Reflections on Collingwood: interview with Anthea Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

This is my second article in this series looking at the lives of other migrants who came before us.

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Anthea Sidiropoulos

Anthea has tasted and seen it all; the bitterness, the sweetness, the poor and the rich. She knows what it was like to grow up in Collingwood in the 1960s and 1970s. If new migrants think they are doing it tough now, they need to find out about the lives of previous migrants who lived in Australia in 50s and 60s.

Anthea is a singer-song writer and community leader, who has enjoyed a music career spanning over 15 years as an indie-artist.

Anthea’s father was the first non-Australian born person who went into Parliament after serving in local government as a Collingwood councillor. Her mother was a hairdresser (see Interview with Pipo).

Living in Collingwood meant Anthea had to deal with the complex and contradictory environment of a multiethnic society. “It’s not easy being a teenager and trying to find your spot in society, let alone being picked on by peers because you look different”.

“I was a rebel as a child”, she says, “but I just wanted to be a normal Aussie girl”.  She changed her name from Anthea to Julie, and wanted to be blonde.

As a singer, her influences were Australian music, American blues, American rock, and Greek music. “I listened to pop music, such as the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and the early Tina Turner. My influences were from American music in the 1960s, particularly the civil rights movement singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Soul music for me was very positive and non discriminatory. All the lyrics were about peace, love and brotherhood, always having a good time and living together harmoniously as a community”.

Her experiences as a child seeing aboriginals in Collingwood and Fitzroy were formative.

“There were pubs on every corner on Gertrude Street. I was 10 years old and my father was concerned with Aboriginal issues. He had no idea how to deal with it. There were many Aboriginal people living there, but they were not really present – they were only in pockets in Gertrude Street, and they always lay on lawn and there was beer everywhere. I was not allowed to go there because of the alcohol. We had a shop there and indigenous people always came to our shop and my parents were very helpful to them, on a basic level”.

Anthea has a theory about the way aboriginal people are treated: “The Australian Government wants to sabotage the indigenous race so if they are on alcohol they will be disempowered, they will not be educated, they will lose their identity and language, and therefore you have zombie community”.

Anthea remembers as a young girl she had many questions about the Collingwood community she lived in.

“We lived in a mono-culture, but I grew up bi-cultural. I had my school life which was English but my home life was Greek.  I had to juggle the two.  At the same time I was exposed to the horrible ways some people treated human beings; firstly because of their colour and secondly, because they were poor. It wasn’t just black people, it was poor white people too”.

“There was a little girl I used to go to school with, and her parents were so poor, she lived in a shelter. I visited her house one day and her wall was made of paper. I remember asking my father, ‘how come we have our walls solid with no holes and I just came from my friend’s house and her wall is made of paper and there are holes in it?’ ”

Collingwood was originally an industrial city. “If you at look Collingwood’s original houses, they were very tiny and were built to accommodate the workers. They used to chuck them in there, where they ate and slept. The Yarra River was lined with factories and the workers used to pump water from the river to make the machinery work. It was terribly dirty; it looked like a hurricane on the Yarra River. That’s all changed now. When the human rights and socialist movement arose, they demanded the Council address these issues. They didn’t care whether you were black or white or yellow – they just wanted the fair treatment of the worker and environment for all the residents in Collingwood. They were committed to working towards a better life in the area for every resident, rather than getting themselves into a political career. That’s why my father got in to the Council”.

“An elderly man called George, who was in Council, wanted my father in Council. But nobody else wanted him. They wanted an Australian-born person. My father was officially Australian, but he wasn’t Australian enough to be considered a Council position. He could speak English, but with an accent and with his looks, it was obstacle. This was in 1963.  It took George five years to convince the Council to consider him”.

“My father’s position in Council made him very popular in the Greek community. He became skilful and he knew how to address the community issues and help the community with their bills and so on. It was a struggle and a tough time, and it was very exciting because there were social changes, which had never happened before”.

“It’s easy sitting back now and telling the story as 52 year old, but at the time, I don’t think they had any idea how much impact they made in Collingwood’s community. My father was responsible for Collingwood, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill, North Richmond, and Abbotsford. There were so many different nationalities living there, but the majority were Greeks”.

“The household was very busy. There were meetings every night. Mum was always cooking, with me on the sink from a very earlier age, washing dishes. I witnessed a lot of frustration. I didn’t completely comprehend what the frustrations were at the time. I understand it now, as a older person. There were mixed feelings at same time among the residents: sadness and positives. Then the Vietnamese refugees arrived and that was another interesting story. Again different; there were so many frustrations but positive outcomes”.

“Coming from first migrant parents who worked 7 days and 7 nights a week because they couldn’t find a decent job, working hard so their children could have a better education. It was the last thing they wanted to hear that one of their children wanted to become an artist or musician. When I was 16, I applied to the Alliance Music Competition and won a scholarship for a whole year of singing lessons. I went home very happy, but my mother said, ‘No I didn’t have you to become a theatre singer’. I was very upset. The next day I turned up with a saxophone and drove my mom crazy, as revenge. I was in a school play and my teacher tried to convince my mom, but she still said ‘No’. I pursued my music career and went on to sing in cover band, singing Aretha Franklin songs”.

“I did all this to be accepted. I didn’t want to be a Greek at all. I had my cares at school because I am dark, even though I changed my name my when I was 6 years old and wanted to be blond. But I couldn’t change my colour. And it breaks my heart to see these issues are still exist and continuing to”.

Anthea said somethings have changed for better compared to 60s and 70s. “It is great time to be alive. But there are challenges ahead of us that need to be solved in the 21 Century. When is segregation going to end? When is gap between poor and rich going to close? When are human rights abuses going to end? How far is a piece of string?”

“We just have to get on with life, and regardless of what I’ve said, I am very optimistic and sceptical at the same time”.


Talking about early Greek migration with Pipo Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

Many migrants or refugees who come to Australia have their challenges to settle in.  But it is hard to compare who had it tougher: the ones who arrived in 50s, 60s and 70s or the more recent arrivals. No doubt the older migrants cleaned the back yard for us.

It’s important for new migrants to understand how tough it was for those who came before them and how they overcame their settlement issues: we can learn from them. One knows that it’s always struggle, but in long run, new arrivals will follow the same steps as those before them.

The Australian Government’s post-war migration policies aimed to increase the size of Australia’s population, and especially to provide unskilled workers for its burgeoning manufacturing industries. In 1952 the Australian-Greece Assisted Passages agreement providing a financial incentive for Greeks to leave their unstable, impoverished homeland, and make their way to Australia.

Many from rural areas migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the turmoil of WWII and the chaos of civil war, very few in this generation of migrants had post-secondary qualifications. Consequently, in many cases, immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated.

By 1961, the number of migrants born in Greece and now residing in Australia reached 77,333. Between 1961 and 1966, 140,000 Greeks immigrated to Australia. Aged in their 20s in the main, they were soon employed in inner Melbourne factories either through family contacts, friends, or through job allocation processes at the Bonegilla migrant centre.

Many Greek migrants worked on assembly lines at Ford and GMH, in breweries and tanneries, in food processing factories like Rosella,  Arnotts, and in sewing machines, textile and footwear factories like Kayser and Pelaco. Many took second jobs cleaning office buildings in the CBD. A smaller number of people went to live in rural and regional Victoria where they worked on farms or in smaller industries and businesses. By 1971 there were 160,200 Greece-born immigrants in Australia. Forty-seven per cent lived in Melbourne.

* * * * * *

Pipo Sidiropoulos came to Australia when she was 24 years old.

She owned small hair dressing salon back in Greece. She met her husband there when she was 16 years old. They had a secret relationship for five years. They were not allowed to marry because her parents were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the dowry, besides she was Orthodox and he was Protestant.

So, his father told him, if you want to marry her you will have to go to a very far away land.

Australia was great option for him. He came to Australia first and in 1954 he sponsored Pipo. One year later she arrived and stayed with another Greek family for two months. They were married in December 1955.

Pipo is sitting at her home in Kew when I asked her how she met her husband. She explained, with tears in her eyes, how romantic it was. She stood up and looked adoringly at a picture of him hanging on the wall. With a handkerchief she cleaned the frame and said, “my darling husband waits for me”. The way she said it was like a Romeo and Juliet love story.


Pipo Sidiropoulos in her living room

“He was very handsome”, she said. “Darling, wait for me”, she whispered again. “He was the reason I came to Australia. How cruel it was not to allow us to marry and stay in Greece” she said. She was looking after her parents and four brothers and sisters while they were at school using the money from her hair business. “But we were in love and we couldn’t share that with our families”.

“Many hearts were broken when I left Greece. But Australia has been very good to me”, Pipo said.

She said coming to Australia was the best thing that ever happened to her. “Australian people are beautiful, and I had nice neighbours. But when I started working in battery factory, I had no English. When the boss told me what to do, I didn’t understand what he was saying. All I could do is cry and cry. Whenever I was very upset, I cried. I cried so much then”.

“But I was so lucky to marry the man I met in Greece, because many Greek migrants married by photo; families chose girls and sent over their photos”.

She was the first Greek-speaking hair dresser in Australia, and she was earning enough money to live because all the Greek brides came to her.

She had no family here. “My neighbours were my family. You have to create your own family. If you smile at people, they will smile back at you. If you don’t give love, there is no love”.

I asked her whether she was treated differently because she was Greek. She responded: “One day I was in the salon and a person yelled, “Come here, you bloody wog”. And I said, ‘I am not wog, I am Australian'”.

Pipo said, “We all come from somewhere. Your mom might have come from England; whoever comes here comes from somewhere. I came from Greece”.

“This is my story. If you want to live happily, you need to have short memories and a thick skin”.

Matoc Achol rescues the Sudanese radio program on 3ZZZ

By Ahmed Zaroog

Matoc Achol was born in Sudan, in the south of Sudan. South Sudan of course, is now the newest independent nation in the world. Therefore, Matoc’s new nationality is South Sudanese. He Left Sudan in 2000 as a result of the civil war, which lasted over 20 years. He stayed in Egypt, in Cairo, for about 2 years. In 2002 he arrived in Australia, in Melbourne, to join his brother Kot Mordecai whom he hadn’t seen since they were separated in 1993. It was a really special feeling to see his lovely brother Kot after about ten years.

Matoc in 3ZZZ Radio

As anyone who starts a new life in a new country, he started his life in Melbourne. In 2002, he was accepted at Melbourne University to start a Bachelor of Agriculture.

“Because of my limited English, I decided to defer my course to 2004 ”, he said. During this break he began his first job in Melbourne with a carpet cleaning company and he also worked as a labourer. At the same time he enrolled in English for academic purposes at Victoria University. At the beginning of 2003, he started his English classes, and volunteered   two days a week at Braybrook Language centre for about a year. By the end of 2003 he managed to complete his course and received a certificate for it.

In  2004 Matoc started the Bachelor of Agriculture as he had planned. It was a very hard start as he was the only one from a non-English speaking background at the campus. Not only that, he was also the only one from Melbourne to undertake his course at Dookie campus in Northern Victoria.

“I can remember my time studying at Dookie College. I was different to the other students– one big black man in the middle of Aussies was not that easy”. You can imagine what it would be like for a white person to be in a course with black people away from his home country. Nonetheless, he still has a strong friendship with the whole community of the Dookie College.      

One day during summer time,  Matoc received an email from a colleague at work. The email said that the Sudanese program on 3ZZZ was about to close down.  It asked for his help to save the program. He said yes, as he knew someone who used to work for a Sudanese program on radio. He contacted the station manager Martin Wright, who was very happy to have the Sudanese program back on air. Matoc called his friend and the friend agreed to come on air next time. Also one of the other former presenters came to the radio station and found out about the difficulties that the station was having with the Sudanese program, and they took it from there. They tried very hard to convince the station to have the show back on air.

3ZZZ Radio managed to arrange a short training for Sudanese broadcasters for 5-6 people. However, Matoc says, they ended up with only two presenters. Instead of being a backup person, Matoc found himself the real broadcaster, as there was no alternative. He enjoyed it very much as he saw the need in the community to have a voice.

“My vision at this stage is to have young people broadcasters for a sustainable future of the program, as well as having support from the community behind them” he said.

Because of this work a lot of people now are finding out about what’s going on within the community and back home.

Matoc completed his Masters degree in Agribusiness in 2010 and recently graduated with a diploma in Theology.

Kim Miyong: Studying English at ACU

By Daniel Bol

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In my life I like having interaction with a lot of people – friends, family members, fellow students and anyone who I met. Sharing social activities with people from different parts of the world is a tremendous benefit to our education.  I was grouped with my fellow student whom the lecture had identified. I eventually asked my friend her name and what she is doing and where she comes from. She said, her name is Kim Miyong, from South Korea.

Kim Miyong is a student doing nursing at ACU University.  She came to Australia two years ago with the intention to study English in Australia.  Not many nations around the world base their systems of learning in English – many of the nations in Asia have languages based on characters other than the English alphabet. For example,South Korea is one of those nations that uses symbols.

So Kim decided to come to Australia mainly for improvement in the English language. Even though Kim finished her Masters in Nursing, and obtained her license with South Korean qualifications, she still believes “understanding English is a big problem”. The events which led to Kim’s decision to come to Australia were her search for qualifications in English language studies, which she might have missed in her life.  She believes studying in the English-speaking world will properly upgrade her profession to an international nursing career.

Kim came to Australia on a student visa. She told me: “My visa was supported by the congregation and South Korean students and people who are working here in Australia”. Kim applied for a student visa so she can continue with her master’s degree in nursing at the research level in Australia. Kim has now enrolled in the Diploma of Liberal arts in the Australian Catholic University so she might gain knowledge through studying hard.

During my interview with Kim, she mentioned that, “one of the big problems in my learning is that, I write well, but I do not speak well”. In this case though, I do not think Kim is the only student who is struggling with her learning. There are many friends from non-English speaking nations in the School, so Kim would get courage and knowledge as we

It was really good for me to learn more from Kim since she comes from a different country, especially in terms of things that are not comparable to Australia life and culture.

I started looking at how Kim dresses every day, when she comes to class and around the campus. She always dressed in a full dark silver dress, and pearl white headscarf sheet tied on her head, which indicated to me, this might be either traditional or religious. She told me “I am Benedictine sister in the Catholic church”. That is a worthy life, I said; she continued that she lived with sisters of the Catholic Church. “They are supporting my life and my studies,’’ she said. “I believe in God who has unlimited life, that is why I have this scarf on my head”.  Perhaps it was not a surprise for me to hear, but is prompted me to at least query on how Kim become Christian. She said it was through my parents: “they all were Christian, they made me be baptized while I was a child, and therefore, I become automatically Christian”. I nod my head knowing that many people even here in the school are Christian, Buddhist, Hindus as well as Muslim or Atheist, and each person has a special way of obeying their religion.

Nonetheless, Australia is a multicultural country where workers, tourists and students do come to work and learn, based on the nature of their various visas. I did not hesitate to learn more from her on what will happen after she finishes her course. Kim will go back to South Korea, to work in her previous job in the hospital, which she said was a convincing job compare to when she may be looking for a job in Australia. She mentioned that “nursing is a good profession to help others so I have to go and help my people”.

It is not sometimes possible to get what might have been an expectation from one’s heart in Australia. In this country learning and accommodation are very challenging, especially when one comes from overseas. So Kim is really genuine to opt to go back home, rather than to stay here in a supported accommodation.

To work in an industry, there are usually challenges and benefits that one can experience. Kim was very keen to tell me one significant component of her career: “To be a nurse is really challenging, and one has to be a committed person who can take care of others.  I like this course as it really not only to provide necessary needs of other, but also for your own good”

It was a privilege for me to meet Kim and talk to her about her country – a little bit of history, political, social life, medication, and employment. Perhaps the history of the nations remains the same around the world, based on the nation’s early policies and history. As Kim said, Korea was colonized by Japan until when it gained independence in 1940, before it was later divided it into south and north. The main economic sources are “industry and IT” – since the country does not have natural resources, it has invested on technological inventions, and car manufacturing.  According to Kim, there are a lot of jobs around, but many young people do not like to work in the heavy jobs, they like light professional jobs. So South Korea has to import workers from neighboring countries like Japan and China to work in their big industries, whereas in Australia people have to toil to their sweat

Kim has her family back in South Korea – her mum and two older sisters, one younger brother. Both her sisters have married and now live with their families, but her father passed away many years ago.

I said to Kim on the issue of maternity rate in her country. In Australia, for example, it is a choice, whereas in China, the policy of only one child or none is impacting. “There is no limit,’’ Kim said of Korea. “It depends on the parent whether they like ten or more, the reason is that the medication is good”. The Government provides 70% of hospital costs, making it easy for anyone to meet the medication cost on their own to stay healthy.

Kim is a good friend. We are enjoying the communication class together and I wish her well in the studies.