Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

August 2015

Here I am back in Marvellous Melbourne, and feeling the cold, I must admit. It was 36 degrees the day I left Greece. But never mind: the temperature has crept up from the 7 my brother reported all too recently to a bearable 14. And some of my foreign friends in Greece rather envy me the cold. I would rather swelter than shiver, but not everybody shares my tastes.

I was ambivalent about leaving Greece, as I always am. But then I’m always ambivalent about leaving Australia, too. And leaving Melbourne seems to be a particular wrench. Such is the lot of the migrant, I suppose. My departure from Greece at this time, however, was more complicated than usual. The country is in such a terrible mess, and who can see an end to the trouble caused long ago, in my opinion, by Greece’s entry into the European Union? It is well known now that Greece cooked the books to this end, and the bigwigs in the Union colluded in the whole sorry business.

In my long ago days as a history student, I studied an eighteenth century episode known as the South Sea Bubble, which was a speculative venture that veered out of control round about 1720, and ended in catastrophe for a great many people. Before the crash came, the South Sea Company had many imitators: they were nicknamed ‘bubbles’, for reasons that are fairly obvious. The situations were not at all the same, but the bubble metaphor seemed apt to me from about 2000, the year Greece converted its drachma currency to the euro. An economist’s bootlace, if that, I was unable to predict what would happen, but I felt that the bubble produced by people’s borrowing and use of credit cards, combined with an entrenched cavalier attitude towards paying taxes, would burst in time, and spectacularly. I wish I hadn’t been right; how I wish this.

But now troubled Greece seems very far away. Of course it is, geographically speaking, but it is also removed from first place and base in my consciousness, as I adjust to being in Melbourne for the first time in two and a half years. It’s a strange experience, to say the least, to be caught in a collision between past and present. I was born in Melbourne, moved away from it as a child, came back to it as an adolescent, and scarcely left it for almost the next twenty years. But now I’ve been away far longer than twenty years, and count myself fortunate to have had so many trips back. Most of these have been unexpected, and they have certainly occurred at irregular intervals.

During earlier visits I stayed in the outer suburbs, but in recent years I have been fortunate in being able to stay very close to Royal Park, that large expanse of green a walk away from central Melbourne, where the birds are so tame that one can get to within two feet of them before they abandon their worm hunts. Royal Park is also a favourite haunt of dog-lovers: I observe that greyhounds and whippets are this season’s popular breeds. 

When I’m not walking in the Park, I’m walking from near there to the city, a distance of roughly three kilometres. Like the late, great English historian G.M. Trevelyan, I believe I have two doctors: my right foot and my left. So off I trot through North Melbourne: there is always something to observe. At present the wattles are a veritable riot of yellow, while the magnolias, both purple and white, are providing what my grannies would have called a glorious show. The jonquils and daffodils are doing likewise, and every day there is a thickening veil of blossom on various trees.

Then there are the buildings. I don’t know much about architecture, but have some idea of the styles built at different stages: the little weatherboard cottages of the early days, with the wooden lace trims along the verandahs, the solid brick or stone houses of the thriving middle classes of much the same time, the flowing curves of the 1930s, and the rather dreary square shapes of the brick veneers built in the 1950s. And then there are the designer state-of-the-art dwellings of a later era. People tell me about the ridiculous cost of real estate in Australia’s capital cities, and I can well believe in this information, although I do not approve of the trend and am uncertain as to how it came to develop.

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I have an important birthday this month, and a friend has the same anniversary next month. ‘How did this happen?’ I asked him. ‘How did we get to be seventy?’

‘Dunno,’ came the laconic reply. ‘By not dying, I suppose.’

He has a point. We hope we can manage the not dying for quite a time yet. 

Gillian Bouras

 

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