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Time and change


We are all exiles, even those who never leave home. So wrote Australian David Malouf, who did indeed leave home for both England and Tuscany. I left home, too, but when, long ago, I first read those words, they were not clear to me. I think they are now, at least in one sense. Exile obviously involves separation, most obviously from home, but the inexorable march of time, with its almost inevitable complications, also separates us from the self we knew and were. The past can be a deeply strange land. Mainly because the passing of time produces change.

Change often hurts or is at least hard to adjust to. Sometimes I quite yearn for a simpler way of doing things, for a period when people’s expectations were more modest, and when the average person was not as materialistic as he/she seems to be now. Thomas Keneally has pointed out that the metaphor for the world has changed: it is no longer Shakespeare’s stage but has become a market. And while once upon a time we could also feel fairly confident about accuracy of information and the slippery concept of truth, now we no longer can.

However, it has to be conceded that we have made progress in some areas, and that some changes are for the better. One of those changes involves freedom from stereotypes such as women and men’s roles. I was fortunate in having parents who were not bound by traditional expectations. Of course I didn’t realise until later how lucky I was: when I asked my mother, decades after the event, why I had been given an Australian Rules football for my third birthday, she replied in matter-of-fact fashion, ‘It was the only thing you wanted, dear.’ (My father had been a nifty little rover in a country league team.)

Other sections of society were not so tolerant. I can well remember being summoned to the Head Teacher’s office along with a classmate. We were in the fifth grade, and in trouble for playing football with the boys; the HT, a fearsome figure who growled at us while peering threateningly over his horn-rimmed glasses, told us precisely what he thought of us, and included the shaming idea that we had disgraced our fathers. My father was a high school teacher, while my mate’s Dad was the Shire President. But time marched on, attitudes changed, and forty years later my Australian niece became an enthusiastic member of an all-women’s university football team.

Way back when I was young, girls were not permitted to run more than 220 yards in competition sprints, and their anatomy was thought not to permit them to do push-ups. But my daughters-in-law are keen on exercise, with the middle one being particularly so: she has just run the Authentic Athens Marathon for at least the fourth time: she has lost count of the number of marathons she has run. This time she finished in just over four hours, a very respectable performance. But it is sobering to recall how recently women have been permitted to run long distances, for it was not until the Seoul Olympics in 1988 that women were permitted to take part in a 10,000 metres event.

When my eldest son was about four, I bought him a doll, but was not prepared for my Greek husband’s reactions, the mildest of which was ‘My son! A doll!’  Never mind that it was an educational sort of doll that was supposed to teach the child about zips, buttons, pockets and shoelaces. I didn’t like to mention the fact that our boy, having started kindergarten, simply loved playing in Dollies’ Corner.


'When I was a new chum in the village, I rebelled against many of the traditional patterns, but now I am aware of more loss. Another exile.'


The Greece that I first visited on holiday was very different from today’s Greece, as the Colonels’ dictatorship had only recently ended, and the traditional way of life was still dominant in what was a largely rural society, so that men and women had their very set roles. When I came to live in the village I was the only woman who could drive a car. She drives like a man, said my mother-in-law. For my still young children the lines in the town’s toy shops were rigidly drawn: dolls for girls and cars and guns for boys. The owner of the biggest toy shop had never heard of Lego.

When Greece became part of Europe in 2000, the inexorable process of change began, and now I worry about my grandchildren with their multitude of toys, their tablets and phones and their wonderment at the fact that my childhood was spent pre-TV.

When I was a new chum in the village, I rebelled against many of the traditional patterns, but now I am aware of more loss. Another exile.




Gillian 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.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Change, Time, Exile, Athletics, Gender Roles



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I was in my late 30s at a high school on the lower north coast of NSW when some students laughed about an older head teacher: He’s always going in about “When I was a boy!” they laughed. And he was a strange character - bailing me up and telling me it was MY duty to teach his students how to write economics essays!!! And not listening to my answers. But yes - that exile from the period we recall as youngsters - so different from that of young people to-day - it does call upon us to try and describe that time - and compare it to to-day - in the face of total incomprehension. That the long drop does not only refer to that undergone by Ned Kelly - what a car’s dickey seat might mean, preserves? A grease trap? Shell grit! Is steel wool understood? The Family sitting around a radio in much the same way as they may be sitting in front of a television screen - or maybe that’s no longer something which happens - everyone with their own tablet or other screen watching whatever they like wherever they may be sitting or lying… and so to the social changes you highlight - the gender roles of our sporting and working lives far more fluid and equitable. I remember in Sydney the first female bus driver! The first female commercial pilot. There was a time way back then when my wife and I gave “dolls” to little boys - not one of whom turned out to have gone through any gender role trauma that we have ever been able to discern. They probably played with them a few times before discarding them for the next toy or book they received. But at least we had not given them guns.

Jim Kable | 01 December 2023  

Change can be good, bad or indifferent. The attitude to women and what they should or should not do has changed mightily in my lifetime. These days women can play just about any sport, including rugby, with all the attendant dangers of concussion etc. An associated problem is the wish by transwomen to participate in women's sport. This is a very contentious issue. Parallel to the rise of women in all areas of national life has been the development of the theory of 'toxic masculinity' which has its own dangers. Where are we going to from here? I remember, years ago at Melbourne University, an eccentric called 'The Wizard' was selling badges with 'Men's Liberation: Slavery for Women' on them. It wasn't funny then and isn't now. We need to foster a sense of mutual respect and responsibility between men and women. Sadly, much contemporary theory and debate on gender(s) pushes this to the side. This leads to the no platforming and vilification of those such as J K Rowling because they hold to the traditional, biologically based idea of what a woman is. We need some sense here. Will we get it, or will trans activists hijack the debate?

Edward Fido | 04 December 2023  

It is true that we can see the past as exile and our attempts to explain it to our children and grandchildren is often seen as strange. Our ‘anecdotage ‘as Giles Brandreth calls it, is important in keeping history and general knowledge alive because it is not generally discussed on social media.
Some of the most disturbing changes i have been aware of have been in the proliferation of reality TV and quiz shows. I am amazed that people would agree to appear on television to display their ignorance or take part in shows like “I’m a celebrity get me out of here’ which sets them up for ridicule. In many cases the answer is money.
Yes some things are better but i am not sure that what we have lost such as privacy, truth and morality have been worth the progress.
The fact that the past is ‘Another Country’ should not stop us learning and appreciating all the pros and cons of living in exile because one thing seems not to change…human nature!

Maggie | 05 December 2023  

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