That photo: the migrants?

I use this photo a lot, the one that features in the ‘banner’ for this blog and on my Twitter page. Most people quite rightly presume the people in the photo are ‘migrants’ (or somehow ‘ethnic’, in an Australian sense). No points for that guess. Who are they? Where are they? Are they coming or going? Have they ‘settled’ in a new place? Or are they ‘community members’ reuniting on a return trip to the homeland?

My Dad gave me a copy of this photo in 2009, when I first starting researching migration history.  He’s the child on left; his younger brother to the right. He is about 12 or 13 here. My grandparents sit behind the two brothers: my  grandfather with his frank expression and unironic moustache and my grandmother with her proud, high forehead. I was originally told this was taken on board the ship ‘Patris’ to Australia, in 1969. I’ve since learnt that it was taken right before they left.

I don’t know who took it. I don’t know who the other people in the photo are, although I’m told the Dellios family migrated with a few other families from their village of Therma, near Nigrita in northern Greece. I love looking at the photo. The woman next to my grandmother looks as glamorous as Jackie Kennedy (I’m sure my conservative grandmother would’ve disapproved) and the man in the centre didn’t even both to put down his wine glass for the photo. My Dad and uncle, despite being nearly teenagers, are dressed in identical jumpers and shorts, with matching buzz cuts!

It also reminds me of the countless other gatherings the family were to have in the outer suburbs of Melbourne throughout the 1980s and 1990s, some of which I vaguely remember (or maybe it’s the video recordings I remember). There’s always lots of drink, and (back then) smoking, and, at the beginning at least, children trying to be part of adult conversations. And always that one older lady dressed in all black, still mourning the passing of an absent husband.

Let’s not talk ‘Greek’ food and drink. When I asked my Dad, he gave me this tidbit about the ship: ‘I had my first can of Fanta. It was 20 cents’. He also remembers being part of a play, for which he dressed as a pirate. He’s the one in the dark shirt at the front, looking to the left of the frame.

Homeland presentation7

The photo belies a sense of ‘community’ and the moveability of a ‘settled’ state. While the Dellios family recreated these scenes after their migration, I don’t quite know how to make sense of this … re-territorialisation, this hybrid place-making in Melbourne. Mainly because this wasn’t the only ship journey the Dellios family were to take. They returned to Greece after a year in South Melbourne. But after another year living in Thessaloniki, which my Dad fondly remembers, they decided to return to Melbourne in 1972. This time they came by plane, and were not accompanied by other families and friends from their village. They also didn’t return to South Melbourne. It was hard for a 14 year old to reenter the Victorian education system with little to no English. I don’t know if it would’ve been any easier had they stayed the first time. My Dad will often muse that my grandfather should’ve never sold that South Melbourne terrace house (I will forever remember the name Montague Street). Today, most of the Dellios family live in Brisbane, without ongoing ties to those original families and friends that settled in different parts of Melbourne.

My Dad has also never stopped referring to himself as ‘migrant’, despite my grandfather’s preference for the term ‘New Australian’ (no jokes; he used this even in the 1970s). So I like this photo because it forever captures this transitory space, the in-betweenness, before arrival, before the disappointments.

Homeland presentation2


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