Attending the Launch of the Report “Making Multicultural Victoria – 40 years of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, 1983 – 2023” last Monday made me reflect on my career and how blessed I was to have worked in so many departments over many years.

As some of you know, I started working for the Victorian Government in 1980 as the publicity officer for the Ministry of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. My first Minister was Alan Wood. In June 1981, there was a re-shuffle, and the portfolio was given to the then-youngest minister in the government, Jeffrey Kennett.

Jeff would be in the role for under one year as there was an election in April 1982 when there was a change of government. During that time, I would arrange for him to visit various ethnic organisations; many Greek ones were in the mix. We also visited the 3EA studios, where he spoke to all the broadcasters and many of the ethnic press offices. The ministry’s 5th Anniversary was celebrated at that time. Victoria was the first state to establish an Ethnic Affairs portfolio in 1976.

In April 1982, we had a new minister of immigration, Jack Ginifer. Jack resigned from the ministry and the parliament a month later, on 10 May, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was replaced by the Dutch immigrant Peter Spyker. The government then called for a review of ethnic affairs policies.

The report “Access and Equity – The Development of Victoria’s Ethnic Affairs Policies” was published in 1983. The immigration function was transferred to the federal government. Then, we saw the establishment of the Ethnic Affairs Commission that same year.

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My role at the ministry and the commission was to oversee the production of all publications, liaise with the media, organise community consultations and two international conferences, participate in Cross-Cultural Awareness Programs, organise a ministerial conference of all state ministers and the federal minister of immigration at Mitchelton Winery, participate in the Moomba Parade with a float which won the Chairman’s Award for the best float depicting the Moomba theme, and attended many ethnic functions.

In late 1983, I was seconded to the employment and training department to organise all the publicity for the Work Skill Olympics at the Trades Centre.

In 1984, I was seconded to the Ministry for the Arts for three months to work as the Ethnic Media Liaison Officer for Victoria’s Sesquicentenary Celebrations.

I was delighted that I could provide the research team working on “Making Multicultural Victoria” with all the publications that the ministry and the commission published between 1980 and 1986. I had kept all of them all these years.

Despoteris has been part of the Victorian Multicultural Commission for four decades, from 1983 to 2023. Photo: Supplied

I stayed at the commission till 1986, when I went to the Health Department to work as the communications officer for “The Decommissioning of Willsmere”, the Psychogeriatric Facility in Kew. The Project involved the establishment of three working parties. The first is to report on “Principles and Strategies for Staff Redeployment”, the second is to report on “Principles and Strategies for Relocation of Patients and Services”, and the third is to report on “Principles and Models for Psychiatric Services for Elderly People”. I acted as a liaison/communications officer between the three, preparing and printing reports and maintaining clear communication channels between staff, patients, relatives, department staff and the Project Manager. Visiting the facility was an eye-opener for me. I couldn’t sleep for days. Following the report’s release, the facility was slowly emptied, with patients and staff being relocated into more appropriate smaller facilities or houses. If you go past there today, the site has been redeveloped into modern housing.

Later that year, I was promoted to the Local Government Department. There, my primary role was to organise community consultations across Victoria with the 211 municipalities as the government wanted to amalgamate councils. Simultaneously, the legal team was rewriting the Local Government Act to make local councils more autonomous. I also produced publications and organised the first major local government conference in partnership with the MAV. My minister at that time was Jim Simmonds.

During this time, I was again seconded to another department, the premier’s, to work as the State Media Liaison Officer for the Papal visit.

The next stop in my journey was the department of labour, Neil Pope being the minister at the time. Again, I was responsible for the publications, marketing, public relations and publicity of a wide range of labour issues such as OHS, WorkCare, Wageline, and campaigns such as “Maths Multiplies Your Choices”.

My most rewarding and exciting time came when I was appointed executive director of the Australia Day Committee at the department of the premier and cabinet. Over time, I was also made the media liaison officer for state and royal visits.

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I would create, organise and present Australia Day (AD) activities in Melbourne and work with Victoria’s committees to assemble the State’s AD program.

Melbourne events included the Flag Raising Ceremony at Parliament House, the AD parade, the Historical Vehicle Display in the gardens, the breakfast, the fun run, the Victorian of the Year Awards, the Aussie of the Month, and the 26ers’ Club. I would also organise the Tour of Honour for the Australian and Young Australian of the Year, like Allan Border, Fred Hollows, Kieren Perkins, Ian Kiernan, Poppy King, and Rebecca Chambers.

My role as state media liaison officer was to accredit the media for state and royal visits, to organise the itinerary for the press, which journalists, photographers, and camerapersons would go to what venues, to arrange to pool and attend the events, allocate media areas and to make sure that all media would follow the prescribed arrangements.

Some of the visits that I had the honour and delight to work on included Fergie at the Melbourne Cup and the Hyatt at the Ball for Motor Neurone as she was the Patron; Mandela at the Melbourne Town Hall; President George Bush Senior at the Convention Centre; Mary Robinson, President of Ireland; Fenech Adami Prime Minister of Malta; and course in the 80s, the Pope.

My time at the premier’s department saw me work for Cain, Kirner and Kennett. My final stop was with the then Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority, again working as its public relations manager.

I have been blessed to have worked in various portfolios, learning a lot along the way, working with some fantastic people and above all, enjoying what I was doing.

Christina Despoteris OAM worked at various departments covering a lot of portfolios, ethnic affairs, health, arts, local government, employment and training, labour, premiers and gaming. Photo: Supplied

This is not an exhaustive list of my work, but it gives you an idea of the scope and type of work I was involved with. This year is significant for me as it is the 60th anniversary of my arrival in Australia. I was born in Alexandria, Egypt. My father had migrated from Lemnos to Alexandria in his teens.

My mother was also born in Alexandria; her parents were from Lemnos. Over the years, I have organised events for various Greek and other organisations. I was involved in the first Greek Week, the Festival of All Nations, and International Month, and have been on committees such as the Lemnian Community of Melbourne, the Thessaloniki Association, the George Treloar Memorial, the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative, the Art & Craft of the Melbourne Royal, and more recently Sister Cities Australia.

I am honoured to have received many awards from Australia and Greece, including the State Government’s Multicultural Award and the Medal of the Order of Australia OAM at last year’s Queens Birthday Honours.

Little did I know as a seven-year-old girl arriving in Melbourne all those years ago that I would be allowed to achieve all I had.

My parents were my role models; as I said in June last year, I dedicate the Award to them.