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History > General History > Hugh Gilchrist - the premier Greek-Australian historian of the 20th century - an hagiography - 5 - Motivation for undertaking the Greeks and Australians project

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submitted by George Poulos on 12.05.2004

Hugh Gilchrist - the premier Greek-Australian historian of the 20th century - an hagiography - 5 - Motivation for undertaking the Greeks and Australians project



No 43-44, pp.51-60

Melbourne 1998

An interview with Mr Hugh Gilchrist, the author of the History volumes Australians and Greeks

Thank you to Ellen Blunden, the University of Technology, Sydney, and Halstead Press, for re-typing the manuscript.

Thank you to Christos Nicholas Fifis of
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, for permission to reprint the article.
[Biography, publications: end of this entry.]

Hugh Gilchrist - the premier Greek-Australian historian of the 20th century - an hagiography - 5 - Motivation for undertaking the Greeks and Australians project - Estia Publishing House Athens
Christos N. Fifis

Hugh Gilchrist was born in 1916 in Sydney and is a former Australian diplomat. He was Australia’s Ambassador to Greece from 1968 to 1972 and has since visited Greece many times. He has also been working for a long time on the subject of Australians and Greeks of which two volumes have been published, the first in 1992 and the second in 1997.

The completion of the work is planned to take another large volume, which will take the story of Australians and Greeks up to 1953. The first volume covered the period up to 1914 and the second covers the experiences of Greeks in Australia and Australians in Greece from 1914 to 1939. Mr Gilchrist kindly accepted to answer to a few questions about his work on Australians and Greeks.

What made you start the project Australians and Greeks?

It was nearly thirty years ago in Athens when an Athenian sociologist, Dr Anthony Pissanos, gave a talk on the occasion of Australia’s national day. In it he mentioned Diamantina Roma – the Greek wife of Queensland’s first Governor, the Australian Sixth Division’s campaign in Greece, and Prime Minister Menzies’ visit to Athens in 1955.
Having occasionally thought of writing something, but lacking a theme (“O, that mine enemy would write a book!” wished a Roman politician), it occurred to me to ask a few questions: Who was the first Greek in Australia? the first Greek woman, shopkeeper, priest, consul? the first Greek ship, church, newspaper?
This began Volume I, conceived as a work of possibly a hundred pages, of some practical use to the Embassy in Athens as a source of Background information. In time it extended to include the experiences of Australians in Greece. Eventually it had to split into two volumes, the first ending at the outbreak of the First World War. It was rejected by six leading publishers before Halstead Press accepted it.

When did you first visit Greece?

My first encounter with Hellenism was my accidental entry into the Ancient Greek class at Cranbrook School in Sydney in 1928 (I had mistaken it for the Geography class, but was persuaded to stay – for five years). The next was my posting to Greece early in 1949, by Dr Evatt, as the alternate Australian delegate to the United Nations Assembly to monitor incursions from Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and to pursue any opportunities of conciliation between Greece and those countries. Apart from many hours in endless committee meetings, I travelled around northern Greece in Dakota aircraft and in jeeps and sandbagged trucks, taking evidence from witnesses. I saw great distress and poverty and heard stories of devastation by war and civil war from villagers and soldiers. It was not until 18 years later that I returned as Ambassador to a much changed Greece.

Your work involves both Australians and Greeks and is the most detailed on the subject. Could you give us some information about the topics and issues covered in your three volumes?

To turn to Volume I. It begins as an account of Australia’s first Greeks – the seven young pirate convicts who landed in Sydney in 1829 – and continues with the first wave of immigration: the gold-diggers who came in 1851. It ends with the rise of shop-keeping and the founding of the first Greek organisations in Australia: the Churches of Holy Trinity and the Evangelismos, the Kastellorizan Brotherhood in Perth and the Hellenic Association in Brisbane.
It also traces the origins of Greek-Australian trade (currants and raisings from Patras) and shipping the (the brig Telemachus in 1855 and the steamer Spyros Vaglianos from Argostoli in 1911) and the first newspapers: Afstralia and Okeanis. Mostly, however, it is about people: Lady Franklin, who loved Greece and lived there; the colonial Governors who had served in Greece; the early diggers, farmers, medical doctors, oyster-growers, shop-keepers, priests, journalists and consuls. To balance these are the stories of the first Australian travellers in Greece, beginning with James Hingston in 1887, and a survey of what the Australian press said about independent Greece.

Volume II tells of Australia’s two thousand Greeks in the First World War – a difficult time for them because of King Constantine’s policy of neutrality. Fearing that he might drag Greece into alliance with Germany, the Australian government restricted trade, immigration and naturalisation and conducted a secret census of Greeks. But, as the census confirmed, almost all of them were Venizelists and pro-British. Greece’s entry into the war on the Allied side in 1917 made life easier for them, but not before some Greek shops had been wrecked and looted by mobs of xenophobic Australian soldiers on leave, which left the shop-keepers uncompensated. Nearly sixty men of Greek family served overseas in the Australian army; four were killed in action, 18 were wounded and two decorated for bravery.

After the war there developed a dismaying split in Australia’s Greek Orthodox Communities regarding the Ecumenical Patriarch’s reassertion of spiritual authority over the Australian parishes, and the dispatch of the first Orthodox Archbishop, which led to costly litigation, schismatic separations and problems regarding the validity of some marriages. Another development was the second wave of Greek immigration. Following the exodus of refugees from Asia Minor, which led to Australian fears of being swamped by southern Europeans, and limitation of their entry for some years. In these years occurred the rise of the Greek-Australian press (Ethnikon Vima, Panellinios Kyrix, Phos) and the publication of the first three Greek-Australian books (I Zoi en Afstralia, the Odigos, and the International Directory), which offered advice to Greeks on ethical and commercial matters. Greek-Australian trade remained limited by currency and tariff barriers, except for occasional massive wheat exports, but more than a hundred Greek vessels came, mostly to load wheat.

Worth recording, too, were the dramatic experiences of the 450 Australian men and women who served in Greece in the Salonika Campaign, 1916-1919. They included Sir Edmund Herring, Sir John Lavarack and the novelist Miles Franklin, and doctors, nurses and airmen; and Greek guerillas, in a diversionary attack, aided in the advance on Lone Pine on Gallipoli. More Australians also travelled in Greece, including classical scholars, airmen and archaeologists; and Australian writers produced five books on Greek life and on a Greek migrant.

Volume 3, the final volume, about the period 1939 to 1953, is as yet half-written. [Now, 2004, complete, and ready for printing]. It includes, of course, the campaign in 1941, but only summarily, since so much on it has already been published. There is room, however, to record the service of nearly a thousand men and women of Greek family who served in the Australian forces during World War II (nearly 150 in the AIF, at least 175 in the RAAK and 19 in the Navy, and many more in the Citizen Military Force), and of the war effort on the home front, including the Greek branch of the Australian Red Cross. Less well known are the experiences of the Australians who served as guerillas or intelligence agents in the mountains of enemy-occupied Greece, and the heroic efforts of Greek civilians to protect them.

Volume 3 also traces Australian attempts to relive the appalling poverty of war-devastated Greece, through United Nations agencies such as UNRA, UNICEF and WHO and through the Australian Red Cross and Jewish medical teams which worked in Greece after the war, and Australian efforts to reunite with their parents in Australia the children taken into Communist countries during the civil war. Also related is Australia’s role, through the United Nations, in monitoring Greece’s northern frontiers from 1947 to 1952 and in trying to mediate between Greece and its northern neighbours.

Other topics include the now-defunct Greek-Australian League, Australian war graves in Greece, the Athens war memorial to British, Australia and New Zealand war dead, the establishment of the Australian migration Mission in Athens, the resumption of migration beginning with regular voyages of the SS Kyrenia in 1949, and the polarisation of Greek-Australian politics during the civil war, as seen the League for Democracy in Greece. The story ends with a glance at the emerging role of Australia’s Greeks in the professions and into leadership in academic, industrial and political life. If space permits, as annex on Ancient Greek studies in Australia may be added.

Why is the third volume scheduled to cover only the period 1939 – 1953?

My work end in 1953 because that is when Greece’s first Minister (later Ambassador) to Australia, Dimitri Lambros, presented his credentials, opening a new period in Greek-Australian relations. (The Greek government-in-exile in London had proposed it in 1941, but Prime Minister Menzies rejected it as impracticable at the time). In any case, there is still a long task to finish it by the target date of 1999.*

Did you find any encouragement in continuing this long project?

Yes, a great deal. My main research tools are the telephone directory and the begging letter, of which I have written several thousand and have received many replies offering helpful information. There have been a few disappointments, of course, but they have been marginal.

The number of helpers, both individual and institutional, runs to many pages. They include the Greek Foreign Ministry, the Greek Orthodox Church archives, the Australian Hellenic Historical Society and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, to name a few.

Were there any significant differences between the early settlers of Greeks and those who came later?

Certainly, those who came before 1919 were mostly from Kythira, Ithaca and Kastellorizo and those who came later included many from Asia Minor, Egypt, Cyprus, Thrace, Macedonia, Ipeiros and the Pelopponisos. These later were more diversified in their occupations and in their provincial origins, creating a more diverse community, and their topikismos, while encouraging local welfare organisations, at times weakened Hellenic unity. After 1945, it would seem another generation gap developed, between those already well established and those who arrived with few resources – almost economic refugees – and had to battle from the start.

How do you find Australian-Greek relations to comparison to those with other European countries?

I cannot speak with authority on the relationships. All I know is that Greece’s stand against Mussolini’s army in October 1940 produced a significant change in the Australian attitude to Greece, which moved from a corresponding tolerance to genuine admiration of the Greek people, which was strengthened by comradeship in arms in 1941 and by Greek individuals protecting escaped Australian prisoners of war. The relationship now appears to be a very happy one at both the official and the popular levels.

Do you find any marked similarities and differences between Greeks and other ethnic groups in Australia?

I shall have to pass this question, lacing information and reluctant to raise contentious comparisons. Let me just end with grateful thanks to all who have helped by work and who may do so in the future.

Hugh Gilchrist - the premier Greek-Australian historian of the 20th century - an hagiography - 5 - Motivation for undertaking the Greeks and Australians project - C Fifis, Latrobe University Melbourne
Estia Publishing House, Athens, publishers of progressive journal, Nea Estia.
Nea Estia published a Greek review of Hugh Gilchrist’s Australians and Greeks - The early years, written by Christos Fifis. See, Nea Estia 1642: 1594-5 (1/12/1995).

Mr Christos N. Fifis

Senior Lecturer in Modern Greek

Qualifications: B Ec (La Trobe), DipEd (SCV Hawthorn), Litt B (UNE), MA (Melbourne)



Twentieth century Greek literature and culture; Greek-Australian issues; Greek language and translation.

Research interests:

Twentieth century Greek poetry (with particular reference to Yannis Ritsos); Greek-Australian communities, literature, and educational issues; translation and translation issues.

Projects in progress:

The early poetry of Yannis Ritsos; the history of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria; issues in the history of the Greek-Australian community.


Christos N. Fifis has edited a volume of the poems of the Greek-Australian poet Nikos Ninolakis, and has published several articles on Seferis, Ritsos, Zoe Karelli, Tsaloumas, Vafopoulos, Papathanasopoulos, and Greek-Australian literature. He has also contributed numerous articles to the debate on Greek-Australian community and educational issues.

His most recent publications include:

Costas Montis, Antipodes 34-5 (1994-5).

Hugh Gilchrist’s Australians and Greeks - The early years (review), Nea Estia 1642: 1594-5 (1/12/1995).

"Your friend Kostis": Kostas Malaxos-Alexander through his correspondence with Nikos Ninolakis, Antipodes 39-40: 20-37 (1996).

Dragonsleep: A multicultural experience — Aristides Paradissis, Nea Parikia: 64-6 (May 1996).

The teaching of Modern Greek in Australia: expectations, institutions and the politics of multiculturalism, in C. Ioannides (ed) Greeks in English - Speaking Countries: Culture, Identity, Politics Karatzas, NY: 117-37 (1997).

Rapid changes in the structure of the Greek-Australian community, Antipodes 41-42: 73-81 (1997).

Interview with Hugh Gilchrist, author of the history of Australians and Greeks, Antipodes 43-44: 51-60 (1999).

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