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3 min read

Vale John Burke

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 2/10/2023

Australian Communities Foundation (ACF) was saddened to hear the news of John Burke’s recent passing.

Along with Sid and Julia Spindler, John was instrumental in the work of the Towards a Just Society Fund (TJSF), established by the Spindlers in the early 2000s to address injustice and discrimination, with a particular focus on First Nations education. John stepped into the role of Chair in 2008.

Trudy Wyse, who was Philanthropy Manager at ACF at the time, remembers John’s enormous commitment to First Nations self-determination.

“John had a growing belief that it should be Aboriginal people making decisions about where and how TJSF’s funds should be directed within their communities,” Trudy said.

“The most dramatic shift came in 2016, when under John’s leadership, the Management Committee agreed to explore the possibility of handing over control and management of the funds to First Nations people, who would be responsible for directing the grants to support the work within their communities.”

The transition was undertaken over time, through an extensive process of consultation and engagement with a range of Aboriginal organisations.

“Right from the start TJSF members wanted to support Aboriginal self-determination and empowerment,” Julia Spindler said.

In 2018 TJSF broke new ground in Australian philanthropy when core funding totaling almost half a million dollars from TJSF and the estate of Les Dalton was used to establish Koondee Wonga-gat Toor-rong (KWT), Victoria’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led philanthropic fund.

Named for country by Wurundjeri Elder, Aunty Dianne Kerr, Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong means “to give jointly, to share together” in Woiwurrung language.

“Right from the start TJSF members wanted to support Aboriginal self-determination and empowerment,” Julia Spindler said.

“This move changed the framework, and placed responsibility for processes and decision-making with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

With the TJSF story culminating in a moving handover ceremony beside the scar tree near the MCG in November 2018, Trudy says John is an example of how the vision and determination of everyday Australians is helping to create a fairer Australia.

“I do believe that over his time as Chair, John became more and more convinced that, in its own small way, TJSF could be part of a movement to decolonise philanthropy,” she says.

“It was his passion, drive and the skills and knowledge he bought from his other professional and community work, that led the process and contributed enormously to the establishment of KWT as the first Victorian Indigenous led community-based philanthropic fund.”

Support KWT

If you are interesting in helping KWT empower Victorian First Nations communities, you can donate to the KWT Fund here.

If you are interested in learning more about Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong, head to the website and get in touch: