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Antithesis presents: words outside the wog box

As I’m typing this blog post, only a few kilometres away on Lonsdale Street in the city, the annual Antipodes festival is in full swing. There’s fairy floss, carnival rides, imported Greek singers, bouzouki, Greek dancing and, of course, souvlaki. The Antipodes festival has been running since 1987 and, according to their website and to many Greeks in Melbourne, it is ‘a celebration of all things Greek’. But surely there’s more to being Greek than Antipodes, or the collection of ‘wog boy’ films? Challenging the Greek stereotype isn’t the only reason a few prominent Greek-Australian artists came together and created Antithesis, it was also to expose the hidden underground art created by Greek-Australians that for some reason, isn’t pushing through to the mainstream. As the curator of the literature/spoken word side of Antithesis, my aim was to push our voice up against the elitist ‘literary voice’ that, to me, seems to be being rejected by the gate keepers of the Australian literary landscape.

TTOpictureHighly successful and confrontational poet TT.O, who will be performing at the Antithesis spoken word event ‘I speak, you listen: words outside the wog box’ (Bar Open in Fitzroy, Wednesday 23 March), really detests stereotyping of the migrant experience with, what he calls, ‘ethnic writing’. He spoke to me on 3CR’s Spoken Word program about the TV show Acropolis Now, which aired in the late 80s, early 90s. In the first episode, TT.O explained to me, they sent the grandfather, who owned an authentic Greek coffee shop – where people are sitting around, gambling and drinking – back to Greece, and the boys took over. ‘But what do they do to the coffee shop? They make it into a trendy, ethnic restaurant, the kind of thing that people in Carlton and Fitzroy would absolutely adore to go into, because that’s their notion of nice, safe ethnics.’ But what TT.O really objects to is the way the characters speak. ‘They use English sentences and they put accents on them. But migrants don’t talk with English grammar. So this is part of the problem, that what the ethnics are being portrayed as is a bunch of people who are some kind shadow of the Angelo Celtic population.’

But Acropolis Now was written by Greeks. In fact, the majority of Greeks love the show and watch it again and again. Pixie Trangas, a poet who will also performing at the Bar Open event, spoke to me on 3CR about this very issue. ‘Well I think there is a lot of ignorance about our culture, and I think that ignorance has been passed down to the younger generation, and basically they got off on that ridicule of the culture … we just take the piss out of it, because it fills our pockets up, and it’s supposed to make it feel okay, but it doesn’t.’

KoralyFor me, speaking as someone inside a culture highly based on appearances and ‘what are people going to think!’, we like to deflect or bury things under the carpet, and instead choose to laugh and approve of the stereotype because it’s easier to do that then examine what’s really going on. Any kind of art stemming from the roots of the culture that confronts or holds a mirror up to the truth is shied away from. I performed my poetry at the Cypriot Wine Festival a few weeks ago just to prove this point. Apart from a few youngies approaching me after the show and one older woman in tears, many sat with their arms folded, spoke during the performance and left quickly afterwards. They just didn’t know how to take me. ‘What I’m finding,’ Pixie told me, ‘is that the mainstream prefer light, cold sarcastic comedy rather than having specific themes, underlying the reality of what people are living, whereas you had tragedy and comedy in the ancient Greek days where people wrote serious literature. Today, we don’t have that, we have to form an antithesis to the antipodes to actually get recognised because it’s so not cool and all this cultural stereotypical crap that exists out there. I think it’s sad.’

We’re not the only ones causing problems though. As TT.O put it, it’s also the Anglo-Celtic population’s notion of ethnics. Just the other day I was at a music gig and a girl I met said she’d love to travel to Greece to experience the culture because, to her, they’ve always seemed to have really close-knit families. Instantly I wanted to rebut her but kept my mouth shut because then I would have been there all night telling her my story. But who can blame her? If all she sees on tv, and in books and film are stereotypes, what’s she going to think? The only book/film I can think of that portrays a believable Greek story is Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas, which was made into the film Head on directed by Anna Kokkinos. Yes, Christos Tsiolkas is Australia’s migrant writer. My opinion is that the gatekeepers of literary Australia, and film Australia, don’t understand us, they can’t relate to us, so they don’t let us pass. We have our Christos, our migrant writer, so let’s move on. But there’s nobody exchanging dialogue with Christos.

TT.O knows all about what I mean by gatekeepers. TT.O self-published all of his poetry collections because ‘people didn’t accept what I was writing’. When trying to get his book 24 hours (1996) published, TT.O sent it to twelve publishers, yet nobody accepted it. Still, he invested in getting it self-published and luckily, it took off and is still being printed today. ‘Publishers aren’t going to print dirty words … if it’s sensational and it hasn’t got too many dirty words, not a problem, but you write a novel in migrant English with no explanations, you just write it the way it is, no-one’s going to be interested, you can’t get a publisher, you’re going to have to compromise. If you compromise as a writer, why are you doing it? Leave it to the wogs out of work [Acropolis Now], they know how to compromise.’

angela4Jim, actor, writer, producer and co-curator of the film night for Antithesis, couldn’t agree more about gatekeepers. ‘They’re too scared to fund something they can’t relate to or can’t control.’ It was Jim and director, writer and producer, Ange Arabatzis that launched the first ever short Greek film festival last year. The turnout of 150 people made them decide to branch out; the festival now includes literature, music, and a panel discussion. ‘There’s a lot of Greek-Australian film directors out there making films, and we wanted to create a network, and to show our films, and the theme doesn’t necessarily have to be Greek, it can be anything, so let’s stop laughing at ourselves because there’s a lot of stories about our culture that need to be told. We want to encourage Greek-Australian artists to make films, or write about our culture, rather than have someone else create characters of what they perceive our culture to be.’ As the spoken word curator, I have also inserted two open mic sections into the Bar Open night to encourage closeted poets to come and share a poem with us.

nickThis is the kind of discussion Antithesis hopes to generate at the forum at the Hellenic Museum on Sunday 27 March at 4pm. The forum, ‘I know what I am, and I’m glad that I am: responses from the distant edges of Greekness’, will feature international award-winning film director, writer and producer, Alkinos Tsilimidos; CEO of Melbourne Fringe, Esther Anatolitis; Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Music, Melbourne University, Michael Christoforidis; and actor for stage, television and film, Katerina Kotsonis. ‘I wanted our panellists to have one characteristic in that they were not perceived in the wider community as being “Greek”, and the connotative field that surrounds that,’ Nick Tsiavos, music curator of Antithesis and prominent musician explained. ‘We’re interested in how they reconcile these aspects of a culture they have been born into and immersed and shaped by, and explore their ability to love and accept and practice this aspect of themselves, while transcending it.’

Antithesis starts on Wednesday 23 March. For a full list of events visit Antithesis Festival.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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Comments

  1. Great article, and interesting for me as an older uni student stuying English Lit, and the book ‘Loaded’. I am not Greek but as an English/Irish Migrant, my (our) experience/s arent seen as important – we spoke the same language…lol…problem is, Australia is nothing like England or Ireland…so isolation of self and culture did take place. Hope the fesitval gets bigger and bigger and gets lots of support:):)

    Olga from http://revedoa.blogspot.com

    Olga from

  2. Pingback: The literary judge « One lifetime is not enough, for all my words – Koraly Dimitriadis

  3. Pingback: Antithesis starts next week! « Antithesis

  4. So long overdue, but these are baby steps and the Hellenes have a long way to go in Melbourne!!

    When you have politicians suggesting giving more money to The Antipodes and thinking this will resolve the problem as it’s outdated then they have no idea!!

  5. The Hellenic Museum is not an appropriate venue, what about Fed Square/ACMI and it being open to a more mainstream public?

    The location is a tad cliche and pretentious, which i thought was the “anithesis” of the whole concept of this festival?

    • Hi public, thanks for your anonymous comments. We at Antithesis were very grateful to the hellenic museum for supporting us and giving us their venue to use free of charge since we had ZERO funding. They too want to challenge the stereotype and we welcome anyone that is on board with what we are trying to do. Of course the politicians have no idea! Antipothes have no idea! Seriously, we are pushing against something major here, but at least we are pushing! From one side we have the nationalistic Greeks, including people from my generation, saying ‘we love our souvlaki and greek dancing, leave us alone!’ and from the other side we have the anglo gatekeepers of film, literature and television. It’s bloody hard work! But I agree that our marketing and target audience should be adjusted, but this is our first year, and liek I said, we have had no funding. It was bare bones this year and hopefully next year we can push it further. But as least we are starting!

    • Hi Public…as part of the Antithesis crew, I’d like to say how proud we all are that we’ve actually done something and created a new avenue for greek-australian artists in this country..We have all spent time on the side-lines, commentating on this and that, why we don’t get meaty roles as actors etc etc..But now that we have thrown our collective hats in the ring and DONE something about it, the feeling is indescribable..To have an idea, and then to create it out of thin air, should be an inspiration to anyone who wants to live an authentic life..Whether we had the forum at fed square, Agio Vasillis church in Brunswick, the Hellenic Museum, doesnt matter..What matters is that this is HAPPENING here and now..If you are passionate, and would like to contribute, we need all the help we can get to grow and spread the ANTITHESIS..You could start with giving us your name? cheers, Ange.

      • Hi Public…I would have to disagree with the comment the Hellenic Museum is a tad cliche and pretentious….most of the people who came had never even heard of the museum…and also need to add…when you NO funding its really nice for people to offer a space and not ask for money – I just say this is nice and supportive. We used five different venues and all were very generous. Looking forward to next year. Spread the word. Thanks for your comments.

  6. “The Slap” T.V series is another great step in this direction from a prominent Australian writer that he is now!

    Can’t wait for the series when it is shown on the a.b.c very soon!!

  7. Funding is an issue and when funds are limited well of course… go for it guys!!

    In the public sphere some would have seen an article of the museum in The Age a while ago like i did…. just trying to be a bit ambitious with the anti-stereotype like you guys are!!

    Your efforts are well rewarded and that is to be commended, and hope this gets the ball rolling so to speak!!

    Hope that this encourages more input and participation for better and more creative events in the future.

    The baby steps you have created are well worth it.

    Filakia 0x0x0x0x0

  8. The anglo gatekeepers…?hmmmm

    Are you Greek or Australian? Is this argument still relevant after all these years?

    Identity crisis issues again, or has multiculturalism failed another generation?

    Great to see the struggle continue.

    • Hi Nina, yes, anglo gatekeepers. Am I Greek or Australian? Well, if I am being politically correct I would say I’m Australian(because I was born here), but in my heart I know that’s a big, fat lie, and I would say I’m Cypriot, which, in itself, is a real problem, because it highlights a crisis in our generation and that yes, multicultralism has indeed failed another generation.

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