As well as its important place in ancient Greek mythology and history, Kythera has an association with Australia going back a hundred years.
When George Miller’s latest Mad Max fantasy collected six Academy Awards – the most to date for an Australian film – the biggest celebrations might well have been on the Greek island of Kythera.
Miller’s family, like that of thousands of other Greek Australians, originated here, in a migration that started in the 1890s. Kytherians opened cinemas, milk bars, cafes and fish and chip shops in Sydney, Melbourne and small country towns. In her book Aphrodite and the Mixed Grill: Greek Cafes in Twentieth-Century Australia, Toni Risson describes the Greek cafe as an Australian icon, and writes of the many owned by Kytherians, with names such as Andronicus, Poulos, Cassimatis and Cominos.
Kythera has a permanent population of fewer than 4000, but many Greek Australians return regularly. Subsequent generations have fallen in love with the island that their ancestors left. Many have headed back in search of a Dionysian existence.
One of the lesser-known Greek islands, Kythera has been historically idealised, a utopia that defined the metaphorical journey. In his 1717 Rococo work, The Embarkation for Cythera, Jean-Antoine Watteau depicted a mythical, pastoral pleasure. In the late 1800s it became fashionable for the Romantics to make a pilgrimage to Kythera. It wasn’t easy to get to, however, so for most writers, artists, painters and archaeologists, it was more a romantic narrative; something special and mystical for which we are all searching.
I arrive at the start of the grape harvest. The whole village near where I’m staying at Agia Anastasia comes together on the Saturday for a grape-stomping party with a lamb on the spit, plenty of the local wine, cheese and moustalevria (a sweet made from grape juice and semolina).
Young men dance in a circle, clapping, around a small ouzo glass. All ages and sizes dance the Greek style, in a ring or a line, stepping shoulder to shoulder. The celebratory circles get bigger and bigger as people join in. It’s simple fun. Greek dancing is all about kefi – a love of life, merriment without drunkenness. Eat, drink, then dance it off.