Families and cultural diversity in Australia

Historical publication – December 1995

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6. Greek-Australian families

by Georgina Tsolidis

Through the family, each generation negotiates old and new understandings of work, success, education, gender roles and 'family' itself. For Greeks in Australia this process takes place in the context of experiences of migration. As a result, definitions of what it means to be Greek in Australia are becoming increasingly varied. The Greek presence has a long history, being first recorded in 1829 (Gilchrist 1993); there is now reference to a 'third generation' in relation to post-war migration. This presence over a long period, and slowly increasing rates of intermarriage, make it increasingly inappropriate to state with certainty what 'the Greek family' is. No longer can we measure levels of assimilation by an understanding of the traditional Greek family as disrupted. Instead, our task is to consider the various understandings of the Greek family in Australia, as well as the diverse meanings of family that exist in Australia, to which the Greek presence has contributed.

While it is important to acknowledge that there is no essential 'Greekness', the very exercise of attempting to describe 'the Greek family' assumes a certain degree of sameness. The task is marked by a tension between difference and sameness. There is immense diversity of 'Greekness' in Australia-in relation to what Greeks came, where from, why and when, and what became of people when they arrived in Australia. Yet, while an essence may not exist, there is a sense that the Greek family is characterised by a particular flavour.

The Greek family is traditionally described as collectivist rather than oriented towards individualism. As in an intricate mosaic the individual is part of the family and the family unit is part of the community, so that the smaller units, while indispensable to the whole, are also somewhat subsumed by it (Hearst 1985; Bottomley 1979; Smolicz 1988). The challenge is to understand the variations on this theme and the role played by migration in relation to them, and to explore understandings of the family that have helped Greeks establish themselves and ,their community in Australia. Ethnic identifications, both attributed and self-selected, and the character of Australia they contribute towards shaping, form a fundamental backdrop to discussions of the family. The family of the nation has been a metaphor for Australian multiculturalism. Equally, understandings of multiculturalism are a necessary consideration in relation to the family in Australia.

The traditional Greek family

'The family is so significant, in fact, that a discussion of kinship will inevitably include reference to many of the other elements of the cultural model' (Bottomley 1979, p. 79). It is clear from such a comment that the family is of utmost importance in Greek society and culture.

Traditionally, in Greek society there is an emphasis on family unity. Because the family is collectivist in nature, family resources are communal; everyone contributes and everyone receives both financially and socially. The Greek family is centred on the husband and wife and their unmarried children. While there are obligations to the family of origin, priorities are oriented to the future social and economic well-being of the next generation. The traditional Greek family is patriarchal in the strict sense of the word in that young men, as well as women, pay respect to the father. The main concern is to provide for the next generation'S establishment through marriage and economic well-being. Traditionally this has been accomplished through arranged marriages and dowries.

Marriage arrangements involve the family unit, not just the individuals concerned. The extent of this family involvement is illustrated by the custom of brothers not marrying until all sisters are married. Thus brothers are able to contribute to their sisters' dowries prior to establishing their own families. The families of the groom and the bride contribute their respective social and economic status to each new family unit. In this way the traditional Greek family is bilateral in nature. The collectivist basis of the Greek family means that the family as a whole gains or suffers from the repercussions of individual members' behaviour. Traditional understandings of honour are sex-segregated and linked to manliness (andrismos) for men and shame (drope) for women. The love of honour (phi/otimo), particularly relevant to men, provides an incentive to act according to expectations of courageous and assertive behaviour. For women the notion of drape acts to discourage inappropriate behaviour. Family honour has a clear link to the sexual behaviour of family members; the sexual double standard which operates often means that honour will be judged by women's chastity and men's capacities to ensure this.

While such traditional views are changing, there are nonetheless indications that many young Greek-Australians are still having to contend with these attitudes (Strinzos 1984; Bottomley 1984). A girl's reputation and her brother's involvement in maintaining it can help determine where adolescents socialise and with whom. Often parental requirements for girls to go out chaperoned by brothers or other male family members stem from concerns about the daughters' reputations and the family honour. Many of these requirements relate to what Bottomley (1979) refers to as 'impression management'. While they may place additional restrictions on Greek-Australian adolescents, many young people also enjoy the sense of security they can provide (Tsolidis 1986).

The traditional family is described as firmly androcentric; however, there is also a need to acknowledge the power which women have within it. This power is brought about through a variety of forces. The dowry (traditionally presented as land, but increasingly diversified to include money or the education and career costs of the bride) makes women co-owners and co-workers. This ensures their involvement in economic decisions within the family unit, including those related to their children's future and inheritance. In addition, women's central role within the household also ensures their authority. Traditionally the household is the focus for social, religious and economic life. In this sphere women not only manage the house but maintain family relations. They have responsibility for a range of religious and cultural rituals. With regard to children, they are understood as the moral guardians and take responsibility for their education. Changes to the traditional roles of women in both Greece and Australia need to be considered in the light of the informal power that women have had traditionally. There are indications that modern shifts in women's status may in fact reduce this informal power (Bottomley 1979).

Traditionally, Greek child-rearing responsibilities are situated firmly within the female sphere; nonetheless fathers and other male relatives are wholeheartedly involved. Young Greek children may seem overindulged by mainstream Australian standards. There is an emphasis on participation by all family members in social events and this often means that young children accompany their parents on outings,' even in the evenings. Caring for children is tantamount to caring for the future and parents will go to great lengths to provide social and economic security for them. One pertinent illustration of this in the Australian context is the emphasis placed on education. For Greeks education is valuable in its own right, but it is also seen as a means of providing economic security, social status and honour for the individual, his or her family and the community.

For the individual the gaining of honour is linked to membership of a group, primarily the family but also the community. This has clear applicability in the context of migration where membership of the Greek community has often worked to bond individuals across various social divisions. Another expression of this sense of honour relates to the notion of hospitality (philoxenia). A more adequate translation of philoxenia is 'love of strangers' and it is another criterion by which individuals earn respect or honour for families and community. This concept has a particular poignancy with regard to migration, as many Greeks rely on the philoxenia of their compatriots.

The traditional Greek family, as characterised here, has been modified by changes in Greece, as well as by migration. However, some studies suggest that the values which underpin the traditional Greek family remain, even though specific patterns of behaviour may change (Rosenthal, Bell, Demetriou and Efklides 1989). In this context a critical understanding in relation to the Greek family is that responsibility is to the group (the family, the community and the nation) and that it is regulated through notions of honour and shame. This is quite different from the emphasis on the individual which underlies mainstream Australian society and which is mediated through self-regulation and notions of guilt.

Ethnic identification

Ethnicity is commonly linked to shared factors which bind a group of people together and give them a sense of belonging. Language, system of beliefs, religion, history, customs, values and traditions are considered important. Increasingly, particularly in relation to migration, ethnic identification also relates to understandings of not belonging, and to a minority status which brings with it connotations of inequality and discrimination. From this point of view, what provides people with a sense of belonging to each other is their sense of not belonging to the mainstream-their status as 'Other' (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1983, 1992). Such affiliation results as much from self-identification as from attribution by others. However, an understanding of ethnic identification bound to notions of 'Other' can also connote resistance and agency, leading to a politics of difference, rather than an image of outsiders who wallow in their helplessness.

Ethnicity has a clear relationship with a range of factors, most importantly with socio-economic status and gender. The meaning of Greekness varies dramatically with wealth and with whether one is a woman or a man (Tsolidis 1993). Similarly, political identifications overlap with ethnic ones and in Australia there are strong associations between Greeks and politics (Theophanous 1988; Dollis 1993; Forbes 1994). Yet it would be misleading to imply that ethnicity merely functions as a political rallying point. Much of the process of ethnic identification happens through the family. Because women have a strong association with the family, it is often they who are at the cutting edge of new and old ethnic identifications. Understanding the family requires an exploration of the ways in which Greek women function within Australian society, after migration and as a result of the many changes which are part of this process.

To summarise, in the context of migration the Greek family functions as a membrane between Greek and Australian, old and new identifications, attribution and self-identification, and staying the same and changing.

The diaspora, the community and the family

The Greek diaspora represents a Greek presence outside Greece. Asia Minor, Egypt, Russia, America, Australia, Canada and England are readily recognised as places where there are Greek communities, but Greeks also live in Zimbabwe, Finland, Thailand and Latin America. Authors write unselfconsciously about the Greeks from Cyprus who live in London; the Greeks who left Egypt in 1952 to settle in Melbourne; the Greeks who left Castellorizo, went to Port Said and ended up in Sydney (Anthias 1992; Gilchrist 1993; Murphy 1993; Hawthorne 1988).

Much has been made of the Greek ability to maintain language, culture and religion over numerous generations in countries such as Australia. This ability to sustain Greek culture is reflected in Greek communities across the world, which are linked not only by a common language, culture, religion and history, but also by common interests in politics, sports and the arts. While separate, such communities also have a sense of 'belonging'-to Greece and each other-because of their emotional ties and the constant contact and interactions between them. These bind the diaspora to Greece, Greece to the diaspora and diasporic communities to each other.

The diaspora is ingrained in the Greek psyche to the extent that it is quite normal for Greeks to talk of the number of their compatriots living beyond the shores of Greece almost as though Greek communities in other countries were outposts of Greece. It is a romantic vision of Greek communities dotted throughout the world as bastions of an ancient and revered civilisation. So classical Hellenism connects with Alexandria, Chicago or Melbourne in living and creative ways. It is a vision which connects the old and the new through language, culture and religion and also through a love of politics, education, the arts and understandings of civic duty.

The Ellenismos, the sense of Greekness, implicit in the diaspora, fractures into myriad realities, not only with regard to destinations but also with regard to the places where migration began and the reasons which stimulated it in the first (or second) place. Yet, despite this, there is a persistent feeling that the differences are bound by similarities. There exists an assumption about sameness; a Greekness in places far from Greece (Bottomley 1979; Papageorgopoulos 1981; Hellenic Studies Forum Inc. 1993).

Establishing the community

To what extent does this vision of the Greek diaspora match the reality in Australia? It can be gauged by looking at the various stages in which the Greek community establishes itself in a new country. The embryonic Greek community first establishes its church, a church which may display the Greek national flag. Next to the church is a room in which the children learn the Greek language, history, dances and the scriptures; possibly in that order. As the community establishes itself the organisations evolve: the club rooms, women's groups, welfare organisations, political organisations and professional groups. There may be a Greek-language press, Greek theatre groups, Greek day schools and Greek homes for the elderly. A distinct Greek presence in mainstream organisations such as (in Australia) the Scouts, the RSL (Returned Services League), the ALP (Australian Labor Party) and the Freemasons may evolve. For many, both Greek and non-Greek, it is this type of activity which delineates diasporic Greekness. In a city like Melbourne, particularly in some suburbs, there are clear indications of the Greek presence. This goes beyond the shop fronts and the languages heard spoken on the streets. Festivals, cultural events and community institutions which celebrate Australian Ellenismos are also celebrations of new cultural forms.

The family

Permeating these activities, institutions and ways of functioning is an understanding of the family. However, describing the role of the family vis-a-vis the community and notions of Greek identity, is akin to untangling the Gordian knot; short of attempting to sever the connections, one has to bear with the interconnected complications.

Bottomley (1992) cautions against interpreting the Greek family from a perspective which accepts the nuclear family as the norm. She outlines the inappropriateness of models in which neat divisions are made between the public and private spheres in relation to the family, which in Greece functions as a cornerstone in both business and politics. Bottomley argues that in Greece the family 'is a kind of corporate enterprise for which everyone, even a small child, bears some responsibility' (p. 114). While this is relevant to Greek families in Australia, we need to consider the interrelationship between family, identity and migration in the context of changes within Greece, the Greek community in Australia, and those occurring in Australian society generally. In this way the dynamism and fluidity which exists within and between cultures can be recognized.

A range of people associated with the Greek community were interviewed for this chapter (see Chapter Note below). Many commented on how the Greek-Australian family not only combined Greek and Australian elements and perspectives but was also changing definitions of what is Greek and what is Australian. Some mentioned direct or indirect experience of Greek families into which non-Greeks had married. It was often these xeni or 'out'siders' who most enthusiastically embraced those communitarian aspects of the family associated with being Greek.

While intermarriage provides the most obvious illustration of two-way change and accommodation between cultures, there are other ways in which this occurs: through the primary school children who understand who ¥ia ¥ia (Grandmother) is because she comes to pick up their classmate at the end of each day; the workmates who understand what a koumbaro (best man) is because they were invited to the wedding; or the neighbours who understand what a nonna (godmother) is because they went to the baptism. These are not just Greek words for particular people; they indicate a whole other way of 'doing' family. For many Greeks ¥ia ¥ia rears grandchildren; she does not simply babysit. Becoming a koumbaro or nonna is significant not only for religious reasons but because it represents a rite of passage into the inner sanctum of the family.

Terminology tells a story. During discussions exploring the Greek-Australian family, those interviewed often used the term 'Greek' as synonymous with Greek-Australian, while the term 'Greeks in Greece' was reserved for those in the homeland. There was only one person with Greek ancestry who did not primarily identify as Greek and who queried the raison d'etre of a project based on definitions of Greekness in an Australian context. For the others there was a total lack of awareness that they could begin the discussion by questioning whether the enterprise itself was meaningful.

It is this comfort Greek-Australians have with being unselfconsciously Greek while not necessarily wanting to live in Greece, juxtaposed with outsiders' views of their national chauvinism and their cultural and linguistic loyalties, that in many ways characterises what it is to be Greek in Australia. The role the family plays in transferring this feeling of comfort between the generations is an important one to examine, because for many Greeks the relationship between the family and Greek identity is indissoluble and because diasporic existence is so much a part of Greek identity. It is not by chance that, when those interviewed were asked to discuss the Greek family in Australia, the majority talked at great length about what it means to be Greek in Australia, and then considered the role. of the family in relation to the maintenance of this identity.

Greek cultural identity and the family

Many of those interviewed felt comfortable nominating some bottom-line requirements for Greekness-Greek language, Greek culture, Greek Orthodoxy and a Greek sense of family. These elements merge into each other and the lines are indistinct between family, religion, tradition and culture. The family is important because through it children learn the language and culture; language is important because without it children would not be able to communicate with their grandparents and thus the family structures would be threatened. For many it is Yia Yia who introduces the Greek stories, rhymes and history in childhood; it is the godparents who present their godchildren with lambathes (candles) to carry during the Easter procession; and it is extended family members who visit in order to celebrate a name-day.

Ta ethima mas, 'our culture and traditions', becomes a common articulation for the amalgam which blurs the lines between traditions, culture, values, religion, nationalism and a sense of history. In Australia the blurring is intensified for the children of each subsequent generation, particularly if they do not access more formal teachings of Greek language, history and culture. Delineations between history and mythology, for example, become more complicated. Is the Odyssean story of Penelope and her unravelled tapestry-told by Yia Yia to her three-year-old granddaughter in Australia almost as oral history-a fairytale or a story of mythic proportions transferred through the ages as testimony to a surviving sense of Hellenism?

Such blurring surrounds the telling of many stories: the tale of the men with big moustaches who cooked their lamb in underground pits so as not to be detected in their mountain refuges as they struggled against Ottoman rule; the story of the women who held hands and danced in a circle and one by one threw themselves off a cliff rather than be taken into Ottoman harems; the stories about the m ega li catastrophe (the Asia Minor catastrophe) and the andartes (the resistance fighters). And perhaps most important of all, the story related to migration: the story of the Greek condition which leads so many to distant shores, be they German, American or Australian: Ti na kanoume emis i Elines affou i patritha mas then bori na mas thosi psomi ('What can we Greeks do, given that our homeland cannot provide us with bread?').

Migration and the Greek family

In Australia there have been Greek men accused of piracy, Greek women who arrived on brides hips after the Second World War, Greeks who were born here to parents who fled the Junta, and parents who left a remote village to make a better life for their children. In today's community there are Peloponnesian Greeks, Macedonian Greeks, Pontian Greeks, Greeks from Asia Minor, Greeks from Egypt, and Greek Cypriots. People who identify as Greek live in all parts of Australia. They may work in factories in Broadmeadows, grow grapes in Mildura, run successful law firms in Perth, represent constituencies in parliaments in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney or Perth, or represent Australia in overseas tennis tournaments. They may have established business empires through oyster or pearl farming, run restaurants, or experienced little or great social mobility. Many have intermarried with indigenous Australians or with those who have ancestral links with Ireland, England or Italy (Price 1975; Gilchrist 1993; Alexakis and Janiszewski 1989; Kapardis and Tamis 1988; Kunek 1993). The grandchildren of the post-war Greek immigrants and the children of the intermarriages are only just beginning to tell their stories. Unlike Greek migration to America, which was of a collective nature and was founded on a colony of over 1000 people in Florida, 'early Greek migration to Australia was the sum of action by individual adventurers' (Gilchrist 1993, p. 71). Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of individual adventurers were men, seeking fortunes to take back to their families in Greece.

While most Greek migration to Australia is associated with the period following the Second World War, Greeks arrived in Australia in small numbers prior to the gold rushes -of the 1850s and in significant numbers during the rushes. In the early 1900s chain-migration patterns resulted in large numbers coming from Kythera, Ithaca and Castellorizo. By the end of the nineteenth century the Greek communities of Sydney and Melbourne were well established (BIPR 1994a). The immigrants were still overwhelmingly male, although family groups were beginning to emigrate (Gilchrist 1993). Greek immigration during this period is associated with shop keeping and cafes in particular. Once established, these ventures became a base on which other immigrants built. Family members arrived in Australia to work in these enterprises or to establish partnerships. By 1947 the census noted 12 000 people among the population who were born in Greece.

After the Second World War the Australian need for labour dovetailed with the emphasis which war-ravaged European countries were placing on emigration as a solution to problems of unemployment and poverty. Approximately 250 000 Greeks entered Australia between 1947 and the early 1980s; 1971 represents the peak year, with 160 000 Greeks arriving. By the mid-1970s Greek immigration had begun to decline and in the decade between 1982 and 1991 it decreased to less than 750 people per year (BIPR 1994a).

The Greeks who arrived became one of the most highly urbanised immigrant groups in Australia. Almost half took up residence in Melbourne, contributing to the notion that this city is possibly the second or third largest 'Greek city' in the world after Athens and before or after Thessonaliki. Furthermore, this settlement was concentrated in particular suburbs. In 1991 some suburbs in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide recorded Greek populations of between 4 and 12 per cent (BIPR 1994a).

Post-war immigration embedded Greek families in Australian society. However, government policy relating to family migration was somewhat ambivalent. The immediate post-war aim was a rapidly increased and flexible workforce which would support infrastructure development. In the case of the non-British assistedpassage program, priority was given to single males who could be moved around during the two-year labour contract which was part of the program. In 1952, when Greeks became eligible for the assisted-passage program, families had limited access; in 1958 Greek families were excluded altogether (Kunek 1993).

In 1956 an immigration program for single Greek women was established. The aim was to train women in Athens for domestic work in Australia by teaching them basic English-language and household skills. On arrival they were contracted to the Australian Commonwealth Employment Service for two years. This program allowed single women to emigrate to Australia independently of husbands or male relatives. The reasons for these women entering the scheme were mostly financial. They could support themselves and send money back to their families in Greece. Moreover, they could sponsor family members to come to Australia. An additional incentive was that the scheme provided a means of escaping the dowry system (Kunek 1993).

It has been argued that while, in fact, the government preferred single male immigrants, it produced a rhetoric related to the need to balance the sexes in its immigration program. Preferential selection of single males had created an imbalance which was seen, as undesirable for a range of reasons. Single men were understood to pose a threat to the social order generally and to Australian womanhood specifically. Moreover, balanced immigration was seen to have the added advantage of establishing household consumer units which increased demand and productivity (Martin 1986).

While post-war immigration policy was at best ambivalent towards family immigration, and while family units that did emigrate experienced additional upheaval with husbands being separated from wives for lengthy periods, overall it served to even up the ratio of males to females. In 1901 the ratio was 1206:100 in favour of males; in 1947 it was 287:100; and by 1981 it was 106:100 (BIPR 1994a).

The post-war period of Greek immigration altered previous patterns. There was greater diversity of places from which settlers came. Many now arrived from the Peloponnese, Epirus, Macedonia, Crete and Lesbos as well as from Cyprus and Egypt. Pre-war patterns of employment and aspirations were altered. While those who had established themselves in small businesses prior to the war had emphasised ownership of property as a means of upward social mobility, the predominantly unskilled and uneducated immigrants who swelled the factories after the war placed an emphasis on education (Kringas 1988). Possibly this change was related to the war experience, which so poignantly illustrated the transient nature of property. While a business may be devastated, a qualification stays with you for life (Tsolidis 1986). The importance of education is reflected in the disproportionate number of children of these immigrants who have completed post-secondary education (BIPR 1994a).

Definitions of family

Definitions of family and the assumptions made within mainstream Australian society as to what was appropriate behaviour for families were not always relevant or meaningful for Greek immigrants. Extended families living in one house, for example, were as much a result of financial need as an expression of philoxenia and the functioning of families as communitarian units. Living with one's parents, siblings, cousins or in-laws was a means of providing mutual support in uncertain times. When the younger couples were out at work, the parents or parents-in-law provided the domestic support and child care. Children had the responsibility of becoming educated and, in this way, each family member contributed to the well-being of both the individuals who made up the unit and the unit itself.

Communitarian understandings of family underlie the many stories of Greek migration in the early and post-war periods. Many of the sacrifices made by new arrivals in order to sponsor and support members of their extended family in their transition from their homeland to Australia were and have been carried out with the express aim of keeping the family together (Gilchrist 1993; Hawthorne 1988; Murphy 1993; Brunswick Oral History Project 1985).

Through business enterprise or support for members' education, the family is understood as the vehicle which provides individuals with support to fulfil communal aspirations. (In a similar way, as noted earlier, the family itself becomes the smaller unit in relation to community aspirations.) There is reciprocity in this arrangement, which is mediated through notions of shame and honour rather than material checks and balances; thus there is a difference between helping your children so that you can bask in the glory of their success, and helping them in order to provide economic security for your old age. In fact, it appears that many of the immigrants who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s have provided for their children and are also insisting on self-sufficiency and independence in their old age. Mor~over, they are using their retirement years as an opportunity to continue their contribution to the family unit by looking after their grandchildren.

One aspect of the notion of family which is intrinsic to a diasporic existence is that linked to spiritual, cultural and linguistic nurturance, which breeds difference from the mainstream and at the same time provides warmth, protection and sustenance, a buffer between the 'us' and the 'them', for whom this difference is somehow threatening. An important aspect of this nurturance is the corollary of migration, the return trip 'home'-the desire to meet one's relatives who stayed behind in Greece or to visit the village, town or island where ,one's parents or grandparents grew up. Alternatively, there is a desire to meet one's uncle and cousins who left Greece and opted for America or England instead of Australia.

There are similar stories which tell of Greek-Australian chil~ dren who resent their parents and who smart at being defined as different in the Australian context, and then discover themselves through glimpses of their parents in situ when they return home (Tsolidis 1986). With the tourist snapshots of family and the memorabilia comes, almost by osmosis, an understanding of the link between how things are done here and how they are done there. This creates more than nostalgia; it creates the courage to take pride in one's ethnographic history and to explore the benefits it affords both the individual and Australian nationhood. In this way family becomes the lifeblood of ethnic identification and ethnic identification becomes the lifeblood of family.

Greek women

Greek women have made a major contribution in this country, both in family life and in the wider Australian society.

Participation in the labour force

The post-war period in Australia was marked by rapid economic growth and population increase, industrialisation and suburban development. Between 1954 and 1966 the number of women in the labour force increased by 70 per cent and, by 1974, 65 per cent of women in the labour force were married. A signifIcant reason for the increase was the number of immigrant women who had joined the Australian labour force, with a participation rate of 49.3 per cent for those who were married (Women's Bureau, Department of Employment and Youth Affairs 1981).

Relative to other women, more women from southern Europe were concentrated in labouring and process work (Women's Bureau 1981). During the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, 56 per cent of women born in Greece worked in these areas compared with 9.2 per cent of Australian-born women. Early research has highlighted the dirty and often heavy and poorly paid work they did, the lack of adequate child care, the women's need. for English-language tuition, their neglect by unions and their intense dislike of the poor conditions and humiliating treatment they experienced (Storer 1976). Yet the women endured poorly paid, repetitive work for reasons of economic survival and in anticipation of providing their children with better opportunities.

In the mid-1990s the picture which emerged in the mid-1970s of immigrant women being one of the most disadvantaged sections of the Australian labour force has altered little. Moreover, the long-term effects have emerged (Halvatzis 1986; Ioannidis 1988). Although women from southern Europe come to Australia with better health than that of Australian-born women and those born in English-speaking countries, their health has declined with Australian residency, independently of factors related to ageing. They have higher rates of work-related illness and injuries and a greater incidence of conditions associated with poor mental and emotional health. While health deterioration is linked to their work history, it also results from pressures which arise as a consequence of migration: the added responsibility of caring for family members, the women's isolation from familiar networks, and their alienation within Australian society (Alcorso and Schofield 1991).

Census figures for 1991 indicate that the cycle described here will continue for Greek-born women. Just on 30 per cent are employed in the category of labourers and related workers, compared with 11.2 per cent for women in the total Australian population and 23.4 per cent for Greek-born men. The other main employment categories for women are salespersons and personal service workers (15.7 per cent) and plant and machine operators and drivers (13.4 per cent). Sixty per cent of employed women born in Greece are represented in these three categories (BIPR 1994a).

As the Greek-Australian community ages it is the present generation of employed women and their daughters who will shoulder the responsibility of caring for the aged. Compared with the Chinese, Arabic, German and Italian communities, and with Anglo-Australians, Greek-Australians are likely to experience more difficulties in adjusting to retirement, are less likely to use institutional care and are more likely to rely on women within the community to support the aged (McCallum 1989; Legge and West brook 1991, 1993).

A wider contribution

Despite the above, Greek-Australian women have made a contribution beyond the factories and beyond families. They are involved in the community, schools, literature and the arts, politics, unions and the professions (Fincher, Foster and Wilmot 1994). The stereotype of the Greek patriarch has been accompanied by an image of the Greek woman as lacking in agency. This is promulgated· through images of Yia Yia dressed in black, with head bowed to tradition and superstition; images of women who work in factories as docile; and images of comedian Mark Mitchell's Marika and her daughters, a seemingly indistinguishable mass of Roulas, Toulas and Voulas.

The emerging reality for the Greek-Australian woman is one which denotes professionalism, activism and an ability to shift boundaries. This is taking what it means to be a Greek woman into the realms of Australian politics, literature, academe, business, feminism and the arts. Within the family it is also propelling women to the forefront in the exercise of negotiating what it means to be Greek in contemporary Australia.

An ageing community

The current population profile of the Greek-Australian community reflects the post-war influx and subsequent decline in immigration. Currently, 85.8 per cent of the Greek-born population is aged 35 years or over, compared with 45.7 per cent of the total Australian population (BIPR 1994a).

A further consequence of the Greek-born population's pattern of immigration (and relatively older age profile) is a significantly lower labour-force participation rate than that of the Australianborn population. In 1991 the overall participation rate was around 60 per cent compared with 63.9 per cent for the Australian-born population. Those working remain disproportionately clustered in occupations described as labourers and related workers (26 per cent), plant and machine operators and drivers (14 per cent) and tradespersons (14.4 per cent). They remain underrepresented in the professional and paraprofessional categories, with only 6.2 per cent of the Greek-born employed in such positions compared with 19.2 per cent of the Australian-born population (BIPR 1994a).

These figures reflect the influx of immigrants into the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney and their employment in the factories of post-war industrialisation. These are the immigrants . with aspirations for a higher standard of living and upward social mobility for their children. Behind the figures are stories of families often separated by great distances-geographic, social, linguistic and cultural-with the so-called second-generation immigrants, the grown-up children, under great strain, trying to maintain contact with their parents and provide support. Other stories are of the ageing immigrants themselves who, with the benefit of hindsight, reflect on whether there have been more pluses or minuses in the outcomes of their migration.

Given the rapid ageing of the Greek community, younger members within it are placed in a position of having to work, care for the aged and also support young families. This requires varied and creative solutions through appropriate support structures. There is a need for ethno-specific, bilingual and mainstream services to dovetail and function in parallel ways. Some of those interviewed were adamant that there is a need for governments to formulate appropriate policy and provide funding so that such services can be created and sustained.

The Greek-Australian family

The picture of the traditional Greek family provided earlier in this chapter needs to be considered in relation to life in Australia. While the diversity among Greeks which occurs because of regional, socio-economic, generational and gender differences has been pointed out, figures nonetheless indicate that Greek families in Australia conform, to some extent, to the characteristics described in the traditional picture. In general, the Greek family still revolves around the wife, husband and unmarried children. Relative to the Australian-born, the Greek-born are less likely to be living in group households and less likely to be living in a one-person household. Their households are more likely to include non-dependent (non-student) children. There are fewer singleparent households than average, and where these do exist there is a greater likelihood that non-dependent (non-student) children will be included. Multi-family households are not common among the Greek-born; however, where they do exist, nine out of ten are likely to be generational-that is, grandparents living with the core family unit (BIPR 1994f).

Marriage and sexual relationships

Marriage is still significant, with a low number of Greek-born never marrying compared with the population as a whole. While divorce rates among the Greek-born are increasing, they seem to be lower than for other groups (Kapardis and Tamis 1988). The trend towards outmarriage is understood to be increasing; however, it is difficult to discern patterns from the figures, which relate to place of birth rather than ethnicity. In many cases the Greekborn are marrying Australian-born partners who are ethnically Greek. There are, however, indications that the children of immigrants are intermarrying across ethnic groups and that marriage between Italian-Australians and Greek-Australians is particularly common.

Similarly, there are indications that cohabitation prior to marriage is increasingly tolerated. It should be noted that, traditionally, in some regions of Greece, it is not uncommon for couples to cohabit prior to marriage, but only after a betrothal or engagement conducted by the Church. There is, nonetheless, a consistently strong sanction among Greeks against children being born out of wedlock. However, the emphasis on women's premarital virginity· is waning. This is particularly so among younger Greeks, particularly in relation to couples who have entered long-term relationships. However, on this issue Greek women still have relatively more conservative views than those of their Australian- born peers and Greek men still adhere to the double standard, being more inclined to expect virginity and faithfulness of their partners but not of themselves (New Generation, 'Neos Cosmos' Supplement, 10 January 1994).

Family support

Those interviewed described the support provided by their family. Mothers of young children commented on how their parents and parents-in-law helped with child care and housework or gave financial assistance which enabled them to pursue their careers or their studies. Many of the same people commented on how they intended to support their parents in later years. Moreover, it was this understanding of family, and the support it offered, which was being embedded in their children's lives.

However, it was not an uncritical transplantation of one generation's understanding of the family to the next. The next generation will not be faced with the harsh conditions associated with immigration; on the contrary, some may benefit from the flexibility of higher income which professional work often affords. This brings the possibility of new understandings of gender roles and new aspirations for children. Many commented that these options had grown out of their parents' labours. A poignant example was provided of how young mothers are watching their retired fathers develop a relationship with their grandchildren that was not possible for the fathers to develop with their own children. Because these retirees are now free from the pressures involved in establishing themselves in a new land, they can spend time rearing their grandchildren.

Many of those interviewed were concerned about the continuing capacity of the family to provide support for its members .. The concern arose from both professional and personal considerations. Many were providing ageing parents with support, some had very young children and were balancing parenting and work, and others were concerned with these issues as professionals working at the juncture between the Greek community and mainstream Australian institutional practice. Factors identified as increasing pressures on families included a deterioration in the economic climate, the ageing of the Greek community, and a range of social factors which were understood as consequences of diasporic existence. Some of those interviewed explored factors such as unemployment, underemployment and the implications of such pressures for the family. Rising unemployment was increasing the appeal of return-migration, an experience which can destabilise the family whether the return is permanent or not.

Some interviewees commented that within the Greek community there is increasing polarisation between those living in poverty and those earning high incomes, which is leading to different definitions of the family. While a couple may have migrated with one set of beliefs and values about the family, they face life in Australia needing a new set. In Australia increasing numbers of women, while working in the paid workforce, are having to care for the elderly and often the grandchildren; men may be facing retrenchment. For both women and men familiar support structures, extended family networks and cultural contexts may be lacking. In these circumstances couples are having to negotiate and create new understandings of the family.

Even for couples who have negotiated new relationships within the family, implementing them in a society which may not share their priorities gives rise to a range of difficulties. This was exemplified by the comments of one couple interviewed. The woman had recently resigned from a professional position because of the stress involved in trying to maintain what she wanted from family life in the context of employment in Australia. She commented that unless she went to the pub with her colleagues after work she would exist on the periphery of workplace politics. Yet, for her, the ritual of a family eating a home-cooked meal together was crucial in family life. She argued that such a priority was understood in quite different ways by mainstream society. She felt that it .was seen as a lack of ambition or a product of patriarchy. The couple had gone to great lengths to create an intimate family life which stressed communal activities around music, theatre, the sharing of domestic duties, studies and intellectual activities. Both partners made professional and personal sacrifices so that they could enact their definition of family. However, they argued that this was difficult to maintain, given the way career and family are understood in mainstream Australian society.

Hellenism in transition

Greeks in Australia have one of the highest rates of language maintenance relative to other ethnic groups (Clyne 1991a). The 1991 census identified over 95 per cent of the Greek-born over the age of five as speakers of Greek at home. Only 4.4 per cent of those born in Greece reported speaking only English at home. For those born in other non-English-speaking countries the rate was 21.9 per cent. Among the second generation 74.1 per cent reported that they spoke Greek at home and 21.1 per cent that they spoke only English at home (BIPR 1994a).

In the group interviewed for this book, parents had made efforts to bring up their children as speakers of Greek. This was the case regardless of the parents' birthplace, and even when one parent was non-Greek or was not a Greek speaker. For most of the parents the desire for their children to speak Greek was so natural and so taken for granted that it begged explanation. Explicit reasons given were to communicate with grandparents and overseas relatives and, most commonly, to maintain a heritage of which the Greek language is a crucial component.

Most of those interviewed voiced a deep identification with Hellenism. Yet the Hellenism they referred to was not understood as straightforwardly Greek. Most envisaged a Greek-Australian cultural form. Others had an additional vision which included Greek-Australian interventions in the mainstream. In this context the family becomes a focal point for linguistic and cultural maintenance and dissemination.

Intergenerational issues

Intergenerational communication is an issue of particular significance. Many of those interviewed were the children of those who emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s-a generation now sandwiched between their parents, immigrants with a sense of Greekness sometimes caught in the time warp of the way things were done before migration, and their children, the so-called third generation. For some, this third generation was the product of a 'mixed marriage'. Such factors served to complicate the way things were done rather than change the overall aim. All wanted their children to grow up with a sense of being Greek; the road travelled in this journey, however, would be different from the path in the past.

Within this 'sandwich generation' some felt residual pain as a result of their parents' migration experience and the effect of this on their own lives. Some spoke of a lost communication with parents. Yet these same people were greatly optimistic that the pain would be healed and would, moreover, produce creative outcomes through communication between the first and third generations. Some spoke of the choice they had made to have their children minded by their parents, not only to maintain language and traditions but also because it provided a lived experience of the importance placed on family.

Gender relations

The importance of gender relations with regard to ethnic identification was either clearly expressed or intimated in the comments of many who were interviewed. Some suggested that, among women in the Greek community, there was a reaction against what they understood as entrenched patriarchal ways of doing things. This, they argued, was why many Greek women were actively choosing to marry non-Greek men. They believed that Greek women were making a conscious decision not to marry. Greek men because they saw the men as having outdated, narrow and restrictive notions of masculinity and femininity.

The same sentiments emerged when people commented that intermarriages were more successful when Greek women married out than when Greek men did. They suggested that this was because Greek men defined women's roles in such narrow ways that non-Greek women, less familiar with these understandings, found it more difficult to challenge and negotiate gender-appropriate behaviour, with the result that the marriage broke down.

Women identified the privileged position of the Greek male within the family as the cause of the problems they were describing. This was attributed to the sexual double standard and the double workload expected of women. While mothers had not demanded domestic responsibilities of their sons, wives were doing so of their husbands and this was contributing to disharmony, sometimes to the point of divorce. Young women who were married to Greek men and who saw their households as representing the next generation of Greek family-a generation which was contesting the old ways of doing things-also complained. They described how their husbands expected them to carry a disproportionate burden of household responsibilities in situations where both partners were employed. In families with children this was a particular concern.

Some women indicated that women of their mothers' generation had high expectations for their daughters and were intolerant of sons-in-law who inhibited their daughters' capacities to live their own lives. Some described situations where this was so extreme that mothers had counselled their daughters to leave their husbands.

However, there were others interviewed who argued that the view of the Greek family as particularly patriarchal was a product of stereotyping and prejudice. They described Greek men as vulnerable because of the myth of the macho Mediterranean male. Some men and women described their upbringing and their current family life as egalitarian; others described situations where men were more 'domesticated' than women. Some referred to the authority the Greek woman has within the family. Many described the Greek family as similar to most others on this issue because women's contestation of patriarchal gender relations was understood as an ongoing, cross-cultural phenomenon.


As described earlier, the Greek family functions like a membrane, which filters various understandings between groups rather than acting as an impenetrable boundary which cordons off various cultural and ethnic understandings. While those on either side of the membrane maintain elements which distinguish each from the other, there is also a growing familiarity between them.

Through the family, new, evolving and exciting expressions of Ellenismos are starting to emerge, reflecting the desire of many people in the Greek community to express themselves as GreekAustralians, rather than as Greeks in Australia or as Australians with an association with Greece. In particular, it is the second and third generations and intermarriages which are creating a fluidity between the 'foreigner' and the 'local', the 'Greek' and the 'Australian' that is leading to the blurring of insider/outsider visions of Australian Greekness.

Perhaps nowhere is this blurring more apparent than in literature. Here the possibilities implicit in the diaspora are evident. Much of the literature presents the viewpoints of those who have created new personal and cultural spaces for themselves, beyond the dissonance associated with the early years of migration. The writings which come to us from authors like Tess Lyssiotis (1990), Gillian Bouras (1990, 1991 and 1994), Antigone Kefala (1984a, 1984b, 1992) and George Papaelinas (1986, 1991) have in common stories of migration and Australian-Greekness, be they from the standpoint of the Greek immigrant in Australia, the Australian immigrant in Greece, the child of the immigrant, the wife of the immigrant, or the mother of the Greek-Australian child regardless of whether this mother is 'Greek' or 'Australian'.

The children and grandchildren of the Greek-born are not content to occupy the peripheral ground often afforded minorities. Yet there is an unwillingness on their part to gain a foothold on new ground if this requires them to relinquish their heritage. For example, in relation to the arts, they do not want to be 'ethnic' writers, playwrights, poets, actors or painters. Instead they want to be Australian artists who express themselves biculturally or bilingually. There is a desire to contribute to mainstream Australian social and cultural institutions in ways which extend these beyond existing understandings of what it is to be 'Australian'. The family is crucial in this process, not only because of its function as a cultural 'clearing house' but also because of the character it adopts for itself.

The diasporic existence destabilises crisp, clean demarcations between Greek and Australian. The insights, the literature and the dynamic view of culture grow out of the borderlands (Anzaldua 1987) where the combination of two creates something new which belongs to both. It is these borderland cultures which increasingly complicate the migration histories which draw safety from the ability to trace what happens to those born elsewhere. How do we trace those born to those born elsewhere, or those born to parents one of whom was born 'here' and one of whom was born 'there'?

Instead of mourning the loss of clear delineations, we must learn to celebrate hybridity and the fact that it can only exist with the continuation of difference. Hybridity stands in opposition to sameness, be it the 'sameness' implicit in the yearning for the homeland of a bygone era as it is trapped in the mind's eye or the 'sameness' implicit in assimilation. If the Greeks who have populated Australia had also assimilated, the possibility of being Greek-Australian would not exist.

The Greek-Australian family, as it extends to the second and third generations, is becoming the site where new forms of 'Greek' and 'Australian' are being created, blending new images and comprehensions related to factors such as feminism, youth culture and work as these evolve at a national and international level. In Australia understandings about families are permeated with the hybridity which results from diasporic existences. Not only do these cut across what it means to be Greek-Australian; increasingly they cut across what it means to be Italian-Greek-Australian or Greek-Irish-Australian. The cultural ameliorations and complicated identifications which are the precious and enduring outcomes of the diasporic existence belong equally to the mainstream and to the minorities. And equally it is the responsibility of both groups to protect them.

It is through the family that language, culture and religion are evolving new meanings for Greek-Australians. But, perhaps more importantly, it is through the practice of the family that GreekAustralians are recognising why Greek understandings of the family are so crucial in their particular identification.

Chapter Note

Fourteen people were interviewed to assist with the writing of this chapter. They included a spread of ages, birthplace and experience. Most were born overseas, although many arrived in Australia at a young age. Those born overseas came from Greece and places associated with the Greek diaspora. One person was not of Greek background but was married to a Greek and had a strong association with Greek language, culture and community. Nine of the interviewees were women and five were men; most were between the ages of 30 and 50. The chapter also draws on the author's research experience with Greek secondary school students, their parents and communities, as well as her personal experience with the Greek community in Melbourne.