Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

April 2012


I was born a wanderer, I suppose, so it is an irony that I have lived in a Greek village for over thirty years. On and off, mind you, because I wander off regularly from here, too, much to the consternation of the locals, who show no desire to go anywhere very much, contented as they are with their patritha, their little bit of fatherland. My children do not live here now, but they know that their father’s family is traceable back to the end of the seventeenth century, and that their father wandered only from necessity, when poverty and the desire for opportunity drove him to Melbourne, where he lived for fifteen years, a long period in which I can no longer quite believe. In his head he never left Greece, and most of his friends lived in their heads as well.

In a sense, being nomadic helps you play an enormous trick: you can convince yourself that you are in charge of time, and not the other way round. If you travel, you can choose the place and the season, and you can observe life rather than participate in it: life is one long holiday, and its harsher realities have little to do with you. You may like the locals, but beyond acknowledging our common humanity, there is no involvement. You, rather than the seasons, are the one who moves on. If you don’t want winter, you don’t have to have one. At least that’s the theory: I’ve managed this a couple of times, but quite by accident, really.

It is hard for me to understand the kind of visceral attachment the Greek villager has to his or her birthplace. Of course it’s not just Greek: in British villages, TV programmes are made on the subject, and DNA samples prove that many families have been attached to the same spot for a thousand years or more; American Margaret Mitchell knew what she was about when she made Scarlett O’Hara so attached to Tara. Perhaps there might have been a chance of attachment for me a couple of generations ago, but my Australian story is a typical pioneering one: my mother’s family was forced off the land because of drought followed by flood, and my father’s grandfather lost two fortunes and the family home because of depression and his own rather insouciant mismanagement.

In Greek villages, a way of life remained the same for thousands of years, and it was always connected with the very basic business of ensuring a food supply, a roof, and a modicum of safety. Church and family helped in this, but even so, nature was often cruel, and so was human nature: war and civil war left deep scars on modern Greek society, and now severe financial crisis is doing the same thing. It is an irony, however, that that same crisis is forcing once upwardly mobile people back to their ancestral homes, where life is somewhat more protected, and where it is always possible to keep chickens and goats, create a vegetable garden, and harvest ancestral olive trees.

A village forces responsibility and reality upon you, for there are no bolt-holes. Once upon a time, because of my three sons and their presence, I knew almost everybody. Now that generation has grown up, and I know very few people. I was 35 when I came to live here: those who were the age I am now have gone to their eternal rest and/or reward, and of course this fact forces me to realize that it will soon be my turn to Meet the Maker, so to speak. There are fewer and fewer people leading the traditional life my mother-in-law led: the donkey population has dwindled, sad to say, and the arts of cheese and soap making are dying. Those who have fled the krisi in the towns do draw the line somewhere!

There are many people who have the peculiar idea that I must be Greek now. A peculiar idea indeed. I have always felt very Australian, and feel more so, if possible, as I age. I don’t want to die here; I don’t want to be buried here, and my thoughts are always flying to that Wide Brown Land, even though it has changed greatly since I left it so unexpectedly.

Life is so strange, however. This is the month of ANZAC, and Gallipoli is just across the water.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018