War stories
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 14:46

War-storiesWith a career spanning more than 27 years, Walkley Award-winning journalist Helen Vatsikopoulos has spent most of her life telling the stories of others. Now it's her turn.

After a successful career reporting and presenting for the ABC and SBS, Vatsikopoulos decided to embark on her very own adventure. In 2009 she enrolled in a UTS Master of Creative Arts (Research) course, which has expanded into a Doctorate of Creative Arts and full time position lecturing in television journalism.

Vatsikopoulos's career shift into academia focuses on a non-fiction memoir about her family during the Greek Civil War between 1946 and 1949. The aftermath of the war can still be felt in Greece today, with many suffering the emotional effects of a divided society that has experienced little reconciliation. 

"Now that I have the time, I feel like it's my duty to tell this story," says Vatsikopoulos. "This is a period that not very many people know about, so my job is to extract these stories and turn them into a narrative about human beings – love, emotion, separation and reconciliation."

The journalist has spent the last four years unearthing untold stories of the civil war through extensive research and interviews, many with her own family members.

Helen's father, photo self-supplied

Vatsikopoulos's father Petros was a young boy during the war and one of the 28 000 children taken by the communists and resettled behind the Iron Curtain. Initially he was forcibly conscripted into the communist army and trained to fight.

"He was only 16 or 17 when he was taken down to the mountain and taught to shoot. However, a little old lady from our village of Laimos prepared a concoction for him and told him to smoke it.

"When he turned up to training the next day his whole face had turned yellow and he looked very sick. They realised he was no good for fighting and let him stay with the children. His life was saved by that little old lady, and I may not have existed today had he been taken to fight."

Vatsikopoulos admits the project has come with challenges, which is one of the reasons she chose to undertake it as part of her degree. "There's a structure to follow here. I have my supervisor John Dale who looks over my progress and helps me with narrative and writing technique. Then I also have Senior Lecturer Sue Joseph who helps me find that academic framework and build upon the existing knowledge."

In addition to juggling what she calls her different "hats" – journalistic, academic and creative – Vatsikopoulos has encountered some hesitation from interviewees.

"There are some branches of the family that want to know why the hell I'm bothering to do this. Potentially you'll be digging up skeletons that perhaps some people would prefer remain underground. So there is a slight element of controversy."

However, Vatsikopoulos is determined to shed light on this period. "I have conducted a lot of interviews and some people have passed away since I did them, so I am lucky their stories can still be told. Really, that is the urgency of it all – it's important for me to get their stories out before they're lost forever."