Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

November 2012

Anthropologists have a great deal to say on the matter of the differences between sedentary and nomadic populations. So I’m told, anyway. And I know which group I belong to. Forever wandering and junketing about, I am always trying to cope with the tyranny of distance, and regularly thank my lucky stars that I have not suffered the plight of my pioneering ancestors: just imagine posting a letter, knowing that an answer, if any, could take as long as a year to arrive. And just imagine taking months to travel in a vulnerable and ocean-toss’d boat. One of my great-great-grandmothers, according to family legend, gave birth during her voyage to Australia: what a picnic that must have been, I don’t think.

 

I have long supposed that pioneering ancestors, usually devout believers, simply commended their souls to God and got on with things, in much the same way as my Greek mother-in-law always, without exception, crossed herself repeatedly before undertaking any sort of journey. Me, I put my trust in pilots and modern technology, while beseeching God to remind me about my passport and travel insurance. And so it happens that I’m here again in the Wide Brown Land of my birth, although not for as long as I would like.

Perth was the first port of call, and I suddenly remembered the father of my children remarking on the surprise the passengers on the good ship Patris felt, long ago, when they saw a Mediterranean-style city looming out of nowhere, thousands of miles from their known world. No wonder they were surprised: Perth is the most isolated city on earth.

I’m willing to bet it’s also one of the most beautiful. Consider the mighty King’s Park, with its view of the Swan Estuary; then there are the Western Australian Botanical Gardens to add to the appeal. 300,000 wild flower seedlings were planted some time ago, and most of them appear to have ‘taken.’ Last week the flowers were still in bloom and providing what my grannies would have called ‘a glorious show.’ Olive trees flourish along with them, as does a mature and rare Australian cedar, and the mysterious Boab tree, with its beige-coloured bottle-shaped trunk carrying bare branches that form strange angles against the sky. 750 years old, it was brought from its natural habitat to find a new home in the gardens, and although it suffered some wounds along the way, it is now recovering well.

Family and work bring me to Australia, although of course I need no excuse to visit. This time Perth was the setting for my younger niece’s wedding, and it took place in a garden setting, too, one that featured, instead of wild flowers, sculpted lawns, majestic trees that were not always native ones, and a tinkling waterfall. There were even some ducks present. The happy bride glided over what other generations might have called green sward, and was wed in a civil ceremony. I confess this service came as rather a shock, used as I am to Greek Orthodox weddings, which have followed the same prescribed ritual for most of two thousand years.

Last Saturday’s wedding was very personalised, but then, why shouldn’t it be? In contrast, Greek weddings often seem not to have too much connection with the bride and groom, who stand passively by, not uttering a word during the whole service, while the priest and cantors chant and while rings are placed on fingers and wreaths on heads. There is often unruly action when the bridal couple is bombarded with sugared almonds and rice during what is known as the Dance of Isaiah, when the couple and the priest circle the area in front of the iconostasis three times: I once saw an old woman on her hands and knees, scrounging as many sugared almonds as she possibly could.

Back to the present: I have been reunited with my eldest son and his wife. A joyous occasion, this, although I still, in every hallo, hear a kind of pre-echo of goodbye.

And to the future: all being well, I will soon travel on the Ghan and see Darwin for the first time: I can hardly wait.

Gillian Bouras

 

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