Terry is a Yorta, Wemba Wemba and Wergaia man; one of five children raised by his mother Lorraine Forrester (nee Stewart) and his grandmother Nellie Stewart (nee Jackson). He was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1957 before his mother and grandmother returned to Melbourne and moved to Shepparton in the early 1960s.
His mother and grandmother only had seasonal, part time work while he was growing up but, despite many difficulties, they provided a secure home that enabled him to focus on his schooling at Gowrie Street Primary School and army cadets while he was at Shepparton Technical College. Terry’s first jobs included newspaper delivery boy, cannery worker and abattoir worker. He was unsure whether to leave his abattoir job and go to university at Bendigo because it was so far away!
Terry especially acknowledges all the women who played a key role in his life, including his mother, grandmother and community aunties whose love and support grounded him throughout his journey. Terry hopes he has lived up to their expectations – and truly believes he is a product of the 2018 NAIDOC theme ‘Because of Her We Can’.
Terry studied at La Trobe University (Bendigo), where he completed a Diploma of Arts (General Studies) in 1977 and a Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) in 1978. Terry trained to be a secondary school teacher but, before taking up a teaching position, got the opportunity of a traineeship with the Aboriginal Development Commission and from there he commenced his distinguished public service career. Terry was and remains passionate and committed to using the levers of the public service to empower communities to work on solutions and outcomes that are based on community control.
Work with the Victorian Public Service
Terry is currently the Deputy Secretary of the Local Infrastructure Group of 600 staff in Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) with responsibility for service delivery and providing advice to the Victorian Government in relation to the portfolios of local government, suburban development and the titles office. Terry is Victoria’s most senior Aboriginal public servant having worked in the Victorian Public Service since 1989 when he was appointed Executive Director of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria – a position he held for seven years. Terry was the first Aboriginal person to hold a Chief Administrator's position in the Victorian Public Service and provided the operating foundations that see Aboriginal Victoria well established and recognised as a key public service agency today.
Leadership, passion and commitment to community
Terry’s public service career is marked by leadership, passion and commitment to advancing the interests of Aboriginal people and building partnerships of respect between the public sector and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. Through the 1980s and 1990s, especially during his time in Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, Terry focused Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs portfolio on the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage, the empowerment of Aboriginal community controlled organisations, and the accountability of mainstream government departments in the delivery of services to Aboriginal people.
Terry started his public service career as an Aboriginal trainee in the Aboriginal Development Commission (ADC) in Canberra in1980. He held various positions in the ADC and was its first Assistant Regional Director for Victoria/Tasmania. Terry joined Aboriginal Hostels Limited (AHL) in 1982 when he was appointed AHL’s Regional Manager for Victoria/Tasmania and went on to be promoted to the position of Manager, Third Party Hostels Program across Australia in 1985. Terry also worked for the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education and Training where he worked in its national office on Aboriginal employment programs from 1987 to 1988 after which he joined the Victorian Public Service in Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.
Some of Terry’s key work at Aboriginal Affairs Victoria included co-ordinating Victoria’s responses to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the National Inquiry into the Forced Removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. Terry believes one of his proudest achievements was ensuring that Victoria co-operated fully with the ‘Stolen Generations Inquiry’. Terry advocated for all State and Territory jurisdictions to provide submissions and give evidence to this Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry.
Department of Human Services
Terry started work in broader public service roles when he was appointed in 1996 as the Regional Director, Hume Region, Department of Human Services, based in Wangaratta, with responsibilities across north-eastern Victoria. He transferred to the Regional Director, Loddon-Mallee Region, based in Bendigo and served in that position from 2000 to 2007. In both positions he was responsible for about 700 staff and departmental funding of approximately $250 million per annum across the department’s operations in acute health, mental health, aged care, disability services, child protection, juvenile justice and public housing.
In 2007, Terry decided to again broaden his public sector experience and took up responsibilities as the Executive Director, Freight, Logistics and Marine Division in the Department of Transport. In that position he led major freight, logistics, port and marine policy developments and was involved in major projects such as the Channel Deepening project, the North-East Rail Revitalisation project, the upgrade of regional freight lines and the improvement of rail freight access to the Port of Geelong and the Port of Melbourne. Terry was then appointed to his current role as Deputy Secretary, Local Infrastructure, in the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure (now DELWP) in 2013.
Terry has five children and is very proud that two of his sons Ward and Curt have joined him in the Victorian Public Service working in Aboriginal services. Terry even hopes his younger children Claire, Lucy and Wil might also join the Victorian Public Service when they are old enough!
Highlighting the important of self-determination
During his public service career Terry has had the opportunity to work with Aboriginal communities in every state and territory as well as travel internationally to learn from the experiences of first nations in New Zealand and the United States of America. Terry believes those experiences have highlighted the importance of self-determination and treaty as the way forward to recognise the status and position of Aboriginal people in a way that empowers communities.
Terry was elected to the boards of the Aborigines Advancement League Inc and Camp Jungai Aboriginal Co-operative Ltd which provided him with a wonderful insight into the important role and value of Aboriginal community controlled organisations.
Terry was appointed to the board of Museum of Victoria for nine years where he chaired its Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee. In these roles he supported the development of the Museum’s new Bunjilaka Centre and focused on the repatriation of ancestral remains to Aboriginal communities across Australia.
Terry was a part of the Centenary of Federation Committee for five years, the Board of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) for six years and is one of its National Fellows. IPAA is a professional association that works to support the public sector’s professional development and integrity. He also chaired IPAA Victoria’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and championed IPAA’s Reconciliation Action Plan embedding Aboriginal initiatives in the work of IPAA. At IPAA Terry led a partnership between IPAA and La Trobe University to deliver an accredited professional course for Indigenous public servants to gain a formal higher education qualification by studying entrepreneurial business planning, public sector accounting, leadership and public policy.
Awarded a La Trobe University Distinguished Alumni Medal
In 2007, La Trobe University celebrated its 40th anniversary and Terry was chosen from outstanding La Trobe graduates who have made significant contributions to the community and awarded a La Trobe University Distinguished Alumni Medal.
Terry is also an alumni of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) through which he participated in its ANZSOG’s Australia - China Reciprocal Public Sector Leadership Program in 2014. Additionally, he has been a champion of the Victorian Government's contribution to the development of public administration in Timor-Leste. Terry has been a strong advocate for all forms of diversity and inclusion in the public sector as he believes that reflecting all the community that we serve makes the public sector stronger.
Terry’s outstanding public service was recognised in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours List when he was awarded the Public Service Medal (PSM), ‘for outstanding public service across multiple policy areas, and to public sector diversity and inclusion in Victoria’. This year, Terry was also honoured to be included on the huge outdoor mural of past directors of the Aborigines Advancement League at Thornbury.
Mentored and inspired by many
Terry has been mentored and inspired through his life by such people as his ‘adopted koori mum’ Bunta Patten, Auntie Merle Jackomos, Jill Gallagher, Alf Bamblett and his cuz Andrew Jackomos as well as many others. “It’s a wonderful privilege to be nominated and included on the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll. I’m in such inspiring company and I want to thank so many people who have supported my professional and personal journey; I could not have done it without them. I have so many wonderful memories of that support and I draw on it as inspiration everyday”.