By David Mark
Greeks are again heading for Australia in order to escape the economic crisis that has devastated their economy.
Over previous decades, many hundreds of thousands of Greeks came to Australia and established families and communities.
Most stayed, but some returned to rediscover their homeland.
Now, Australian citizens – the children of those earlier Greek immigrants who returned – are heading to Australia’s shores.
Greek welfare organisations in Sydney and Melbourne say they are getting many inquiries every week from these new Greek immigrants.
Unlike those who came with the earlier waves of immigrants in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the family support and communities that once existed are no longer here.
In many cases their children, and sometimes their parents, do not speak English.
Greek immigrants escape financial ruin
Demetre Katsikopoulos came to Australia with his parents in 1970, when he was aged seven.
“They wanted to come because a lot of people coming to Australia they were making money so we came here, ” he said.
“We are alright. I was going to school here, I love it here, and one day after seven-and-a-half years my parents decided that we should go back.
“We went to Greece and because I didn’t know the Greek language, my father put me in American community schools, but that was expensive, so a year later they put me in a job.”
Mr Katsikopoulos left school and was trained as an upholsterer. He worked in the trade for three decades, eventually opening his own shop.
But the Greek economic crisis changed everything.
Mr Katsikopoulos’s wife, Loukia Kontou, says no one in Greece has money.
“People can’t pay taxis, can’t pay the rents, can’t pay nothing,” she said.
Mr Katsikopoulos added:
“That’s the worst thing that can happen to people. You know because the smile is off the face. Everyone is thinking about what they have to pay.
“I had my mother in 2011 in the hospital. I was bringing the medication from home. They didn’t have any medication in the hospital so I have to bring it from home, and it’s all very bad.”
Leaving life in Greece a difficult decision
The crisis prompted Mr Katsikopoulos and his wife to think about leaving Greece.
It was more than 30 years since he had left Australia, but as Loukia Katsikopoulos explains, the idea of returning continued to burn in her husband.
He was still an Australian citizen and his memories of the six years he spent in Australia were strong,” she said.
“I feel that Demetre wants to come back. He has the dreams and he can’t do anything in Greece with the crisis. We have problems with everything in Greece,” she said.
Mr Katsikopoulos says: “It was my dream, back of my head. It was a solution. That’s the only reason I came back. You can’t came back if you’re not an Australia citizen.”
But leaving behind a life, family and friends wasn’t easy.
“You know when you live somewhere over 30 and 35 years, it’s too difficult to leave,” he said.
“You have everything, you have your house, you have your car, you have your friends, you have your family.”
When the couple left Athens airport, many of their friends and relatives came to say goodbye.
They had to come on motorbikes because they couldn’t afford the petrol for cars.
Loukia Katsikopoulos says she cries a lot.
“It is difficult for me, because I have all my friends. I stay the place, which I born. But I have to try,” she said.
New wave of immigrants without support network
Maria Petrehelos, a psychologist at the Greek Welfare Centre in Sydney, says this wave of Greek immigrants differ from their predecessors because they don’t have the same support networks as their parents and grandparents had when they arrived half a century ago.
“It’s not easy. It was difficult with the chain migration in the ’50s and ’60s because you had a relative, someone you were coming to,” she said.
“It’s a bit different now because people are coming just as their individual nuclear unit.
I didn’t come to Australia to be rich, I just came to live with dignity.Demetre Katsikopoulos
“Parents, siblings, they’re all part of the family. It is not the nuclear family that has the most importance for Greek families so leaving that and coming just as your nuclear unit is very isolating.”
Demetre Katsikopoulos found a place to live and a job as an upholsterer within 20 days of arriving in Australia.
He has brought his parents out, too, but after more than three decades away from Australia it’s like starting again.
“It’s strange. I’m still trying to get used to Australia because they’re two different countries,” he said.
“I’m curious [to see] how it is going to be my future here. I didn’t come to Australia to be rich, I just came to live with dignity.”