The Parthenon - Icon or Epitaph for the Humanities?

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 13-11-2009

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Fremantle Campus

Publication Place



The Parthenon and the role of the Hellenic civilization to the Western world was the topic for the 2009 Second John Kalafatas Memorial Lecture held at the Government House Ballroom on Monday 9 November, 2009.

The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Greek Studies program under the direction of lecturer, Mr Savvas Papasavvas, coordinated the event which is named after the late John Kalafatas (1925-2000). Mr Kalafatas was President of the Greek Australian Community in Perth for over thirty years and rector of the local Greek Orthodox Church of Evangelismos and of the Greek language school. Members of his family were in the audience.

Over 400 people attended the lecture including the Governor of Western Australia His Excellency Dr Ken Michael AC and Mrs Julie Michael, members of the Australian Greek community, senior academics and scholars from Western Australian universities, students and politicians, including former Western Australian Senator Chris Ellison.

Vice Chancellor Professor Celia Hammond addressed the gathering. She said that the success of the unique program, introduced at Notre Dame in 1998, could be attributed to the overwhelming support of the Greek community, the Greek and Cypriot Governments and the dedicated and committed lecturers.

“The University of Notre Dame Australia is extremely proud of its close association with the Greek Australian community in Perth. This association has existed since the mid 1990s, and led to the introduction of a Greek Studies Program at Notre Dame in 1998. This program, which has been supported by the Greek Australian community and the Greek and Cypriot Governments, includes 8 units in the Greek language and culture. It is vigorously led by Mr Savvas Papasavvas who also has a close association with Professor Tamis – who is supervising 6 higher degree research students in Greek Studies at Notre Dame.

The lecture was presented by renowned Hellenists and an expert on Epigraphy, Professor Michael John Osborne. Professor Osborne is currently Emeritus Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Melbourne and Guest Professor in Hellenic Studies at Peking University and at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He served as Vice Chancellor and President of La Trobe University from 1990 to 2006.

In his lecture, Professor Osborne spoke about the future of Hellenic Studies, indeed of Humanities in general.

“It is being rendered precarious as more and more universities either through choice or through (real or imagined) constraint marginalise, or even abandon, such fields of study in favour of ‘demand driven’ programs of an essentially vocational nature,” he said.

“As we neglect our rich heritage and witness so many of our universities, who should be its standard bearers, increasingly marginalise studies of Humanities in general and of Hellenic Studies in particular.

Professor Osborne explained, “For universities are moving inexorably to a functional role where such studies are regarded as in effect irrelevant in the face of perceived pressure (or desire) to link university programs to employment and the needs of the economy – a process that can only be exacerbated as governments seek to tie tertiary funding, and hence programs, to student predilection. It is, of course, important that universities provide vocational opportunities but tragically misguided to believe that they can only do so at the expense of traditional scholarship in the Humanities, appreciation and promotion of which are surely the certificates of a genuinely civilised society.”

The late John Kalafatas was born in Kastelorizo, Greece in 1925 and immigrated to Australia in 1936, as an 11 years-old child. Immediately after WWII he was involved in the Greek Australian community affairs and on 13 July 1958 he was elected founding President of the Greek Community in West Perth. Since then he began his community program, promoting inter-communal relations, disseminating the Greek language and culture and enhancing the social welfare of the Greek Australian immigrants in WA. During the 1980s he commenced an educational campaign promoting the teaching of the Greek language within the mainstream society and in close collaboration with his educational advisor and teacher, Mr Savvas Papasavvas, they managed to insert Greek classes to over 40 primary schools in Perth. His main achievements included the reconciliation of the two communities, his endorsement and support for the establishment of St Andrew’s College Greek daily school, the erection of houses for the elderly, the social protection of the Greek migrants in WA, his endowment towards the Greek soccer club Athena and the augmentation of the Greek community premises to reach maturity and prosperity. He died on the 6th December 2000.”

Media contact:

Michelle Ebbs 08 9433 0610, 0408 959 138