Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

August 2011

I’m still here in Melbourne, the city of my birth. That’s the theory, anyway, but the fact is that half of me is still in Greece. August is holiday month, but I wonder how many carefree spirits are at the beach this year, for Greek hearts must be burdened with worry right now; 

on the other hand, Greeks have a great talent for living in the present, and not worrying overmuch about avrio, tomorrow. So I’m cultivating my considerable talent as ostrich, and trying not to dwell on circumstances Greek. But it’s hard to do when I have two sons living there, and when they have already had their salaries slashed once, and may well have them slashed again. And when daily routine is upset by frequent strikes and the occasional riot, when confidence in leadership or anything, really, is lacking.

I’m also trying to follow Greek example and live in my own present, and am succeeding to a certain degree. My brother and my eldest son are here, as is a multitude of friends. I’m home, in Melbourne, which I always find Marvellous, no matter what anybody says: a friend recently said Melbourne is so ugly. I was offended, and it isn’t. The parks and gardens, the signs of spring, the wattles, the blossom, the japonica and the daffodils, the buildings, well, some of them, the general ease of life and attitudes, despite difficult times. Which are not as difficult as the Greek equivalent.

So I’m home. And yet, and yet. Age is an exile of its own, and the tyranny of time claims me here, just as much as the tyranny of distance does. Two days ago I was at my brother’s house, and renewed my acquaintance with the piano that had belonged to my mother, and to her mother before her. It’s an old upright Gors and Kallman, with a still beautiful walnut case. It was imported into Australia in 1908, and was a present for my grandmother, who married in 1911. The wood and the original ivory keys might fetch a bit in an antique shop, but the piano has value beyond any price for me.

Memory. That’s what it is, that value. And it’s an inevitable part of the stage I’m at. Decades ago, in another life, my mother, sister and I used to sing round this same piano, while Dad warbled along outside in the garden; he used to hose the lawn as another hot day gasped to its end in those long-ago Wimmera days. We did not stay in that dusty little township for long: we moved away to the Big Smoke. My brother was a baby then, and now he and I are the only ones left. I don’t suppose he can remember those times, however.

But in his house I opened the old piano stool, and there were Mum’s song sheets, yellowed, but still in quite good order, and comprising a mixture of popular songs and church anthems. We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again. Lift Thine Eyes. Then there were the song books, with the favourite Allen’s Community Songs being the most idiosyncratic collection of all. In those pages traditional English numbers like The Lincolnshire Poacher are followed by ones dating from the era of American slavery: Darling Nelly Gray was our particular favourite. Oh my poor Nelly Gray, they have taken you away, and I’ll never see my darling any more. I’m sitting by the river and I’m grieving all the day, For you’re gone from the old Kentucky shore. Mum, a teacher all her days, never missed an opportunity to engage in what used to be called incidental teaching, and so we learned about old English property laws and the shameful practice of selling slaves down the river without actually realizing that teaching was taking place.

These were the songs my mother sang. Some of them, anyway. And that day, her clear soprano voice, which is never far away, reached me again, and so did my sister’s, which was a  similar voice. Me, I used to struggle along in a rather odd contralto.  But two days ago, my mother and my sister could have been in the next room.

And so, for the first time in years, I opened the walnut lid and plunked my ancestral piano. And I sang. Not well, but I sang.

Gillian Bouras


Eureka Street

Gillian occasionally writes for

Eureka Street

(Type 'Bouras' into their search bar to find all her articles.)

Gillian Bouras 2018