Cyprus Mail

Redefining their identity


A conversation with the Cypriots of Western Australia usually involved halloumi finds PAUL LAMBIS

Australia, home to the second largest Cypriot community outside of Cyprus, first welcomed Cypriot migrants in the 1850s. Today, the active, prosperous and vibrant Cypriot community there stands out for its significant contribution to the island’s social and cultural richness.

The Cypriot Community of Western Australia is one of many organisations actively promoting Cypriot culture and heritage. Living among one of the world’s most culturally diverse populations, the organisation’s president Zak Chrisostomou explained the critical role the organisation played shortly after the Turkish invasion in 1974.

diaspora zak chrisostomou
Zak Chrisostomou

“At the time, the Greek Cypriots living in Western Australia gathered together and organised aid and support for the Greek Cypriot refugees, establishing the beginnings of the Cypriot community, which has now grown to include thousands of Greek Cypriots and fellow Hellenes,” Chrisostomou said.

For nearly five decades, the Cypriot Community of Western Australia has inspired members by organising functions and activities to promote the common Cypriot culture and to encourage the younger generations to interact with the community.

“It always starts with each of us talking about our ancestral heritage and the love we have for Cyprus, especially our food,” Chrisostomou told Living. “We always connect with food, particularly when it comes to halloumi, one of the island’s most well-known products that is extremely popular in our part of the world.”

The association promotes the island and its products through various events held throughout the year by Greek Cypriots in Australia. Despite being a small community, the Cypriot Community of Western Australia frequently collaborates with the other Greek Cypriot communities in Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Melbourne to promote Cyprus’ tourist product, its various growth sectors, “and, of course, halloumi.”

“Each year, the Greek Cypriot communities of Melbourne and Victoria host the Halloumi Festival, which draws hundreds of people to celebrate Cyprus and its delectable offerings.”

diaspora the halloumi festival
The Halloumi Festival

The Halloumi Festival is a two-day annual event that invites visitors to feast on Cyprus’ national cheese and learn how to make one of the world’s most popular dairy products. “Though a niche food, previous visitors have demonstrated that there is definitely interest in the versatile cheese, and more of the same will be presented this year with cooking demonstrations, cheese making workshops, halloumi-based products for tasting, and a focus on other aspects of Cypriot culture with live music and dance,” he added.

The Cypriot Community of Western Australia, according to Chrisostomou, has consistently rallied for Cyprus, raising awareness of the Cyprus problem. He believes that educating the next generation about the island’s turbulent past begins first and foremost at home. “We have always taken the time to explain to our children about our island’s history and current situation in an objective manner, always in accordance with international law.

“It is imperative for children to also do their own research and discover the truth. My children, on the other hand, understood the situation much better when we went to Cyprus and visited the occupied part of the island, because my father wanted to show us his home and the property he lost during the war.”

The Cypriot Community of Western Australia has tried to raise awareness of the war and Cyprus’ division through events aimed at non-Cypriot communities in Australia, such as Perth’s Greek Festival, which draws thousands of visitors who ‘get to be Greek for a day.’

“On a more solemn note, we organise a memorial service to commemorate the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which takes place at King’s Park in the presence of various Australian political dignitaries, and it is a day when we see our Cypriot flag raised above the park while we remember those who died and are missing as a result of the invasion.

“It is crucial that we remember that, despite the fact that nearly 50 years have passed, we must never give up hope and continue to push for a free Cyprus open to all Cypriots but free of Turkish troops and settlers,” Chrisostomou said.

Although Greek Cypriots in Australia have sought a new life and citizenship in a foreign country, they maintain strong ties with Cyprus, which has nurtured their cultural heritage. Simultaneously, and inevitably, their host country had an impact on their socialisation patterns. Mutual exchanges between Greek Cypriots and Australians, or transculturation, redefined individuals’ status. “Furthermore, it allowed for a re-definition of our identity.”

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