Migration, culture and change

In my crime-satire novel, ‘Finding Harry: A Tale from the Northern Suburbs’, Greek culture figures very prominently. Private detective Epi’s parents and grandparents were Alexandrian Greeks and eventually wound up in Australia in the 1960s during the days of mass migration. Australia is supposed to be a multicultural society but that is not really true.No ethnic group can practice its culture exclusively and live the way they did back in the old country. Australia is a multi-ethnic, pluralist society, which is constantly evolving. The Australia of 1989 in which the story is set, is nothing like the Australia of the 1960s when Epi’s parents were immigrants; and the Australia of 2017 is very different again. The world keeps moving and changing as the ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus told us long ago. That is Social Science 101.

Living in a tolerant society like Australia, various ethnic groups are able to retain aspects of their culture for quite a long time until they eventually merge into the general culture that embraces all the people. What I have found interesting is that many ethnic groups retain aspects of their culture in Australia, long after those aspects have been abandoned in the old country. Ways of speaking, manners, customs and much else are retained but when you visit the old country you see that you are just old fashioned – they don’t do that sort of thing anymore. The same with Epi’s parents. Were they to go back to Alexandria or Greece, those places would look foreign to them. You would need a time machine to return to the way things were.

Incidentally, Heraclitus is known as the philosopher of change, the one who made change a defining characteristic of reality. But he is also known as the ‘Weeping Philosopher’ because he was so depressed at the human condition.


In Australia Greek migrants tried to retain their culture (or whatever they could) by sending their children to ‘Greek School’ on weekends – usually a Saturday morning. If you can retain your language then you have some chance to hold onto parts of your culture until the world changes (as it must – remember poor Heraclitus) so much you cannot maintain any of the old ways anymore. How many second and third generation descendants of Greek immigrants go to Saturday school anymore? Not many.

In the end, after much time has passed, does anything remain except maybe a funny sounding surname? Maybe if you did a DNA test you might discover some of your history. I did that and discovered I was 60% Greek-Roman, 19% from the Caucasus, 9% Jewish and then a smattering of 1-2% from many other places in the middle east. Not really a surprise knowing some of my family history.

But if I was a second, third, or more generation Australian, would it matter? Would I care?  Probably not. It would just be something amusing to talk about at a social gathering. Pity.

Influences on Epi 1

The main character Epi in ‘Finding Harry: A Tale from the Northern Suburbs’ sometimes lives in a weird state of his own mind. That’s okay, we all do and like Epi we reconnect with something called ‘reality’ now and then. But this is where it gets interesting.

We can only perceive reality through our own senses and state of mind so we do not know what it is really like, really-really. Philosophers since they first started to think seriously, were aware of this subtle problem. I won’t bore you with their analyses but it does mean that poor Epi, when he’s not thinking about himself, his ex-wife and his case, is seeing reality (the world) through his own senses and they are influenced by his state of mind. Just like us.

A big influence on Epi is television and movies, as you would know if you have read the book. And one of the biggest influences is the actor Robert Mitchum. That is to say, the part Mitchum played in the neoclassic private eye movie, ‘Farewell My Lovely’ (1975). I know this because I am Epi’s biographer, so trust me.

In this movie, based on the great Raymond Chandler book of the same name (1940), we have the classic private detective, Phillip Marlowe, flawed hero but with an edge. An outsider who travels through the dark side of the city and deals with the sordid aspects of our culture. Hard boiled classic. The perfect PI. Why Epi likes him (as he explained it to me) is because he is so cool whatever he is doing. Making love, walking about, punching and getting punched, talking, you name it. Cool style. So Epi tries to copy him even though he is in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne in 1989, rather than the seedy Los Angeles of 1940.

Well, we all have our role models and Mitchum is cool as. If you have not seen this film then do so. You will see Epi as he dreams himself to be.

Incidentally, the film also features in a tiny part, a young Sylvester Stallone as a petty thug. Don’t blink or you’ll miss him. Now there was an up and coming cool dude as well.