Among the gum trees of Greece

Driving north from Athens to the secluded beach and headland at Sounion the other night, Oz-born journalist Brian “Digger” Williams drew our attention to the avenues of giant eucalyptus trees along the way. They look like the “ghost gum” variety we have in Australia except that the trunks are not long and slender, they are more twisted.

We’ve spotted eucalypts when we stayed in the Peloponnese and they stand tall in the parks and gardens of Athens as well. Did the ancient Greeks export them to Oz, or did we send them to the Hellenes in the last century? Discuss at the next meeting of our Uki Garden Club.

Greece and Australia share a large number of plants. We’ve seen magnificent bougainvilleas (I naively thought they originated on the island of Bougainville off Papua New Guinea), hibiscus in a range of colours including red, orange and yellow, and cycads. Lantana grows almost everywhere and so do oleanders.

Growing up in Townsville we used to warn newcomers from Greece about the poisonous oleander bushes. “Hey, mate, don’t stir your billy with a cutting from the oleander tree – it’ll kill ya.”

They’d look at us with benign contempt and go about their business. Now I know why.


At Townsville Grammar School in the 1950s, my older brother Tony had a classmate called George Mylonas. He was a dynamically active figure, smart, outgoing and active in sports and the cadets.

I was standing in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens trying to take in the magnificent display of relics, some of them from 7000BC, when I spotted a tribute to one of the leading archaeologists who was responsible for discovering and curating these ancient treasures – George Mylonas, 1898-1988.

Wikipedia describes his as “a prominent Greek and Aegean archaeologist” and

 “a patriot with a deep attachment to his people”.

He studied archaeology from an early age, won a doctorate from Athens University and then pursued his studies in the US between the two world wars. His greatest contribution to early Greek history came after 1968 when he returned to his homeland to devote his time to research and excavation. He managed the dig at Mycenae where some of the greatest treasures of ancient Greece were unearthed by Mylonas and his colleagues.

He was interviewed in Michael Wood’s documentary series, In Search of the Trojan War (1985), at the citadel of Mycenae where the palace and tomb of the great ruler Agamemnon are located.  Asked if he conversed with Agamemnon, Mylonas replied mischievously: “All the time.”

He once said with poetic wisdom that the task of the archaeologist was to “infer from withered flowers the hour of their bloom”.

We visited Mycenae and stood amid the ruins of his hilltop palace and then went to his presumed tomb, a magnificently constructed monument built into the side of a hill. It’s been looted long ago but its sheer majesty – 12.6 m in diameter and 13.5 m high at its apex – leaves you in little doubt that this was the great man’s resting place (and it is not the Treasury of Atreus as often claimed).

PS: By the way, whatever happened to George Mylonas of TGS?


After four years living in an economy that is officially in recession, Greece has shown inventive and creative ways to survive. One that has intrigued me is the growth of cooperative shops.

Basically, local communities are trying to cut out “the middlemen”, the supermarket owners and major retailers who slap a big profit margin on food they sell.

A few years ago, this exploiting system was challenged by what has become known as “the potato movement”.  Under this innovative scheme, people began buying potatoes directly from producers.

Now the concept has been broadened. A cooperative movement has opened markets on the island of Crete with 250 members, half of them farmers. They produce, promote and sell organic produce and provide a retail service to about 300 customers a day.

The coop only sells organic products from certified producers; by removing the profit-seeking “middlemen” it is able to offer cheaper prices than the big retailers.

There is a similar coop on the island of Corfu selling fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese and coffee, all locally grown produce.

Two other healthy by-products are that money stays in the local community and farmers are encouraged to switch to organic methods of production.

We already have embryonic examples of this community commerce in Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and Byron Bay but the model can clearly be developed and expanded.


One of the pillars of Greek banking is Theodoros Pantalakis, until very recently the head of one of the country’s biggest banks, ATEbank.

Prosecutor Spyros Mouzakitis, whose brief is to investigate financial crimes, discovered that 10 million euros had been transferred abroad in a money-laundering exercise.

Can anyone guess the name of the money manipulator? Dear old Teddy Pantalakis who left ATEbank only a week or so ago after selling the healthy part of the bank’s business to Piraeus Bank. He apparently took with him a fat bonus for negotiating the sale.

If you hear a noise off to the left, it’s the sound of tumbrils rolling down the street.

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