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George N Leontsinis

Celebration of the Life and Work of Professor Manuel Aroney

Delivered at the 11th Biennial Conference of the Modern Greek Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand .

It is with great pleasure that I participate in the 11th Biennial Conference of the Modern Greek Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand. I would like to express my thanks to the Conference organizing committee, and especially Professor Vrasidas Karalis, for inviting me to honour the memory of Manuel Aroney on the first day of the conference.

In addition, as an elected member of the Council of the Municipality of Kythera, I would like to express, on behalf of the Mayor of Kythera, the appreciation of all Kytherians for this event dedicated to the memory of Manuel Aroney. Moreover, as a member of the academic community of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the oldest university in Greece, I would like to express the same sentiments on behalf of the Rector of the University of Athens, Professor Theodosis Pelegrinis, since the late Professor Manuel Aroney was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Athens in 1994.

The late Professor Manuel Aronis, as a Diaspora Greek was aware of his social origins and his international ‘roots’, operating in this country as a cosmopolitan. For Manuel Aroney, cosmopolitanism as a way of life, as a sentiment with deep cultural layers, was dominant within him throughout the whole of his academic and wider social activity. This will be demonstrated below in the presentation of his life and work.

Australia, as the first ‘homeland’ of Manuel Aroney, gave him the opportunity to think, feel and act with the air of an internationalist. Greece, as the country of birth and origin of his parents, captivated his feelings throughout his life, and so did the island of Kythera, the place where his parents originated from. Professor Manuel James (Dimitrios) Aronis was born in North Queensland (Australia). He was the only child of Dimitrios James Aronis and Stamatina Aronis (Papadominakos). His father was born in Aroniadika, Kythera and came to Australia in 1908. In 1916, his father joined some of his brothers and sisters in Boston, USA, but returned to Sydney in 1919. In 1923, Stamatina Aroni also from Aroniadika came to Sydney. They married in 1926 in Townsville and opened up the Central Cafe in Mackay, North Queensland, in 1928.

Manuel James (Dimitrios) grew up in Mackay where he completed his primary and secondary education. In 1951, Manuel was awarded a Queensland Open Scholarship and a Commonwealth Scholarship. He attended the University of Sydney where he obtained a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours in Physical Organic Chemistry and in 1961 his Ph.D. He was made a Teaching Fellow in 1955 and in 1961 a permanent lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Sydney and later a Professor at the same University. He was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (London) and a Member of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences.

His particular field of study had been research into forces that bind atoms together in molecules, the behaviour of electrons in molecular systems, studied by a range of techniques of physics. He published more than 140 research papers and reviews in prestigious international scientific journals as well as a large number of conference papers and abstracts. He was also elected President of the Foundation for Inorganic Chemistry within the University of Sydney.

During the 1970s, Aroney's involvement in the community increased greatly. As well as carrying out his University duties, he was appointed Head of the School of Chemistry in 1977, and took on multiple responsibilities, serving on non-government organizations and on four Federal Government commissions and boards. He was a founding member of the Ethnic Communities' Council of NSW. He was also appointed by the Federal Government as a member of the National Ethnic Broadcasting Advisory Council. He was one of the eight members responsible for advising the Commonwealth Government on multilingual electronic media. He also served as one of the four members of the first Board of the Federal Government’s Special Broadcasting Service.

During the 80s, he continued to be called upon to take an active part in the formation of policies affecting the Greek community. He was a Member of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs and a Commissioner of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission. His primary function on the Commission was to act as a bridge between the ethnic communities of Australia at a top level. His contributions to society were recognised by a number of awards. In 1980, he was granted the honour O.B.E. (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for services to the University and to the community (awarded by the Queen), and in 1989, he was awarded the A.M. (Member of the Order of Australia) given for services to multiculturalism and the Greek community.

Throughout the 1990s, this remarkable man continued to add to his list of achievements. For his rich and diverse activities he was honoured with numerous rewards and accepted many distinctions from the Australian Government and the British Commonwealth. In 1991, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science by the University of Sydney for outstanding contributions to international scientific research. This was the most prestigious degree given by the University for Research over a long period of time. The late Professor Aroney gained recognition for his achievements not only within Australia, but also within Greece as well as other foreign countries. In 1982, he was elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Athens as a distinguished Professor of Science. In 1994, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Athens. In 1998, the President of the Hellenic Republic made him Commander of the Order of the Phoenix.

Manuel Aroney was one of the Greek community representatives flown to Canberra by the Government of Australia in 1995, for consultation and advice to prevent inter-communal conflict over “the Macedonian issue”. In October 1996, he went to Athens representing the First Greek-Australian Museum Foundation. He was able to secure an understanding in which the Ministry would send original classical antiquities from various museums in Greece to Sydney in the year 2000. This was an important achievement since most of these antiquities had never before been allowed to leave Greece. The exhibition proved to be the outstanding cultural event of the Sydney Olympics.

Throughout his life, the late Professor Aroney was also greatly involved in the work of the Church. In 1972, he was given the title Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for services to the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia. He was also strongly involved in the Greek community and was a member of many Greek-Australian associations over the years, such as the Kytherian Brotherhood, AHEPA, the Castellorizian Club, the Cyprus-Hellene Club, the Greek Australian Professionals Association of New South Wales, and the Hellenic Club where he served as a Director for fifteen years and the Nicholas Anthony Aroney Charitable Trust. He was also Vice-Chairman of the Parthenon Marbles Committee.

Manuel Aroney was married to Ann Pascalis and is survived by three sons, Dimitrios and Theodore, both doctors, and Stephen, a lawyer. I met Manuel and his family during my first visit to Australia in 2005 and was impressed by his kind personality and strong character. Since then, I had the opportunity to meet Manuel in Canberra and Sydney on several occasions and had many interesting discussions with him on various academic and cultural issues.

It was a great honour for me to be selected in April 2008 by the Council of the Municipality of Kythera to award him, here in Sydney, the Municipality’s Golden Medal (the highest patriotic honour from his birth-place) as a tribute of honour and gratitude for his lengthy, continuous and important contribution to the large Kytherian community of Australia. At the day of the Award, the response of the Australian-Kytherian community of Sydney was enormous, in a packed Hall and in the presence of the members of his family and relatives, a great event that moved him deeply.

I had the pleasure of seeing him again, for a last time, in Sydney in December 2010, just a short while before he passed away, where he expressed to me his worry that this would be the last time we would ever meet. Alas, he was right, but at least I had the opportunity to honour his memory this evening at the University of Sydney which he served for so long.

At the beginning, I touched upon the meaning of cosmopolitanism, as a sentiment shared by every migrant. A public confession once made by Manuel Aroney, a second-generation Diaspora Greek, is, I think, particularly noteworthy and I have chosen to close my speech on him by quoting his words:

(...) I have presented some personal thoughts and opinions regarding the culture of our forbears and how this may or should make an impact on us. I have not tried to talk of how good to be an Australian — I am sure everyone here already has that sense. The question I pose is ‘are we fully using our God-given opportunities — are we good Greek-¬Australians?’ Australian schooling, the media, everyday social and workplace interactions have ensured that we have a good knowledge of English, a familiarity with Australian institutions, attitudes, lifestyles. That is understandable; that is fine. But we should, as immigrants, retain some ‘Greekness’ in our individual arid collective psyche. In so doing, we honour our family, our background, ourselves. We open the way to passing on a dual cultural tradition to our children. In this way we contribute to the developing, rich cultural tapestry of the modern Australian nation.

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