The medal for Order of Australia is the highest recognition one can receive in this country for outstanding achievement and service. This year, the medal is bequeathed to Australian citizen of Greek descent, George Halvagis, for his tireless efforts in assisting families of homicide victims in the face of unimaginable hardship, to secure justice for their lost loved ones, and for dedicating his life to campaigning and supporting the not-for-profit organisation, Crime Stoppers Victoria, by promoting their profile and raising vital funds.
George Halvagis is astounded by this huge honour.
“I never expected this award or anything like it,” he tells Neos Kosmos. “All I wanted to do was help the community; help as many people in my life as I can before I die, because I can never get my little girl back. But I can help other peoples’ little girls, by working hard and making sure the criminals get what they deserve and I can also offer my support to the victims’ family, who like me, have suffered such a great loss.”
Tragically, nearly 23 years ago, on 1 November, 1997, Mr Halvagis’ 25-year-old daughter Mersina was taken from her loved ones in the most horrific and unimaginable of circumstances, brutally murdered at Fawkner Cemetery. It was a case that would have remained unsolved, except for the determination of Mr Halvagis, as he simply refused to let the case disappear. He became a permanent figure around the court system, acting also as a support for other victims. Due to his relentless efforts, in combination with Homicide Investigator Detective Senior Constable, Paul Scarlett, who spent more than a year re-investigating the murder and finding the last key witness to put her killer away in 2007, Peter Dupas was finally convicted of the murder of Mersina Halvagis. It had taken 10 years.
“When this killer stabbed my little girl, he stabbed me as well. I am a walking dead man because the knife will never leave my heart.”
Do you think that in every crime that happens, there is always someone who knows something?
Yes. Even though there are cases we can’t resolve, there is definitely always someone who knows something about it. They keep silent, either because their family won’t let them talk, or because they were given money, or because they are afraid. But there always is someone who knows something and that’s where Crime Stoppers come in.
Crime Stoppers is a charity that has worked hard for over 30 years, receiving information from people who wish to report anyone acting suspiciously. If you see something on the street, or someone, a neighbour that you think is acting suspicious or is going to cause problems to the community, you just ring in and report what you saw or what you heard anonymously. That is what Crime Stoppers does. They work for the community. They work for the police, to make sure we clear the world from criminals.
What would your message be to the people of this country, when it comes to protecting the community?
If you know something, please come forward. Not only are you helping to put away a criminal, but by putting them away, you are probably saving another life, and another family from the pain of unimaginable loss. Because he is most probably going to do it again. He is going to cause another pain to some other family and by ringing, even if you are not sure, you might be able to save someone.
From all the years that you have worked closely with Crime Stoppers and families of other victims, is there a memory that stands out?
There are so many incidents that will stay with me forever. The victims, the babies who get murdered, these memories are in my heart forever. I want to explain to you that when this killer stabbed my little girl, he stabbed me as well. I am a walking dead man because the knife will never leave my heart. You can never forget the day you lost your loved one. And the only thing that keeps me going is to be a support to the people who are going through what I did. They understand me and I understand them. I try to help them by supporting them in court also. Some of these families, they don’t know how it’s going to be, the world of darkness, and that is I where I want to help them. I want to help them through the hard times I went through, and help them on the way to recovery. You never recover, but still…
How do you feel about this medal?
I was always proud of this nation for accepting me and I always tried to make sure my children become good Australians. Though I lost one of them, she is always here with me and tells me that she is proud of me for what I do. She has never left. I go to the cemetery almost every day and I talk to her. Mersina was everything to us. She was an angel. Now she is an angel with wings.
What would you say to someone who has suffered such a horrible loss?
Many in this country have lost a loved one. I know quite a few and I tell them that my heart is with them. I tell them and everyone else: “Don’t sit back. Do something, whatever you can, to stop crime. You can even help to change the laws so that criminals will never be allowed out again to do another crime. We must do all we can to help young people grow up in this wonderful country, without danger”. I am so honoured to receive this award. I didn’t know about it before. I would like to receive it on behalf of all the families who have suffered the horrible loss of a loved one.