Our people

Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services is an incorporated association governed by a voluntary Board of Directors, which is formed of ordinary members and office bearers. Our local Directors come from an array of ethnicities and lived experiences and bring a wide variety of expertise and skills, in areas including community engagement and development, business management, finance, risk, legal, HR and people management, education, communications, and governance.

The Board is driven to ensure strategy is carried out to align with the organisation’s purpose whilst overseeing a framework for how the organisation works with and empowers the multicultural community in the region.

Together they are deeply committed to improving the lives of migrants and refugees settling in thriving Central Victoria.

Board of Directors

  • Thaera O’Brien

    Thaera O’Brien

    Chair

    PhD, BA, MA

    Thaera has more than 20 years of experience teaching, training, research, cross-cultural intelligence, and managing projects in the higher education sector. In a broad range of geographical locations, she has held senior management positions and academic positions. The combination of her skills and experience allows her to contribute significantly to organizations on many levels.

    Prior to joining the higher education industry, she was Public Relations practitioner in the education, consulting, and hospitality sectors. During her career as a Public Relations consultant, she worked with a range of well-known international brands including Volvo, Philips, and Smith Kline, among others.

    Throughout her career, she has had significant experience with non-profit organisations. In addition to her involvement in several multicultural women's organizations and communities, she has also produced many public educational programs on gender issues. She is a qualified trainer and committed advocate for gender equality in multicultural societies. As an adult immigrant, Thaera understands the challenges faced by CALD people in Australia.

    Most recently, she completed a PhD at Otago University in New Zealand. Her area of research was media representation of women. She has received academic awards for her work.

  • Merrilyn Gaulke

    Merrilyn Gaulke

    Vice Chair

    Graduate Certificate of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Bachelor of Teaching (Primary)

    Merrilyn has more than 25 years’ experience in the education sector where she has worked with indigenous, refugee and migrant students. Her experience in designing programs to deliver curriculum to students and inform staff have been effective in developing cultural understandings and inclusion within the sectors in which she works.

    Following her time as a mainstream teacher, Merrilyn took a career changing direction by working in Papua New Guinea where she mentored indigenous staff to build their teacher capacity. She was accepted into the local community where she worked alongside the staff fighting for their rights and conditions and supporting them as they fought against domestic violence abuse.

    On her return to Australia, Merrilyn became one of the founding staff at the Mildura English Language Centre (MELC) which supports newly arrived refugee and migrant students through trauma informed practice.

    In 2017, Merrilyn brought her skills to schools in Bendigo. In 2019, through peer nomination, Merrilyn received a ‘Highly Commended – School Education’ excellence award as part of the Victorian Multicultural Commission excellence award program.

    Merrilyn continues to advocate for refugee and migrant students and families across local schools as well as being part of the English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher network aimed at supporting newly arrived students and families.

    The LCMS’ board and executive’s role is to oversee that strong governance practices are adhered to while implementing the 2022-2025 Strategic Plan where LCMS is known as a Welcoming, Embracing and Thriving organisation that represents all cultures and people across the Loddon Campaspe Region.

  • Peter Watson

    Peter Watson

    Treasurer

    Bachelor of Business (Accounting)

    Peter was appointed to the Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services (LCMS) Advisory Board in mid-2021 year.

    He obtained Bachelor of Business (Accounting) credentials from Latrobe University in 1992 and since 1997 he has held Certified Practising Accountant (CPA) status.

    Peter has enjoyed a 30-year career as a finance professional in a variety of roles and for approximately three quarters of that period he has been employed in not-for-profit organisations, state government service authorities and tax-exempt bodies. A significant proportion of his roles have also incorporated wider corporate services responsibilities, including human resources, information technology, payroll services, contract and grants management, insurance and risk, commercial leases, procurement, occupational health and safety, facilities management, fleet management and reception services.

    He is a committed volunteer with advisory roles not only with LCMS but with the Sandhurst Football Netball Club in the Bendigo FNL, where he fills the role of Treasurer. He is, above all else, a committed family man to wife Denise and their three children and three grandchildren.

    Peter brings to the LCMS Board skills in financial management and business acumen plus a passion for team-oriented outcomes, customer service, stakeholder engagement and meaningful support to the operational personnel.

  • John Murphy

    John Murphy

    Board Member

    RFD, BA, MAICD

    John was born in Moonee Ponds to an Australian father and Australian-born Italian mother. He grew up in regional Victoria and western Melbourne and he lived and worked in Canberra and Northern NSW before moving to Bendigo in 1995 with his wife and children.

    John had a 40 year career in the Armed Forces and in Commonwealth Public Service that encompassed roles in personnel management, organisational design, resource modelling and management, policy development, indigenous and migrant services, community development and the delivery of community services. He was a Director of Haven Home Safe housing and homelessness service for 16 years, including a period as Chair, and has been Chair of CatholicCare Sandhurst since 2017. He joined the Board of Loddon Campaspe Community Services in June 2019.

    John has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Melbourne and is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

  • Joby Sebastian

    Joby Sebastian

    Board Member

    Master’s Degree in Social Work, PG Diploma in Social Work, Registered Social Worker

    Joby is a migrant himself, born and brought up in Kerala, India, and educated and employed in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

    Joby has been working with the vulnerable section of the society from diverse cultures for the past nine years and is passionate about helping others and has a strong personal understanding of diversity and cultural values. Joby’s experience in working in the government sector with vulnerable children and families has shaped his outlook on life and value system.

    Joby is part of a growing Indian community from Kerala in Bendigo and is a member of the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Regional Advisory Council. Joby lives with his wife and two children in Bendigo and joined the board in July 2020.

  • Bruno Spandonide

    Bruno Spandonide

    Board Member

    PhD, MSc Transport, urban and regional development and MSc environmental sciences and geography

    Bruno was borne in France in a multicultural family of political refugees from Romania. Bruno grew up in a very multicultural area of Paris and really enjoyed learning about new cultural references and traditions and sharing this with friends and neighbours. Over the years this helped to develop ideals and aspirations of social justice and human rights. Bruno later moved to Tasmania to undertake a doctorate in transport geography and worked for the Federal government and the CRC for Remote Economic Participation coordinating the Transport Futures research program on sustainable transport systems for very remote communities. Bruno is currently involved in a range of world leading sustainable mobility professional networks and works for the Department of Transport in Victoria managing walking and cycling projects and with the Department of Transport’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Steering Committee.

    Inspired by his wife Robyn who worked for Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services from 2015 to 2021 Bruno has been volunteering as an Intercultural Ambassador for the City of Greater Bendigo, and the Board of LCMS facilitating regular community forums and providing leadership support for a wide range of programs and events fostering intercultural links, inclusiveness and harmony. Robyn and Bruno and their three wonderful children Héloïse, Emmanuel and Ileana particularly enjoy getting involved in community events in Bendigo, share cultural insights and create and maintain positive connections.

  • Ian Patrick

    Ian Patrick

    Board Member

    PhD

    Dr. Ian Patrick is a self-employed consultant working in the areas of evaluation and organisational development. He has wide experience in the evaluation, design and management of programs across a range of sectors including health, education, human services, law and justice, human rights, and migrant and refugee initiatives. He has worked both in Australia, as well as internationally where he has focused on aid and development issues. He has consulted broadly for the Australian and New Zealand governments, and a range of UN and multilateral agencies. Ian’s other professional experience crosses academic roles at Australian universities, arts administration and the media. In his spare time, Ian makes a weekly radio music program called The Latin Hour, and occasionally teaches salsa dancing.

  • Anna Dorevitch

    Anna Dorevitch

    Board Member

    Master in Public and International Law

    Anna is a senior lawyer at the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre where she advises and advocates for clients on a range of issues including family violence, consumer law, infringements and debt. As the granddaughter of a Czech Jewish Holocaust survivor, she has a long-held interest in refugee law and policy. Prior to moving to Bendigo in 2016, Anna volunteered in Bangkok, Thailand as a refugee lawyer and program advisor, assisting asylum seekers with their applications and appeals to the UNHCR. She has also worked as an associate to a Federal Court Judge, and in various community legal roles at Justice Connect. Anna holds a Masters in Public and International Law from the University of Melbourne, where she also completed her undergraduate degrees in Arts and Law.

  • Salwa Dastgeer

    Salwa Dastgeer

    Board Member

    Master of Public Policy

    Salwa Dastgeer is originally from Kabul Afghanistan. She came to Australia in June 2012 with her husband and children. She completed her Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University in 2014. She moved to Bendigo in 2016 so her husband could complete his education at the La Trobe University. Salwa is currently studying Master of Social Work at the La Trobe University. She works full-time at the City of Greater Bendigo in the Community Partnerships Unit. Salwa is passionate about celebrating and strengthening the diversity and vibrancy of the many multicultural and multi-faith communities that live in this region. Salwa became a member of the LCMS board on 5 May 2022.

Management

  • Sonia Di Mezza

    Sonia Di Mezza

    Chief Executive Officer

    LLB; BA (majors: French, Spanish and Italian); M.Comm (major: accounting); M.Int.Law (majors: human rights law); Post Graduate Diploma of Child Rights Law; Diploma of Leadership and Management; Graduate Certificate of Legal Practice; Graduate Certificate of Continuing Legal Practice; Solicitor of the High Court of Australia.

    Sonia is the daughter of Italian migrants, who migrated to Australia in the 1950s.

    She is a human rights lawyer and solicitor and has set up a legal aid project in the camps of Khartoum, Sudan; set up a human rights project in Pakistan for Afghan widowed refugee women and their children; worked as a Resettlement Consultant for UNHCR in Lebanon; worked for a child labour rights NGO in India for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Kailash Satyarthi; and as a refugee lawyer in Australia.

    Her most recent roles include Deputy CEO of a disability advocacy NGO in the ACT; CEO of a domestic violence NGO in the ACT; and Deputy Chair of the ACT Ministerial Advisory Council of Multicultural Affairs. Sonia is the co-author of a book relating to the memoir of an Indian woman who contracted HIV in an arranged marriage. ​

Staff

Multicultural Services currently employs 15 part-time staff and has over 30 volunteers. Staff are highly experienced and speak a number of community languages, including Karen, Dinka, Dari, Farsi, Hazaraghi, Malayalam, Spanish, Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia, Hakka, Bahasa Indonesian, French, Italian and Arabic.