Inner East Review
Tuesday, 5 December 2023

Guerilla gardener Vassili Perkoulidis

Updated September 14 2022 - 5:32pm, first published May 17 2022 - 5:00am
Vassili Perkoulidis in his little green patch in Abbotsford. Photo; Morgan Hancock
Vassili Perkoulidis in his little green patch in Abbotsford. Photo; Morgan Hancock

Vassili Perkoulidis and his daughter Olga have turned a rock-filled road block into a thriving community garden, bringing greenery, flowers and community interest to their Abbotsford street.

Described by Olga as a guerrilla gardener, Vassili admits he is no expert.

"I'm fishmonger - 65 years selling fish!" says the 82-year-old, who also goes by the English version of his name, Bill.

But the beret-wearing former Vic Market identity likes flowers and greenery.

And the street garden he has created with his daughter connects him with people the way selling fish formerly did.

"It's really drawn a lot of community interest," Olga says. "People pass through this street because they feel connected to nature, and recharge."

During lockdowns people would sit around enjoying the greenery and chat to each other over coffee from the nearby cafe. "It's also helped deter graffiti and made the street safer," Olga says.

The story of the street garden started around a decade ago when the family lobbied Yarra City Council to block off the street.

The council agreed and split it in half with a concrete-kerbed zone planted with "three sickly gum trees" and filled with rocks.

"There was a lot of guerrilla gardening happening in the area and I decided to turn it into a garden," Olga says. "Dad and I started and some of our neighbours joined in."

Now flowering shrubs, evergreens, roses, jasmine and an orange tree grow alongside the gums in a densely packed green mass.

Along the street are pots and planter boxes filled with flowers, natives and succulents, while on the steep railway embankment adjoining Vassili's house are other plantings, including a persimmon tree, which he tends from a ladder.

While neighbours still help when they have time, essentially Vassili has taken over, single-handedly cleaning the area and watering and caring for the plants for the last four or five years.

All of it, especially the fruit, brings him joy.

In his hometown of Veria in northern Greece, Vassili's first job, as a seven-year-old, was selling fruit and vegetables.

He was so good at it that at the age of eight he was poached by a fishmonger, who doubled his pay and took him on full time, inducting him into the trade he would practise for most of his life.

But his love of fresh produce continued.

When he takes out his phone to show you photos, it's not his children and grandchildren you see but dark shiny eggplants, glistening red capsicums and bright yellow cherries - all snapped at the Veria markets on his most recent visit home, with per-kilo price signs mostly under a euro.

When he left Greece with Olga and his wife Dimitra in 1967 life there was economically and politically very hard, but he had intended to return.

In Australia the new migrant first worked in factories, then returned to the fish trade at the Queen Victoria market.

Despite having limited English, he was lightning quick at calculating prices and enjoyed serving customers.

With his warm, generous nature he made a lot of friends and became something of a fixture at the market over 38 years.

Now, long retired, he still goes there every day to check out the fish and fresh produce but is content "making flowers" in his own patch in inner city Melbourne.

"It makes people happy," Olga says. "And I'm happy too," Vassili adds.


Jenny Denton


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