• Terri Janke and husband Andrew Pitt (Pic by Nancia Guivarra)Source: Pic by Nancia Guivarra
A look at Terri Janke, providing a rare insight into the mind and motivation behind this amazingly successful woman in both her work and personal life, including the major health crisis that changed her outlook forever.
Nancia Guivarra

Living Black
15 Mar 2017 - 10:36 AM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2018 - 12:48 PM

Terri Janke's family have more than a few nicknames for her and the work she does. Cultural Crusader is just one of them, says her husband Andrew Pitt.  The name was given to her, when on the 13th of September 2000, her initial work to protect Indigenous art was given the honour of a front page news story in her hometown newspaper, The Cairns Post that dubbed her a cultural crusader.

Andrew says her other nicknames include Justice Janke for her passion to protect Indigenous culture. Jetset Janke because she's always getting on a plane to go to her next gig and then there's Ten Pot Terri because her family says she uses 10 pots to make dinner every night.  

Terri’s family feature heavily in the documentary as husband Andrew talks about how they met, and together formed shared goals to raise their children despite their different backgrounds. Andrew is the son of two generations of Australian bankers and Terri is the daughter of two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, who admit to not having much, but whose strong family and sharing values are reflected in her outlook. 

“Terri’s passionate about family," says her husband Andrew Pitt.

"It’s a nice secure little nest [at home] here and it’s a safe place where she can recharge and then go back out and do this cultural crusading and stuff that she’s gotta do.

"We’re trying to create this vision of Australia in 2050 as this country which is probably more comfortable with its Indigenous people and that relationship is more central to its character. We’ve both got this shared vision that we will get there.  We believe it will happen.  We can’t tell you the date it will happen, but we know that it will get there.”

Terri’s strength and determination shows in Cultural Crusader when, for the first time, she reveals she was diagnosed with a rare disease in 2013 which she conquered by focusing on her diet, exercise and general well-being.  

Terri’s law firm is the largest and oldest Indigenous law firm in the country. With more than 16 years in business, she and her husband Andrew who also works in the business, have turned their talents to mentoring and supporting other Indigenous people who want to grow their own businesses successfully. Together they run a mentoring program funded by Indigenous Business Australia. Bidigal woman Alison Page was one of their first mentees who came to them when she wanted to redirect her design talents into being a filmmaker. 

“I think mentorship is something that you think is a real nice to have and not a must have," said Alison.

"I don’t think I appreciated how much I really needed mentoring until, like, I was well into it. At the time I was having a mid-life crisis. I mean this is two or three years ago, you know, I’m a designer. I’ve been a designer for twenty years, and I was really thinking of changing careers and being a filmmaker.

"I had the best guides in the world, Andrew and Terri. I honestly just have to thank them for everything they helped me with because now I’ve got the best job ever.” 

Terri’s niece Turia Pitt is also an inspirational and motivational speaker since she survived a horrific bushfire during an ultramarathon race in the Kimberley in 2011. She says her Aunty Terri has helped her in business by leading by example. 

“The most admirable quality about Aunty Terri is how she is so reserved about her accomplishments," says Turia.

"You have to scratch beneath the surface and ask probing questions, and then she will come out with the good stuff."

"I find Aunty Terri really inspirational and she finds me really inspirational.  I’m sure she would have other role models, as do I. I think it’s really important to not just get all of your inspiration from one person.”

Alison Page likens Terri’s work to activism just like that of generations past but today it’s professional activism via university degrees.

“We’ve been given an education, a gift that was denied to many of the generations that came before you since colonisation," says Alison.

"We all have a responsibility to do something with that opportunity. Terri is someone who is living, breathing proof of a productive life.  She’s a smart business woman. She does not perpetuate competition.  She’s saying to young people, ‘find your own point of difference, find your own voice.’  As a leader, you’ll never meet anyone more generous than Terri Janke."

Terri’s documentary is on SBS on Demand for viewing at http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/887817795791/living-black-cultural-crusader.