Thursday, 11 May 2017

Scattered thoughts on something I skimmed through, in order to pass the time until Monday's game

This isn't here to be coherent. This is filler to make up for the fact that I didn't get to finish the thing that I wanted to put up in this space, which was in itself not going to be remarkable in any meaningful way. I haven't even read the whole or even the majority of this book, because that's how thesis work happens sometimes - you hit the index or chapter list, and set your heart for you think the most valuable quotes and most relevant insights are likely to be. Thus this should not be considered a book review; it should not even be considered anything more than moderately typical evidence of my note taking processes. Neither are these positions meant to be taken as final - even if you like them. Yes, there are bits of this book which are not about Melbourne, but you can search these out for yourselves if you are that way inclined.

Steve Georgakis, Sport and the Australian Greek:
 an historical study of ethnicity, gender and youth,
 Rozelle, N.S.W. Standard Publishing House.
Those who have the vaguest idea (or concern) of what it is that I do in my 'day job', know that I think that despite their mutual hostility in Australian culture, sport and literature (and the arts) have much to say to and about each other. That's why I was encouraged when I saw that in Steve Georgakis' book - one of those things I should have picked up much earlier than I did, but which only re-occurred to me once I came across a reference to this or another work of Georgakis in something else - refers to several films when discussing Greek consciousness.

Georgakis begins his book by referring to the films Zorba the Greek and Head On, both of which use dancing a key way of asserting certain aspects of Greek culture and sense of self. More importantly however, Georgakis goes on to discuss how soccer is used in The Heartbreak Kid and Never On Sunday. Aside from the specific ways in which Georgakis uses these creative works to illustrate his broader points, it’s reassuring to me that there is the scope to use these flights of creative fancy/creative works as evidence within a historical or sociological space.

Of course my main interest is literature, but both Christos Tsiolkas - the writer of Loaded, which was turned into Head On, and The Heartbreak Kid in both its play and later film adaptation have a significant role to play in my 'one day I hope to finish this thesis'. The former, for his seeming lack of interest in soccer, the latter because of its oft forgotten soccer sub-plot, lost in among the collective of the film being mostly about Alex Dimitriades


Georgakis makes an interesting note on the scholarly attention – or rather the lack of – paid to Australian Greeks and sport. The assertion then is that more attention is paid to apparently traditional tropes – church, family, food, and dance – than modern novelties. Could this explain why there is this ease in non-Greeks (read Anglos) in going to Greek restaurants as opposed to Greek soccer clubs? Yes, the sport itself has something to do with it, but there is also something to the notion that soccer and soccer clubs are modern inventions, not associated with Greekness in Australia except as a point of difference to the mainstream modern interest (which are characterised as traditional). People like their wogs to be compliant, quaint and rustic. To be fair, some of those same wogs like to think of themselves in the terms of assumed hyper-authenticity as well, even if they resent outsiders thinking these things. Returning from that tangent, Georgakis makes the point, that in the literature about Australian Greeks - which could refer to either creative or scholarly literature - there is an oversight: writers and scholars do see the Greeks out here playing sport and they do hear them talking soccer results in the cafes. But sport does not figure in their writings.


Georgakis makes the point that to outsiders, the ethnic identity of individuals is often considered to be the same as their nation-state identity. Thus, in Georgakis’ example, there is no differentiation between Calabrese identity and Italian identity. Those who have read Peter Goldsworthy's novel Keep It Simple, Stupid, or David Martin's novel The Young Wife (and why haven't I reviewed that here yet?)can see how this becomes manifest. Nor is there necessary consideration or understanding of the differences between first and second generation migrants (or why the second generation is even called migrant despite being born here. Geoffrey Blainey gets part of the blame here, especially for his use of ‘our’).


Some things worth noting – there are, apart from gender concerns, also issues of class and education which often go unremarked upon. There are nouveau riche and petit bourgeois Greeks and other migrants. There are those who can speak better English than others. There are those who are uncomfortable in their new surroundings and those who are uncomfortable within the confines of an insular migrant culture. Within the apparent monolith of an ethnic community, there are innumerable hybridities and fissures. No different to anyone else, really. And yet the depictions of us, and especially the most recent migrant groups, remains broad and vague.


Georgakis asserts that the creation of Pan-Hellenic soccer clubs was seen as a means of uniting Greeks across a range of demographic and political strata. In addition to this, he notes that as the majority of Greek migrants to Australia came from rural and agricultural environments, their adjustment to the (limited) leisure options in the urban setting of (let's say) Melbourne was difficult. This would have been compounded by the lack of familiar family and social structures influenced by the absence of women. Thus notions of conformity, removal from gambling spheres and other bad influences formed part of the rationale for forming these soccer clubs - in other words, creating a moral tether. How much this could be expected to work considering the limited match times - two hours a week and whatever time it took reach the ground and return home is not answered, and is probably unanswerable.

The apparent motivating factors – an apolitical unifier, a moral modifier – clash with the accounts of Martin, who sees ingrained political intent, and soccer attendance being just one of the (limited) social outlets for Greek migrants. More importantly, Georgakis doesn’t flesh out the differences between the pre-mass migration clubs (Melbourne Olympic) and the post-mass migration clubs (Hellas, et al); that the former were based around participation (and could be done as such because of the small population needing to be managed) and the spectator orientation of the latter.

It may be that the soccer organisations were in fact the only Anglo public space that was ever appropriated by immigrants; (Georgakis 2000, p. 189)
Georgakis seems to suggest that the ethnic Greek soccer club re-created, in its own fashion, the agora/public sphere space that the migrants had left behind. That this space was also an overwhelmingly male domain fits in with this trope - the soccer match becomes an extension of the public square left behind, and the cafes of the Greek precincts.This seems to accord with Martin but does not so much with Dina Dounis; then again, Dounis is writing of the end of the 1960s and a time when women and families have begun to arrive en masse; Martin is writing from the start of the 1960s, perhaps even of the late 1950s, where the recently arrived Greeks were mainly single men. Dounis, in the relative brevity of her poem, is almost wistful in her vague recollection of the crowd violence; Martin always sees it as a contemporary, barely controllable issue - he can sympathise with the pressures incurred by the migrants which exist fuel for the powder keg, but understanding is not justification. One wonders what those who hoped the formation of these clubs would act as moralising forces made of violent scenes.


Georgakis talks about the difference in the class system between the Greek migrants and their Anglo-Australian counterparts. He notes for the Greek community that wealth was only one factor, and one which was not always as important as networks, patronage, etc. We are talking here of the parallel world, of what happens when a migrant community (a problematic term, because how one chooses to define such an entity is riven with imprecisions and qualifiers) both chooses and is compelled by mainstream society to exist outside of the main political and social system – unless it chooses to assimilate completely.


I have the same photo in a different context in another article.
Check the this tag for that. 
Georgakis spends much of the early parts of the book discussing the sporting interests of those pre-World War II Greeks. Wrestling captures their fascination more than anything. While teams sports such as cricket and Australian Rules take their interest, it is a small community, and one which is unable to create long lasting entities. There is also the matter of many of these people being involved as small business people, working six or seven day weeks and thus not allowing them much time for leisure activities such as sport. The relatively cosmopolitan Egyptian, Cypriot and Smyrniot elements seem to be the forefront of things, at least in the 1920s and 30s, and with regards the short lived Apollo Athletic. How much the other Greeks knew of soccer though is questionable.

This becomes obvious by the 1940s, when the Olympic Club is set up for participation by Melbourne Greeks in almost every other sport except soccer. Even Greek women, who have generally little role to play in the Olympic and related clubs other than fundraising, have a netball team. The creation of Olympic's soccer wing in the mid to late 1940s comes through the exposure of some members of the Greek community to soccer while on overseas duty with the Australian army, or while on holidays in Greece. It's almost like a Greek version of an Ian Syson World War I scholarly article.

It is according to an old tradition that a rich man should take a soccer team under his patronage and that others should admire his magnanimity. (Georgakis 2000, p. 187)
How does ethnic community patronage work for the Greek community now? Is the money of wealthy Greeks now spent on better things? The Greeks who arrive after the war are so much more different from the Greeks who have been here. There is a difference in class, education, regional origin, gender. Those here from before knew something of the local customs; many of them would have grown up in Australia, or had spent the better part of their lives in the country. Melbourne Olympic club newsletters increasingly had English language articles in them.

Those who cam hereafter had no use of such a club, which was for better or worse half-assimilated in form, and whose preferred games were those which were popular locally. And thus one of the great distinguishing marks between pre-war and post-war migrant Greeks seems to have a love and/or familiarity with soccer. By the late 1050s, the Melbourne Olympic Club, which no longer has a soccer wing, is on its knees. Its newsletter (an edition of which was used by David Martin as part of his research for The Young Wife) is entirely in English; that in itself is no crime. But it is evidence of the cultural gulf between the old and the new Greeks. But there are members of the old guard who manage to get organised enough to form South Melbourne Hellas, if not primarily for their own entertainment, then for the benefit of others...


The book was published in 2000. It was, for South Melbourne Hellas at least, the peak of everything; and thus Georgakis is optimistic about the club's future. Had this been published now, it would in all likelihood be a very different book.

1 comment:

  1. Any value judgements on whether the changes in the community have been for the better or worse Paul?

    Post War Greeks would have seen commercial opportunties easier to gain within the structures of soccer than Australian Rules Football which is still fairly anglocised today. I would suggest opportunities for recreation would be narrowed further in their choices from the persona gain the Greek diaspora would get from building a soccer club compared to hostility/inability to gain any significant power through an Australian Rules Football Club.

    Certainly in the small amount of research I did in Melbourne it is a factor behind some of the interests shifting to a greater extent from Australian Rules to Soccer as the migration levels of Greeks to Australia increases.


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