Early last year Olympia Koziaris embarked on a personal sojourn to go out to find the people who could tell their story as part of the Greek community of Yarraville, the neighbourhood that she grew up in. All that work has come to fruition with the recent publication of her book: “Yassou Yarraville from Heartache to Heroes”.

The book which incorporates 20 local stories from people who lived in Yarraville and Footscray in particular from the 1950s onwards when the area attracted many Greek migrants newly arrived in Australia. The 283-page book features over 200 images (pictures, documents, memorabilia) that help to tell the story of a unique part of Melbourne.

“One lady that I interviewed had kept all her documents from before her arrival by ship to Melbourne and she made these available for the book,” Ms Koziaris told Neos Kosmos. The book features the stories of the Greek schoolteachers, librarians, restauranteurs, sportspeople, and shopkeepers of Yarraville.

“All the stories were interesting, I was amazed by the depth of experience of our residents. I saw the area for the first time from the perspective of adults,” said Ms Koziaris who spent her childhood in Yarraville.

“I had been thinking about doing this for a long time and I had a strong sense of urgency that I had to do it as soon as possible.”

READ MORE: Project to record stories of Yarraville’s Greek community

She began work on the project in January last year and visited two elderly groups in the area.

“I made presentations to people telling them what I am about. I wrote up a questionnaire and handed out flyers to the community. People volunteered and passed on information. By the time the COVID pandemichit in March, I had people who were prepared to talk to me on the phone and some who were able to use the technology to send me information or did so with help from others,” she said.

The lockdowns last year offered her the opportunity to sit down and focus on the writing. There were people who felt particularly isolated (during lockdown) who were happy to talk. Some felt abandoned by their families and lived in anticipation of when they would next see their grandchildren.”

“My focus on this project helped me to stay grounded. I would send the drafts to the families to confirm the stories

“The kafenia were a very important feature of life in Yarraville but some described them as a zougla (jungle). My pappou and my father would go there, and I did not know there was gambling and other things going on there. I was not aware of the problems they caused.”

READ MORE: Readers respond well to call for stories of old Yarraville

“I spoke to Cally Kwas (born Seitanidis) who was the first Greek woman in Victoria Police. She was a police officer in Footscray who would help the Greek community to understand the laws and to tell them that the police was there to help and were should not be feared,” Ms Koziaris said.

The book looks at other aspects of life such as the rise of Greek schools, church life, entertainment and sport – Doxa was the football club that the Greeks of Yarraville supported. Another aspect of community life was the library.

“Dimitra Charisiadis who was a machinist for 20 years, had studied economics at Athens University. When Gough Whitlam’s Labor party came to power and recognised foreign qualifications, she became a Yarraville branch librarian who would visit the work places with books and magazines for the workers.

A true community project, Ms Koziaris said the Yarraville Writers’ Group help in the editing process once she had completed the writing of the book in December, last year. The Footscray Historical Society also played a role to ensure the accuracy of the book.

The current Mayor of Maribyrnong Cr Michael Clarke provided the book’s foreword. The council had issued the community grant that helped Ms Koziaris to begin the work on the book.

Visit https://yiasouyarraville.wordpress.com/ for information on where to get a copy of “Yiasou Yarraville from Heartache to Heroes” by Olympia Kosiaris. Published by Doublethread