Warzones, love and family - all in a day’s work
Now on the academic trail, Helen Vatsikopoulos talks to Helen Velissaris about her career, her family and the new book on the horizon
When you make a living telling stories, sometimes the most interesting ones can be hiding right in front of you. That's how Walkley award winning journalist, Helen Vatsikopoulos, feels about her latest venture.
The ABC and SBS television reporter and presenter has popped her academic hat on and embarked on a long journey to a PhD and a book.
"To me, academia was the perfect thing for this part of my life, because I haven't said no to journalism, I still have connections... but I'll get to choose the stories that I do," Vatsikopoulos told Neos Kosmos.
Her choice this time is to follow her parents' story during the Greek Civil War from 1946-1949. During that time, Greece suffered more casualties than in the Second World War. More than 1 million people were displaced and thousands of children were removed from their homes.
The horrors of war are definitely not foreign to Vatsikopoulos. During her time as a journalist, she has covered wars, assassinations, genocides and bombings, making sure the stories that many governments try to silence are broadcast to TV screens everywhere.
That is why she feels very passionately about drawing a light on the Greek Civil War.
"Everyone knows about the Spanish Civil War... and everyone knows about the American Civil War, but not a lot of people know about the Greek Civil War," she explains.
Starting with her family's story as a reference, the war has become much more than just history to Vatsikopoulos.
"When the Civil War ended, the communists took about 28,000 children. [Of those] 28,000 children, my father was one of them.
"And the children that were left were taken by the Queen of Greece and put into... a paedopolis [government camp]. My mother was one of those," she says.
Getting her parents to open up about their experiences was not an easy task. Like many who have suffered during a war, retelling their story re-opened old wounds.
Living through the aftermath of a world war and directly affected by the accompanying Civil War, the harrowing details were easier to suppress.
Surprisingly, they found an outlet via Vatsikopoulos' husband, ABC foreign correspondent Mark Corcoran.
"It's through Mark that my parents opened up about the past. They absolutely adore Mark and he absolutely adores them," Vatsikopoulos told Neos Kosmos.
Corcoran and Vatsikopoulos met at the Sydney offices of SBS. From the start, Mark was thrown into the welcoming arms of a huge Greek family. They were so eager to meet him, that the minute he arrived at the airport, there was a whole welcome party full of Vatsikopoulos' extended family waving enthusiastically at him.
The fact that he wasn't Greek seemed to make them love him more, and maybe why they felt comfortable to open up to him.
Vatsikopoulos' parents, Peter and Vicki, decided to migrate to Australia in 1965 from Florina, in Northern Greece when Vatsikopoulos was five. It was an easy decision, when they thought of the opportunities it would give their only child.
"Greece was devastated economically and politically. A lot of people saw the opportunities in Australia, and we came here for a better life."
The 'lucky country' was a good fit for the family, but Vatsikopoulos remembers a solitary childhood. Without any siblings or extended family, and her parents working long hours, the house would be empty most of the time.
"I'd wake up in the morning and there would be no one home. I had a key around my neck and my parents would go to work," she says.
That's where she found company in books.
Her long stints in the library and her dream of getting a full set of the World Book Encyclopaedias (a time when the 'internet' was a foreign word) definitely shaped the person she is today.
At an early age, Vatsikopoulos had a curiosity and thirst for the truth. Her sights were always on international matters, which definitely propelled her into a niche career in TV journalism, as she says she was "always curious about world events and what was happening".
She easily left the comforts of home to cover the big stories around the world. She was in the thick of things in the Rwandan Genocide and front row at the collapse of the Berlin Wall (a piece of the wall sits in the study of her Sydney home). These personal snapshots of time are why Vatsikopoulos will always keep one foot in the journalism door.
"The beauty of this job is that we are the first eyewitnesses to history."
During her career, she's won countless awards including the UN of Australia Media Peace Prize twice and a Walkley for her work in the former USSR.
But nothing was more challenging than looking after her two young children and continuing to report. The high pressure lifestyle and the fact that her husband was away on assignment for weeks on end definitely left a toll.
"My husband was working as a correspondent, I was working. I just thought... this sort of watching the clock, getting in the car and racing across town to pick [the kids] up... it's not good for me and definitely not good for them."
Again, the help from her parents was invaluable. Not just for her but for her husband.
As her parents would fly up to Sydney to help out, Mark was over in Iraq, covering the American occupation after September 11.
"Mark always says, I was able to have all those years of covering the world because of Peter and Vicki."
That's why Vatsikopoulos' transition to the academic world came easy.
In between lecturing TV Journalism and completing her PhD at The University of Technology Sydney, she now has time to hand pick her own stories and assignments and spends more time researching - a luxury in the journalism world.
"It gives you a lot of time to dig deep. In journalism, you're following deadlines," she says, "a new story a day."
- Register Now
- Turkey condemns NSW's genocide recognition
- Mykonos: Something to 'Crowe' about
- Greek community pays tribute to Hazel Hawke
- Fitch upgrades Greece's credit rating
- Recognising genocide
- Angelopoulos' Greek drama
- Greek men affected by crisis
- New rules for reverse mortgages
- Kastellorizian Association names their best
- Philippoussis vs furry animals
- 8 May 2013 | 13 Votes
- 8 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 3 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 15 May 2013 | 9 Votes
- 13 May 2013 | 8 Votes
- 30 Apr 2013 | 6 Votes
More from this Section
- Greece honours Australian WWII veterans
- Angelopoulos' Greek drama
- Political history in the Arts
- Marxist reporter won praise for his work
- Eurovision 2013: The kitsch and the high notes
- Myth versus reality: Athens during the peak of the crisis
- The Constantinople spirit
- The outfit says it all
- Unravelling Greece's crisis
- Crossing into the unknown
Local and international artists that express Greek themes and ideas through their art will be showcased at the Colours of Greece on Parade, held by Festival Hellenika.
All Windows Open was voted for its accurate portrayal of child migrants
The businessman hopes to bring international interest to the complex
Melbourne man John Karatzaferis is suing Qatar Airways for allegedly aggravating a previous injury after he was hit by the drinks cart during a flight
Whincup claimed a comfortable victory in the second race
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias is considering measures that could lead to far-right Golden Dawn being outlawed
Matt Simon, Nick Carle and Mitch Nichols back in the A-League
Greeks know good coffee. This year's World Barista and Brewer Championships sees a tailored and very talented Greek team vie for the top gong.
Lecture on Cultural Heritage Preservation in a Cyber World, by Dora Constantinidis, will be held as part of the exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures
The annual tour to Adelaide will pass through Mount Lofty, Victor Harbor, Glenelg and the Barossa Valley
Jim Raptis says he owes the Australian Tax Office no money and will not be paying a $21 million tax bill.
Just shy of turning 100, three Greek Australian sisters die within 17 days of each other
Mitchell Duke and Trent Sainsbury of the Mariners are among 12 Australian-based players selected for a Socceroos training camp
Closed in 1996, the High School nurtured many young Greeks
The Eurovision Song Competition still remains the most watched non-sporting event of the year. Greece's entry is unique, but will it win?
The FFA has been very cautious in selecting who will be part of the A-League, fearing soccer will become a race-driven game again
Tennis ace Mark Philippoussis is facing some furry competition for the affection of his girlfriend
After a five-men walkout from the club Sydney Olypmic rose to a magnificent win against undefeated Bonnyrigg White Eagles