Paniyiri Greek Festival Brisbane

Take two bazoukis, three bottles of ouzo, two freshly laundered handkerchiefs and twelve men and women holding hands and ending up in an untidy heap … and what do you have?


Πανηγύρι or paniyiri or panigiri – held this year in October in Brisbane’s Musgrave Park – is a wonderful celebration of all things Greek.  Although I missed out on the ritual smashing of plates and the Honey Puff Eating demonstrations held shortly after I left the festival, it was an afternoon of music and food and wine and dancing and great crowds and great company.

Paniyiri has been running since 1976 – global pandemics and unseasonal rains permitting – and apparently the largest Greek festival in Australia.  While Melbourne is often said to be the world’s third largest Greek city (after Athens and Thessaloniki) with 400,000 people of Hellenic descent, Brisbane’s smaller Greek community (about 20,000) knows how to throw a party.

However, gaining entry to this year’s festival was a little trying. 

There were three or four lanes at the box office to buy tickets … but only one lane for those already holding tickets.  Huge queues of people who had done “the wise thing” and bought tickets online stretched around the block in two directions.  Online purchases were also considerably more expensive than buying at the gate, where Seniors and other concession card holders could gain entry at much-reduced prices.  I paid over $40.00 for three online tickets.  Had we simply arrived at the box office the total cost would have been just $10.00, and we would have been able to enter the grounds almost forty minutes earlier.

Crowds queueing to get in

Officious security staff then waylaid entering guests:

  • G’day mate.  Does that camera have a removable lens?
  • Yes
  • You cannot bring it in to the event.  You should have read the conditions of entry that were emailed to you with your tickets

Fortunately, a member of the organising committee eventually stepped in and took me aside, apologising for the delays and for the bizarre “security” restrictions on camera lenses.  I later saw a dozen or more people with “proper” cameras with “proper” lenses, but I still do not know why there was some sort of restriction.

Souvlaki, calamari, yiros, dolmathes and more

Lots of food stalls and lots of goodies to eat

Once inside the event guests could choose from a dozen or more food stalls serving just about every sort of Greek or Mediterranean food possible.  Curiously, though, none of the food stalls served water or wine:  these were available at other outlets.

Nick Paras plays bazouki

While we ate, Brisbane-based musician Nick Paras and the NIX live band, provided bazouki dance tunes to the delight of the many kids of all ages who took to the dance floor in front of the main stage.

Dad and children on the dance floor

Most food items were sensibly priced – $5.00 or $6.00 for small servings or tubs of salads – with larger family-sized servings of souvlaki, haloumi, chips, calamari and salad available for about $35.00.  We had several chicken and lamb souvlakis, some moussaka, a watermelon and feta salad, a Greek salad, some “very yummy” galactobourekos … and a Dagwood Dog.

With the exception of the last execrable item, each tasty morsel was reasonably healthy and toothsome. Although galactobourekos sound like two-headed alien invaders from a distant galaxy in Star Wars, these amazing creations of semolina custard baked in filo pastry pay tribute to the Greek word “galakto” meaning milk, and the Turkish word “boureko” referring to something stuffed into filo pastry.

There you have it – your new word for the day!

  • I was going to buy a Galactoboureko but I got a Porsche instead
  • Did you hear about Mimi?  She has a terrible case of galactoboureko but we hope she will recover very soon
  • Umm … my galactoboureko broke down but I was able to purée the fruit with my hand-held souvlaki

In the Greek Club on the other side of Musgrave Park were two attractions not to be missed:  chilled glasses of wine on the terrace overlooking the fun and games below, and a series of cooking classes.

I had read that there were wine and cheese tastings to be held on the terrace at the Club but had omitted to note that this was a ticketed event and offered at a time when we were not there …  However, a glass of bubbles – Karananika Brut NV from the Macedonia region – and a couple of glasses of Mylonas Savatiano from the Attiki region – quickly proved that Greece produces wines that are effortlessly quaffable and far less likely to give drinkers a case of badly crossed eyes than the more famous – infamous? – retsinas and ouzos.

Marina Campbell and George Diakomichatis

Adelaide-based chef George Diakomichatis teamed up with several local food enthusiasts – Marina Campbell, Desi Carlos and Helen Zeniou – to teach us how to make healthy Greek food such as Pontian tarts or ancient grain salads. 

The tart with yoghurt and Nigella crust was tasty but a small sample was quite enough for me.  I would have liked to sample the grain salad – full of nuts and fruit and parsley, capers and red onion, coriander and olive oil.  It also had something called “freekeh”, an ingredient I had never heard of, but is apparently “a nutritious grain made from roasted green wheat grains”.

And there’s our second new word for the day!

  • I was going to use freekeh but found dried ocelot a suitable substitute
  • Freekah?  No – I was absolutely calm despite the tsunami
  • I had a pet cat called Tigga but Freekah ate him
Listening to the band in the Greek Village area
Souvlaki for the masses

At the nearby Greek Village / Plateia Saint George was more food with the largest souvlaki-cooking setup known to modern man.  There was also a taverna where I finally had that eye-crossing ouzo, and where there was a long long queue outside a shop selling … what?  Free tickets to the next Nana Mouskouri concert?  A return First-Class flight to Thessaloniki?  A chance to run naked and wild in the tradition of the original Olympic Games?


Honey Puffs.

I have been to Greece several times and have travelled to a few of its wonderful islands.  I have joined the sweaty hordes trampling ancient marble steps on the Acropolis and have marvelled at the nymphs on the Erechtheion.  I have endured long and windy Aegean ferry rides and seen the guards at Syntagma Square goose-stepping in their pom-poms and kilts … but I have never come across honey puffs in Greece.

This is obviously a glaring omission in my classical education as there were several honey puff stalls scattered around the festival site, and as there were honey puff eating demonstrations featured through the afternoon on the main stage.  The Greeks may have adopted the Turkish baklava, but it seems that honey puffs have given the Turks a push this time.

A far-flung empire

Australia is one of the few countries world-wide not to have been conquered by foreigners – although First Nation people would very justifiably question that statement. 

Greece, on the other hand, has seen its borders expand and contract over the centuries and has seen invaders of many nations trampling its streets.  Alexander the Great pushed its borders far to the East and what is now Turkey was once all Greek – to me and to them.


Turkey’s small town of Trabzon on the southern shores of the Black Sea was once part of the Greek Empire but as regimes rose and fell, the Greeks from this far-flung part of the empire were relocated to the European continent in what became known as Macedonia.  These people were known as “Pontians” as the word “pontus” means “sea”.

I am the lord of the dance

Who has not cast off their shoes and danced on the sands as the tides went out? 

US dancer and choreographer Martha Graham said:

Brisbane Hellenic Dancers
OPA Dance Group dancer
  • Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body

… and for many Greeks, dance is not just exercise or relaxation – it is an expression of their history, their traditions, their culture and their souls.  At this year’s Paniyiri festival, kids and adults danced, telling their stories.  Australia’s First Nation people tell their stories – their “dreamtime” – through dance and paintings and music, and Australia’s Greeks told their stories at Panyiri.  The Darwin-based OPA Dance Group celebrated their Trabzon or Trebizond eastern Greek heritage with a series of thrilling Pontian dances.

Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis wrote a novel published in 1946 that was to change the world’s view of Greek dancing.  It probably takes only two or three notes from Mikis Theodorakis’ introductory music of the soundtrack from the 1964 film to get most of us up, arms spread or wrapped around our friends’ shoulders, as we dance to Zorba the Greek.

Several bands at Paniyiri played this music, but dancers from OPA, the Brisbane Hellenic Dancers and from the HD Academy reminded all visitors that there is more to Greek music than just good old Zorba.

Side show alley

There is also more to the Paniyiri Greek Festival than food and wine and dance and music and ouzo and cheese and kids dancing with their dads.

Yes – there is side show alley.

Side Show Alley People

As a kid I used to enjoy tossing ping pong balls down swivelling clowns’ mouths in the hope that I would win an incredible stuffed toy made in Beijing, and I used to enjoy the dodgem cars and the Dagwood Dogs and the show bags and the general tackiness and tawdriness of the whole experience. 

As an adult … I still do … although perhaps I have finally quenched my appetite for Dagwood Dogs:  boiled highly seasoned bright red sausages smothered in dense batter, skewered on a stick, deep fried in days-old fat and dunked in sugar-rich tomato ketchup before serving.

Speed 2 Survivors

The thrilling rides these days have become more exciting and more expensive than before and a minute or three on the Speed 2 ride costs $25.00 for a chance to be tossed upside down and all around and to return – perhaps – to earth a slightly shattered and infinitely more sober human being.


I learned a few new Greek words at this year’s Paniyiri festival and was able to add them to my very limited knowledge of the Greek language.  However, that famous US tourist, F Harry Stowe, is probably one of the Mediterranean’s best-known travellers and one whom all other travellers and visitors to Greek festivals need to know.

To the organisers of the 2022 Paniyiri Greek Festival I say

  • F Harry Stowe
  • Efcharistó 

… or simply … Thank you … for a great day.


Journey October 2022

Text and photographs © Christopher Hall October 2022

Trebizond map from Internet


In my blogs I try to present a snapshot of the places I have discovered during a brief visit.   I am not trying to present a detailed picture of the whole city or the whole region or the whole country.


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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.

  • Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship


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