By Peter Dewar
By the time Williamstown is stirring on a glorious frosty morning, the Bracks’ dogs have been walked, phone calls fielded. I’m a few moments early. All the same, Terry Bracks beats me to Chapter 1 Cafe, the local library’s new eatery. Thirty minutes has been pinched for an interview until she heads off for a busy day in the city working for the Balibo House Trust. Welcome to Terry’s version of a quieter life.
A decade earlier, husband Steve was Premier of Victoria, and life was even busier with added pressures: “We were in the public eye, which I don’t like, I’m a fairly private person. We’re grateful Steve got out just as social media was on the rise,” says Terry.
Still, politics has its advantages for someone wanting to make a difference at “the pointy end – the community level”.
A program operating in Mildura, supporting young students, had impressed Terry. Closer to home in the west of Melbourne, social disadvantage was widespread. “Because of my teaching background, and because I had children at Willi High, I knew of young people with great talent, great passion, with the will to succeed but who faced barriers … generally financial barriers. They’d had tough lives,” says Terry. It was 2004, and the inception of Western Chances.
“Having a standing in the community will only get you in the door. It’s got to be a good idea, and something that people can get straight away,” says Terry. She assembled a group of friends; together, they worked tirelessly, fitting the job of building a fledgling organisation in with busy lives.
The west’s strong sense of identity has contributed to Western Chances’ success. Friends from eastern suburbs have told Terry it would be difficult to establish a similar program where they live.
So far, Western Chances has assisted thousands of western suburbs’ students chasing their dreams. The scholarships – on average $800 – address such obstacles as the burden of transport costs. The organisation has now matured to the point where two alumni sit on the board of management.
In 2012, for services to youth and as a contributor to health, social development and arts communities in Victoria, Terry was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours. In the previous year, she was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.
Demands accompanying political life are behind her. Terry has retired from a number of not-for-profit boards and is removed from the day to day running of the organisation she founded. Now there’s the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of her labour, such as catching up with alumni flourishing in the workforce. A less crowded schedule means time for friends, even a new hobby – nine holes of golf at Kooringal Golf Club. However, it’s in her nature to be active, involved, and no surprise that Terry champions another cause in her role as Executive Officer of Balibo Dental Clinic.
The Balibo House Trust was set up in honour of the Balibo Five, the Australian journalists slain in the ’75 Indonesian invasion of Timor. Together with the village of Balibo, the Trust has established a community house, a co-operative that sells crafts and renovated a Portuguese fort as a hotel. In a country with only a handful of dentists, setting up a dental clinic seemed a logical step.
Terry enlisted the help of Williamstown dentist, Dr David Bladen, who travelled to Timor, setting up a surgery capable of operating in village conditions. Four times a year, volunteer dentists fly to Timor and run the clinic, which has also provided employment for two Timorese dental assistants.
The next goal is prevention: hopes to curb the alarming incidence of dental problems lay in educating school children, and more importantly teachers. Including oral health as part of early learning curriculum would be a great outcome.
The mere thought of a Terry Bracks quieter life may leave some of us pining for a long weekend. For Terry, these days are a “nice mix … a balance of things, which doesn’t often happen”.
There’s memories of a strong sense of community in the small country town, Maryborough, place of Terry’s first teaching appointment. Since then, she’s been involved in some aspect of community shapeshifting, and there’s no reason to think this will ever change.
For anyone inspired about building a better world, Terry has this advice: “look for something you’re passionate about … there’s any number opportunities. Start small, do one thing a week and see what grows from there.”
For general enquiries, or to make tax deductible donations:
Western Chances – www.westernchances.org.au
Balibo Dental Clinic – www.balibohouse.com/our-work/balibo-dental-clinic/