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Greek Australian Andrew Jackomos is a proud Yorta Yorta/Gunditjmara man and was appointed in July 2013 as the inaugural Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, the first such position in Australia. He talks to SBS Greek about the Greeks, his connection with Greece and his ancestors' Greek island of Kastellorizo, the Indigenous culture and his initiatives as the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.
LISTEN TO ANDREW JACKOMOS'S INTERVIEW TO SBS GREEK IN ENGLISH HERE:
What improvements have you achieved for the Aboriginal Children and Young People since 2003?
'What we have achieved has been to increase Aboriginal self-determination for communities and self-respect for children and families. Regional Aboriginal communities were very much excluded from policy development, program development involved with Aboriginal children. What we've been able to promote it's us working with community groups, work with the government to realise it to get better outcomes for Aboriginal children. We actually have to work together and Aboriginal communities that are best placed to develop programs that are successful.'
Do you think Aboriginal People are equally representing in Federal and State bodies?
'There should be a specific place for Aboriginal people, as First Nations People in this country able to have a specific role with Federal Parliament and which State. I think it was very small of Malcolm Turnbull to exclude the approaches from the Aboriginal community. I don't think he's keeping pace with the times.'
Australia is praised for its multiculturalism. What’s the best way to introduce the Indigenous culture to Australians of ethnic background?
'I think one of the ways is school. People aren't born racist, people aren't born ignorant and bigots, they’re taught that. What you have to do is to teach people correctly and by teaching people the Aboriginal history and cultures. It should start at preschool and continue right through school and university. The best way is to work with children.
It is known that from the early 19th century Greek migrants had a special relationship with Indigenous Australians. Many great human stories have erupted in the media through the years. How difficult is to connect the Greek and Indigenous culture?
'The easiest way to connect is through love. In Victoria and elsewhere, up in Darwin and Western Australia, through a lot of families that have Greek and Aboriginal heritage. in Victoria I know many families, in areas of North Queensland in the cane cutting areas of up there, there are many families. In Darwin, there are many families of Greek and Aboriginal and Greek Kastellorizians. In northern Western Australia, I haven't met but I've been told that there is an ‘Andrew Jackomos’ who’s Aboriginal Greek.'
You visited recently the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Do you consider yourself as a proud Kastellorizian too? What do you feel when you’re there?
Dive in the water in the harbour there, knowing that's where my ancestors would have walked down the same steps and jumped in the water. I reached the top of the mountain where there's the monastery. I sat there and I just took it in. When I was in Athens, I liked to go to a cafe shop next to the markets, because the food there reminded me my yiayia’s cooking. I had my wallet stolen twice. I said to the cafe owner time: ‘Can I go back to my hotel room and get the cash?. He said: ‘Pay me later’. And I said: ‘I'm going back to Australia tomorrow.’ And he said: ‘Pay me when you come back’. And I said: ‘How do you know that I'm going to come back.’ He said: ‘I look in your eyes and you always come back.’ That has just melted my heart. And this year I went back to the same cafe but unfortunately, it was boarded up. The word was that the old guy had died and I felt so bad because I had the money to pay him because I get so much trust in me.'
Why are Aboriginal languages so difficult to learn?
Greek in one language, with several dialects. The same with the language of Maori in New Zealand. In Aboriginal Australia, 500 languages and just as many dialects. The problem is not the language consistent across Australia. That's the challenge for me a living got to have a number of people who speak it to keep it alive.
Andrew Jackomos bio
Of Greek and Aboriginal descent himself, Jackomos' mother was of Aboriginal background and his paternal grandparents migrated to Australia from Kastellorizo in the early 1900s, the commissioner reflected on his experiences growing up and the discrimination he and his family faced. Mr Jackomos revealed that there were quite a few Greek men who in the 1930s and 40s married Aboriginal women and that their children would like to reconnect with the Greek part of their heritage.
Andrew was the Director of the Koori Justice Unit in the Victorian Department of Justice from 2000 to 2014. There, he was responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of three phases of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA).
Andrew oversaw the growth of the Koori workforce, and the establishment and growth of the Koori Court network within the Magistrate's, Children's and County jurisdictions. Andrew's prior roles include National Operations Manager, Aboriginal Hostels Limited; Victorian State Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC); Chairperson, Yuroke (Melbourne) Regional Council (ATSIC); Regional Manager for North Queensland and Manager, Policy and Secretariat Unit with the federal Aboriginal Development Commission.
Andrew is a member of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, the Aboriginal Justice Forum, Aboriginal Children's Forum, and the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum. In 2006 he was awarded the Public Service Medal and was admitted as a Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (Victoria). Andrew has also been acknowledged as a Victorian NAIDOC Patron.
Andrew is a state and national Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration.