Greek Festival of Sydney

The Greek Australian Writers’ Festival

Beta Bar
238 Castlereagh St, Sydney
2 Apr  10am –6pm

Presented by The Greek Festival of Sydney and UTS Journalism and Writing
Directed by Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos, Professional Fellow UTS

The 41st Greek Festival of Sydney is hosting the Greek-Australian Writers’ Festival to showcase books by Greek-Australian writers and Australian writers telling Greek stories.

Australia’s Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyrou will join us from Athens for the keynote session on the legacy of Charmian Clift, the Australian journalist and writer who wrote about living on Kalymnos and Hydra. Nearly sixty years after they were published, they have only just been translated into Greek.

We will discuss the evolution of Greeks in Australia asking Are we White yet? This will be recorded by the ABC’s Radio National Big Ideas program.

The 45-minute sessions will include questions from the audience. Books will be on sale and authors available for signings.

Free but bookings essential at

  • 10am – 10.45am | Mothers, Sons and Daughters: Journeys

This session explores the work of two authors who have decided to honour their mothers and recount journeys taken with or by them. On a whim Susan Johnson asked her 85year old mother Barbara to go and live with her on the Island of Kythera. Aphrodite’s Breath is a memoir of their challenging and sometimes difficult times in a language and culture not their own.

Peter Polites’ mother challenged him to expand his oeuvre of queer noir by writing about her. God Forgets About The Poor is a love letter from a son to a mother and a monument to a diaspora. He writes about her journey from Greece to a new life in Australia. This session will be facilitated by Anna Patty, a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Susan Johnson is the author of twelve books, three non-fiction and eight novels published in Australia and overseas including The Landing which was published in Greek translation by Okeaonos. Her latest is a memoir of living on Kythera, Greece, called Aphrodite’s Breath: A Mother and Daughter’s Greek Island Adventure.

Peter Polites is a novelist from Western Sydney. He has written two queer noirs, Down the Hume and The Pillars, which won the 2020 NSW Premier’s Multicultural Literary Award. He also won the 2020 Woollahra Digital Literature Prize for Fiction. In 2021 he was the ACT Writer in Residence at UNSW Canberra where he worked on his third novel, God Forgets About the Poor.

  • 11am – 11.45am | Playing with fire: Fusing history with fiction. 

The tumultuous history of Greece is fertile ground for authors.  In this session two award winning Australia authors discuss their books inspired by historical events that have left an indelible mark on the psyche of Greece. In Salonika Burning, Gail Jones tells the story of four volunteers who came to the rescue amid great social upheaval. Kate Forsyth’s The Crimson Thread is set during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Crete and reimagines the myth of the Minotaur in the Labyrinth.  The session will be facilitated by Dr Phil Kafcaloudes author of Someone Else’s War, a novel based on his grandmother’s WW2 experience and Australia Calling: The ABC Radio Australia Story.

Gail Jones is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. She is the author of two short-story collections and nine novels including The Death of Noah Glass and A Guide to Berlin her work has been translated into several languages and she has received numerous literary awards. She is a Professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University.

Kate Forsyth is an award-winning author, poet, and storyteller. Her books include Bitter Greens, a retelling of ‘Rapunzel’ which won the 2015 American Library Association award for Best Historical Fiction, and Searching for Charlotte: The Fascinating Story of Australia’s First Children’s Author, co-written by her sister Belinda Murrell She has recently released Alchemy, a collection of art, poems and creative reflections in collaboration with Archibald award-winning artist Wendy Sharpe.

  • 12pm – 12.45pm | The Historians’ Odyssey: Greece and Australia

Nicholas Doumanis  has taught history at the University of NSW and is about to take up the Hellenic Foundation Chair and Professor of History at the University of Illinois Chicago. He has published several books including Before the Nation and The History of Greece. He has just collaborated on The Edinburgh History of the Greeks, written from a transnational perspective that includes the diaspora and minorities. Jim Claven has explored the Greek-Australian military relationship by telling the personal stories of soldiers and their lived experience by accessing their diaries and photographs. Grecian Adventure: Greece 1941, Anzac Trail Stories and Photographs is his latest book and follows Lemnos & Gallipoli Revealed: A Pictorial History of the Anzacs in the Aegean 1915-16.    Tony Maniaty, is a journalist, photographer and author of many books including Shooting Balibo: Blood and Memory in East Timor a memoir of his time as a correspondent. He will be discussing the different ways of telling history in this session.

  • 12.45pm – 1.45pm | Lunch Break 

A light lunch will be provided. Take this opportunity to browse the many books on sale and speak with authors.

  • 2pm – 3pm | Are We ‘White’ Yet? Let’s talk diversity.

Join us for a panel discussion with prominent Greek-Australians exploring the question of whether we are now considered ‘white’ within Australia’s colourful social fabric. Is the era of Greek ‘otherness’ over? What role did anglicising surnames play in our journey towards acceptance? As one of the oldest migrant groups in country do Diversity and Inclusion policies apply to us or are we too established or assimilated? Join Helen Vatsikopoulos, Phil Kafcaloudes, Nicholas Doumanis, Paul Farrell, Mary Coustas and Anna Patty for a robust discussion on identity and belonging.

This will be recorded for one hour to be broadcast on the ABC’s Big Ideas program for Radio National.

  • 3pm – 3.45pm | Picture this: Power of visual storytelling

A picture is worth a thousand words. In this presentation Effy Alexakis and Tony Maniaty will discuss the importance of photography in documenting experience and creating knowledge. Both will discuss their photography books and showcase their latest images. The session will be facilitated by Dr Phil Kafcaloudes author of Someone Else’s War and Australia Calling: The ABC Radio Australia Story. He is an academic and experienced broadcaster.

Effy Alexakis is a documentary photographer whose works are held in both public and private collections in Australia and Athens. She spent 25 years with Macquarie University, is ranked among the top ten portrait photographers in Australia and has been a recipient of many prestigious grants. Alexakis has documented the Greek presence in Australia in iconic books like In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians and Greek Cafes and Milk Bars of Australia which has just been reissued. Her latest book is Effy Alexakis, Forty photos a Year at a Time.

Tony Maniaty is an award-winning Greek-Australian author and photojournalist based in Sydney and Paris. He has worked in the media as a foreign correspondent and executive producer as well as Associate Professor of Creative Practice at the University of Technology Sydney. He has published five books – including the novel ‘Smyrna’, shortlisted for The Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s premier literary prize, and ‘Shooting Balibo’, his account of covering the bloody conflict in Timor-Leste. His photobook ‘Our Hearts Are Still Open’ focuses on life in Paris during the Covid pandemic. His forthcoming photobook is ’New Athenians’, featuring street portraits of the new arrivals and young Greeks changing the face of modern Athens.

  • 4pm – 4.45pm | The Write Stuff: Hydra’s Literary and Photographic Age

During the 1950s the Greek Island of Hydra attracted dreamers, writers and creatives from all over the world. It was on Hydra that the Australian classic My Brother Jack was written by former war correspondent George Johnston and where his wife Charmian Clift wrote Peel Me a Lotus. The island became a haven for creatives like Leonard Cohen, Sidney Nolan and many others. Winner of the non-fiction Prime Minister’s Literary Award is Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964 tells the story of this expatriate community. The authors will discuss their research and showcase a trove of rare photographs they discovered with David Hill author of several bestselling books including The Forgotten Children and The Making of Australia. He is the Chairman of the Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures and President of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. He is also a former Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Paul Genoni is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University. He has published widely in Australian literary and cultural studies, and is a former President of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. With Tanya Dalziell he is the co-editor of Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature, 1935-2012, and co-author of Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964.

Tanya Dalziell is Professor of English and Literary Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her most recent book is on the Australian author, Gail Jones (Gail Jones: Word, Image, Ethics), and she is co-editor of Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave and with Julieanne Lamond of the journal, Australian Literary Studies. With Paul Genoni she is the co-editor of Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature, 1935-2012, and co-author of Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964.

  • 5pm – 5.45pm | 100 years of Charmian Clift – Translating Greek Island life to the world

In 1955, while living on Kalymnos, Australian author Charmian Clift ‘translated’ the island’s culture for English-speaking readers in Mermaid Singing. Only recently has the story come back to Greece in the translation Το Τραγούδι της Γοργόνας. In this panel discussion, the book’s translator, Fotini Pipi, will describe her process and the forthcoming translation of Peel Me A Lotus which Clift wrote on Hydra. Australia’s Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyrou will discuss the books’ significance for Greek and Australian readers. Clift’s biographer, Nadia Wheatley, will put Clift’s experience on Kalymnos and Hydra into the context of the author’s life. The panel will be chaired by academic and journalist, Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos.

Arthur Spyrou is Australia’s Ambassador to Greece. He is also an award-winning poet and the translator of a volume of poetry by Yiannis Ritsos. Born in Athens, Arthur grew up in Australia, where he completed degrees in Sydney and Melbourne. In 2022, he unveiled the plaque on the house on Kalymnos where Charmian Clift was living when she wrote Mermaid Singing.

Fotini Pipi is the translator of Charmian Clift’s travel memoirs Mermaid Singing and Peel me a Lotus.  Of the forty or so books she has translated, Fotini considers these Clift translations her best work yet. Educated in Greece and America, Fotini lives in Athens in the house where she was born.

Nadia Wheatley is the author of multi-award winning The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift, the classic account of the life and work of this transformational author. She is editor of a selection of Clift’s essays, Sneaky Little Revolutions and was on the speakers’ panel at the launch of the Greek translation of Clift’s Mermaid Singing on the island of Kalymnos.

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