Helen Nickas came to Australia as an immigrant from Greece in the sixties, having completed her high school studies in Larissa, Greece.
In 1978 she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne as a mature-aged student. She graduated with Honours in 1984, majoring in Greek and English literature. Subsequently, she undertook a Master of Arts degree, completing it in 1989. She stayed on as a tutor in the Department of Modern Greek Studies (1985-1990) and in 1991 she was appointed lecturer in Greek Studies at La Trobe University teaching Greek language, literature and European Studies. She voluntarily retired from her position at La Trobe in 2006.
While the above is a factual account of her academic studies and career, it does not explain the circumstances that enabled Helen to achieve her goals. When she enrolled for her Bachelor’s degree, she was married with two children while one more was born during her studies. Serendipitously, there developed, and thrived, two major movements (Feminism and Multiculturalism) in the seventies: the former eased the path of many women to study as mature-aged students, while the latter encouraged people from non-Anglo-Celtic origins to feel a sense of being equal with all others and to be part of the wider Australian society. Having come late into a university environment, she felt a sense of social responsibility in that she wanted her studies to have social relevance. Consequently, she chose Greek-Australian literary writing to be her main area of research. The idea that literature can be a historical source urged her to see Greek-Australian writings as documents of the migrant experience. Furthermore, as a woman, she felt that her responsibility was to give voice to voiceless Greek women. As a result, her Master’s degree focussed exclusively on Greek-Australian women writers and their perspective on the migrant experience.
In 1992 she founded Owl Publishing – a not for profit venture – and began with the book Migrant Daughters, a revised version of her thesis. The many positive responses encouraged her to continue and make a contribution by publishing works by Greek-Australian writers. A quick glance at Owl’s Website will indicate that the core of books published are written, edited (in some cases translated) and introduced by women. Helen has been funding and running her publishing business on her own, acting as editor, administrator and distributor of her published books, most of which have been reviewed and discussed in literary circles, not only within the Greek community but also in the wider Australian scene, as well as abroad.
Helen Nickas’ contribution in the literary field has been the happy result of her opportunity to study as a mature-aged student in multicultural Australia, and at a time of women’s advancement through higher education. Her years spent in the intellectually fertile university environments of Melbourne and La Trobe paved the way for her aim of wanting to make a contribution that would be socially relevant.