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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Greek Romani Gypsies in Australia

In 1898 a group of 26 Greek-Romani people from Thessaly arrived in Largs Bay, South Australia and left a few days later on foot for the eastern colonies. These early migrants of Greek origin were among the reasons why the first racial legislation was introduced in South Australia followed by its enforcement through the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This incident was a catalyst for diplomatic relations between Greece and Australia.
The story behind these 26 early migrants and their exploits was first published in the Greek Australian magazine Parikia and has resurfaced once again as part of the continuing dialogue focused on managing the problem of mass immigration and the reception of asylum seekers into Australia.
The Greek-Romani migrant story begins back in Greece in 1897, when the Greeks lost a war against the Turks. The May 1898 truce between the two rival countries in Lamia created a wave of migrants forced to abandon their land and either migrate abroad or seek shelter in the then free Greek territories. Like many, the 26 Romani were also forced to leave their homes in the villages of Thessaly, flee to Volos and take a ship to Australia without a clue as to what the future would have in store for them.
Heeding the advice of merchants and ship-owners in Volos who told stories of a prosperous life in Australia, the Romani decided to give up whatever last funds they possessed in order to pay for their journey aboard the French steamer "Ville de la Giotat" on June 20, 1898. And this is where their adventures commence.
By mistake the 26 migrants landed in Adelaide instead of Sydney and soon became the centre of unpopular and negative attention. The local authorities were alarmed by the arrival of the unexpected, unwanted and dangerous newcomers clad in rags. Their entry into the country had not been authorized, a fact which soon ignited the racial flame against the coloured migrants that swept across the whole of Australia.
The local newspapers painted the arrival and appearance of the 26 Romani in the blackest of colours, while they also published their pictures. Special emphasis was put on the fact that these Romani were not of Greek origin, but rather born and raised in Greece with the only work known to them as that of tinkers. Their settling into the area attracted many visitors right from the very start; some gave them money, some made fun of them and others offered them clothes and food. Most of them, however, under the guidance of the mayor of Adelaide, began organizing a campaign to drive them out of the city. Even the Australian Ambassador of Greece visited the small settlement and was surprised to know that the 26 migrants could only speak Greek.

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