Coming and going in Greece and Australia

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That leaden weight in my chest is back. My self-diagnosis is heartache, and once upon a time I thought I'd get to the stage at which this heaviness would leave me for good, but I know now that this is never going to happen, at least not as long as I am engaged in my back-and-forth movements between Greece and Australia.

Flying aeroplane wingI have been in Melbourne and parts of Victoria for eight weeks, and now I am about to leave. The weight returns when I allow myself to remember writer Paul Scott's thoughts about departure, and his closely-connected fear that even the simplest goodbye may turn out to be forever, and leave you with a feeling of remorse for the big and little things you left unsaid. Then there are also the things that have not been done, the people you have been unable to see.

Remorse, regret. It's complicated territory, my heart, marked by divisions and borders, because I have a brother and a son in Victoria, while two more sons and four grandchildren live in Greece. A friend considers that 'the littlies win every time,' and she seems to be right, in that I am looking forward to a reunion with said littlies and their parents. But this anticipation does not stop me feeling an acute sense of loss as I say my goodbyes to the Australian connections.

But of course my view of Australia itself has changed. All those decades ago I left a familiar country for a foreign one. I thought I was to have six months' holiday in Greece, but have now spent more than half my life there, so I no longer have the same sense of dislocation during my comings and goings.

The sense of dislocation these days comes from the painful knowledge that I am now not exiled so much from a familiar home, but from my young self. (But perhaps they are much the same thing?) This estrangement would have happened anyway, as it happens to us all, but seeing changed scenes of youth only at long intervals has a more jarring effect: no gradual adjustment is possible. And the absence of important people is a pain made new.

Then there's the matter of landscape, the flora and fauna, the sheer number of physical differences between Australia and Greece. The sunburned plains and gaunt pink-skinned gum trees I have been viewing recently are such a contrast to the pleated mountains and silver-green olive groves of the Peloponnese.

There are, of course, no bounding kangaroos where I am going, and I will miss the gurgle of magpies and the screech of parrots, that flash of colour as they sweep overhead. Still, I will be glad to hear the chink of goat-bells and to view the carpets of wild flowers that will be well-spread by the time I arrive.

 

"As I prepared to leave, he stretched out his closed hand for a fistbump, something that certainly doesn't happen to a person of my age in Greece."

 

And I'll be able to remember vignettes of life in Melbourne: the amused grin on the face of a woman in Collins Street as I gazed incredulously at the sight of a snow-white poodle reposing on a matching mini-sheepskin in a pram of its very own. More incredulity as I almost literally bumped into a Kalamata friend on a street corner. What are you doing here? we asked each other.

Then there was the Mentone RSL Dance Band in Swanston Street playing an appealing version, one that fitted my mood, of 'Lonesome Road'. A man rolled up in his wheelchair, botted a cigarette from a bystander and then made his chair move in time to the music. As I prepared to leave, he stretched out his closed hand for a fistbump, something that certainly doesn't happen to a person of my age in Greece.

As I write, I reflect that it's high time I gave up the self-indulgence of pining and yearning, that longing to be somewhere I am not. It's time to forget the idea of splits and divisions, and think in terms, instead, of being twice blessed, for there are few people as fortunate as I am. As a friend in a similar position points out, I have seen both the Great Bear and the Southern Cross.

 

 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Melbourne, Australia, Greece

 

 

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Existing comments

Home is where the heart is Gillian and yours seems to have to span two continents. At least you still have connections and people to love. One of the horrible things about modern Australia is that there are many people our age who feel they have neither connections of any meaningful sort nor people to love. What happens to those wonderful memories when you have no one to share them with? I remember once, on a visit to Melbourne years ago, walking through a Housing Commission complex in Fitzroy where I saw an older lady in a wheelchair, who looked Eastern European, looking totally lost amidst the vibrant, pulsating throng of Africans around her. Perhaps she had dementia, perhaps she was a widow and had been placed there, perhaps she was waiting for someone. I believe there is thought, both here and in the UK, of appointing a Minister for Loneliness. Would that create the connections you have? Would they need one in Greece or Italy for the locals? I suggest not. There are reasons for this. Australia, as I remember it in the 1950s and 1960s, was not like this. I think we have lost something.
Edward Fido | 28 March 2019


There is no answer to your question, I think as I read your article before bed in Athens and think of my connections in Australia. But when I am in Melbourne I think of being here. I first came here in 1975. Yes, I feel twice blessed.
Anna | 29 March 2019


This piece, all about missing people, things and times that are held in our hearts and bones, resonates. A wonderful read. Thank you, Gillian. I will whisper your name under the Southern Cross; please remember be to the Great Bear. Perhaps I won't be lucky enough to look up and see it again. I hold a great fondness for Greece.
Anne Kostaras | 29 March 2019


Writers being cognates of poets, Shelley’s dictum that poets are unacknowledged legislators might also apply to them. But, given that laws are usually framed in general terms so that where they point needs to be interpreted, it seems apposite that Gillian Bouras mentions the Great Bear and the Southern Cross. Neither constellation of itself tells you where North and South, respectively, are, the main reason why travellers (apart from tackling boredom with some brain pattern-making) look at the stars. The Great Bear has to be interpreted to locate Polaris. (Actually, the Great Bear, being a messy overcomplication of stars, has to be deconstructed into the Big Dipper, to point to the Little Dipper, being itself a deconstruction of another messy overcomplication of stars called the Little Bear. Which all sounds like a metaphor for good and bad writing.) In the South, the Southern Cross is interpreted by itself or with the help of the Pointers to locate a patch of nothing from which the line to the horizon can be dropped. (Given that the Cross doesn’t have to be ‘deconstructed’ from anything, does this mean southern writers write better than northern ones?)
roy chen yee | 30 March 2019


Wonderfully beautiful poetry!
john frawley | 01 April 2019


I think I may have mentioned before my son’s comment when asked if he preferred Greece or Scotland. At the age of four he answered: “ when I’m in Greece I prefer Greece and when I am in Scotland I prefer Scotland” . I suppose it has to do with appreciating the moment ( which you certainly do) but I do not think there is anything wrong with a touch of nostalgia.
Maggie | 01 April 2019


I agree that it is a wrench to have one's heart (and friends and family) in two widely separated homelands, but when one considers how many millions of people are languishing in refugee camps, unable to return (ever) to their devastated homelands and unlikely to be offered another place to call home, to have one homeland whose existence is not threatened by the forces of destruction is to be fortunate indeed, and to have two even more so.
Jena Woodhouse | 05 April 2019


An immigrant is indeed fortunate to have two places that they can call home. I'm not an immigrant so I don't really know, but it seems to me that there is also a special sadness because once you have two homes you are never properly at home again. It is well worth telling us about this special sort of sadness.
Stephen | 09 April 2019


Like Gillian Bouras, my sister Judy left Australian shores - ‘for a four year period’ - with her Greek-born husband and two young children in the early 1980s. Their destination, Patras, became their permanent home, although the family travelled back and forth to Melbourne many times over the years, for Australian family weddings and short holidays. My sister’s adjustment to living in a foreign country, a place not of her birth, was a gradual but always forward-moving process. Her children’s adjustment was swift; Greece became home very quickly as swimming and school brought them into the fold. Judy and a number of English-speaking friends who were all married to Greek men, started a club ‘Oasis’; a place to regularly meet with a small library of books, regularly added to, when the women returned to Greece after short stints in their countries of birth. Almost forty years on, the need for a ‘Club’ and a meeting place diminished, although their library continues to expand and their club house is still used. I’ve watched as strong, resilient friendships - and love and loyalty to Greece - have emerged to overcome the longing felt in the earlier years of distant homelands, slowly diminished. My sister and her English-speaking friends will never be Greek, but their immersion into such a different culture has seen children grow up, becoming parents themselves. Being a grand parent in Greece with the strongest imaginable possible bonds of friendships and connections through work and time passing -and every other possibility - has been a wonderful thing to admire observe.
Jill Loorham | 16 August 2019


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