Keeping the Connection - Ithacan Philanthropic Society of Melbourne, Australia
Thursday 7th December 2006
Each second Thursday, the Ithacan women of Melbourne gather at the newly renovated Club Rooms of the Ithacan Philanthropic Society in Elizabeth Street Melbourne for their fortnightly Bingo and lunch. It's an opportunity to get together for some midweek fun, conversation and a bite to eat. While the motorbikes roar on the ground floor, from the bike shops which also have their historical place in Elizabeth street for as many years as anyone can remember, the atmosphere in the second floor Club rooms is relaxed while the Bingo balls tinkle in the wheel.
Above - Helen Vlass - Treasurer Helen works effortlessly for the Society, not only as Treasurer, but as aid and willing helper for all the functions put on.

Now that the first generation Ithacans in Melbourne approach their 80s, Helen vlass reports that the younger generation are now also participating in the Club activities more, continuing the traditions the first Ithacans established in Melbourne so many years ago. With recent renovations, the Club is now also more accessible to all, including the elderly, who no longer need to navigate the stairwell to the second floor with the addition of an elevator which is roomy and gives a very smooth ride.

Above right - George Coutsouvelis, Historical President of the Club. When asked why so many Ithacan/Melbournians continue to support the Club even though their lives are undoubtedly more Australia than Greek, and although so many are born in Australia who have no physical attachment to the island or wish to live there, he summarizes that Ithaca is in the blood no matter where in the world you live, and because the passion for Ithaki runs so deep, he believes the Club keeps the connection alive.

Above Left - Spyridoula Digaletou-Coutsouvelis (Loula), the Bingo Queen of the game, keeps everyone in line when the excitement gets too great. She is also on the IPS committee and is responsible for the Greek Editorial of Odysseus, the IPS publication. Loula has her roots in Ag. Saranta. Above Middle - Marika. Her brother Lazaros Vasilopoulos is a Stavros resident. He runs St. Elias Villa with his wife Anastasia. Above right - Maria Antippa who lives in Doncaster while her sister Vagelio lives in Patras and niece Poppy from Rementzo, lives in Stavros.

Above Left - Toni, Georgia, Nicoletta and Sia. One of Sias daughters, Kathy, lives in Platrithia with her husband Philipas. Sia encourages the younger generation in her family, to carry on the traditions their forefathers started when opening the Club. Above Right - Loula Politi and Sia.

Above Left - Marina. She still has relatives who live in Kalivia and she's Aunt to the notorious Peter Deftereos, the 'once upon a time' big P of Petes Bar in Frikes. Above Middle - Irini. Above right - Maria Lourantos-Evangelou. Assistant secretary and Editorial for the Ithacan club. In her lifetime thus far, she has visited Ithaki 3 times - 1975, 1994 when she began to make her family tree, and 2000. Her roots stem from Vathy where her relatives enjoy some of the more popular names of the island such as Lourantos, Razos, Moraitis and Grivas. Maria immerses herself in all things Ithacan. Ithaki is her passion.

Above Left - Loula. Her relatives live in Ag. Sarantas. Niece Kiki has kikis mini market in Frikes. Above Middle - Effi and mother Rita. Rita Traholis was born in Australia, was married to a Greek, but has never had a wish to see Ithaca, yet she enjoys the company of Ithacans at the Club as well as the company of her friends who have no association to Ithaki. Her roots stem from Kolieri and the Anagnostatos clan. Ritas father was 18 when he immigrated to Australia. Above right - Billy. His mother Artmenisia from Lahos, one of the most visited local entries, lives in Doncaster. He was in the business of fruit and vegetables, as were many Ithacans who immigrated to Australia.

Picture Left - L - R - Eli Galatis, Nina Black, Mrs. Pappas, Vicky Black, Niki Kalinikos. When Ithacans arrived in Australia, many changed or shortened their names to make it easier for the Australians to pronounce them. Mavro, Mavrokefalos were often changed to Black.
Other women at Thursday Bingo (Pictures right and below, in no particular order) Maria Delaporta, K. Deftereos - Exoghi, Katerini Kouvalia, Nitsa Politi, Dionysia Politi, Polimia Razo who has Vathy roots, Toula Coutsouveli with Anoghi roots, Efstratia Piminidis (Lekatsa), Freda who was on Ithaki this past summer with her husband, Spiro, visiting her mother Artemisia of Lahos, Olga Black and Lia (Raftopoulou). Looking at the faces of the women at the Club, I was struck by the resemblance they had to many Ithacan locals I see on a daily basis in the streets of Ithaki. It was easy to pick some of their connections with likenesses so prominent. Many in the Club work hard to keep the connection between ithacans living in Melbourne and their Ithaki roots, no matter how distant, alive, with planned events for Christmas and Easter, Deb balls, picnics to raise funds, lunches and functions that keep the Ithaki community living so far from the island, connected to what unites them.

As we leave the Club Rooms, we leave Ithaki women living in Melbourne to play another round of Bingo after lunch, the last before Christmas. Some will make their way to the island for next Summer, others will keep the connection alive through the stories they hear from returning ithacans after their holidays. For whatever reason the Melbourne Ithacans of first, second and third generations choose to live in Melbourne as opposed to Ithaki or Greece, one thing is for certain - They keep their connection to Ithaki alive through the Ithacan Philanthropic Society of Melbourne.

Apologies if some names are mispelled.



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