‘Breaking new ground’: joint bequest funds scholarships for Indigenous education students

Sha and Terry’s bequest affirms their lifelong commitment to equal opportunity and community activism. This is how their story started in 1969, when La Trobe was young and civil rights were in the air.

‘Everything was on the table’

Sha and Terry’s story is a heady mix of passion, inspiration and grit, knit together by a love of education and a drive for social justice.

Sha’s story began with her family’s emigration from Sri Lanka in 1969, during the White Australia policy. Her parents left behind professional careers to reskill as teachers in Australia.

‘It was a bit of a lived experience watching them making the transition from different careers into teaching’, Sha says.

With such strong role models, Sha decided to be a teacher too. She recalls being ‘very much involved in community engagement in the schools’. Those multicultural and multilingual communities influenced Sha’s teaching, and the experience led to her involvement in diversity and equal opportunity programs.

Sha came to La Trobe in 1990 as the Equal Opportunity Officer. She remembers how welcoming and open to new ideas the university was.

‘Everything was acceptable. Everything was on the table.’

Terry also had a powerful experience of education at La Trobe. He was the first in his family to attend university and started there in 1969.

‘I came from a housing commission estate. At that stage, not a lot of people from my community went to university at all. So when I turned up, I must say, I was a bit gobsmacked.’

‘It was a world that was totally new to me.’

La Trobe was also just getting established. Terry remembers his education courses ‘staffed by predominantly young grads from North America. They had taught and lived through civil rights and the Vietnam War in America. And here we were learning their stories about what they had achieved.’

The care and commitment of the staff made such a deep impression, Terry stayed at La Trobe in various roles through to 1977.

Watch Sha and Terry’s video for a glimpse of La Trobe in those early days:

‘Can you imagine?’

Terry and Sha first met as teachers at a primary school. ‘Unfortunately for one school principal, we both turned up in the same school in Brunswick!’, Terry laughs. They brought their passion for civil rights with them. ‘We were sort of there breaking new ground.’

Over the years, they worked in various communities and schools.

‘We were involved in lots of different causes around the place. One of those causes was Aboriginal education. We were able to witness the first generation of highly educated, Indigenous people giving back to their community’, Terry remembers.

Following a PhD in the US, Sha took a role as Equal Opportunity Officer with the NSW Minister for Education.

‘I worked very closely with the Aboriginal Education Unit and got very involved in the programs that they were initiating with great leaders like Bob Morgan and Linda Burney.’

She also worked at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

‘We had so many Indigenous lawyers. And I saw that same real commitment to becoming a role model for others, that continuity aspect. So that's what I would like to see.’

One event in the early 1970s left a particularly deep impression.

‘Can you imagine a Friday night outside Flinders Street Station, a huge sit-in demonstration on Indigenous education? This is 1974. That’s how important it was’, says Terry.

‘So we started to think, this is how we can make a contribution.’

Sha and Terry’s bequest will give Indigenous students the opportunity to study a degree in education, breaking new ground for the students, their families and communities.

It’s a gift that will transform generations.

Leaving a gift to La Trobe University in your Will is a way to safeguard the future you most care about. What will you change?

To find out more, visit latrobe.edu.au/bequest, or contact Roni Baird, Development Coordinator Bequests by phone on (03) 9479 6451, email, or online enquiry.