submitted by Epsilon Magazine on 28.06.2006
An Extended and amended version, of the interview published in:
Volume 1, Issue 6,
15th June, 2006.
George Poulos talks to Savvas Limnatitis about www.kythera-family.net, a web site dedicated to preserving Kytherian history and culture.
Unlike the Castelorizians, Cypriots or Lemnians, to name a few, the Kytherians of Sydney haven't got their own club, a place where they can meet and chat over a cup of coffee or a game of poker, where their kids can meet other kindred spirits, and engage themselves in the learning of their forefather's culture. But what the Kytherians lack in bricks and mortar; they more than make up for in enthusiasm and innovation. And in the case of www.kythera-family.net, unlike the three above-mentioned Hellenic organisations, they have a website dedicated to gathering the history of their tiny island, the plight of the Diaspora from the island; and preserving that history forever.
The concept of the site is so simple; it's a surprise it has not yet been copied. Members of the Kytherian community have been invited to submit their familys' collection of stories, photographs, recipes, maps, oral histories, biographies, historical documents, songs and poems, home remedies etc. to the site. The creators and administrators thereby avoid the crippling costs of maintaining such a high quality operation, as well as widening their pool of contributors. The latter come from everywhere: from here in Australia, in the USA, Europe, even Africa and South America. What binds them together is the love of their island and a need to “make available valuable and interesting material for current and future generations, and inspire young Kytherians to learn more about their fascinating heritage".
How and when did www.kythera-family.net get started?
The concept for kythera-family was the brainchild of a young man called James Prineas who lives in Berlin, Germany. His father, Vic, who now lives in Rose Bay, used to travel around country towns in NSW, and take orders for products for United Linen and Crockery Pty Ltd. When he returned to Sydney, these orders would be despatched to his various customers. After a few years he left ULCPL, and set up his own business. As he travelled from town to town, he "transmitted" stories, gossip, and information from Kytherian to Kytherian in NSW. Vic lived in Kingsford.
Vic's son James went to Rainbow Street Primary School, and later Sydney Boys High. After graduating from High School he realised his long-held dream to travel Greece. After 2 years in Greece - much of it spent on Kythera, he travelled through Germany and England and subsequenty started studying in the USA. He gravitated to the design industry, and after settling in Berlin began lecturing on the subject at the Potsdam Polytechnic. In 1993 he met Pia Betton, a Danish national, and two years later, they were married. They have two children, Louie and Jasper, and live in Berlin, Germany.
James works in the human resources and publishing areas. He is also a superb photographer. Pia works in corporate identity and is the managing director of Framework Identity.
James spent considerable time on Kythera. He regretted the fact that, as Kytherians on the island aged, and died, many without children; all their stories, all their memories, all their heritage, and often their gardens, died with them. Having a background in computer-aided-design, he conceived the idea of a cultural archive website for Kythera - where all these stories, photographs and heritage could be stored electronically for posterity. He decided the best way to go about this was to make the site self-publishing. Instead of a central web-master, all Kytherians around the world could become "webmasters". Kytherians would be empowered to load up "their" Kytherian heritage to the website. He worked on the concept for many years. Then, in 2003, the idea was transformed into a reality.
It strikes me as ironical that the "transmission of Kytherian information" that father Vic used to achieve inadvertently in the 50's and 60's, by spending long hours travelling on NSW roads, has now been taken up by his son, working out of Europe, and achieving even more profound results electronically, automatically, and remotely.
How difficult was it to set up the site?
The main problem was that James' idea required a lot of money to be "real-ised". We needed to raise more than $30,000. We were very lucky in two respects: as Kytherians we have access to the "Nicholas Anthony Aroney Trust" which provides funding for projects pertaining to Kytherian cultural "themes" and activities. The "Nicholas Anthony Aroney Trust" provided $15,000 for the project.
A second key factor was the involvement of the Notaras brothers, Angelo and John. They were bought up in Grafton, NSW, and in adult life, developed an aptitude for "invention". They were Australian inventors of the Year in 1976. One of their more successful inventions was the replaceable ignition switch. Ultimately they established a factory, Atom Industries in Lilyfield, Sydney, to manufacture their own inventions. They achieved a measure of economic success. Of course, not all wealthy persons become great benefactors. But, inspired by a deep love for Kythera, and their Kytherian heritage, the Notaras family have been great benefactors for various Hellenic and Kytherian causes. In the early 1990's they provided very substantial funds for the publication of Hugh Gilchrist's, monumental and ground-breaking book "Greeks and Australians Vol 1". The impetus and validation received by Gilchrist for Volume I, led subsequently to the publication of Volumes II & III.
The Notaras brothers also became heavily involved with Provicare. Provicare is a charity, focusing on drug and alcohol issues, administered by the The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
Aimed at the Greek community, it provides free counselling and education services for individuals, coping strategies for families, and support mechanisms for carers. Provicare also endeavours to counter the "stigma" attached to mental health issues. For a recent charity drive, the Notaras brothers "invented" a superb funding "campaign". Collection boxes were distributed to churches throughout Australia, and patrons of the churches were encouraged to donate. The brothers designed a "baton" in the form of the Ionic columns of the Parthenon, with the Parthenon as the motif on each end. At their own cost, they provided the moulding tools for the design, and then proceeded to manufacture enough batons to distribute to all Greek Orthodox churches in Australia. They arranged the distribution and despatch of the batons, and set up and administered a register of the distribution points. $750,000 was raised for Provicare, utilisng this strategy.
In 2005, Angelo's twin brother, Mitchell, a medical specialist, resident in England, donated $1.1 million to establish a fund, to grant a regular Colo-Rectal Research Scholarship in Australia. This fund is administered by the Medical Faculty, at the University of Sydney. The Notaras family are extraordinary benefactors.
In October 2002, Ann Coward, former Kytherian Association of Australia Secretary, historian, and doctoral fellow, sent Angelo Notaras an email advising him of the hitherto frustrated efforts of James Prineas to establish a Kytherian archival web-site. James had developed a sophisticated "business plan and mission statement" which was circulated in Kytherian circles. He was finding it difficult, however, to raise the funds required. Angelo read the plan, and quickly accessed that the idea was superb. "We knew he had a great idea, and it was worth pursuing. Thats how we got involved." James and Angelo made contact by letter and email. They did not meet face-to-face for one year. But through the constant communication, an effective strategy for involving a broad base of the Kytherian diaspora in Australia, and for raising the necessary funds, was devised.
I cannot stress enough the pivotal role played by Angelo & John Notaras. Particularly Angelo, who has been involved in the adminstration of the site from day one. He has been absolutely steadfast and dynamic in his involvement. A great deal of credit for the website's quality and continuity goes to Angelo and his brother John.
Additional to the seed capital provided by the Aroney Trust and the Notaras brothers, a number of Kytherians donated $2000 each to become sponsors of the site. Angelo is both proud and fond of affirming that of the original 10 sponsors he approached to donate $2000, all gave "willingly and without hesitation." The idefatigable Ladies Auxiliary, of the Kytherian Association of Australia, also contributed $5000. Other Kytherians, seeing the benefits that the web-site would provide, also contributed sums from $10 to $1000. We collected all the funds required very quickly - the Kytherian and Hellenic community were amazed just how quickly we collected the money . We had overcome our first hurdle - the economic one.
The next hurdle was to determine, the best structure for the web-site. We had to create the best mix of categories, so that when contributors submitted their entries - their "entries" could be placed in some sought of order. We spent a great deal of time determing the categories, and creating the structure of the site. Much of this was derived by "trial and error", and by "fine tuning".
Some of the categories would obviously not apply to other parts of Greece, and to other parts of the world, for that matter. For example, in Kythera everyone has a paratsoukli, a nickname, so we have a special section where we slowly started to collect a list of them all. Recently, Jim Koroneos, whose own parachoukli is Poulaki, has collected 108 nicknames of the 19th and 20th century residents of the small village of Karavas, in northern Kythera,and put them on the site.
There are other, less ideosyncratic categories of course, which relate to many other important aspects of Kythera, Kytherians and their history and heritage. These include; Vintage Portraits & People,- Cafes, Shops & Cinemas, Social Life, Sporting Life, Weddings and Proxenia, Working Life, Architecture, Bibliography (Books about Kythera), Food and Recipes, Home Remedies, Kytherian Arts & Craft, Kytherian Identity, Nature, Religion, Sayings and Proverbs, Songs and Poems......; to name only a few.
How did you get involved?
When James first began his funding drive, and Angelo and John Notaras got involved, I happened to be on the Committee of the Kytherian Association of Australia. I became involved with the Committee, with a Kytherian cultural agenda, and "mission" in mind. My Kytherian cultural consciousness stemmed from a 15-year involvement at the Committee level of the Karavitiko Symposium, an organisation which celebrates the heritage of one of the most beautiful villages on the island, Karavas. I am the self-styled cultural attache of the KAA. I pushed the whole idea very heavily through the committee.
I also had a lot of information that I had collected over the years to do with Kythera. It was a great opportunity for me to place that information on the website. That way the project started, to borrow a phrase from T S Eliot, with a "bang" rather than a "whimper". We developed a large information base very quicky, which encouraged other people to visit the site, and to add their contributions. My role is that of Editor. I have the task of asking people to send photos and stories, and calling them back to make sure they have placed them. That way we have new information being submitted on a regular basis.
www.kythera-family.net has three adminstrators, with three different roles. James Prineas, concerns himself with creative and electronic matters, Angelo Notaras, with the economic and operational, and I with the editorial. This division of reponsibilities has worked extremely well. The small size of the "Board" has also been very important. We actually get on and do things, instead of just talking about doing things!
As for me, I grew up in the small central western NSW town of Gilgandra where I worked in my father’s fruit shop from a young age. Later I became a retailer in the emerging Discount Trade in Bondi Junction. After a decade of trading I sold out.
At this time the concept of the web site was being developed and I decided to take extended time off work to devote my energies to the site. I felt it was important that the site be given a good "start in life", and that the progress of the web site should be rapid. Too many web sites take far too long to establish themselves, and hence they fade away, and eventually "die".
I am pleased to say that the web site has "grown up" very quickly, and can now stand on its own two cyber-feet. I am confidant that even if, from this point forward, not a single new entry was added to the site, what has been published to date would remain very significant. Those qualified to judge recognise our significance.
Hence, we have become the number 1 site for "Kythera" on Google, in the world. Additionally, all the major electronic Enclopaedia's in the world, including Brittanica, use www.kythera-family.net as the first point of reference for "Kythera". Despite their immense resources these encycolpaedias's admit openly, that they could never amass the wealth of information that we have at www.kythera-family.net.
Are you happy with the way things turned out?
I’m very happy. From the official launch of the web-site at the Castellorizian Club, Kingsford on 14th January 2004, the website has been an incredible success.
The atmosphere at the launch was "electric". 350 Kytherians and philekytherians attended. According to Nick Pappas, a leading member of the Castellorizian community, who was also in attendance, the Club auditorium had never been so full. "Only the Kytherians, could pull something like this off", he commented, to me. One 90 year old Kytherian ventured on the train alone, from the NSW central coast, to be at the launch. Others came in wheel chairs. Others cancelled alternative important engagements. The "buzz"' and the "electricity" has never diminished from that moment.
The success of the web-site can be attributed to a number of superior features inherent in the site:
The web-site is generative. One photograph or one story elicits a great deal more information. From one story, for example, sometimes, we might generate 15 additional stories "Information" on the site, and the site itself, has grown organically, in the way that a life-form grows. Roots lead to stem...leads to branches...lead to fruits.........lead to seeds......lead to roots....
The web-site is revelatory. New information is being uncovered all the time, which most Kytherians have previously been unaware of. To give you a simple example. A Kytherian in the USA might submit a photograph of his great-uncle. A young person in Australia recognises that the person in the photograph is their grandfather; and indicates that amongst members of their immediate family, no photograph of grandfather exist. The existence of an extremely important resource has been "revealed" to the young Kytherian in Australia.
The web-site is connective. Instance what has happened in California. Kytherians in Southern California didn't associate with each other very much. After visiting the website, many realised that they had relatives and fellow-Kytherians living in close proximity. They began to meet on a regular basis, and became inspired to visit the older Kytherians, write down, audiotape and videotape their stories, and submit them to the web site. I should point you here to the incredible "oral history" work of Vikki Fraioli and Terry Keramaris in the USA.
Reading through some of the stories in your website, the first thing that strikes me is that a lot of them are interlinked. A lot of families split up, with one brother going to America and the other coming to Australia. Has the site helped to reunite families?
Definitely. The beauty is that if you click on the nametag of a registered contributor, you can email them directly and get in contact with them. That way people from all over the world interact easily with each other, and you can find out what is happening in Kythera or any other part of the world for that matter. In September this year there will be a very large conference held in Canberra that will bring together people from all parts of the world who will deliver papers about Kythera. It will be a three-day event and it will be opened by non other than the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard.
Kythera has always depended on the good will of its xenitemenoi, its expatriates who regularly send money to the island. Has that changed in recent years?
The population of Kythera towards the end of the Second World War was about 15,000 people. Now it's 2900. Throughout the last one hundred years or even more - the first Kytherian come in Australia, for example, in 1854 - the population has declined. The result is that 97% of the worlds Kytherians do not live on the island. But what happened is that Kytherians left, first for Smyrna and Alexandria in Egypt, and other close destinations, and as they prospered, they started sending money back for projects of various sizes. So Kythera has benefited a lot from its immigrants.
For example, in Karavas, Patrikios sent money from Alexandria to create the Agricultural College there, (1930's), and the Tzortzopoulos family sent money from Baltimore in the USA, to establish a water supply to all the houses in the village (1950's).
More substantial projects ensured. With funds sent by Kytherian Australians and Kytherain Americans send, a hospital was built in the town of Potamos, that this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. Thanks to the Kasimatis family in Tasmania, there is now a very large aged care facility, also in Potamos. Over more than a century, the amenity of Kythera has been improved immensely, by the generosity of its xenitemenoi.
Is the website mainly supported by people in Australia and America?
Contributions derive from every part of the globe. We have had a number of entries from the Karavousanos family in Dublin, from Andrei de Roma, in France, who is a descendant of Diamantina Roma, the wife of the first governor of Queensland, as well as people from Africa and South America. It’s amazing where Kytherians contact us from. We have also learned that there used to be Kytherian organisations in parts of America and Africa that become defunct and are now being regenerated. We have contributed to this regeneration.
Because www.kythera-family.net is the first search result on internet search engines, we believe that the increase in tourism on the island, can be directly attributed to the website.
Also last year we sponsored a "Back to Kythera" event, were Kytherians from all over the world gathered to express their notions of Kytherian identity. The Kytherians who attended became very emotional, especially the Americans, who have lost contacts with their "roots"; more than the Australians have. You can listen to some of their emotional "testimony" on the website.
The website has brought the Kytherian family even closer together; although we have always been very close.
How do you manage to keep the website fresh? Are you dependant on what people submit, or do you ask people to contribute?
We work both ways. I'll give you an example. The Kings Cinema in Rose Bay North in Sydney used to be owned by two Kytherians, Peter Kosmas Sourry, i Kotsifos, and Alexander ("Alec") Andrew Coroneo, i Psomas. What we did was contact the families, as well as Greek newspapers that had run articles in the past on Sourrey and Coroneo, like O Kosmos, and managed to obtain early photographs of them, and of the Kings Cinema. We had previously been very diligent in establishing contacts with a number of well known researchers, such as Professor Ross Thorne, Les Tod, and Kevin Cork, (now deceased) whose entire PhD thesis "Greek Cinemas in Australia", is available on the site. Their knowledge has supplemented our knowledge of the Kytherian involvement in Australian cinematic history.
Australia's largest retailer, and second-largest supermarket chain, Coles, recently redeveloped the Rose Bay North, Kings Cinema site. Coles, and the lead architects, Gerard Thomas and Associates, were very helpful in providing us with additional information on the site. Graham Brooks and Associates, the Heritage Architects employed by Coles, even provided us with their 2002 Heritage Report for the site. If you are open to these other sources of information, you create information synergies. From a small base, this syn-ergia, allows you to generate a lot of input, from a lot of important people, with a lot of knowledge. The end result is a broadening and deepening of the knowledge base of "Kytherian" history.
You keep using the term "we". Why then do I get the feeling that kythera-family.net is pretty much a one-man show?
Actually, there are a number of people that have become involved in their own right, contributing a great deal. 1000's of Kytherian's, Hellenes, and others have registered to the site. Of those, 100's have contributed photographs and information to the site. We have a "core" group of about 18 to 20 people that contribute on a regular basis, and who have made multiple submissions. I regard this group as "co-editors". These submisions encourage other institutions and other knowledgeable individuals to send their contributions. The whole project is far from being a one-man show.
I do spend a great deal of time encouraging input from academic circles and that sort of material is very handy. People like Hugh Gilchrist, Effie Alexakis, Leonard Janiszewski, Peter Vanges, George Leontsinis, Tim Gregory, Lita Diacopoulos, Denis Conomos, and many others, have been very kind in allowing us to include their research material on the web-site. But the contributors to the web-site are now so diverse, and their contributions so varied, that no one person could ever hope to get a "complete" and exclusive "handle" on the site.
How close were we to losing all this information forever?
So much information has already been lost. Plus there is still a lot of information that is in Kytherians' homes that will be lost. We have a chance to preserve some of it. I have always said that the photographs, and stories, that families have in their own homes is the ousia, the essence of the website. It gives it that extra flavor. The academic people are good because they have the structure and they perform their research in a systematic way. But the essence comes from the individual families. Recently Peter Prineas wrote a great book called "Katsehamos and the Great Idea" which derived from his "visiting" our website and seeing a reference to his grandfather, who, he discovered, was a member of a partnership of three Kytherians, who built a picture theatre in the small northwest country town of Bingara. He realised that he didn't know anything about that aspect of his grandfather's life and neither did his family. So he took a year and a half out of his life and wrote a very sophisticated book about his family history. This is another example of the generative effect of the web site.
Where do you personally want to see the website go in the future?
The website has been designed to hold about to 2,000,000 submissions. At the moment it is really growing and has amost 10,000 entries. My dream is that we will continue to collect the data, and that people around the world will see the site and contribute to it, so the information is not lost.
You also have to consider this. When the material is held together in one place, it's much more significant than being in a hundred different places. There is much more impact when everything is stored in the same place. 21st century (wo)man, does not have the time to travel to Canberra to look up Kytherian information in the National Library, or National Archives, or try and collect various "bits and pieces" of information, from here, there and everywhere.
1 + 1+ 1 = 3, but 1 + 1 million other 1's = becomes a far greater number than 1,000,000. A kind of "mutiplier effect" sets in, which can be summed up by the formula "the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts". This multiplier effect has already been set in train at kythera-family.
There are two wonderful sections on the site which I would like to draw to your attention. One is the Natural History Museum, which is run by Robyn Tzannes from New York, and the other is the Kythera Cultural Association (KCA). The former contains photographs and information about natural phenomena on Kythera - from sea shells, wild flowers, through fossils, to large animals. The KCA, led by John Stathatos, has access to the Fatseas Collection of glass negatives, which includes over 4,500 photos of Kytherians from 1900 onwards. Again, with financial support from Angelo and John Notaras, this collection is curently being restored, preserved, and archived to the highest world standards. The photographs are also being digitally scanned, and placed on the web-site. This conserves them indefinitely, and makes them accessible to all Kytherians around the world.
The Benaki Museum in Athens is so impressed with the quality and significance of the collection, that they have agreed to stage an exhibition of the photographs in 2007. This "recognition of excellence" stems directly from the Kytherian heritage preservation work, which has been highlighted by the existence, and the work, of the web site.
There are still challeges to be met. For example, there are still not enough Kytherian contributors. Given the fact that most western European homes have access to a computer, ideally every Kytherian household in the world should be contributing to the site. What is the use of providing such an incredible resource, for Kytherians not to take advanatge of it? I hope the participation rate increases in the future.
But my big hopes for the future lies on Kythera. Access to the internet is very low on Kythera and the participation from residents of the island is fairly low. I would like to see a program established providing computers to residents on Kythera, and teaching programs to enhance computer knowledge. I would like to see the "participation rate" from Kythera on kythera-family, greatly enhanced. Particularly through a youth programme. As one resident of Kythera recently said to me, "the people who live here on Kythera have many of the answers to many of the questions that are consistently being asked on the web-site. The problem is they don't have access to the questions! They don't have access to the web-site."
Further, and I haven't really discussed this proposal with anyone before, I would like to see a large scale oral history program conducted on the island. Theoretically, with a population of only 2,900, it should be possible to take a 5-6 paragraph oral history of every person on the island. You may recall the British documentary series 7 Up. The series was based on a maxim of Loyola's - "Give Me the Child Until He Is Seven and I Will Show You the Man". The documentary film maker followed the lives of a number of British children from age 7, interviewing them every 7 years. The latest documentary was entitled 42 Up, that is, the "children" at 42 years of age. A similar kind of intensive oral history project could be conducted on Kythera.
Have you had any response from other Greek community groups, who wish to do what you have done?
Some of the members of committee of the Castelorizian Association would very dearly love to have a website of a similar type. But it takes two benefactors to put in the economic infrastructure. I've got a feeling that most of the rest of the Greek communities except the Cypriot and Castelorizian communities, haven't got the finances to be able to fund a website of this quality, and to maintain it. Unlike the Cypriot and Castelorizian communities, the Kytherians haven't got their own club, although we do have some funds towards buying one.
What we do with the website can best be described as a heritage preservation, a kind of encyclopedia of Kythera, where we preserve the heritage of Kytherians around the world. The best thing is to have both elements. I would definitely encourage the Cypriot and Castelorizian communities to establish a similar website, and hopefully the other communities will follow. If you have both a building and heritage preservation, I think you are helping to ensure the future of Hellenism.
Do you visit Kythera often?
I don't go very often at all. I have been to Kythera once. I have attempted many times to go back, but something always crops up. But when I did go I fell deeply in love with it. As I approached the landing point at Ayia Pelagia, I was sobbing uncontrollably. The feeling I had was one of returning to my "spiritual" homeplace. The feedback I get from other exoteriki Kytherians is that the island also resonates with them at this very deep level. We all identify completely with the island.
As a bonus the island is geo-physically, extraordinarily beautiful. And its beautiful in a diverse way. Aphrodites Bath, the cave at Ayia Sophia, the view of the bays at Kapsali, the verdant green hills of Karavas - I could place you in 1000 locations on the island - and you would find them all beautiful in their own way.
For someone that doesn't visit Kythera often, you certainly spend a lot of time dealing with Kytherian issues. Is that some sort of substitute?
In a way it is a substitute. Through kythera-family I get to live on Kythera, vicariously. I am also a frustrated writer and artist. Again, kythera-family gives me an outlet for these creative urges.
More importantly, however, I realise that if we don't preserve this information soon, then we won't preserve at all, at least not properly. It's really important to do this while we still have with us some of the older members of the Kytherian family. They are the ones that know who the people in the photos are; they are the ones who can tell you the stories about how they collected water from the well, walked to school without shoes on, migrated to Australia or America alone at age 12, first established themselves in country towns in Australia, and large cities in America - and all the other stories. Even if we can save one tenth of these stories, one hundredth of the photos, then we will have done a great service for the preservation of Kytherian identity, heritage and history, which can benefit the next generation.
There are five messages that I would like to send to people.
Firstly, please consider donating to the website, to keep it going, and to take some pressure off the other sponsors. Donate as little or as much as you can afford. But donate something. Don't leave it to the same visionary benefactors to always provide the funding for projects of this kind. Become a visionary yourself.
Secondly, remember, Kytherian heritage begins with you, and with your immediate family. Make the time to collate your family photographs, transcribe your family history, and create your Family Tree. Don't be lazy...don't put it off....don't spare the nominal expense. Start today!
Thirdy, if you are retired, or have time to spare, think about donating some of your time to making sure your Kytherian heritage is preserved. Particularly if you have type-writing, editing, photographic, scanning, oral-history gathering, and computer skills of any kind - think about putting these skills to good use.
Fourthly, if you need to dispose of any old photos, or books, or artefacts of Kytherians, please get in contact with us and donate them, so they are not lost. If you have to dispose of things like that, then dispose them to a group that can utilise them in the most effective way.
Fifthly, if you have any ideas about how to increase the participation rate on the island of Kythera, please contact us!
The National Film and Sound Archive
In May this year The National Film and Sound Archive contacted the web-site team, and asked for permission to archive the web site.
This is an extraordinary compliment to the quality of the web site. Obviously we have collected information, documents, research papers and photographs at www.kythera-family.net, which are not available at other sites, or major institutions in Australia.
Requests of this kind confirm to the team that they are "on the right track", and that their initial vision for the site was well worth pursuing.
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