Towards the end of the final decade of the 20th century, I met a very interesting man in his late 60s in Melbourne who became a dear friend in later years and during my involvement with the Hellenic Writers’ Association of Australia.
His name was Lawrence (Larry) Darrell, or Solon Papadopoulos before he changed it, when he first arrived to Australia. Lawrence was a lonely man all the time I knew him and as the story of my life goes, I did like to talk and associate with men older than me (he was about 20 years my senior) and usually lonely.
The way we met was quite bizarre since he contacted me in 1999 when we were having our first Book Exhibition of books by writers of Greek origin in Melbourne in co-operation with the Archives Museum of RMIT University and AHEPA Victoria (a Hellenic cultural organisation).
Lawrence contacted me one day when he read in the paper that we were calling for writers and publishers who wanted to participate in the exhibition with their books asking me characteristically: “can I please be included in the book exhibition“. His voice, crackling at the other end of the line sounded so insecure and uncertain that caught my attention. I was delighted to make his acquaintance when he arrived and showed me his wonderful book titled “Who Am I”, a poetry and essay collection published in London early in 1999 by Minerva Press.
Who is this Me?
Who is this me,
Who spites me
And fights me
Who is this me,
Who torments me
And dements me
And imprisons me
Who is this me,
Who abuses me
And confuses me
And drives me
Who is this me,
This other entity
Which abhors me
And adores me
Who is this me,
This hidden identity
Which excites me
And inspires me
And uplifts me
With its ecstasy?
Who is this me
This human riddle,
This divine mystery?
Lawrence Darrell – “Who am I?”, p. 29
Here you will find another writer, Somerset Maugham writing about Lawrence and his life (I don’t know Somerset Maugham at all) touched quite unexpectedly by his life. The book is titled “The Razor’s Edge”.
Lawrence only wrote literature in English as his command of the Greek language was not poor but nevertheless inadequate for poetry creation as he admitted to me. This is what he wrote about himself in an article which was published in the literary periodical “O Logos” in 2000 titled “Reminiscences of a migrant“:
…I belong to the first post-war generation of Greek migrants and was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where I attended Greek and French schools, followed by a two-year course in an English commercial school. Both my parents were Greek Cypriots and being a British subject, I served in the British Navy until the end of the war in 1945. It was during these war years that the urge to write first manifested itself and, for some reason which I still cannot fathom, I made a conscious decision to write in English – a language in which I was not as well versed as Greek or French. Little did I know then that my obvious infatuation with this foreign language was to develop into a life-time love affair. The publication of my first book, early this year, was the realization of this ambition and now in the 75th year of my life I find myself writing another book and looking forward to a new literary career.
Like most Greek migrants, I married a Greek girl and both my wife and I have been blessed with two daughters and three grandchildren. During the 52 year span of my life as a migrant I had a variety of jobs and occupations, ranging through public servant, cook, clerk, café owner, barman, grocer, storeman, house salesman, business agent, estate agent, furniture and electrical retailer, land developer and home builder. I made and lost money, and consider myself fortunate to have a loving family and good health. Now in the twilight of my life I am poised for a new beginning and I am just as enthusiastic about the future as I was when I first arrived in Perth with ten pounds in my pocket back in 1948.
I still vividly remember the small ship on which I embarked in Port Said in Egypt, together with 250 women and children who were on their way to rejoin their husbands and fathers who had migrated to Australia before the war. The ship, a small 800 ton converted yacht, named s/s Komninos, owned and captained by two Greek brothers, had to detour from Colombo in Sri Lanka, to Jakarta in Indonesia for refueling in order to complete its journey to Perth. The Indonesians were then fighting their colonial masters, the Dutch, for their independence and we were not allowed ashore because of the war hostilities. But the overwhelming memory of that sea voyage was the passage from Jakarta to Perth down the North-west coast of Australia, renowned for its cyclones and shipwrecks. We were barely out of Jakarta when we ran into mountainous seas which buffeted our small ship and tossed it about like a toy. For all of the seven days it took the ship to reach Fremantle everyone was kept below decks, an order readily complied with because hardly anyone could stand up. I remember lying down in my bunk, seasick, but still able to observe through the porthole daylight turning to darkness as our small ship was engulfed by the huge waves. The women wailed and prayed, the children fretted and cried, and the Greek crew, 50 odd experienced sailors, remained calm performing their duties and soothing the passengers’ fears. But the sturdy, small ship must have been well built because it withstood the force of the waves and emerged, time and again, from the dark depths of the ocean into the bright light of day. To compound our problems, the ship’s radio was smashed and we lost contact with the authorities in Fremantle who assumed we were in trouble and sent out aircraft to locate us. We survived and finally made it to port, to be greeted by the local media who for days had been speculating about our fate. The next day the newspapers proclaimed: “Smallest migrant steamship ever to sail to Australia” and demanded an enquiry into the seaworthiness and hygiene conditions of the ship.
When eventually I made it to Melbourne, I discovered a city which was still a sleepy colonial outpost of the British Empire in the Pacific. Those were the days when migrants were expected to renounce their ethnic and cultural identities and assimilate into the prevailing Anglo-Saxon culture. Migrants were referred to as “wogs”, “dagos” or “reffos” and dared not speak their own language in public for fear of being verbally abused or physically assaulted by some aggressive or inebriated Aussie. In this drive for assimilation, migrants were also compelled, by the sheer pressure of conformity, to anglicise their names to avoid undue attention to their origin. My own name, Solon Papadopoulos, was typical and most Greek names were either abbreviated or changed. The prospect of being called “Pappas” did not appeal to my youthful, romantic nature, so I opted for Lawrence Darrell, the name of the protagonist in the novel “The Razor’s Edge”, with whom I developed a spiritual rapport. My contemporaries will probably remember the movie of this novel by English author Somerset Maugham, which starred the late American actor, Tyrone Power, in the leading role of Larry Darrell, back in 1946. To this day, I am treated like a traitor by some of my fellow Greeks for abandoning a name which belonged to the illustrious Athenian poet, law maker and statesman, Solon, who lived in the 6th century before Christ.
In this second half of the twentieth century I was privileged to observe our beautiful island continent being transformed into the modern, multicultural and multilingual society it is now and I am immensely proud to have been one of the many Greek migrants who have contributed to its new, social order, which not only preserves and protects individual cultures but through their fusion and interaction enhances and enriches all humanity.
On 28th November 1999 Lawrence awarded the Annual Hellenic Distinction for Literature, by the Hellenic Association of Victoria, founded and headed for twenty years by Mr Dimitris (Takis) Efstratiades. Personally for a about a year I was also part of the Hellenic Association’s Committee.
These distinctions were presented by the Hellenic Association and awarded to Victorians of Greek descent who have excelled in various fields of endeavour such as the Arts, Literature, Social Welfare, Business, Sport, Education, the Professions; as well as an Australian of non-Greek origin for services to the Greek community. Lawrence was taken by surprise with this award and as he said “I have not heard of these awards before until I was invited to attend the presentation function, unaware that I had already been selected for this prestigious award. I was taken completely by surprise and deeply moved and honoured by the literary recognition accorded me by my fellow Greeks.”
Lawrence died in 2005 a very lonely man in his unit in suburban Chadstone where he was living alone for a number of years. I visited him many times over the few years he stayed at the Chadstone unit and we were always discussing philosophy, poetry and life in general. He taught me a lot about the ancients, he taught me a lot about life but the best lesson I learned from him is never to give up, and always to look forward.
Before he died, and while he was in hospital suffering from stroke, he gave me a copy of his play titled “Mr Eucalyptus” which he hoped was going to be accepted by a theatrical troupe to end up on stage. This never eventuated even though Lawrence pinned all his hopes on me. My personal inadequacies at promoting work to the right channels created another victim in Lawrence.
In fact he told me “this is going to be a hit once you approach the right people, please do this for me as a last wish…”. And that I did. I approached a community theatrical group (I will avoid mentioning names) and handed over “Mr Eucalyptus” to the person in charge. I never heard from them again.
Nevertheless I feel I have an obligation to Lawrence to publish this wonderful piece of writing. Funding was not going to be easy but it was a promise that created a need inside me to be fulfilled. If I haven’t mentioned it earlier, Lawrence was a high quality poet, a thoughtful philosopher and as you will see from the document below a great playwright.
So here it is for my friend Lawrence who passed away yet his work will keep mentioning him for a long time to come.