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Paris Aristotle AM, Vic

Australian of the Year Awards 2017

Paris Aristotle AM

Refugee, torture and trauma rehabilitation advocate

2017 Australian of the Year for Victoria

Paris Aristotle

Paris Aristotle is the instigator and CEO of Foundation House, an organisation that helps people rebuild their lives in Australia after surviving torture and trauma in their countries of origin. He also advises both sides of politics on refugee and asylum seeker policy, demonstrating patience and diplomacy as he navigates this ethical and political minefield.

Mind map

Goals, values and aspirations can be difficult to capture in words. In 1987, John Gibson AM, the original chairperson of Foundation House, put pen to paper – literally – to sketch a detailed plan for the establishment of a new agency to assist survivors of torture living in Victoria.

Although Foundation House has grown well beyond the dreams of the original committee, for Paris Aristotle, who has been with the organisation for nearly three decades, the document serves as a constant reminder of core values, identity and purpose.

Detail of a handwritten document on paper.
Detail of mind map, on loan from Paris Aristotle.

Courage in our people

‘You meet people who had been through things that I simply can’t imagine surviving. One couple I worked with in our very early days, were dragged from their house, which was then set on fire. Their two-year-old son was still inside ... I’ll never forget her words. She looked up at me, her eyes brimming with tears and said, ‘I can still hear him crying. He cried all the way to the end’. I thought, if they had the courage to go on, then we had a responsibility to do whatever we could to help them.’

Making connections, restoring hope

‘Imagine coming to a country and not knowing anyone after having been through all those experiences, all that loss. Imagine having no one to talk to, how soul destroying that would be. One of our female clients spoke of how Foundation House provided support and a sense of community: ‘Many brutal things happened during my incarceration ... I didn’t think I could start a new life because of my memories ... they would surface in my dreams and I would wake up crying. Through the relationship with Foundation House I have learned to trust again.’

A holistic approach

'If clients needed medical and specialist services, then our obligation was to get the best care available for them. If they needed social workers, masseurs, psychiatrists, we had an obligation to provide the best of these services also. The intention was always to be holistic, to work across disciplines.'

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images courtesy National Australia Day Council.