Researchers in Melbourne have begun the painstaking task of unravelling thousands of boxes containing historical Greek archives.
The priceless collection of art, newsreels and photographs captures the Hellenic diaspora in Australia.
And the race is on to preserve the material before it fades into history.
New future for historic Greek migration archive
Scholarship and heritage: from left, Ambassador Haris Dafaranos and his wife Eva with Greek community member Spiros Rombotis, La Trobe’s Professor Chris Mackie and Maria Herodotou, Archives Project supervisor Maria Ammazzalorso and Eva Fisch.
La Trobe University’s recently announced three-year Greek Archives project was inspected in September by a high-level delegation when the Greek Ambassador to Australia, Mr Haris Dafaranos and Consul-General for Victoria, Mrs Eleni Lianidou, visited the Melbourne campus.
Also taking part were the Greek Consul for Education Mr Vasileios Gkogas, three Greek community members of the La Trobe University Greek Archives Project Committee, Tassos Revis, Spiros Rombotis and George Papadopoulos, as well as Dr Maria Herodotou and Dimitris Gonis from La Trobe’s Modern Greek Studies Program.
The event was hosted by La Trobe Head of Humanities, Professor Chris Mackie, who chairs the Project Committee, project manager and Library Collections Librarian Eva Fisch, and Dr Michális S. Michael from La Trobe’s Centre for Dialogue.
Social history: Ambassador Dafaranos and Mrs Dafaranos with librarian Eva Fisch, right.
The Greek Archives document 130 years of the Greek diaspora in Australia and were formerly part of the National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research (EKEME in Greek), which ceased operating in 2007.
They hold a wide-range of material on the social history of Greeks in Australia which is being curated and listed by a team of three bi-lingual trained staff under the direction of the University Library.
History of Greek settlement
Professor Mackie said the Greek government delegation came to see the archives and discuss their accessibility for students of the Greek diaspora in order to help the Greek and wider community learn more about the history of Greek settlement in Australia.
One of the first tasks of the project, he said, was to provide access to the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora, sponsored and named after Melbourne businessman and Greek community philanthropist Zissis (Jack) Dardalis.
Ambassador Dafaranos said he applauded La Trobe for undertaking such an important task. He said the extensive materials in the archive would be extremely useful for scholars in Australia and around the world, as well as for the next generation of the local Greek community.
‘What we have here now is a solid basis for the future. Greeks of Melbourne feel strongly about this archive. I believe we have an excellent team and that we can work together to have this collection promoted and used by students and researchers.’
Print and film culture: inspecting ‘The Beauty of Peran’, historic poster of a famous 1930s film, and a linotype machine adapted for early Greek publications in Australia.
Project manager Eva Fisch said the work involved going through more than 5,500 archive boxes, 80 meters of bound newspapers, costumes, newsreels, films, art objects, as well as material stored on 60 computers donated to the archive over the past 13 years.
More than 700 boxes of archives had already been completed.
She said the newspaper collection was probably one of the most extensive in the Greek diaspora anywhere in the world.
‘Dating back to 1907 the collection holds some of the oldest newspapers published in Athens, and there are a lot of papers spanning the years of the two world wars.’
Link to today’s boat people
Ms Fisch said a number of exciting projects using the archives were already in train. For example, a Master of Information Studies student will be working with the project team on devising a display on subjects such as Greek local community history and global citizenship later this year.
‘The latter display will draw links between decisions made by a family deciding to step foot on a boat in search of a better life, and major changes in our society,’ she said.
An article, published earlier this year (11 March 2013) in the Greek newspaper Neos Kosmos by Nick Kitsakis was researched at the archives. The article traced the origins of the Hellenic (soccer) cup in Victoria, and who was responsible for the organisation of this cup from the 1960s.
And a steam-punk-like industrial relic, a typesetter modified by a Greek printer to deal with the differences between the English and Greek alphabets, is the subject of another research project.