Despatch from the Hellenic infused colonies

My thanks to Brent McCunn for sending me this article which features PLF historian (co-editor of Abducting a General) and supplier of many “then and now” photographs, Chris White, on a trip to Australia.

by Brent McCunn

PLF (Patrick Leigh Fermor), SOE (Special Operations Executive) and Cretan WW2 history is alive and well in Melbourne. One should expect this, after all we are the third largest Greek city.

Recently our visiting ‘Pohm’ (Prisoner of his majesty), Chris White, was introduced to a circle of locals who have an above average interest in the afore mentioned historical proceedings.

Chris was staying with us (Brent and Elaine McCunn) and after Saturdays bush walks and BBQ, in unseasonable steamy heat, I introduced Chris and his ‘caveman photographs’, to a local historian Jim Claven who, despite being a ten pound Scot from Glasgow, lives in the suburb affectionately known as Oakleighopolis. This moniker is due to the, rather noticeable, ratio of Greek heritage residents, cafes and restaurants – their main mall area is like a downtown portion of an Athens café zone! Jim is a historian and freelance writer and specialises in ANZAC/Hellenic connections. In addition he has lead military history tours to Greece and is currently writing a book about Lemnos and its WW1 ANZAC history. He is a PLF fan, having read his Mani book many years ago and visiting PLF’s home last year along with members of the British Veterans of the Greek Campaign Association.

Following this Mythos lubricated encounter Jim rallied some of the heavier artillery of ANZAC history and the Cretan community, one of whom, a restaurant owner, offered us his establishment as a meeting venue for the Monday night. “Others have to see what you have done Chris’, exclaimed Jim.

After a traffic jammed drive across Melbourne during rush hour we arrived to the suburb of Moonee Ponds, “This is where Dame Edna came from exclaimed an excited Chris White”!

Our restaurant venue, The Philhellene, is recognised as being in the top three Greek eateries in Melbourne and serves a range of regional foods, in particular Cretan cuisine. I had heard about it before, as a friend plays there with his Rebetika band, but due to its location we had not ventured there – traffic you see!! We will revisit!!!!

With such short notice we were pleased to meet the owner John Rerakis, and another restaurant owner, Antonios (Tony) Tsourdalakis – I must mention that Tony (Antonius) is the owner of another of the ‘Top Three’ Greek restaurants – Kritamos in Richmond (Melbourne). Tony is also the secretary of the Melbourne based, ‘Battle of Crete and Greece Commemorative Council’. This Council was formed a few years ago and brings together historians, politicians, veterans descendants, service organization representatives and many representatives from Melbourne’s Greek community organizations. The Council organizes a series of annual events commemorating the Greek and Crete campaign as well as participating in events in Greece and on Crete.

Then we had Jim Claven of course, and Peter Ewer – historian and author of the seminal work, ‘The Forgotten Anzacs” – yes I brought along my copy for a dedication! Our two Cretan/Aussies were key people in the Cretan community committees and have extended family connections to the villages Chris has explored and the events of WW2. John, Jim and Peter are also committee members of the same organization mentioned. I had hoped to have the nephew of Manoli Paterakis – George Paterakis – in attendance, but he was not well at this time. We had only planned for a small group for this introduction.

The food and Cretan red wine started to flow and in between gastronomic groans of pleasure we discussed PLF and ANZAC history, along with our two hosts family connections. Chris was soon holding all the assembled attentions with his slide display. Our hosts recognised some valleys and villages, but not the caves!

Our host then walked us around the small museum he has created on his restaurant walls. Framed photographs record his family history along with local Melbourne connections. In the dining area we were seated in was part of his extensive collection of movie posters collected by his father who operated a cinema playing English, Greek, Italian and other ethnic background movies. John said he had ‘piles’ of posters stored away, but pride of place here were the Italian posters for ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’!!!

The food continued and desert offered up freshly made Loukoumades, accompanied by home made Halva flavoured ice-cream!! Just when you think a Cretan has finish expanding your stomach out came a small elegant bottle twinned with a neat stack of small shot glasses. Yes it was spirit, but infused with Cretan herbs and honey!!

Brent and Elaine McCunn were paying participants on the inaugural PLF tour in 2016. They are the owners of specialist group tour operator, Passport Travel in Melbourne. In 2018 they are operating a rather unique tour to Greece, which weaves some PLF and ANZAC history into its core structure. The main theme is Rebetika Music. Brent has organised a number of music tours that have concentrated on themes such as, Blues, Reggae, African and Cuban Salsa and has been a fan of Greek Rebetika for many years. Perhaps his long association as an amateur Blues musician assisted with his discovery of the Greek Blues. The tour will be led by Australia’s premier Rebetika musician, Con Calamaris , a friend and near neighbour of Brent. The tour, whilst not designed for a hardened PLF, or military history enthusiast, it will bring these two topics into the itinerary and leave time at the end for those who desire more time to pursue further personal explorations.

There are many examples where the history of PLF conclaves with Australian and New Zealand history. The ANZACs on Crete is obvious. Hydra also casts up other connections.

There is also a strong link to Australian writers and the bohemia movement. From Sidney Nolan to Peter Finch, artists gravitated around the glamorous Australian literary couple, George Johnston and Charmian Clift, on this tiny Aegean island in a time of rebellion, romance and creativity. It was a time of great inspiration and camaraderie as the expat artists drank, argued, dreamed and created. It was here that Johnston wrote his novel, My Brother Jack, and his close friend Cohen penned the musical masterpieces Suzanne, Bird on a Wire and So Long Marianne

The tour is formatted to attract a younger audience and has been hailed by the local Greek community as being attractive to 2nd and 3rd generation descendants. In addition, to those with Greek ancestry, Rebetika also attracts interest from those of other backgrounds. Brent and Elaine’s own son is one such example.

The tour is not a rage trip. It does have a range of ages, all being united with a common musical and historical bond. Passport Travels long established contacts in Greece (we have operated special interest groups for some 25 years to multiple worldwide destinations) have expressed their own delight at seeing something so unique being offered. “We have not seen such a theme ever and it is nice to see something different for Greek tourism, rather than the cliche”, is the comment most relayed.

More details can be obtained via this website link. Questions, via the web page, will get to Brent McCunn. http://www.uniquepassport.com/EnterTitleGreekRebetika.php

On the return home journey, Jim took Brent, Elaine and Chris to visit the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the first dedicated memorial to the major role of the Greek Island of Lemnos and its nurses, to the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. This memorial was erected with community support in August 2015, the centenary of the arrival of Australia’s nurses on Lemnos. This ANZAC nurse division continued its work in Greece and of course Crete during WW2.

One of two original movie promotional posters from the Italian language edition of ‘Ill Met by Moonlight

Team Crete. From left: John Rerakis: Peter Ewer: Brent McCunn: Chris White: Jim Claven: Tony Tsourdalakis: With 2nd of two original Italian Language release of “Ill Met by Moonlight”.

ANZAC Day March

This year other nationalities, in traditional costume marched with surviving diggers and family representatives. This was the first time this happened and is still subject to controversy. Within the organisers (The RSL – Returned Servicemen League) there are those who feel this divergence makes the event a ‘Parade’ rather than a ‘commemorative march’. They also feel that only, those that served, or direct descendants, should march and all be dressed formally as their ancestors would have. The other arena of thought is for the march to be more inclusive of those allies that worked with and for the ANZACs. The debate will continue.

This party marched with an Australian battalion that saw action in Greece.

To the left of Brent McCunn is John Rekakis and then 3rd to the right is John Tsourdalakis. To Brent’s immediate right is a New Zealander, Peter Ford, who self published a book about his fathers experiences on Crete, eventual escape with others via a small fishing boat, unexpected meeting with Rommel in his staff car as they came ashore in Nth Africa, and eventual return to British lines.


When John opened up this current restaurant he hung the top image which showed a local ANZAC who knew his family since they arrived. According to John the ANZAC veteran couldn’t understand why he would want a picture of him on his wall. As John said to me, the image says why!

George Pakerakis. Nephew of Manoli Pakerakis at commemorative ‘Battle of Crete’ lunch in May 2017 at Cretan Centre. George recalls PLF coming to his village with his uncle. George, as a teenager ran messages for the local resistance and still carries the scars from being shot by German soldiers.

Chris examining an image featuring local; Cretans and priests with a group of New Zealanders and Australians they have sheltered. Taken in front of a stone walled sheep pen of some sort. Chris now has a new photograph to add to his further explorations! Perhaps we will see a copy a, ‘then and now’ gracing these walls in future years.

Lemnos Nurses Memorial

Beachside suburb of Albert Park. The closet parcel of land, local council would allow, to Melbourne passenger ship wharf – Princess Pier. This is where all troop and nurse convoys set sail from in WW1 and WW2. ‘Fitting Spot’ as they say for all Victorian Greek connected campaigners!

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4 thoughts on “Despatch from the Hellenic infused colonies

  1. christen tracey

    Really interesting reading. Live in Melbourne and actually not far from Oakleighopolis (just love it!) Will have to visit The Philhellene, which I’ve noticed passing in Moonee Ponds. .. and definitely check out the passport travel tours! Who knew?! Thanks for the great post.

    Reply

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