Not as Good Citizens: Researching Gods of Strangers

In writing The Gods of Strangers, Elena Carapetis unearthed evergreen truths about how we treat migrants in Australia.

Dina Panozzo, Deborah Galanos and Elizabeth Hay in The Gods of Strangers: Photo by Vic Lamb

The Gods of Strangers is a story about family, love and loyalty. It’s about how we communicate and how frequently (and hilariously) language can fail us. But it’s also a story of displacement. Right now, all around the world, we are facing the largest displacement of people in our history and that’s showing no signs of slowing down. Australia is a country made up of migrants. Of people who have been displaced in one way or another… But our stories, the ones that form a key and important part of our identity, largely ignore that fact.

A clipping from The Port Pirie Recorder: September 3, 1924

Elena Carapetis’ play puts the migrant experience front and centre. By delving into her own history, she has unearthed beautiful stories of resilience from Greek Cypriot and Italian migrants in post-World War II Australia. She puts an unflinching light on Australia’s infatuation with the creation and maintenance of a societal other. A community or group to scapegoat, to focus our aggression on. In an old edition of The Port Pirie Recorder (a town and publication with a proud migrant history who welcomed Elena’s show with open arms) a story was written about statements made during a deputation to a senator about the threat of ‘alien’ members of the Greek community.

Australia’s anti-migrant sentiment, it’s othering of certain sections of the population, is threaded through Elena’s play. In one particularly funny scene, Greek migrant Vasiliki speaks of a neighbour yelling ‘shut up you dago bitch’ while she was humming and watering her plants one night. Her response?

To sing louder.

Below are some quotes about migrants from the deputation made to that senator in 1924. It’s a harrowing example to how we have, and still, treat those who we consider societal others. And a testament to the strength and resilience of the communities that come here for a better life, powerful Greeks and Italians in the case of Elena’s play. Who sing louder in the face of adversity.

May they sing for years and years to come.

The Gods of Strangers runs from 14 November — 2 December. Get your tickets here.