(My character Christine from - Daughter of Odysseus - reflects on her identity)
‘There was a time when everything was still,’ Christine would say to her captivated audience with such eloquence and persuasiveness. She had a story to tell and how she longed to tell that story to anyone who cared to listen. . .
‘All the spirits of the earth were asleep—or almost all. The great Father of All Spirits was the only one awake. Gently, he awoke the Sun Mother. As she opened her eyes, a warm ray of light spread out towards the sleeping earth.
This story has resonated with me since I first heard it. Like me, the Aboriginals of Australia sought to understand their world, their land, their relationship with the physical and the sacred through telling stories of the creator and the seed power that permeated the earth. Nothing in the physical world was untouched by the footprints of the ancestral spiritual beings who walked the earth, shaping the landscape and establishing the rituals, rules and laws which guided them for centuries.
And then, as the narrative goes, an almost pristine existence was destroyed by the British, who came to Australia like the Ancient Israelite's entering the land of Canaan, seeking a land flowing with milk and honey (well, a prison for its burgeoning prison population thanks to draconian laws) and treating its native population with friendliness at first, then cruelty.
Not understanding the Aboriginal spiritual relation with the land, the British saw a land unconquered and available for the taking and therefore declared the land ‘Terra Nullius’—no one’s land. They tamed this hostile, arid land and transformed it into Little Britain, building modern European cities away from the uncivilized and threatening desert. This was an admirable achievement and showed a spirit of brilliant creativity, hard work and—dare I say it—technological supremacy. The Queen ruled as Head of State, and the White Australia Policy ensured that this small country of western origin remained just that.
The original people of the land were soon forgotten, exiled to the outskirts of growing cities, converted, terrorised, hunted down, so that this country became their prison too. Darwin’s theory of evolution, in fact, demanded this.
Thus, time passes: the establishment of a nation, the glory of war, the post-World War II boom and the influx of migrants from Eastern and Southern Europe.
This is where my story begins, where my creator planted me for reasons I am yet to fathom. Yet the Australia I grew up in was one undergoing a radical metamorphosis—a society changing from a purely British colony to a multicultural society. An ambiguous term, multi-cultural; an ambiguous and unrealistic concept, it meant the ruling Anglo-Celtic elite could dine in exotic restaurants, eating exotic foods and flaunting their ‘exotic’ lovers and thereby somehow make amends for the sins of colonialism.
Thus, they came, my parents, amidst the swinging 60s and the chance of a new life. Yet they preserved centuries-old traditions and values that distinguished them from the Anglo-Saxons, and they waited in patience to return to the motherland, prosperous beyond words. Discriminated against, accused of ‘taking over the country’ (I know, ludicrous!); some assimilating and eventually disappearing altogether. And slowly, these immigrants forgot their homeland, sought houses in suburbs with pretty picket fences. Anglo-Saxonized their names and abandoned the mother tongue. They sent their children to private schools to get a British Education of the highest sort; they established their roots in this land of the Great Spiritual Beings and British Supremacy. They did this whilst the Greeks in the motherland sang Songs of Freedom against a Military Dictatorship that took power in Greece and lived in fear of arrest and torture.
Black Australia, British Australia, and Multicultural Australia. Now what? A modern yet ancient land that seems to know neither its place nor its position in the world. Its people feel alienation within a land that perhaps, just perhaps, is foreign.
A country that I seek to understand, that has the grace and sophistication of a gawky teenager eagerly waiting for the wisdom and cultivation that adulthood brings.
As I confront this mosaic before me, I ask: where do I fit in this multi-faceted, vast continent? I, the daughter of the Hellenes, who resist assimilation, who will not allow the wisdom of my ancestors to be forgotten or ignored?
Mine is the life of a Greek Australian woman. I am the offspring of a fiercely patriotic Greek father who lives enclosed in an ethnic bubble and has no dealings with the Anglo-Australian population and refuses to learn their ‘barbaric’ tongue. The offspring of a mother who once upon a time longed to return home, grow old and be buried in the motherland, but who has resigned herself to the reality that Australia is to be her burial land; that this Greek woman will spend eternity among the alien spirits that once roamed this diverse terrain but now remain hidden in the land, weeping at the destruction and desolation of its children and the sacrilege against sacred ground.
‘Where are you from?’ ‘Are you Australian?’ Ah, how I detest these questions; how they eat away at me.
What am I? Neither Aboriginal nor a descendant of the British—now the true native people of Australia. Neither here nor there, neither Greek nor Australian. Juxtaposed between two worlds, I live an ambiguous existence. Born in a country that sees me as the ‘other’, I nevertheless cling to a Greek heritage and culture that appears strange to me; I seek to re-learn the mother tongue and find solace in the unbelievable Spirituality of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Byzantine heritage forgotten by the modern western world. I write of the Greek Community in Australia whilst studying the Great English Poets whom I love with a passion.
Alas, this ambiguous state is the norm for this young country, for its inhabitants.
Identity. You Greeks in the motherland do not need to worry about this. You know who you are. You know where you belong. In a land that has nurtured you and your ancestors for thousands of years. Among the majestic mountains and along the enigmatic sea that has enthralled your forefathers for centuries, that has infused the land with stories of nymphs and gods, stories of holy men and women working towards the Kingdom of God. The great Saints of the Church who continue to roam the land in all their miraculous glory, healing the sick and restoring faith to the doubters.
My vision will be fulfilled; I can feel it. Of climbing the steps to the Acropolis and exploring medieval towns. Scaling primordial mountains that once were the abode of the gods; exploring sacred land where my ancestors once came to listen to oracles that foretold great and tragic events
A flower uprooted from its nutritious soil—from its native soil—withers and eventually dies. Plucked up and displaced, forced to grow in an alien land that I have never truly felt at home with. Will things change for me? Only time will tell. . .