The band Rebeteki as featured on their debut album cover. Photo by Georgia Mepaxas.
Featured track: Rebetiki- The Pain Of A Junkie achillesyiangoulli.bandcamp.com
Narrator: You’ve arrived at 583 High Street, Northcote, home of the Greek Democritus Workers League. During the 1940s The Workers League had a historical link to International, Australian and Greek communism and social organisation in Melbourne influenced by the Greek Civil war.
Migrants who left Greece prior to and after World War II endured racism and social exclusion in Australia from Non-Indigenous Australians and were considered unskilled. For many Non English speaking workers witnessing this discrimination it was clear that you could only gain workers’ rights if you joined a union. Anglo unionists at the time were hostile to migrants and new Australians and would not support the Greek workers to have the same access to rights as them.
According to the article ‘Greek Unionists in Australian trade unions’ in 1941 Australia’s first Greek unionist Andreas Raftopoulas said that conditions were so bad for migrant workers that families would work from dusk till dawn seven days a week for anything up to three pounds a week.
The Greek Democritus Workers League Club became a safe space for the community to organise and work towards their goal of being accepted so they could become union members, whilst providing a base for the Greek community to speak their language, create art, theatre, music and live their culture.
Achilles Yiangoulli: So the history of the club goes way, way back to those who believed firmly in communism and socialism. They would gather there and I’ve been told that ASIO has many files on Democritus House and its participants from way back. It’s a really interesting place. It’s not as hardcore as it was in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I think most of us, if not remember, then would have heard of that communism had a pretty hard go in Australia, as it did in the United States and countries like that in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s amazing that it’s still open. It functions as a number of things these days. It has a little coffee shop now and again it’s more for people who have socialist values. They do end up gathering there for coffee and to catch up and talk and talk history and all the rest of it.
Narrator: Achilles Yiangoulli was born in Australia of Greek Cypriot background. His parents migrated to Australia in 1961. Achilles has many talents as an artist including music, theatre film and radio.
Achilles is in a band called Rebetiki playing Rebetica, a genre he says that is akin to the Southern Blues of the United States of America. He also played in a band called the Habibis which is Greek music from the Balkans and the mainland, winning an ARIA award for the Best World Music CD in 1998.
The Greek Democritus Workers League has become a place for the community to still enjoys the arts, coffee and discussions which has extended to organising community events with First Nations and other marginalised groups.
Achilles Yiangoulli: Democritus house for me has been a place due to their generosity and kindness towards artists. They often give this space to people such as myself for rehearsal or for small concerts or gatherings of up to say 50 or 60 people. There’s a little PA in there which you can use. It’s good for that sort of thing. I’m always happy to hear that it’s still open and functioning and offering a service to its community. It’s wonderful.
Narrator: Darebin City sits on the lands Woiwurrung nation. With a history of nearly 250 years of colonisation, the Wurundjeri other Kulin people have welcomed new Australians in Darebin and have showed their generosity in sharing country. Although Australia is still not completely safe for First Nations and other marginalised communities, Achilles says he has always been welcomed as a resident, musician and artist in Darebin.
Achilles Yiangoulli: I have a wonderful rapport with the Darebin council. For many years I used to be the choir conductor, the choir leader for the Greek Australian choir there, which was totally separate from Democritus House. Darebin have been wonderful supporters of their community over the last 30, 35 years I’ve known them. And I can see why they would get involved. There were many, many migrants there between the years I lived there from 1980, let’s say, to the present. I’ve always known the Greeks, the Italians, Scottish people, Australians. People from all denominations have lived in Northcote. It’s kind of a sounding board for the new migrants, New Australians as they used to be called back then.
Narrator: Darebin City today celebrates cultural diversity and is home to a large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and communities from 153 countries who speak 148 different languages. Achilles shares what he enjoys about the area where he once lived.
Achilles Yiangoulli: The demographic has changed obviously with new blood coming in. Many of the migrants that I refer to from the 1980s sold up and moved further out to Templestowe and the western suburbs looking for a larger plot of land and that sort of thing.
I was living in Northcote up until 2013. It’s always been a bit of a mishmash of cultures. High street’s a wonderful street. You’ve got your fish and chip shop that’s owned by the Greek who moved in 1958 for example. It’s got the Wesley Anne across the way. Up and coming entrepreneurs who are pushing new music and new artists. And the new beer culture that’s going on there of course as well. There’s the pub down the road called The Croxton that’s kind of been there forever.
It’s kind of immovable, yet it reshapes itself due to its people. And that’s a normal thing I guess for any city or suburb. I think having the tram go up and down High Street helps because you’re on the tram and up and down the street doing your shopping and carrying on with business as usual, which is great.
Narrator: Community is important to Achilles and he’s confident that the next generation of Australian Greek musicians will continue traditions with their own contemporary flair. He imagines what it would be to play music again after the COVID 19 restrictions lift and how he would share his musical knowledge with the community.
Achilles Yiangoulli: Oh, I just want to play again. Just to see smiling faces around the table enjoying music. I’m not really interested in concerts or gigs to make money or anything like that. I’m at an age now where I just want to be enjoying what I play and be amongst friends who also enjoy it. Where there isn’t that expectation from the restaurant owner that I’ve got to play for 2 hours now, a 20 minute break… I’ve done that for so many years and I’m tired of it, so I just want to be myself and be my own master kind of thing I guess, just enjoy the music.
Recently we were playing at a place called Triakosia, it means 300, down St Georges road. We were just gathering there on a Wednesday night asking people to come along who were novices, who weren’t really players, who wanted to learn. We had all sorts of people coming in, kids, adults. They sit around the table and we’d share some mezedes, some finger food and play through songs. And they were welcome to play along if they could. If not they could just sit and watch and learn. That was going so wonderfully.
That’s the sort of thing I like to do now. I like to try and give a little bit back now. I’m coming to an age where I think now it’s time to show people what I’ve learnt and help them carry it through for the next generation. You’ve got some wonderful musicians and they’re strong and they’re competent, both in the Greek community and within Australia. Unfortunately we don’t have the support of the current government, which is a pain in the posterior, but that will change I’m sure.
11 – Greek Democritus League Club (583 High St. Northcote)