό, mean. Τι είναι ο τρούλητας? Τι είναι η φορφοτήρα? THEN, ladies and gentlemen, I think that we would have youth revival of all things Kytherian here in Australia.
In closing, it would be remiss of me not to mention the tireless work of Mrs Vikki Londy of Brisbane, whose help has been unparalleled in my compiling these thoughts together. I thank her sincerely. Her daughter Mary will speak to you of Youth affairs in Brisbane. Her daughter is another reason for optimism about the youth of this country.
And now to my good friend Mr John Carras. Let me make it quite clear for all: the Kytherian association of Queensland would cease to function, were it not for the Herculean efforts of this one man. He who single mindedly attends EACH & EVERY Greek cultural function in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, with his trusty camera, be it the Panigyri of Brisbane and the Gold Coast, the meetings of the Kytherian association, the meetings of the Kytheraismos group, every sports telecast featuring a Greek team, or a Greek sportsperson. It doesn’t matter. John is there, day or night – Midnight Anastasi or the dawn services of the ANZAC day memorials.
John also has proven to me, to be a man of great vision, with his idea of a retirement village adjacent to the Kasimateion Nursing Home. I am a medical practitioner by profession, and nursing homes and hostels are το μέλη – γάλα μου. I, and all my Kytherian medical colleagues of Brisbane, are 100% behind this fabulous idea of a retirement village. John has 25 years experience in the aged care industry and was instrumental in establishing the first ethnic nursing home in Australia, Brisbane’s St Nicholas Nursing Home, where he served as administrator and board vice-president for 10 years. As a point of interest, many many elderly Kytherians were residents. NOW, it is the Cassimateion Home that requires an adjacent hostel/retirement village, and let’s hope that another generous Cassimaty style benefactor can donate and make John’s 12 year vision a reality. It proves to me once again that John is a true blue Tsirgoti.
To him, I personally, AND all the Kytherians of Brisbane, owe a special debt of thanks.
Lastly to my beautiful wife and wonderful family who could not travel with me to Canberra at this time, mere words are not enough to express my love and gratitude for their support. Although my wife is a non-Kytherian Greek, she is always by my side to help out wherever she can. Indeed, during the preparations for our inaugural ball a few years ago, she and Aspasia Poteri were on the organising committee. If ever I need a balanced and unbiased lawyer type perspective on any matter, Vicky Comino is the one I trust and turn to, the love of my life.
Dr Nicholas J Comino
PS: Of course we now have the wonderful kythera-family.net website which is all that I have ever wished for in information, in tracking down relatives etc. Granted it is at times not the most accurate record, but hey, it is a FANTASTIC start. And if anyone can do better, I am sure George Poulos and the gang would be more than happy to oblige!
Congratulations on a wonderful website!
Prof. Vasilis Peter Leftheris, PhD.
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