By Andriana Simos, Argyro Vourdoumpa and John Voutos.
At least 14 prominent Greek Australians in the areas of community service, visual arts, health, architecture and sport have been recognised today in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2021.
Following the announcement on Monday, The Greek Herald had the privilege of speaking to most of these proud Greek Australians to get their thoughts on how it feels to be recognised. This is what they had to say.
Evie Georgas, Queensland:
Evie Georgas has been awarded the Australia Corrections Medal (ACM). She has been recognised for her work with the Queensland Corrective Services (QCS).
Ms Georgas commenced her career with QCS in 1996 as a Custodial Correctional Officer and is now Regional Manager, Sentence Management. Her commitment, expertise and desire to work collaboratively has led to her being held in high regard amongst staff, stakeholders and prisoners.
Ms Georgas tells The Greek Herald she’s honoured to received the recognition and is “very thankful” for the support and guidance she has received throughout her “rewarding career in Queensland Corrective Services.”
“My family have provided me with exceptional support to embark upon a career which can at times, not be entirely understood. I recall the day when I advised my parents that I was going to work in a prison and they waved it off thinking it was just a phase. Little did they know,” Ms Georgas says.
“My interest in working in Corrective Services commenced when I was young as I grew up in Coburg and was curious about what was behind the walls of Pentridge Prison. I thoroughly enjoyed Legal Studies at school and decided to enrol in a Criminology Degree.
“Shortly after commencing this, I was volunteering at a local Community Corrections Centre and was employed shortly thereafter during 1993. I have cross jurisdictional experience across Corrections Victoria and Queensland Corrective Services…
“I thoroughly enjoy working in a complex and challenging environment, collaborating with staff and stakeholders, to achieve the best possible outcomes regarding community safety, while providing prisoners with opportunities for rehabilitation.”
Professor Leonard George Notaras AM, Darwin, Northern Territory:
Professor Leonard George Notaras AM has been awarded in the category of Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia, as well as the special COVID-19 Honour Roll. He has been recognised for his distinguished service to medical administration in the Northern Territory and to professional organisations.
Professor Notaras is a proud Kytherian who has held roles in institutions such as the NT Department of Health, the Australian Medical Association NT and Royal Darwin Hospital.
Currently, he is the Executive Director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin, coordinating Australia’s response to COVID-19 and repatriation.
“I can’t overstate the pride with which I hold all of this, but I’ve also got to say that I never take it for granted. I’m very privileged to have achieved what I’ve achieved… but it is a privilege that I share with the people I have the ability to work with,” Professor Notaras tells The Greek Herald.
“My father passed away in 1964 and like a lot of other good Kytherians and Greek folk, he ran restaurants and cafes and as a 12-13 year old, I took over working in those restaurants with my mother… and I had to grow up pretty quickly.
“I guess where I am today, having the privilege of these acknowledgements and having been able to become a doctor and to do other degrees, shows what you can do from relatively humble beginnings in this country and I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
Lee Christofis, Fitzroy, Victoria:
Lee Christofis has been awarded this year in the category Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. He has been recognised for his significant service to the performing arts, particularly to dance.
Since 1981, Mr Christofis has been a dance critic, arts commentator, producer and broadcaster. During this time, he was the National Vice President of Ausdance (1996-2004), and he’s also worked as a Curator of Dance at the National Library of Australia and in the field of early childhood education in both Melbourne and Brisbane.
“I was very surprised [to be recognised], but very happy about it because it’s important that people who work in the performing arts or who write about the performing arts are recognised as people who have something more to say than is often the case when it comes to things that are intellectual or artistic,” Mr Christofis tells The Greek Herald.
“My parents loved the theatre and we all loved the movies, we always saw Greek movies but we particularly liked American musicals. So you know, you put all those things together and we became much more cosmopolitan in our thinking. But as I got older, the ballet became more important to me and I started studying at the age of 14.”
From there, Mr Christofis says he went from being a dancer at Queensland Ballet, to working in the public service, a Greek travel agent for six months, the retail industry and the General Post Office. All before he ended up in his dream job as a critic and writer.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had a very interesting career and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to be a critic and writer because of the growth in my knowledge, deeper understanding and a lot of good friendships with performers and choreographers and musicians.”
Epaminondas Katsalidis, Victoria:
Epaminondas Katsalidis has been awarded in the category Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. He has been recognised for significant service to architecture and to sustainable construction innovations.
Since 2001, Mr Katsalidis has been a co-founding partner in Fender Katsalidis Pty Ltd. He is a leader in the integration of art into architecture with notable buildings including the Melbourne Terrace Apartment, Republic Tower and Eureka Tower.
“I’m very proud that this has happened and it’s a reflection of the success of members of the Greek community in Australia. I’m very grateful to my parents that placed such an importance on education and provided the opportunity for me to follow what I was passionate about, which was architecture and design,” Mr Katsalidis tells The Greek Herald.
“I think architecture is an important part of society, culture and the built environment, so in that respect, I’m glad that the government acknowledges the important work that architects do for the community.”
Mr Katsalidis goes on to say that he is also passionate about sustainability and that’s why he was the first person in Australia to develop a new prefabrication and modular construction system for more sustainable and efficient construction of mid to high rise buildings.
“As a species, we over-consume and it’s getting to levels where we have 7 billion people going on 9 billion and it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen. So there’s an obligation for society to use less resources and construction uses huge amounts of resources so it seems logical that we have a responsibility to try to minimise that.”
John George Kotzas, South Brisbane, Queensland:
John George Kotzas has been awarded in the category Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. He has been recognised for significant service to the performing arts as an administrator and artistic director.
Since 2008, Mr Kotzas has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC). He’s also previously held the Artistic Director and Education Officer roles at the QPAC.
Mr Kotzas tells The Greek Herald that he was very humbled to receive the recognition in the Queen’s Birthday Honours and he considers it a “highlight” of his career.
“It’s a significant recognition. I’ve always looked up to people who’ve received these awards in the community… My parents and grandparents would be extremely proud because they always told me to give back to the community and aspire to do my best,” Mr Kotzas says.
“I’ve loved every project that I’ve do. Art helps us understand who we are, build our own sense of identity and how we belong within our own communities.”
Andrew Papadopoulos, Earlwood, NSW:
Andrew Papadopoulos has been awarded in the category Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. He was recognised for significant service to motorsport and to driver safety and education.
In the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, Mr Papadopoulos has been a Motorsport Australia Deputy Delegate at the World Motor Sport Council since 2006; President of the FIA ASN (National Sportinf Authority) Development Task Force since 2013, as well as a current member of the Officials Commission and the Single Seater Commission. Currently, Mr Papadopoulos is also a race steward for the Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula E.
“I was born in a little village in Cyprus many, many years ago. We left there when I was seven years old to settle in Sydney. Ever since I could drive, my passion has been cars and motorsport,” Mr Papadopoulos tells The Greek Herald.
“To be recognised on this level, getting an AM for something I enjoy doing, has been great. It’s good for a young Greek kid who knew nothing about cars when we left home to come here and end up with this knowledge and this award.”
Mr Papadopoulos goes on to stress how he is a big advocate for road safety.
“I’ve seen too many incidents where young drivers have hit a telegraph pole because they just didn’t know how to take a corner in the wet.”
George Amarandos, Carindale, Queensland:
George Amarandos has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. He has been recognised for service to the Greek community of Queensland.
Since 1995, Mr Amarandos has been Chair of the Saint Nicholas Nursing Home in Highgate Hill. He has also been Secretary at the nursing home (1983-1995) and a Committee Member (since 1982).
“It was gratifying that [my nomination] came from ordinary members of our community who went to the trouble to do this. That was really good,” Mr Amarandos tells The Greek Herald.
“Back in the ‘80s, when St. Nicholas was opening as a nursing home, that was something different. We had never done anything like that. Forty years later, it’s been embraced by the community. At that stage everyone thought, ‘oh well, how can they put their mother or father in a nursing home?’ The thinking was that you looked after them at home, but we had a good product and it’s been well-received. People in our community still go there…
“What I’m being recognised for is as a result of not doing it by myself but working with other good people. When you work with other good people, you get things done and improve the lives of other people around us.”
Dr Costas Costa, Hurlstone Park, NSW:
Dr Costas Costa has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. He is being recognised for service to medicine as a general practitioner.
Dr Costa has held roles at the Doctors Reform Society including being the former national President, the former NSW President, a member for 40 years and now a life member. Dr Costa of course, is also well known for being a General and Occupational Health Practitioner at Hurlstone Park since 1986.
“I grew up at a time when few working class families could afford to see a doctor… Returning home to Australia, I completed my public health degree at Sydney University and became a GP fairly late compared to my peers,” Mr Costa tells The Greek Herald.
“Becoming a GP meant understanding the needs of my mainly migrant and lower socio economic patients, many of whom suffered poor health as a result of their hard work over many years – the cleaners, caterers, factory, construction, process workers.”
Mr Costa goes one to say he has “mixed feelings about the award” and feels “somewhat conflicted.” He says “the irony is not lost on me” that the Commonwealth is awarding him the honour while, at the same time, rolling back Medicare.
He says that disparities in accessing public health care exist now as they did when he first became a general practitioner, saying, “it seems to me looking back over last 50 years, all we may really have left, is our family and the many, many patients we’ve helped along the way.”
Arthur Papadimitriou, Ormond, Victoria:
Arthur Papadimitriou has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. He has been recognised for service to the galleries sector.
Mr Papadimitriou is the Founder and Director of the Arthur Papadimitriou Collection; an ongoing supporter of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Culture Development at the Victorian College of the Arts and a Donor of the Musee Du Quai Branly in Paris in 2006.
Since 2002, Mr Papadimitriou has been a donor at the Benalla Art Gallery and became a life member in 2004. Interestingly, Mr Papadimitriou has also worked in the education sector in multiple roles.
“Like many Greeks that gave up everything in the hope of securing a better future for their families, my parents arrived in Australia in 1967. My father was proud when I received my French Award in 2006, Chevalier in The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, for services to French and Australian cultures. I know the OAM award would bring a smile to his face, even though he has since passed,” Mr Papadimitriou tells The Greek Herald.
“The Benalla Art Gallery and through people there, this award was possible and in a way it is also for them. Aboriginal art and the first nations people are always deep in my thinking and heart. My aim is to make sure through services to art that all people in Australia appreciate this great country. Finally, without my wife and family support, I could not have followed through with my passion.”
Helen Patsikatheodorou, Mickleham, Victoria:
Helen Patsikatheodorou has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. She has been recognised for service to the community of Hume.
Ms Patsikatheodorou was Mayor of Hume City Council from 2011-2012 and 2015-2016. Between 2008-2016, she was a Councillor. She is a current Community Member of the Friends of Aileu Community Advisory Committee (a project supported by Hume City Council), and an an Electorate Officer at the Office of Maria Vamvakinou MP, Parliament of Australia.
“Back in 2019, I was approached and asked if my name could be put forward for the Order of Australia Medal. To say I was moved and deeply honoured that someone thought I was worthy enough to nominate me, doesn’t express the emotions I felt then,” Ms Patsikatheodorou tells The Greek Herald.
“I, together with my late husband John Patsikatheodorou, have spent all of our working lives giving back to the community and in particular the Hume community that we love and has needed our support. I cannot believe that I was even considered let alone successful.
“Thank you for the nomination! There are so many worthy people in our community that put endless time and effort to assisting others. I am proud to have left a legacy for my children and grandchildren as well as the Greek community.
*Mrs Patsikatheodorou is still referred to as the City of Hume’s ‘Pink Mayor.’
Faye Spiteri, Melbourne, Victoria:
Faye Spiteri has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. She has been recognised for service to the community through social change organisations.
Ms Spiteri has been Patron of the Inspire Foundation, Chair of the Centre (2009-2019) and Board Member (since 2008). The Centre was established in 2012 by Ms Spiteri. At Fronditha Care, Ms Spiteri has also held a number of roles including CEO since February 2021.
“Growing up I was a daydreamer – always imagining how life might be a bit more uncommon – spectacular even- and at the same time thinking about how I could make it different,” Ms Spiteri tells The Greek Herald.
“That has never changed– I’m still a dreamer but in a different way- I find awe and wonder in simple things and these are the things that drive me and have sustained me. This is also what has given me the strength and courage to get through very challenging times in life but also the motivation to make a positive difference to the lives of others.
“As a daughter of migrants, a granddaughter of refugees I never imagined my life journey would lead me where it has. I have, largely because of their sacrifices, led a life of privilege. And I have landed where I have because they in fact showed me the way. Whether by example or osmosis they showed me loving care and gave me a solid foundation grounded in care for others.
“I inherited my mother’s passion and drive and learnt to be brave and courageous from my beloved aunt and my father’s legacy was teaching me how to love life. But more importantly perhaps, my mother and aunt, like me, were great advocates of diversity, gender equity and true champions of women and social change. So, in every respect I really believe this accolade belongs to all of them as much as me.”
Maria Alexiadis, Victoria:
Maria Alexiadis has been awarded in the category Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the General Division. She has been recognised for her service to karate.
Ms Alexiadis has held many roles at Karate Victoria including: the current Board Secretary, Board Member since 2015, lead state Kumite coach since 2009 (first female Kumite coach for Victoria), coaching education coordinator since 2015 and female/athlete development coordinator since 2012.
At the 2019 Oceania Championships and the 2012 Premier Series A League in Athens, Ms Alexiadis was a gold medallist.
“My work for and on behalf of Karate Victoria is inspired by my journey in a male dominated sport, the amazing athletes I’ve had the pleasure of coaching, competing with and against and the fact that I feel like I can genuinely make a positive difference to the sport and lives of others,” Ms Alexiadis tells The Greek Herald.
“I hope that the Greek Australian community are as proud and inspired by my recognition as I am of my Greek heritage. It is my heritage that has helped shape me into the person I have become… Greek Australians have done and continue to do a lot of good for this amazing country of ours. May this award continue to inspire and encourage people to work hard, persevere, aspire and dream.”
Dr Michelle Aléna Cretikos, New South Wales:
Dr Michelle Cretikos has been awarded the Public Service Medal (PSM) and has also been named in the special COVID-19 Honour Roll. She has been recognised for outstanding public service to community health in New South Wales.
Dr Michelle Cretikos commenced with NSW Health in 1998, and since that time has been passionate about making a difference to people’s lives through the delivery of health care services, and more recently through high quality, evidence based policy development and implementation.
As the Executive Director, Centre for Alcohol and Other Drugs, she led the Ministry of Health’s response to music festival harm reduction. This required her to work across government with music festival organisers, private medical providers and other stakeholders.
More recently, Dr Cretikos significantly contributed to the development and implementation of public health measures to limit COVID-19 transmission in NSW.
Professor Eugene Athan, Geelong, Victoria
Prof Athan, who is director of the Barwon South West Public Health Unit, has been awarded an OAM for service to infectious diseases medicine.
The 55-year-old father of two adult kids said it was a “great honour” and he was very humbled and appreciative.
“Because of the time cycle of the awards process, this relates to the work I’ve done over the last 20 years prior to Covid,” he told Geelong Advertiser.