SC Olyvia Nikou: From local translator to powerful prosecutor

Olyvia Nikou is the first Greek Australian to be awarded silk status (SC) at the Victorian bar, here she recalls growing up as a Greek migrant

SC Olyvia Nikou

Olyvia Nikou remembers filing the locals’ tax returns and translating documents at a very young age, all in the apt setting of her parents’ fish and chip shop. “My father would buy a Greek right wing newspaper, a Greek left wing paper and an Australian newspaper, and we’d have the encyclopedia there. I would translate one newspaper, he would translate the other and we’d discuss world affairs and world politics. I was in a league of my own thanks to my father about world affairs, geography, history and politics.” And she is still in a league of her own in the Victorian bar. SC Olyvia Nikou settled in Australia at a young age from Greece, and soon became the town’s translator, thanks to her father’s love of news.
As a 10-year-old, she was filing S form tax returns for the locals. “I remember reading a mortgage document – I could understand what each word said, but I didn’t know the meaning of the whole document,” she says. “When I had to confess that I didn’t understand the document, I was patronizingly patted on the head and my parents’ friends would say, ‘Well, she’s not very bright, but I’m sure there’ll be something that she could do in life’. “That remained with me.” Her parents’ guidance and thirst for current affairs made Ms Nikou the barrister she is today.
Her translating skills and knowledge of the news made her form an idea of the world and what was right and wrong. “Nothing could have been a better lesson than that to equip me in life to use my own brain, assess the world and come to my own opinion,” she says. Just thinking about her parent’s sacrifice brings tears to her eyes. Working seven days a week at their fish and chip shop, and sometimes working two jobs (her father worked night shifts at Ford), only Christmas day and Easter Sunday were off limits. “We never ever had a holiday,” she says.
“The most that we had was a trip to the beach – you know, someone would have to look after the shop whilst the other parent took us to the beach, and they’d do a swap.” Even for Ms Nikou, many hours were spent at that fish and chip shop. The shop was notorious for being a social club for the local Greeks in the area, coming to her father for updates on current Greek political affairs and for a good gossip.
She was able to experience the best of both cultures simultaneously, and is something she holds close to her heart. “I can never repay my parents for what they did, and I can’t imagine another country being as accommodating as Australia has been.” “I owe two debts – one to my parents and one to Australia,” she says with a tear in her eye. Her life as a barrister has seen her prosecute some of the most high-profile cases. Specialising in the most severe family court matters, she has become one of the most well-respected QCs. Olyvia Nikou is the first Greek Australian to be awarded silk status (SC) at the Victorian bar.