During the major wave of Greek immigration following the Second World War and the Civil War, Greeks found themselves in an unfamiliar environment surrounded by strangers speaking a strange and foreign language.
It is not hard to imagine how isolated these people must have felt. Since it is a basic need of people to group together and to relate to one another, groups were formed to hold social events and to keep alive the culture and traditions of their homeland. It was in this context that Greek Associations in Australia were formed. Naturally, because of the limited number of people, these early “regional” Associations tended to represent larger regions of Greece.
The first regional Association representing the municipality of Zaraka was “Leonidas”, which was formed around 1963 to represent people from the Province of Epidavros Limiras.
As the number of people arriving into the country from a particular region reached a certain threshold, it became viable to establish smaller associations representing smaller regions the size of a few villages, or in some cases even one village. As a result, many of the larger regional associations did not survive for long. Leonidas itself officially dissolved in 1970.
In that year, a group of men approached all immigrants from the villages of Zaraka with a proposal to establish a new association. These men were (in surname alphabetical order): Apostolis Belesis, Haralambos Doukas, Ioannis Drivas, Nikos Lafkas, Konstantinos Laggis, Stavros Paraschos, Pavlos Pramataris and Aggelis Tourlas.
A short time later in 1971, Zarax Association (named after the famous ancient town of Zarax within the modern municipality of Zaraka) was formed to represent people from the villages of Zaraka (Kyparissi, Lambokambos, Pistamata, Harakas, Rihea, Ariana, Gerakas, Logari and Agios Ioannis). Although the village of Kremasti was also in the municipality of Zaraka at the time, the Brotherhood of Mystras had already been created two years earlier in 1969. The villages of Agios Dimitris and Koupia, also within the municipality of Zaraka, did not participate.
The first committee was (in surname alphabetical order): Panagiotis Doukas, Ioannis Drivas, Ioannis Koulouris, Antonis Lafkas, Sotiris Manikis, Stavros Paraschos, Pavlos Pramataris, Aggelis Tourlas and Haralambos Tsavalas. The first President of the association was Sotiris Manikis.
The association’s beginnings were humble. Meetings were held at people’s homes (usually the President’s) and dances were held in local council halls. Fund-raising was the major objective and early committees worked tirelessly to ensure that the association’s finances were built up quickly.
Today, Zarax Association is financially strong and has a tightly-knit community of about 150 members. Zarax Cultural Centre (owned by Zarax Association) is a substantial property situated in the suburb of Enfied, that includes leased premises and a main hall used by Zarax Association and other organisations for various events.
Although the future of associations generally is uncertain, Zarax Association is well-placed to continue providing into the future an important focal point for the people of Zaraka and their children.
Establishment of ZARAX Cultural Centre
Prior Purchases and Sales Leading to purchase of Zarax Cultural Centre
Since the founding of Zarax Association, every committee had the dream of one day establishing a base within which Zarax could hold regular meetings, dances and other events. The story of the establishment of the Zarax Cultural Centre would therefore not be complete without first considering the other two properties owned previously by ZARAX.
The journey began in September 1983 with the purchase of a single level home at 23 McKenzie Street Concord for just over $80,000 – an amount of money representing years of hard work and savings of prior committees. Nine years later in April 1992, the house was sold for $223,000. Fortunately, because the property was purchased prior to the introduction of capital gains tax, no tax was payable.
The capital from the sale of McKenzie Street was deployed two years later in May 1994 when a disused ex-police station at 693 Punchbowl Rd was purchased for $205,000. The intention of Zarax Association was to build a two-story building with two retail shops on the first level and a hall or reception centre on the second level. To this end, plans were drawn, submitted and approved.
As fate would have it, just as Zarax was planning for the financing and construction of the building, the land was rezoned to high-density residential. An attractive offer was made to Zarax in October 2002 by a builder wishing to construct home units and eventually, in January 2005, the property was sold for $1,546,000 (inclusive of penalties and reimbursed expenses). Although capital gains tax was payable on this property, the sale of the Punchbowl property placed Zarax in a strong financial position.
Purchase and Refurbishment of Zarax Cultural Centre
Zarax did not have to wait long to deploy its newly-found wealth. Immediately upon the sale of its Punchbowl property, a property at 196a Liverpool Rd came on the market. The two-level property, which had been constructed in the early 1960s by Burwood Council and which had been used as a hall, children’s library and for other purposes by them until its sale, was perfect for Zarax. The building was in excellent condition with a large hall, kitchen and meeting room upstairs and tenanted offices downstairs. With most committee members present, Zarax successfully purchased the property at auction in April 2005 for $1,140,000 (with settlement occurring in June 2005). Zarax Cultural Centre was finally on its way to becoming a reality.
Before refurbishment of the building could begin, Zarax needed to secure a modest loan and Council approval – both of which were achieved reasonably quickly.
Work began on the refurbishment in late 2005. Ten years earlier, the hall had been converted into offices which first needed to be dismantled. Removal of the office ceiling revealed the original ceiling to be one and a half metres higher. Removal of the carpet also revealed the original timber floor, which made it easy to define and polish the dance floor that is visible today. New equipment was purchased for the kitchen and new tiles were laid. New tiles were also laid in the bathrooms and new cisterns were installed. Also installed was new lighting, new air conditioning, a new alarm system, new carpet and a high-quality sound system. A special anti-echo layer was also sprayed onto the ceiling to greatly improve the acoustic properties of the hall. External work was also undertaken, including a new fence along the Liverpool road boundary.
By May 2007, the refurbishment had been completed at a total cost of $180,000 and all licenses (occupation, liquor, Place of Public Entertainment) had been secured.
Although many people had been involved in the refurbishment, the following (in alphabetical order) were noteworthy:
Ahladiotis, Greg | Manager, Cyprus Bank Burwood, loan
Apostolopoulos, Con | Electrical
Arvaniti | Kitchen
Bedrossian, Varoujan | consultant for echo management
Christogeorge, Chris | Burwood Councillor, Council approval
Kapeleris, Nick | General building
Kokkoris, John | Bricklaying
Kolios, George | Donation of Door
Liossis, Jim | Painting
Liossis, John | Painting
Manikis, Bill | General building
Panos, Con | Security, audio advice
Doukas, Angelo | Approvals, sound system
Drivas, John | Project Management, purchasing
Haramis, Jim | Purchasing
Kokkoris, Con | Painting
Kokkoris, Tom | Electrical
Koulouris, Kosta | General assistance
Lafka, Antoni | General building
Liossis, Hellen | General assistance
Panos, Anna | Interior decorating
Tsavalas, Nick | General assistance
Tsiklieris, Nick | Painting
Tzortzis, Peter | General assistance
On 24 June 2007 the Zarax Cultural Centre was officially opened. Presidents from many Associations were present, as well as representatives from the media. Councillor Chris Christogeorge, who had supported and assisted Zarax Association to secure Council approval, was invited to cut the official ribbon to signify the opening of the hall.