Another successful year for the Seminars of the Greek Community

altMore than 150 people attended the closing lecture of the Greek Community of Melbourne’s History and Culture Seminars Series. The invited speaker, former award-winning ABC and SBS journalist, Helen Vatsikopoulos, did not let the audience down with her energetic delivery, thus bringing a successful end to this year’s series.

The evening was also punctuated by short addresses by Christina Simantirakis, the Greek Consul General in Melbourne, and the Community’s president Bill Papastergiadis who provided an update on his recent trip to Greece, his meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and an outline of various initiatives being worked upon with the Greek government. “Globally the Greek Community of Melbourne is perceived as an exemplar of diaspora best practice,” outlined Mr. Papastergiadis.

During the sixth year of the series, more than thirty seminars were hosted, outlined Dr Nick Dallas, the program’s convenor. A record 90 people were rewarded with Certificates of Participation for attending 10 or more lectures. The 2017 program was also launched and it promises to be another blockbuster year with a third of the speakers being from interstate and almost three quarters of the planned speakers presenting at the Community’s venue for the first time.

The 2016 program successfully trialed a panel discussion format overseen by a facilitator. There will be two such panel discussions in 2017. Another development in next year’s program is that the first Thursday of every September has been dedicated as the Dimitris Tsaloumas Memorial lecture, a lecture that will commemorate diaspora literature and prose. The inaugural lecture will be given by Professor Vrasidas Karalis from the University of Sydney. This initiative is a joint event between the GCM and the Greek-Australian Cultural League of Melbourne.

Helen Vatsikopoulos gave an impassioned address to a very attentive audience. Her topic “The Palimpsest: Layers of History and Memory in Greece” was based on research she is undertaking towards her doctoral degree at UTS Sydney, where she is presently lecturing in journalism. The word ‘palimpsest’ is used to describe a document where the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document and Helen employed it as a historical metaphor. This research by Helen can be described as an attempt to understand the complexities associated with her identity.

Helen’s family hails from the Prespa Lake district in Greece’s Florina region. This borderland region having boundaries with Greece, Albania and FYROM, has been a contested space in terms of history, identity and sovereignty. Her parents, along with 5-yearl old Helen at the time, migrated to Australia in 1965 aboard the legendary migrant ship Patris, and settled in Adelaide. Both her parents were refugee children but rarely discussed their experiences and effects of displacement.

Being the journalist that she is, it was only a question of time before Helen embarked upon probing her family past and trying to understand these silences. The audience were quite captivated by her personal journey and her heartfelt attempt to understand the suffering experienced by people along the way.