Greek Cypriot migration to Australia began in the 1850s during the Victorian gold rushes.
In 1921, Census data showed seven Cypriots living in Darwin. These migrants were employed by Vestey’s Meatworks and the Pine Creek Railway.
With political instability following the end of World War 2, 60 Cypriots left for Australia in 1948. They were on their way to Melbourne, as Victoria had a large Cypriot migrant population.
When the plane stopped in Darwin, the passengers disembarked to rest and refresh themselves after a long journey. A misunderstanding meant that several passengers were not allowed back on the plane despite strong protests.
As they did not have sufficient money to get back on the plane, these migrants' journeys ended in Darwin.
After this 'accidental' arrival, the men found employment in Darwinand arranged to migrate their families. Thus began the influx of Greek Cypriots to the Northern Territory (NT).
Settlement in the NT
In 1952, Greek Cypriots were the largest group of Greek Australians in Darwin. Following an informal gathering of Cypriots at a meeting place in the Smith Street Mall, where the Galleria stands today, Socrates, the first organisation representing the Cypriot Community of the NT, was formed.
Socrates played an important role in uniting the local Greek Cypriots and preserving their culture by organising events as well as assisting new arrivals to settle into life in the NT.
In 1974 Socrates decided to host Darwin’s first food and wine festival. Over time this has grown to be a popular event, attracting 5,000 people last year.
According to the 2006 Census, there were 18,380 Cypriot-born people in Australia, with 130 in the NT. It is estimated there are about 400 members of the Cypriot community in the NT, predominantly of Greek origin.
The Cypriot language is essentially Greek with different pronunciations and the occasional use of Arabic words. The Cypriot community attends the Greek Orthodox Church, where Greek language classes are held for the younger members of the community.
Religion, practices and traditions
The majority of Greek Cypriots belong to the Greek Orthodox (also referred to as the Eastern Orthodox) religion.
Major religious events celebrated by the Cypriot community of the NT are:
- Christmas and Easter
- celebrations on 25 March, when the archangel delivered the news to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant
- celebrations on 15 August for Virgin Mary’s Day and St Andrew's Day - the patron saint of Cyprus.
These events are celebrated at the Greek Orthodox Church.
Close religious and language links have enabled strong cooperation in the Greek Orthodox community of the NT, which runs the St Nicholas Church on Cavenagh Street and the Nightcliff Greek School.
These facilities are co-shared by Cypriots for their religious and educational needs.
Community events celebrated in the NT
Cultural events and anniversaries celebrated by the Cypriot community in the NT include:
The Cyprus Wine Festival
Formerly known as the Cypriot Glenti, the Cyprus Wine Festival is a major event held in early September showcasing Cypriot dancing and cultural displays as well as a rich selection of traditional food and wine.
Ohi Day commemorates the day Greece and Cyprus refused to surrender to the Nazis and Italians during World War 2. When a telegram arrived asking for the Greeks to surrender, the reply was 'NO'. This day is commemorated on 28 October.
Greek Independence Day
Greek Independence Day commemorates the Greeks and Cypriots rising up against the 400-year Ottoman Occupation on 25 March 1821.
New Year's Eve
The Cypriot community celebrates New Year’s Eve with a party at the Cypriot Community Centre on 31 December every year.
Memorial Day commemorates the fallen heroes during war with Turkey, leading to the occupation of the island. It is held every year on the Sunday closest to 20 July with a wreath-laying ceremony and gathering for refreshments.
All the above events are held at the Cypriot Community Hall at Batten Road, Marrara.
Other community information
It is important for the Cypriot community to preserve and promote its culture, music, dance, language and history in the NT. One way in which this is done is through weekly dance classes which are free and open to the general community.
The Cyprus Community of the NT is a member of the Multilingual Broadcasting Council of the NT and maintains a Cypriot program on radio.
The Cypriot Community Centre in Marrara opened in 1984 and is maintained by the Cyprus Community of the NT. It has many unique facilities including:
- a 32-spit roasting facility that can cook up to 100kg of lamb or chicken in the traditional Cypriot souvla style - the national dish
- three wood-fired ovens for cooking traditional kleftiko lamb or traditional Cypriot pastries
- a collection of photographs and articles tracing back the history of the Cypriot community in the NT.
The community is working on a permanent display of all archival material and a range of Cypriot publications.
For more information contact Cyprus Community of the NT president Evan Fitirikkos on 0419 219 404.
Sources and acknowledgements
- Harry Spirou - vice president Cyprus Community of the NT
- Helen Gordon - Cyprus Community of the NT.