He had an interest in politics at high school, started his working life as plumber, spent many years at the coalface of Corrective Services, and is an award-winning solicitor. Terry Stedman certainly has enjoyed a wide range of life experiences, while at the same time devoting enormous time and energy to the community.
“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Terry said simply. A lot of others are thankful for Terry.
For the last decade he was a solicitor with the South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre, based in Inala, offering assistance and advice to the needy across a range of legal matters-work recognised by the Queensland Law Society with the 2018 Community Legal Centre Member of the Year Award.
Terry’s sense of community was nourished by his father, who never worked in the legal sphere but possessed a strong sense of compassion and social justice.
Terry’s father-a Kamilaroi man-moved to Brisbane from Tingha, a town of around 1000 in the NSW northern tablelands, just south of Inverell.
With an early interest in politics and football, it initially seemed Terry would not enter the legal community.
Still in year 10, not looking for a job and with long-germ plans to go to university, it was while playing football for his beloved Souths-Inala that a coach unexpectedly offered him a plumbing apprenticeship. Unsure of what to do, Terry spoke to his school principal, who encouraged him to give it a try, and if he didn’t like it, would re-enrol him at school.
As was to become his trait, Terry worked hard and obtained two trade certificates – one for plumbing and one for draining – by the age of 18. With an early interest in politics, it was not surprising that he should then become a teenage union delegate at 19.
Terry’s interest in politics was spiked by playing football against Member for Archerfield Kev Hooper’s son and getting his hair cut at a barber next to Mr Hooper’s electorate office in Inala.
“Kev would often see me and say ‘come on in young Mr Stedman, have a coke and tell me what the young people of Inala need’,” he remembered. “I thought he was an awesome Member.”
As Terry grew older, he attended a number of political functions and met the likes of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and teacher-turned quiz champion and ultimately Federal Science Minister Barry Jones, who he described as amazing people.
As much as he enjoyed his time on the tools, Terry’s career took another unexpected turn in the late 1980s. A former colleague had got a job at Boggo Road jail after the 1988 riots, and suggested Terry do the same. After doing the training, he became a prison officer in 1989, and little more than 12 months later, was appointed as one of eight commissioners with the Queensland Correctional Services Commission
“Looking back, it was quite unusual – here I was working as a base-grade correctional officer and a commissioner at the same time. Being included in management was a massive eye-opener for me but I grew into the position.”
He returned briefly to plumbing contracting, before moving to NSW to work at the Goulburn and Lithgow prisons. Part of custodial officer requirements at the time was to undertake administration studies to earn a certificate. Some of Terry’s papers, including one on the Bathurst riots, which impressed one university lecturer so much that he was encouraged to expand his studies and to use his analytical skills in other ways.
He began a Bachelor of Indigenous Studies at Southern Cross University before deciding on a double Degree and including law in his repertoire. A return to Brisbane saw him complete the final years of his degrees at Griffith University and UQ, with an offer of an associate lecturer position at Griffith immediately after graduating – a role he accepted and found extremely fulfilling.
But having never actually practised law, as was Terry’s custom, he did something about it, throwing his hat in the ring at the South West Brisbane Legal Centre.
“I have had a 50-year association with Inala and it was nice to be able to help a community that I knew so well.”
Terry abides by a simple philosophy, one that proved highly effective throughout his tenure.
‘You can always find solutions to a problem and avoid litigation wherever possible if all parties treat the issue with respect’.
“Community Legal Centres can provide a massive cost saving to Government because there’s lots of situations that can be mediated out of,” he said.
“I do enjoy being a legal practitioner, it is very fulfilling. I’ve got to meet a lot of people who have a lot of problems, some of their own creation, but unable to access justice.”
Among his numerous achievements during his time at the community legal centre was establishing the first duty lawyer service at Beenleigh for Child Protection matters. It ran for five years and has been replicated all over the State by Legal Aid.
Terry also spent years flying around the State visiting legal outreach centres to deliver community legal education on child protection to local family support workers, Elders and locally-based members of the legal fraternity. Terry remains ever passionate about child protection and would like to see more funding allocated to the very difficult area.
Terry has served on numerous boards throughout his career, including time with Welfare Rights Qld (now Basic Rights). He currently sits on the Stolen Wages committee with DATSIP.
Terry was also an inaugural member of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland when it was formed in 2007 and has held various executive positions. Another founding member, Nathan Jarro, recently became the first Indigenous judge appointed in Queensland.
“Nathan deserves that role – he is a very knowledgeable practitioner,” Terry said. “He is a very good role model.”
At the time of interview, Terry was taking a well-deserved break to consider his next move, spending time with partner Carolyn and working with their thoroughbred horses.
“Horses are very genuine,” he said. “They’re just beautiful to be around.”
If the thoroughbreds turn out to be anything like their owner, they will race strongly, see out the distance, and give themselves every chance.
If they happen to enter the winner’s circle, they will stand alongside many of the less fortunate in society who were winners from Terry’s guidance and advice.