Andrew Babikis, the president of the Panhellenic Cultural Association of Gypsies, the official organization of gypsies in Greece – established in 1939 and based in the Aghia Varvara suburb in Athens – and the secretary of the association, Athanasios Demetriou visited Melbourne on a mission to find their Greek Australian “tribal brothers” who set foot Down Under in 1898.
Finding their brothers in Australia didn’t prove difficult, as they’ve already managed to get in touch with the self-professed “king” of the Greek-Australian gypsies Fotis Stirio.
Mr Babikis and Mr Demetriou told Neos Kosmos that their mission would have been impossible without the support of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria’s president Bill Papastergiadis and Bishop Ezekiel, who opened their arms and hearts.
While their initial aim was to establish a relationship with the Greek-Australian gypsies, the realities of the lives of those naturalized Greek-Australian gypsies created a whole different task for Mr Babikis and Mr Demetriou.
“What we had seen up until now is that many of our brothers and sisters here live on the realm of extreme poverty” says Mr Babikis and adds that there is a lot of room for improvement.
“I am illiterate. A lot of other men and women in my age are illiterate but this ‘weakness’ of ours never stopped us from trying to educate our younger generation and help them in order to have a better chance in life,” he says and adds that education is the key for success for his Greek-Australian compatriots.
The visiting Gypsies organized two open meetings at the hall of St Paraskevi in St Albans offering those in need food supplies. During those meetings, they met with more than 200 brothers, and they had the chance to discuss their issues and the prospect of helping the Greek Australian gypsies to create a governing body in order to help them promote their issues and establish an official unified voice.
According to latest statistics there are some 3,000 Greek-Australian gypsies living currently in Australia, most of them in Melbourne and Sydney.