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John Perry: the son of migrants who fought for human rights in Australia

The Perry family hopes their father's story will continue to inspire others of Hellenic origin to achieve all that they can

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John Perry Photo: Supplied

24 October 2017

The SA Chapter of The Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association and their national patron, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia), hosted the annual John Perry Oration at the Adelaide Pavillion last month.

Michael Kirby AC CMG was the keynote speaker on 'Justice Perry and the beneficial interface between Australian and International Law'.

According to his family, Perry's life was rich and complete because he sought to share all that he could with others, and particularly young people.

"I wish to say how very honoured and touched my family and I are that the South Australian Chapter of the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association should celebrate my father's life and contribution to the law and the community [with] this annual oration," said Perry's daughter, Justice Melissa Perry, who also serves in the RAAF Legal Specialist Reserves as a squadron leader.

John Perry was the son of migrants, his father arrived in Australia during the Depression as a young man from Farmagusta, Cyprus and John's mother came from Liverpool in England. Both came from seafaring families.

"My grandfather worked as a waterside worker at Port Adelaide. Like many migrant families at that time, he decided to anglicise his name from 'Pieris' to 'Perry' – a decision which my father later regretted – and he did not speak Greek at home," she revealed.

"It was not until my father met my mother that he grew to appreciate his Greek heritage. They were both students at the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, with my father continuing his love of the violin and my mother, her love of the piano."

The charismatic man also studied law and served the Law Society in many capacities, including as Chair of the Common Law and Continuing Legal
Education Committees, a member of its Statutory Committee and later, the Disciplinary Tribunal, and was also Law Society president (1984-1985).

His sense of social justice and equality was reflected in his passion for representing migrants.

In March 1988, Perry was appointed to the Supreme Court of South Australia, joining his former principal, partner and mentor, the late Justice Michael White AO.

Perry served on the Court for 19 years, presiding over many substantial trials and appeals.

His energy and commitment to public service was recognised shortly before his untimely death with his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to the judiciary and to the law, namely as a contributor to the activities of professional regulatory committees, legal education and for service to the public.

"What my father's story shows is that no matter how modest our beginnings, there is truly nothing that we cannot aspire to achieve, and that we are all the more likely to achieve our dreams if we embrace who we are," Melissa said.

"These achievements, in turn, are so much more rewarding when life is approached with the kind of generosity of spirit that my father exemplified and which exemplifies Greek culture and tradition.
"Whether it was hospitality, friendship, encouragement, experience, knowledge, compassion or time, my father gave without ever counting the cost. I think it is true to say that he has left much behind and my family and I hope that, through this annual oration, my father's story will continue to inspire others of Hellenic origin to achieve all that they may, with the generosity of heart and joy of life that was in my father's genes and is embedded in the Hellenic way of life," she said.

John Perry passed away aged 69, shortly after his retirement in 2007.

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