Thomas (Tom) Slockee is a respected Elder who helped pioneer and lead the movement for secure and affordable housing for Aboriginal people across six decades. His contribution has changed the lives of people and communities in the NSW south coast, across the state, and the nation.
Tom was born on Bundjalung Country on the NSW north-coast, and started his schooling on his Mother and Grandmother’s Butchulla country, before moving back to Minjungbal (Tweed Heads). Tom’s Grandfather on his Dad’s side was a slave taken by Australian authorities from Tanna in Vanuatu, and when his Grandfather escaped the ship, he settled and lived amongst the local Aboriginal people.
Tom grew up in the Aboriginal community, and although people were not always well off, Tom experienced Aboriginal cultural values such as collectivism and reciprocity in his everyday life, which shaped his own ways of doing, being and knowing. One example Tom recalls is his Dad and Uncles all working together to build the family’s first real house. Growing up in that era, Tom experienced and witnessed a lot of racism and prejudice toward Aboriginal people. To escape, and pursue better pathways and opportunities for himself, Tom left to join the Army.
After leaving the Australian Army in 1983, Tom met a beautiful Aboriginal woman and eventually settled in Walbunja Country at Batemans Bay on the New South Wales South Coast. Tom found that that many local Aboriginal people in the community were struggling, and homeless, and could not find safe and accessible housing. Tom was repeatedly refused access to private rental housing in Batemans Bay due to his skin colour. This fired a lifetime passion to bring housing justice for Aboriginal people, especially those living in regional areas. Tom was involved in the very early growth of the Aboriginal community housing and land council movements, and founded Batemans Bay Aboriginal Housing Corporation in 1985.
Realising the need to influence broader society, he was the first Aboriginal councillor of Eurobodalla Shire, later serving as Deputy Mayor. In the 1990s, Tom was a member, then chairperson, of the influential Aboriginal Housing Development Committee which advised the NSW Housing Minister. This led to the passing of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Act (1998) which established the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. He was the Aboriginal Housing Office inaugural chair and again led the organisation later in the 2000s. Through his leadership the Aboriginal Housing Office promoted a new regional model to support smaller, community focused Aboriginal housing organisations.
In 2003, Tom wasa co-founder and first chairperson of the South Eastern Aboriginal Regional Management Service (SEARMS) Aboriginal Community Housing. SEARMS is a regional management body which began by working with six local land councils and Aboriginal housing organisations. Starting with just over 100 tenancies, SEARMS is now one of the five largest Aboriginal housing organisations in Australia. SEARMS currently manage 500 homes for Aboriginal people across south-east NSW and the ACT. Tom remains chairperson, leading a majority Aboriginal board and staff. Rather than just managing tenancies, SEARMS now develops new homes, employing Aboriginal Housing Officers and cadets, boosts Aboriginal trades employment, supports communities and has helped rebuild homes destroyed by the recent bushfires which devastated south-east coast communities.
Over the last 5 years Tom has been central in establishing, and acting as chairperson and director, of 2 new peak bodies: the NSW Aboriginal Community Housing Industry Association and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Housing NATSIHA.
Tom also Co-Chaired the National Working Group to develop the Housing Sector Strengthening Plan for Closing the Gap.
Tom founded and led many housing and Aboriginal community organisations. Most ‘broke the rules’ about what Aboriginal people can do as leaders not just service users. Beyond housing, Tom is an ordained Anglican priest and established the Boomerang Meeting Place; an Aboriginal church in Mogo; was on the board of Aboriginal Hostels Ltd; and was chairperson of the Board of the NSW Southern Area Health Service. Tom’s leadership style is unassuming, and he is a patient listener. This helps him build empathy with young people, colleagues, fellow Elders and even people who do not agree with him at the start of a discussion. While highly respected in Aboriginal communities, Tom is also excellent working with wider society and influencing key decision makers.
Tom’s main future goal is to pass-on wisdom and knowledge to the next generation of emerging Australian leaders. He yarns with a wide variety of groups, presents at national and international conferences, and writes papers for a general and technical audience. Tom is keen to ensure robust institutions and community-controlled organisations are in place to serve future generations. These include Aboriginal-led government agencies such as the Aboriginal Housing Office, and peak bodies including ACHIA and NATSIHA. Much of his wisdom will be published in a book (to be released in October 2023) that will chart not only the 20 year history of SEARMS, but also the growth of the Aboriginal housing sector.
Tom is driven by his Christian faith, which underpin his values. His mission is to serve and represent those who experience struggle and hardship in life. He has a passionate concern for the good of our Mob, and all people.