Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

November 2014

Well, October has gone. It brought with it, as usual, OXI Day, the anniversary of the Greek refusal to allow the Italians to occupy the country. This event occurred in 1940, and I imagine that next year will see the intensity of celebrations doubled. The 28thof October is always a public holiday, and children throughout Greece take part in parades, recite patriotic poems, dance traditional dances, and sing appropriate songs. The blue-and-white Greek flag flutters everywhere.


October signals the end of summer, although this year sunny weather has lingered longer than usual. But the weather broke with a vengeance last week. I happened to be in central Athens during a lengthy cataclysm, and the streets resembled nothing so much as rivers. I paddled gamely across them, while young men seemed set to become airborne in their flying leaps. Twice during October I was stranded in restaurants, unable to leave because of violent winds and lashing downpours. Fortunately, on both occasions I was with friends, and we agreed that this was the best and most comfortable way to pass the time while the elements raged outside.

I’m back down south now, and bracing myself for the onset of winter. Of course there are compensations: the miniature cyclamens are still blooming in satisfying profusion, closely clumped in their preferred rocky places. And the wild thyme is scenting the autumnal air. And some brave souls are still swimming. The olive trees are loaded, so farmers are happy.

But men are taking their boats from summer anchorage, and many of the summer coffee bars and restaurants have closed. Some owners go to places where winter tourism is the thing. And so the seasons roll on.


Former Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam died on October the 21st. He was in his 99thyear. Last year a kind friend sent me the DVD the ABC had made about Whitlam’s political career: it is in two parts, and is called The Power and the Passion. I admit I was reduced to tears by various scenes and by the memories they brought back. For people of my generation and of a certain persuasion, the period when Gough was in power was one of hope and of great achievement: he changed Australia in ways that few of us had thought possible. The DVD covers the thirty years from 1950 to 1980. It is sobering to reflect that Gough was in power for only about 1000 days during that time, and during that period had to contend with a continuously hostile Senate.

Yet his achievements were immense. He ensured universal health care and free university education, he abolished the death penalty, established the Supporting Mother’s Benefit, got Australian troops out of Vietnam and abolished conscription. He recognised China, set up the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and succeeded in getting the progressive Family Law Act passed. These were only some of the things achieved by the Whitlam government, which did a great deal for the arts and women, and for society as a whole.

Yet Whitlam is probably remembered most for the manner of his going. In December, 1975 he, a democratically elected PM, was sacked by the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. John Pilger, veteran Australian journalist, has recently written about the role of the CIA in this matter. Whitlam was seen as a security risk by Washington, as Pilger points out in a piece called The Forgotten Coup. In December, 1977, Whitlam lost the federal election to the Liberal Party’s Malcolm Fraser.

The election campaign was conducted in a divided Australia: there didn’t seem to be any middle feeling about Gough: you were either very much for him, or dead against him. At the time of the campaign, my eldest son had just turned five. He had found it difficult to settle into kindergarten routine, but he eventually managed it. One day I arrived to collect him, and the teacher said to me: ‘You’ll never guess what your son has been doing all morning.’

My heart sank. What had he been doing? Terrorising little girls? Doing too much of his own thing? ‘No, I can’t guess,’ I replied, somewhat tentatively.

‘He’s been polling all the children about their parents’ political views. He’s been asking which way the parents are going to vote, while adding that his mummy loves Gough Whitlam and his daddy hates him.’

At this I gibbered somewhat, while the teacher, a woman of many years’ experience, added:  ‘I’ve never had a child discuss politics before.’

‘His father is Greek, ‘I told her. She nodded: no further explanation was necessary.

That electoral defeat was the end of an era, and so is Whitlam’s death.

John Pilger’s tribute is worth repeating. Whitlam was ‘a maverick social democrat of principle, pride, propriety, and extraordinary political imagination.’ And Shakepeare’s (paraphrased) comment is also relevant: Whitlam bestrid the then Australian world like a Colossus.

Vale, Gough.


Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018