Greek social clubs going under as membership plummets

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first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Sixty-two years and counting, now on to its fourth generation of members, the Siatista Club is facing the same future many clubs founded by migrants from the old country face, as memory and identity of the old country fade. Young people are not taking up the mantle of leadership or membership of these clubs in large enough numbers to ensure many will survive the next 60 years. Instead, new generations identify with the broader ‘Greek’ community rather than the smaller communities tied to cities, towns and islands from which their forebears came.One such example is Niko Bozikis, a young Australian of Greek Cypriot heritage; speaking to Neos Kosmos, he said he and his family aren’t members of any social clubs, nor have they ever been, because it just didn’t interest him. This is a similar story from across the younger generations, with many in Melbourne’s Greek community having little to no involvement in clubs representing their home towns.Old photo of a Siatista Club event.Melbourne’s Siatista Club represents some 200 families from Siatista, but like many of Melbourne’s Greek social clubs they are facing a future which many young Greek Australians don’t want to be a part of.Siatista sits high up in the mountains of Macedonia, split between a high and low town, the tiled roofs of the town tell an earlier story of migration. In the years after World War II many young men and women from the town left for America and Australia, with clubs for Siatistans established in Adelaide, Melbourne and across the United States. In decades past, members of the Adelaide and Melbourne clubs would drive to a halfway point, somewhere in the west of Victoria for a big family picnic.The sight of packed car loads of Macedonians turning up in 1970s Horsham would have probably been an unexpected sight for the sleepy Wimmera town. George Lioukas, a member of the Siatista Club, told Neos Kosmos he remembered the long road trips growing up, as well as the dances, the dinners and club nights. But there hasn’t been a picnic between the two in decades.“At the time, the club had very many regular outings, picnics, at Christmas time there was always an outing,” George recalls. “It was a good way to get together and talk things over and have families come together.”George said he’d spoken in the past to members of the Siatista Association USA, contact between the two clubs being reasonably regular. The American club celebrates its 96th year, while Melbourne’s rings in 62 years.George’s father, Christos Lioukas, had a hand in founding the Siatista Club in 1956 and setting up the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria several years later. The clubs were a formalising of social networks that already existed between migrants, many of whom helped newcomers find their feet, George said.Unlike his dad, George was a member of the club by default, fulfilling key membership requirements of being the child of a member or claiming ancestry from Siatista.“Now that there’s another generation, a lot of people are finding the club not as relevant to them,” George said. “A lot of people have married people from other parts of Greece or even different countries.”He is no exception: Joanne, George’s wife, is from Tenedos in the west Aegean, but grew up in Melbourne. The triangular island is mentioned in The Iliad and in Aeneid as the site where Agamemnon’s Greeks hid their fleet as they feigned a retreat leaving the Trojan Horse in wait. These days the island is a casualty of the partition of the Ottoman empire, falling into Turkish control, and known as Bozcaada in Turkish, with its Greek residents subject to discrimination, with many leaving.Joanne Lioukos is member of the Tenedos Club, and so are her children, Zoe and Chris, despite their father being a Siatista Club member.Joanne prefers the Tenedos rather than Siatista Club, bringing the decision of where to go into question.“If we go where I’m from, I’ll get to see all my relatives,” she said.“But when we go to Siatista a lot of George’s relatives go there.”George chimed in, saying “we always have this disagreement.” Their children, Zoe and Chris, are members of the Tenedos Club, often attending many functions, “because we are part of the family”, as they say. Zoe and Chris buck the trend, as many clubs struggle to attract the new generations.Historian and University of New South Wales associate professor Nick Doumanis told Neos Kosmos that with the closure of clubs, the story of the early migrants and connection between here and the home towns are lost.Professor Doumanis said the migrant clubs acted as outposts, connecting communities across the world back to Greece, but that the connection had frayed as families assimilated. But it was clear many of the regional and local clubs are in big trouble.“Intergenerationally it hasn’t worked out,” he said, explaining that one way clubs have been able to keep up the numbers is through dancing and language classes, which brings in young and old. This same story was heard from Bill Papastergiadis, president of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCOM).One option some clubs in Melbourne are choosing to take is to pass on their assets to the GCOM. The Thessaloniki Association ‘The White Tower’ is one such club to do that, deciding to split its assets between the GCOM and an aged care facility when it folds.Club president Paul Mavroudis, a member since 1974 and president for the last 18 years, said it was unlikely someone would replace him when he retired. Therefore they have decided to split the assets of the club, as the money to set up the club “comes from the Greeks” and should go back to the community.According to Professor Doumanis, clubhouses were bought because “they had a desperate need for them then and there. Living halfway around the world people needed something to bind them together. There was a lot of commitment from ordinary people, a lot of them met their spouses through their clubs,” he said.Not all clubs have a clubhouse however, with clubs like that of Siatista meeting in buildings provided by umbrella organisations, such as the GCOM or the Pan-Macedonian Association of Melbourne and Victoria.But for those that do, the clubhouses were never bought as investments, but the shifts of Melbourne real estate and the changing of fortunes in the once-maligned inner city see many now worth a mint.“The Greek community is sitting on these assets and they don’t know what’s going to become of these assets because their kids don’t want to perpetuate these clubs,” said Professor Doumanis.Many closed clubs have been redeveloped, their buildings and legacy obliterated by the apartments that replace them. Others sit seldom used. But GCOM’s Papastergiadis said it was apparent many clubs would likely not survive the next two decades.To ensure that isn’t the fate of the Siatista Club, they are taking a rather proactive approach. Anna Siassios, an executive committee member of the club, told Neos Kosmos they have changed the way they go about attracting young people by organising more events centred around music and dance from the region, having just recently brought over a band from Siatista to play.“With Siatista, you go there and the magic hits you,” Anna said, which is why “younger generations start to join when they start a family [of their own].”She says their communications strategy has evolved with the times to make use of popular platforms available to them, such as Facebook and Instagram, giving the club direct access to its younger audience to promote its activities, and as a result, increase engagement.last_img

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