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Kytherian Book Review

The Greeks in Brisbane - Migration, Arrival, Home

Author: Constantine Castan

When Published: 2013


Available: Greek Orthodox Community of St George on 07 3844 3669. (Brisbane. Queensland).

Price: $30

Description: 241pp., paperback.

ISBN: 978 0 646905 58 7

The Asia Minor Greek Historical Society is a member of OHAA-Qld. On 22 October 2013, the book The Greeks of Brisbane by Constantine Castan was launched at the Greek Club at South Brisbane by the Consul-General of Greece inQueensland, Mr Jim Raptis OBE.

Dr Castan died in November 2012 so his book has been published posthumously. The book is a social history of the Greek presence in Brisbane from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, given a particular relevance by its underlying narrative; the personal history of its Greek-Australian writer. It is a narrative about the perils, the hardships and the rewards of migration, about its politics and the diverse attitudes towards the new people arriving in a very old land.

Dr Castan taught English at the University of Queensland for almost 30 years. He was the Director of the University’s Australian Studies Centre. He was recognised as a pioneer of the study of Australian migrant literature and a public advocate for multiculturalism. He played the leading part in the founding of many community associations, including Brisbane’s Solomos Society and the Asia Minor Historical Society. He also taught at James Cook University and the University of Athens.

Dr Castan worked to establish the Asia Minor Historical Society, in order to explore the roots of so many Asia Minor Greeks, as a tribute to his mother who taught him about that culture. He was a Greek Australian with a passionate love of and pride in his ancestral culture and civilisation and devoted his efforts to promoting Greek culture in the city of Brisbane. His research was meticulous and exhaustive, with no aspect of Greek life in Brisbane, right up to the present, left unexamined.

Article in Neos Kosmos.

The Greeks in Brisbane get their book.

‘The Greek Club in Brisbane was filled with mixed emotions in late October 2013. At the book launch of Constantine Castan's book The Greeks in Brisbane - Migration, Arrival, Home.

The 250 strong crowd was trying to juggle feelings of happiness and sadness. For one, they were finally holding the published book that chronicles Brisbane's Greek community, but they couldn't shake the absence of Con Castan, the man who brought that book to life.

He passed away just months before finishing the book, something that became a lifelong project. It was thanks to his widow, Dr Voula Castan, that the book is in publication today.’

For those interested in purchasing a book, call the Greek Orthodox Community of St George on 07 3844 3669.


Review by John (Faros) Wilson

Creating an Antipodean Agora: Con Castan's The Greeks of Brisbane.

Constantine Castan, The Greeks of Brisbane. Migration, Arrival, Home, St Lucia: Print on Demand Centre, University of Queensland Press, 2013. ISBN 978 0 646905 58 7 241pp., A$

Published in: Queensland Review. Volume 21. Special Issue 02 December 2014, pp 237-238.

Con Castan delights in the odd linkages that comprise the Hellenic world. Early in The Greeks of Brisbane Migration, Arrival, Home , Castan points out that in an odd coincidence of timing, modern Greece and Brisbane were founded at about the same time. Even more improbable was that the first Governor of the young colony of Queensland, Sir George Bowen, should also have links to Greece.

Prior to his arrival in Queensland, Bowen held the post of Chief Secretary to the Governor of the Ionian Islands. There, Bowen married and he and Lady Bowen, the latter a native of Zakynthos, and after whom the Diamantina River is said to be named, made the journey to Brisbane in 1857.

Such are the strange meanderings that comprise the Hellenic world. History casts a giant shadow over Greek journeyers. From Odysseus to the countless individual journeys of the Greek diaspora of modern times, each is simultaneously a dislocation, a discovery but also a re-establishment of community and identity. Con Castan describes how a community far from the centres of Hellenism takes root in Brisbane, and more specifically in West End.

The Greeks of Brisbane has inevitable ethnographic and documentary overtones. Con Castan’s text provides a comprehensive accounting of community organisations, listing office holders, committee members, and provides an exhaustive list of cultural and community events. While in part documentary, Castan’s examination is more concerned with the psychological and emotional landscape of community and place-attachment, shaped and informed by the immigration experience. The process of migration disrupts time, culture and communications. Identities are recast and many components of the emigrant’s former identity -- notably their spatial and environmental heritage -- are ruptured forever. The turbulence of migration, the broken relationships, the reformed and recast communities it creates, the conflicting emotions of renewal and loss, lie just below the surface. All these elements figure in Castan’s examination.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, the British writer and long time resident of Greece, framed the tensions and contradictions that are central to what it means to be Greek. Fermor described the Greek world as a place both characterised by absorptions and dispersals, and as an inexhaustible Pandora’s box of eccentricities and exceptions to all conceivable rules . Castan is something of an exception to the rule himself and thus delightfully confirms Fermor’s theory of the contrary nature of Hellenism.

Raised in the Evangelical Greek church yet comprehending the centrality of Orthodoxy to the Greek sense of being; a Brisbane raised Greek Australian who nevertheless found within himself such a spirit of being within the global Greek community, he become one of its towering transnational intellectuals. West End born and educated, he powerfully understood and has articulated the influence of place on the formation of community and belonging.

The contradictions of Castan's world are even more acute in the context of Brisbane, an antipodean sub-tropical settlement where the Greek community numbered in the only in tens of thousands. Unlike Sydney and Melbourne, the post-war tide of immigrants washed only gently over Brisbane. Castan identifies the principle source of Greek migration to Brisbane as chain migration beginning around the 1890’s. He notes the reverberations of the Asia Minor catastrophe reach even far off Brisbane, as the Greek population of the city doubled between 1923 and 1932.

We acquire our sense of the past through archives, memories, archaeology and landscape. The Greeks of Brisbane can be regarded as a interpretative text, decoding the social topography of Greek Brisbane; from the factionalism surrounding the location of the first church; the ice cream carts of the Lathouras Brothers; the delicious scandal of the marital status of the Archimandrite Maravelis; the influence of the Freeleagus family across the generations; to the nascent beginnings of a now vibrant and enduring Greek presence in Brisbane. The central character in much of this tale is not so much Brisbane, that “one-storied weatherboard town ” as described by David Malouf, but West End. As the geographer Tuan Yi Fu states “what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value.” For the Greek community of Brisbane, West End is dripping with place association.

Con Castan is at his best in this history (and part reminiscence) when speaking of his immediate community and neighbourhood. The personal elements of this tale are the most compelling, rooting the broader narrative in place and time. Here, The Greeks of Brisbane is a lovingly told examination of place and people. More than a simple recounting of dates and events, it is obvious labour of love: a homage at once to ancestors, a neighbourhood and a people. The tale is redolent with the smells of Greek owned cafes and refreshments houses, oyster saloons and restaurants. It is a tale that cries ‘this is my place our place, where, far from the centres of Hellenism, we are rooted and where we belong’.

The geography of West End is presented: Vulture Street; Dornoch Terrance; Boundary Street; St George Church and enduring presence of Father Gregory. The Greek Club; the AHEPA Hall; Edmonstone Street, bordering Musgrave Park. Each element, feature, street and terrace defining the limits of Castan’s Brisbane and in turn, the geography of place attachment that both centres and roots this immigrant narrative.

Robert Sack states that the self-evident powers of space and place are actually quite complex and elusive. In The Greeks of Brisbane, Con Castan has provided us a rich social geography and a worthy examination of community, place attachment and what it means to belong.

John Faros Wilson

Email John Wilson, here

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