Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

July 2011


July is the hottest month in Greece. Schools have been out for a month already, and will remain so until early September: the period is an adolescent idyll of swimming, beach-basking, and the company of the peer group. Gardens and terraces are pictures in the brightest technicolour: bougainvilleas blaze in scarlet and mauve, jacarandas drop their purple bells, zinnias bloom in rainbow ostentation, while roses, carnations and jasmine scent the heavy air. The red earth lies baking in the heat, the stubble in the olive groves is tinder-dry.

I arrived in Greece on July 23, 1980, my father’s 59th birthday. For six months’ holiday. Somehow the holiday got out of hand, for thirty-one years later, I am still living in the house that was built pending the arrival of son no.3, Alexander. But way back in 1980 I was at the start of a longish period of initiation spent under the roof of Aphrodite, my redoubtable mother-in-law, to whom I was a sad disappointment. On one occasion, while I was still settling in, she asked me to help her plant garlic. Australians of my generation came to garlic fairly late in life, and I had certainly never seen it growing.

Poised over the garden beds, Aphrodite handed me a few little bulbs, which were inscrutably smooth all over. There was nothing for it but to ask. ‘Which end goes in the ground?’ The silence was thunderous, my humiliation complete. Still, I was not alone: I learned later that a foreign friend of mine had believed that peanuts, which do well in the Peloponnesian soil, grew on trees. Her mother-in-law, equally formidable as mine, was stupefied by her ignorance.

Thirty-one years; on and off, for I have done a great deal of travelling, escaping, and running away. But I keep on returning. Emigration, unexpected as it was, has been the defining fact of my life: that split, that duality. Two countries, two languages, two families, two sons in Greece, one in Melbourne, have resulted in a cracked, divided heart. And along with all these things is the inescapable fact of the inexorable march of time.

This month I am back in my native city, the one I called home for a large slice of my early life. It is over a quarter of a century since I spent the month of July in Melbourne. Late in June, I had been at the Kalamata beach for most of the predictably hot day; preparing to leave for the village, I switched my phone back on. And then the news came through: my father had died, had slipped away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 90. A feeling of numbness, more than anything else, settled upon me, for when people are very old you expect them to be there always, but I began the matter of booking a ticket almost immediately.

The journey to the place I used to call home passed in a blur of flights, airports, connections. It is all too much, really, the way in which a steel capsule transfers you from one end of the world to the other at such a dizzying speed and consequently in such a short time. Yes, it is all too much, especially when grief is a part of the parcel. Then are the practical matters: the jolt from 37 degrees to 13, the tuning in to Australian English, the adjustment to the currency, a long list.

First came Melbourne, followed by the drive into the Western District, where I was to say goodbye to my father. A clear cold day with wattles in bloom along the road, jonquils just visible in gardens. Then there were the gums, the peppercorn trees and the golf courses. Summer and the long drought were over, and the brown land had started to turn winter green.

The funeral was all we wanted it to be, with friends and relatives sharing many happy memories of a long life full of achievement. And then we laid Dad to rest near where his parents are buried, and not far from the house in which we grew up. It has been said that you can never beat the telephone company, you can never make a waiter look at you unless he wants to, and that you can never go home again. But John le Carre said that home is where you started from. I have come home. 

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018