By Jim Claven*
In a big win for Melbourne’s Greek community, this week Victoria’s Heritage Council granted heritage protection to Melbourne’s iconic amphitheater complex in Fairfield, on the banks of the Yarra. The decision comes after a huge community campaign led by Melbourne’s Stork Theatre, which founded the theater with the then Northcote City Council.
The Heritage Council of Victoria issued its decision on January 18, determining “that the amphitheater complex at Fairfield Park is of state cultural heritage significance and should be included in the Heritage Register of Victoria. Victoria”.
Significantly, the decision covers the whole complex – the amphitheater, bandstand and pavilion – a key aspect of the Stork Theater campaign and was taken against the recommendation of Heritage Victoria, part of the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, as well as a previous VCAT decision.
This is great news not only for the Stork Theatre, but also for anyone interested in the role of theater in supporting Hellenic culture and the wider arts community. In granting protection, the Heritage Board cited the importance of the theater as a reflection of Victoria’s migration history, in particular the role of the local Greek community in supporting its creation.
As Northcote City Council oversaw its development, the amphitheater was modeled after the famous Greek amphitheater at Epidavros, reinventing the recycled bluestone of the streets of Northcote. The whole project was supported by the then Federal Labor Government and its local MP, the Honorable Brian Howe. Since its inception, the amphitheater has been the site of the original Epidivros Festival, many Stork Theater productions and has witnessed numerous productions of Hellenic artistic works – from theatrical productions to recent readings of Homer’s Iliad.
The decision by Heritage Council Victoria specifically recognizes the significance of the Amphitheaters as “an expression of the consolidation of Greek migrant identity in Australia”, as an expression of Australian multiculturalism and “its bicultural significance for Greek-Australians in the cultural development of Victoria” through its “symbolism, design, programming, community engagement and cultural influences”. The amphitheater complex demonstrates the foundation of acceptance of migrants by the wider Australian community and the confidence of established migrant communities in expressing their own identity and cultural heritage in Victoria.
The public campaign was widely supported by members of Melbourne’s Greek community – from politicians to community organizations to the thousands of people who joined the campaign petition. This has included local MP Kat Theophanous and fellow MP Lee Tarlamis, students from local schools, representatives from NUGAS and the Greek Orthodox community in Melbourne and Victoria, among others.
Welcoming the decision, local MP Kat Theophanous said she was delighted with the decision. “I have been working to support the campaign for many months. Not only is the amphitheater an important and iconic art installation, it represents an important aspect of Melbourne’s multicultural history, a cultural asset that has been supported since its inception by the local Greek community.
Ms Theophanous hoped the local council would work now to support the growth and long-term future of the amphitheater. In welcoming the decision, she was joined by MP Lee Tarlamis who also took part in the campaign in support of the amphitheater and praised Helen Madden and the Stork Theater campaign team for their efforts.
Greek Community President Bill Papastergiadis welcomed the decision on behalf of the wider Greek community and pledged to work with the Stork Theater to improve the use of theatre.
“The Greek community has a long tradition of supporting community arts projects, including those that have come together to support the development and use of this theatre. I look forward to working with other members of the community to continue this commitment in the future. I strongly believe that we must seize the opportunity presented by the heritage protection of the amphitheater to extend its use as a center of appreciation of Hellenic culture to our common heritage,” he said.
Bill Papastergiadis said he had been proud to support the campaign and would hold urgent discussions with the Stork Theater and relevant Greek community organizations to move this commitment forward in the coming weeks. He was also keen to engage with the state and federal government on how they could support the future of the resort.
“I look forward to the full program of cultural events held at the amphitheater, encompassing Stork Theater events, its integration into our annual Antipodes Festival, Greek community cultural events and local schools and institutions. higher education. I can see the amphitheater as a hub for theatre, readings and celebrations – all recognizing the vitality of our Hellenic culture in Australia,” said Bill.
Welcoming the decision, Helen Madden of the Stork Theater looked forward to a bright new future for the amphitheater. Helen said that with this decision she felt something truly magical had happened on the banks of the Yarra – Greek culture was recognized by Heritage Council Victoria in its manifestation in the complex of the Fairfield Amphitheater.
“This decision is a great relief for all who know and love the Amphitheater. “As we said in our brief to Heritage Council Victoria, the Amphitheater is the only professionally equipped amphitheater and outdoor performing arts venue in Victoria with unique acoustic qualities. The challenge now is to secure its future as a vibrant community facility and, more importantly, as a permanent home for a theater company. I look forward to working with the Greek community and its representatives to realize this vision,” she said.
*Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and published author. He reviewed the Stork Theater’s recent production of Homer and was an active supporter of the Fairfield Amphitheater campaign.