Q&A with the Australian Ambassador to Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, Her Excellency Alison Duncan
December 21, 2023
THI Australia’s Chief Executive Officer Stergitsa Zamagias-Hill and THI Australia Director Professor Helen Zorbas AO had the pleasure of catching up with Ambassador Duncan in Sydney prior to her taking up her posting in July 2023. Six months on, we invited Ambassador Duncan to participate in a Q&A to share some of the highlights of her time in Greece.
Q: This is your first Ambassadorial posting. Has your appointment been as you expected it so far?
In terms of the professional aspects of the role – yes. It’s my first time as Ambassador but I’ve done four previous diplomatic assignments, including as Deputy High Commissioner, so the job is very familiar to me. It’s the first time, though, that I’ve been posted to a country that has such a large, passionate and engaged diaspora in Australia. This creates so many opportunities for me to harness and celebrate the diaspora that were beyond my expectations based on my previous diplomatic postings.
Q: Is there anything about Greece and the Greek people that has stood out for you and your family?
Living in Greece is such a privilege for us. We love the lifestyle (although we remain a little mystified about when people actually sleep!), we love the people who are so welcoming, we love the food, we’re fascinated by the history and we’ve really enjoyed visiting so many beautiful and interesting places.
Q: Your great grandfather fought in Gallipoli and spent time on Lemnos. Did he share any stories from Greece with his family? Have you visited Lemnos and Crete, two places with strong ANZAC connections?
Sadly, I never met my great-grandfather who passed away before I was born. But my father – who was raised by his grandparents – says his grandfather rarely talked about the war. It was clearly something that many veterans struggled to discuss with their families, even many years after the conflict. We have learnt most of the history of my great grandfather’s service through his war records and from reading accounts of the battles we know he was involved in.
Likewise, my husband’s grandfather who fought and was severely wounded on Crete rarely talked about his experiences, although he was immensely proud to see his grandson – my husband – graduate at the top of his class from the Officer Cadet School at the commencement of his military career with the New Zealand Defence Force.
My husband recently travelled to Crete with his mum to see where her father had fought and been taken prisoner – a very emotional trip for them both. And I’m really looking forward to visiting Lemnos and Crete for the first time in 2024.
Q: The Governor General of Australia visited Greece in May 2023 for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Lemnos Remembrance Trail. What progress has been made with the construction of the trail and is there a completion date you can share with us?
We’re looking forward to the Trail being completed, which we hope will be around the end of 2024. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is the Australian agency responsible for the project, are working closely with my team and the Greek government to take the project forward.
Since my arrival in Athens, I’ve met with the Minister for Defence, the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force to discuss progress and we’re working very closely with them and the local authorities on Lemnos to make it happen. Once complete, the Trail will offer a wonderful opportunity for visitors to learn about the significance of Lemnos to the Gallipoli campaign. I’m particularly pleased that it will shine a light on the medical personnel who worked in tremendously difficult conditions to save lives and provide what comfort they could to the wounded.
Australia and Greece have a close bilateral relationship based on historical ties and the rich contribution of Greek Australians to Australian society. What are the major bilateral issues and priorities for 2024?
Australia and Greece are likeminded on many issues, which means we work together in international fora and on issues of significance to both countries. One of my roles as Ambassador is to maintain a strong dialogue with the Greek government on our respective positions on issues of mutual interest, such as our support for the international rules-based order and our opposition to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
I am keen to see increasing trade and investment between Australia and Greece, so another priority is facilitating stronger ties between businesses in the two countries and showcasing Australian capabilities and investment opportunities in Greece. We’re working with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry on an event in early 2024 and are keen to support Australian businesses seeking to enter the market here. In a similar vein, we’ve also revived work towards a Double Taxation Agreement between Australia and Greece.
We’d also like to see more young Australians and Greeks taking advantage of the Work and Holiday visa program that exists between the two countries and we will be launching a social media campaign soon to encourage people to take up the opportunity – your readers can find information about how to apply for the visa on the Department of Home Affairs website.
As I mentioned, we’re aiming to finalise work on the Lemnos Memorial Trail in 2024. I’ll also be pleased to recommence ANZAC Day commemorations in Athens in April following a hiatus due to the pandemic and, of course, I’ll be present for the commemorations of the Battle of Crete in May.
On the cultural side, we love to showcase the wonderful cultural achievements of Australians of all walks of life, including the Greek Australian diaspora. And we’re spoiled for choice in this regard! We expect to continue our support for Australian filmmakers, authors, artists, poets and musicians in 2024, including as Country of Honour at the Beyond Borders International Documentary Film Festival in Kastellorizo in August.
And, of course, we’ll be working with the Hellenic Initiative Australia on some special events to mark its 10th anniversary, and I’m very much looking forward to visiting some of THI’s great projects as well.
Q: No doubt you frequently receive suggestions from Greek Australians on places you must visit in Greece. Your travels so far have taken you to Meteora, in the western region of Thessaly and to Kastellorizo, the most easterly of all Greek islands. Did you meet any interesting Greek Australians on these visits?
We had a lovely reception with the Australian community on Kastellorizo during my visit there in August. I’m looking forward to visiting Kythera, Kalymnos and Kos in 2024 and will be keen to meet the Australian community on those islands which are also so special to the Greek-Australian diaspora.
The Embassy will soon publicise a link that will allow Australians living in Greece (as well as those who visit regularly for long periods) to sign up to receive alerts when the Embassy is planning an event in their location. This will give us a better sense of who’s out there and an opportunity to connect with those people when we’re travelling or hosting events in Athens. For anyone interested in signing up, keep an eye on our social media pages or visit our website at www.greece.embassy.gov.au.
Q: Finally, we must ask, how is your Greek coming along?
Μαθαίνω, αλλά σιγά-σιγά! Unlike my Indonesian, which I had several months of immersive language training to learn, I’m trying to learn Greek at the same time as working full-time, carving out time for my family, and getting out and about in this amazing country. Still, I’m enjoying having a go and making small steps forward in my comprehension. It’s a fun language to learn and even just be able to say a few words makes a difference.