Supreme Court Justice Emilios Kyrou could have stayed with the name John – the adopted name he took on to attract less attention to himself. But even as a teenager, he had the backbone to fight for what he believed in, to get an education and to remain steadfast in his culture, heritage and hard working background of his parents. He changed his name back to Emilios – the name he was christened with by his godparents.

At the same time he went back to his original Christian name, his family were granted permanent residency in Australia, and the teenager was named dux of Upfield High School. But titles are things that Justice Kyrou’s become quite accustomed to. From dux, he went on to study law at Melbourne University where he graduated with the highest mark of male students in 1982. Then he became not just the first Greek Australian but also Victoria’s second practicing solicitor to be appointed directly as justice of the Supreme Court – the first was his mentor Bernard Teague.

It was his parents who instilled in Justice Kyrou the importance of education from an early age that he credits for making his lauded and esteemed career possible. He remembers his parents saying to him: “You must get an education otherwise you will be poor and ignorant like us”. It was in the ’50s when the family lodged their application to migrate to Australia, due to the Assisted Migration Agreement between the Australian and Greek government that provided the migrants with free passage on a ship, accommodation in a migrant hostel in a land where there was apparently plenty of work. The application was granted and on April 5, 1968 the family arrived in Melbourne on the Ellinis passenger ship after a 28-day journey.

None of them spoke English. As a young boy, Justice Kyrou was exposed to racism, but again those titles – albeit negative ones – only made him stronger and more determined. “I remember being called wog, greaser, dago, choc, bald choc, spag and other derogatory, racist names at school,” he writes in his autobiography Call me Emilios. “Those names were very hurtful and dented my self-esteem. I felt very ostracised, particularly in the first months.” Justice Kyrou has finally found time to pen his autobiography that captures the struggles faced by migrants – the fear of a strange land and the unknown. Call Me Emilios is available at the Law Institute of Victoria Bookshop, 470 Bourke Street. Phone (03) 9607 9348 or emailbookshop@liv.asn.a