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A piece of Mykonos in Queensland

By Akis Haralambopoulos
Saturday, 2 May 1998

Arriving at Airlie Beach opposite the Whitsunday Islands of Queensland, with my wife and hyper-active twin daughters, the thought of running into anything or anyone prominently Greek never occurred to me.

Within a day I was well and truly proven wrong. The costal township of Airlie Beach has a permanent population of no more than a thousand and is heavily reliant on tourism to the nearby Whitsunday Islands.

On the first night in Airlie Beach I went for my first walk through the main street. I was overcome the prevalence of public bars with names like "The Hog's Breath" , "Tricks" and "The Boardwalk". The town was also filled with a variety of restaurants and tour shop operators open till well past sunset. During my walk I was thinking how much Airlie Beach reminded me of coastal tourist towns in North Queensland.

Reaching the far eastern part of the main street I thought I was hearing things. Was it really the occasional sounds of a bouzouki travelling on the wind? My disbelief and curiosity got the better of me and I proceeded in the direction of the sound of Greek lyrics and tunes.

After some fifty metres my eyes connected with the source of the sounds of Giorgos Dalaras. There was an element of disbelief when I read the signage on a discreetly located shop. The signage read "Café Mykonos". Mykonos being one of the most popular Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.

The Café Mykonos was suitably adorned with deep blue and arctic white paintwork and on the footpath there were sets of deep blue wooden chairs and tables. Needless to say, there were abundant pictures of Mykonos both inside and outside the Café Mykonos.

I was delighted by Hellenic Culture that emanated from this small shop. The Café Mykonos mostly sold lamb, chicken and vegetarian geeros. This food turned out to be our staple diet over the ensuing week. In fact, the geeros served by the Café Mykonos was the staple of most of Airlie beaches' tourists irrespective of their financial status, race, religion or nationality.

On my first encounter with the owner, Giannis Theodoridis, I pretended that I did not speak any English just to see what kind of a reaction I would receive when I spoke to him in Greek. To my surprise, Giannis was as forthcoming in Greek as he was prone to playing Dalaras, Greek Blues (or Rembetika) and Gianni "Live" over his stereo system.

Giannis Theodoridis is a Greek Australian originally from Kastoria in the Greek province of Macedonia. Giannis left Greece at a young age and ended up in Airlie Beach via Melbourne. Giannis Theodoridis is in his late thirties and has had businesses in Airlie Beach for about seven years.

There was something so out of place about the Café Mykonos in Airlie Beach. The Café Mykonos was so typical of the Bar/Take-Aways you would find in Greece or in Australia's larger capital cities. Yet the Mykonos Bar was also so very Australian. Giannis Theodoridis and his fellow staff were thoroughly Queenslanders. They would make ideal tourist promoters for Queensland. Giannis was totally enthusiastic about the delights the Whitsundays can offer visitors. Especially if you are single and are interested in sailing and scuba diving.

Part and parcel of the gregarious behaviour of Giannis and his staff at the Café Mykonos was the fact that Giannis was promoting Hellenic culture in such an extrovert manner. Greek food, Greek music and Greek entertainment was there for everyone to enjoy. Giannis was enthusiastic about what Greeks had to offer as well as what his own state had to offer.

It seemed that Giannis has also had a positive effect on the few Greeks that live in Airlie Beach. The local Greeks meet and eat at the Cafe Mykonos and seem pleased that there is a place they can relate to and enjoy.

For me, there was a valuable but obvious lesson to be learnt from Giannis Theodoridis and the Cafe Mykonos.

Giannis Theodoridis was in his own way promoting Hellenic Culture at the grassroots level. The same way his parents' generation had done and continue to do so on a widespread scale. Indeed, all Greek Australians, especially of Giannis' generation, can learn from Giannis' example on promoting Hellenic culture.

For me, it can be so disappointing when Greek Australians especially those who are professionals do not promote Hellenic Culture where they can. Such as not incorporating some Greek name or concept into their business name or products. Or even worse change their names to something non-Greek for the sake of fitting into some one else's version of an Anglo-Saxon Australia.