Natasha Papasavas: ‘Without dad I wouldn’t have done law; but he never expected me to’

The daughter of the Antipodes Festival pioneer opens up on the 'double-edged sword' relationship with her late father, and how she managed to follow on his footsteps against all odds.

“Dad was always an inspiration to me,” Natasha Papasavas tells Neos Kosmos in a candid conversation, sharing publicly for the first time, insights into their relationship.

The Melburnian mother of two, is a full-time lawyer with expertise in family law. Her career spans over two decades, and for the last five years, Papasavas manages her own firm, alongside her husband.

As fate had it, a premature death at the age of 51 meant her father never got to witness her trajectory in life as an adult.

At the time Savas Papasavas passed, he was already deemed by many a community pioneer and an acclaimed lawyer. It was also the time Natasha had just turned 19 and experienced the disappointment of not getting into law school as she aimed.

Her father was quick to console her: “Please don’t stress. You’ll get married…have children… Don’t worry you’ll find a good Greek boy.”

The words were spoken “out of genuine love” for her, she reflects today. But they were by no means the ones she wanted to hear.

“Because in my mind, I wanted to be a lawyer, but I never vocalised it.

“But if I really listened to what my dad said I would have babies from my 20s. He just thought and expected me to marry a good Greek boy.

“Good thing I didn’t,” she muses with a laugh.

Savas Papasavas does not need introductions for anyone old enough to remember the events that gave birth to Melbourne’s most prominent Greek celebration to this day.

Then president of the Greek Community, Papasavas is credited as ‘the Father of the Antipodes Festival’.

It was during a 1987 trip to Athens, that Melina Mercouri, Greece’s Minister for Culture at the time is said to have pitched the idea to him. And he adopted it without hesitation.

For more on this and the inaugural Lonsdale Street Festival story, it’s worth revisiting this Neos Kosmos tribute published in 2023 marking the 30th anniversary of his passing.


But back to Natasha and the untold Papasavas story.

If your family runs their own business or you grew up with parents leading busy careers, you’ll know that success comes at a cost, often deducted from time spent with loved ones.

“We didn’t see him that much. He had a public profile, a business to run, he was successful and had a family. So, there had to be sacrifices. He would come home after 8.30-9 most nights. You can’t be that successful and have the balance of life in all areas,” she comments.

But she remembers her father not being different within the family circle than how he behaved publicly.

“I don’t remember him being stressed at a point where he would come home and be worried. He wasn’t any different at home honestly. He had a smile on his face and always laughing, joking.”

Father and daughter in their last photo taken together. Photo: Supplied

To this day, Greek clients and even people she randomly comes across in court speak highly of her father. It’s evident Natasha is proud to carry this legacy.

But hearing her describe how she built her career, sounds far from a dad passing the baton story.

If anything, she credits her mum as opening the way for her to follow in the same foot steps.

“Without dad, I wouldn’t have done law.

“But I will say this categorically, my mum was responsible for my motivation, because without her I wouldn’t have been able to go and do it.”

It was after studying arts and completing postgraduate studies in criminology that a friend prompted her to do a law degree offered interstate.

“It was not long before that my dad had died and my mum was not that strong mentally. She needed me and I thought it was going to be really hard for her if I was moving away. But when I went home and told her, she said ‘I really want you to go and I’m going to help you’.”

“She actually pushed me. The money was all upfront and if you failed you had to pay it back[…] In the beginning, I didn’t even believe I was going to get in. But I did. And after that it was like there’s no break.”

The next struggle was finding her first job.

“If my dad were alive, I would have had contacts,” she contends.

“But when you don’t know anyone, you just start from scratch.”

Natasha says she was lucky to get into a job straight away, getting a deep dive into criminal and family law.

The latter became her area of choice.

“Because you’re able to help people when they’re dealing with their emotions, their children and their money. They’re all important and intertwined. So, it’s really satisfying.”

Natasha with her husband and their two daughters, Elly, 14, and Bianca, 17. “It would have been lovely for my dad to have met them and my brother’s [kids], 8-year-old Elizabeth and 10-year-old Sam, named after him”. Photo: Supplied
After years of working for others, the 50-year-old is today the director of her own firm.

But thinking back at her teens, she says she didn’t believe she was smart enough to do law.

“I just didn’t have the confidence and it was always my brother that my parents were expecting him to do it. I think it came down to the era and the stereotype that ‘the son is going to do this and the girl that.”

The late Savas Papasavas did not get to witness the path each of the two siblings forged for themselves.

“It’s sad because he missed out on a big chunk […] You know, I’m very skilled in one domain, but my brother… he’s skilled in hospitality, property development, restaurants… he’s an entrepreneur.”

To this day, she believes she inherited her flair for family law from her father.

“I love the fact that I’ve got people coming to me because I try to be a caring lawyer to my clients. And I think he’s exactly the same. I think I got that from him.

“It’s filotimo really. He’s had this character with clients and it really suited him what he did. It just takes a certain person to be like that and listen to people.”

“So, it’s a ‘double-edged sword’ relationship, you know what I mean? Without him I wouldn’t have done law; but he never expected me to do law either.”

Savas Papasavas served as president of the South Melbourne (Hellas) Soccer Club during the decade of its peak glory. Here, in the centre seen laughing, after a Cup final. Photo: South Melbourne FC/Facebook

Natasha says she wanted to share this never-before-told story as a tribute to her father, but also as an act of honesty towards women of her generation and younger.

After all, talking openly about the shortcomings within relationships we have with our fathers and other important figures in our lives is not a sign of disrespect.

It is about speaking truth to facts, like the different opportunities and expectations facing girls compared to boys, then and today.

It is about acknowledging the ills of a society affecting us, our loved ones, and people around us.

We all face them one way or another.

Whether you’re a daughter or a son, know that rejecting the ills of a past or present impacting you does not mean disrespecting a parent no longer living who had – even inevitably – a role in this.

If anything, they would be proud of us for taking the courage.

Natasha Papasavas’ mum Elly, and grandmother. Photo: Supplied