Community Reference Council

The formation of the Turner Institute Community Reference Council is the first step towards achieving the Turner Institute's vision to make long-lasting and sustainable impacts on the lives and mental well-being of all people in our communities.

Members of the Council represent key leaders in mental health across many sectors of the Australian community. The Council will provide a diverse voice to The Turner around our strategic research and clinical goals and ensure that they are sensitive to the needs and goals of the community. The Council will also support the development of specific, local community partnerships for each of The Turner’s research and clinical activities. The Council will help shape the mental health landscape in Australia and help realise our vision of a more inclusive, engaged and shared partnership in maximising the mental health of all Australians.


Jan Donovan, Chair

Jan DonovanJan was appointed to the Consumers Health Forum of Australia Board in 2014 and reappointed in 2017. She Chairs the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee of the Board.

Her experience includes public policy, strategy, and governance matters at Board level through her nine years (1998- 2007) as a member of the Board of the National Prescribing Service (NPS Medicines Wise) and five years (2005-2009) as a member of the Board of the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute at ANU.

Jan participates in National Policy Forums at the strategic level for and has done so for three decades, including eight years with Council on the Ageing - six years in the role of National Policy Officer. Jan is a passionate advocate for addressing health equity and the social determinants of health with a focus on people with chronic illness, access to primary health care, the national medicines policy, mental health, aged care, and indigenous health.

“Community engagement has never been more important for all institutions in our society. Covid 19 has brought major change and disruption to our lives and has shown more than ever the importance of listening and involving communities, no matter how they define themselves.
As a consumer advocate in health for three decades, I have always pushed for more and better community involvement. Decisions that greatly affect people’s lives should only be made after thorough consultation and engagement with those who will be most affected. Covid 19 has shown us here in Victoria that hasty, poorly thought-out decisions made with no community participation and planning can lead to great distress and loss of trust in those imposing restrictions.
Talking with community leaders first to work out ways to act together is a much better way to go for government to make changes to the way people lead their lives.”

Ashley Paxton

Weenthunga logoWeenthunga in Woiwurrung means “hear / understand”.

Weenthunga Health Network is contributing to health equity for First Nations people in Victoria through:

  • Increasing the Aboriginal health workforce
  • Advocating for anti-racism and decolonising within the health and education sectors
  • Embedding and valuing First Nations' knowledge and practice, and
  • Ensuring better understanding and practice of health professionals to improve experiences, care and outcomes for First Nations people and communities

Our unique Aboriginal-led networking model values two-way collaboration, and is underpinned by relationships, respect, reciprocity and responsibility. Weenthunga takes a holistic view of health, valuing First Nations knowledge from the outset by seeing the whole self. This is a much more integrated approach to health and wellbeing than commonly underpins the Western biomedical model and as such, mainstream health services.

Weenthunga’s Victorian Aboriginal Health Education Network online lead, Ashley Paxton will represent Weenthunga on the CRC. Ashley is a proud Waywurru woman born and raised on Boon Wurrung Country in a matriarch spanning many generations of strong Waywurru women. From before she was born she has been taught about the importance of connection to community, culture, Country and spirituality which has and continues to guide her throughout her life. Ashley is also a registered psychologist and works directly with the Victorian Aboriginal Community.

The Turner Institute greatly values Australia’s First Nations peoples’ unique knowledge, wisdom and expertise in terms of developing well, living well and ageing well. We greatly appreciate the opportunity of listening, learning and being guided by the Weenthunga Health Network.


Brenda Appleton

Brenda AppletonBrenda (pronouns: she/her) retired in 2009 after 35 years working in the corporate sector and is now heavily involved in volunteering with a wide range of community groups, including the LGBTI communities in Melbourne (for more than 20 years). She is the Chair of Transgender Victoria and a member of the Victorian Mental Health Ministerial Advisory Committee and is passionate about using her lived experience in an effort to improve the health and wellbeing of trans and gender diverse people across Victoria, with a focus on mental health and homelessness.

Brenda was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours.

“I welcome the opportunity to join The Turner Institute’s Community Reference Council and contribute towards the development of a robust, innovative and inclusive process of engagement with community and the formation of sustainable and productive partnerships that benefit all.  Many in the LGBTIQA+ communities experience poor mental health and it is important their voices and experience of the mental health system is captured in research and reflected in the development of recommendations for change.”

Dorothy Bruck

Dorothy BruckEmeritus Professor Dorothy Bruck has been Chair of the Sleep Health Foundation since 2016.  The Sleep Health Foundation is Australia’s leading advocate for sleep health in the community and has grown rapidly in the last 10 years to have a strong media presence and excellent web resources for people with sleep issues.  It also facilitates rigorous research about sleep problems for individuals in the community, such as for carers and adolescents with mental health issues.  Professor Bruck has had a strong interest in community engagement around health for many decades.  Early in her career she founded a support group for patients with narcolepsy (which still continues today). She has been an academic at Victoria University for 30 years and has an international research reputation. Professor Bruck currently lives in the central highlands of Tasmania and works part-time as a supervisor of trainee psychologists delivering interventions for insomnia.

“I have a particular interest in engaging with communities of different ethnic and/or linguistic backgrounds to help improve their health and wellbeing.  There is room to better tailor our research efforts, especially regarding epidemiology and health interventions, to ensure we are best meeting the needs of our culturally and ethnically diverse communities.”

Mariesa Nicholas

Mariesa NicholasMariesa Nicholas is Director of Research at ReachOut Australia, where she is responsible for the organisation's applied research and service evaluation programs. In 2010 Mariesa was instrumental in introducing participatory design approaches to ReachOut's work with young people, and has led the organisation's user research program since then. She is a co-author of a guide and framework aimed at supporting organisations and researchers to integrate participatory design and evidence-based practices to design mental health promotion interventions and publishes and presents on the application of participatory and co-design methods in the context of digital program development and youth mental health.

ReachOut is the most accessed online mental health service for young people and their parents in Australia. It has been championing wider access to mental health support since they launched their online service more than 20 years ago. Everything they create is based on the latest evidence and is designed with experts, and young people or their parents. Accessed by more than 2 million people in Australia each year, ReachOut is a free service that’s available anytime and pretty much anywhere.

"Community engagement is vital to ensure research and services are meaningful, useful and engaging to the people they are intended to serve."

Nick Rushworth

Nick RushworthNick Rushworth has been Executive Officer of Brain Injury Australia – the peak body representing the needs of the over 700,000 people with a brain injury - since 2008. In 1996, Nick sustained a severe traumatic brain injury as a result of a bicycle accident. Before joining Brain Injury Australia, Nick worked for the Northern Territory Government setting up their new Office of Disability.

Formerly a producer with the Nine Television Network’s “Sunday” program and ABC Radio National, Nick’s journalism has won a number of awards, including a Silver World Medal at the 2003 New York Festival, a National Press Club and TV Week Logie Award. Nick is also a Director of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, and is an Ambassador for the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and the Queensland Brain Institute’s concussion research.

Shane Lucas

Shane LucasShane commenced in the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in March 2019.

Shane has held executive and senior management positions in the non-government, government and private sectors since 2000. He served as CEO of Early Learning Association Australia from 2013 to 2017, and was a full-time member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from 2017 to early 2019.

Between 2011 and 2016, Shane was an Advisory Board Member of Deakin University’s Master of Public Policy Program. From 2011 to 2013, he was Vice-President of the Board of Early Learning Association of Australia, where he was also a member of the Finance and Executive sub-committees.

Shane has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) from Monash University and a Diploma in Migration Law from Victoria University. He is a graduate of the Victorian Leadership Development Centre and a Williamson Fellow of Leadership Victoria.

"Community engagement is about working with people. Collaborating, sharing, experiencing. Immersing yourself and your organisation in community and addressing challenges and opportunities alike with integrity.
This approach guides the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation in everything we do: from our partnerships with community and professional sporting clubs that encourage kids to ‘love the game, not the odds’, through to a range of support services we fund for Victorians at risk of, or experiencing, gambling harm.
I look forward to working with the Turner Community Reference Council to strengthen the understanding of, and response to, the complex and co-morbid issues associated with mental health and gambling harm, and to explore new ways in which we can deliver the best possible support services to those who need them."

Shehani DeSilva

Shehani DeSilvaShehani has worked with Victorian Transcultural Mental Health as an Education and Service Development Consultant since 2013.

The Victorian Transcultural Mental Health (VTMH) supports the mental health of diverse individuals, families, communities and systems. They work closely with the mental health sectors. They exist to support the efforts of those who are interested in improving cultural safety and to elevate the importance of cultural safety in mental health practice, policy, and the allocation of public resources.

Shehani has a background in psychology and community development and has worked in these sectors for 20 years working directly with communities and grassroot community and mental health organisations. Before joining VTMH, she coordinated the transcultural mental health access program at Action on Disability within Ethnic Communities (ADEC) in Melbourne, working with consumers, carers and communities from diverse cultural backgrounds. She also worked in New Zealand with a trauma service for refugees and asylum seekers as a counsellor and advocate and at Schizophrenia Fellowship supporting consumers and carers to access housing in urban Wellington.  Prior to migration, Shehani's work in Sri Lanka consisted of working with also organisations such as UNICEF Sri Lanka working in projects supporting and building the capacity of community organisations funded to work with communities impacted by civil war.

"The importance of putting community in front and centre of mental health care and response has been an important part of my work in mental health for the past decade or so. Equity in its true sense in any sector is not possible if parts of community are left behind.
It is my belief that this cannot be achieved unless concerted efforts are made to focus on collaborative work with communities responding to local needs identified by the community themselves. Whilst there is much work of this nature to be undertaken by the mental health sector, research, that incorporates the community narrative in co-design overwhelmingly leads to more innovative outcomes, including system efficiencies, connected understanding of community needs and increased stakeholder engagement. Whilst I hope to support the Community Reference Council to reflect on the role of research in supporting local communities, I also hope this will provide us with opportunities to explore what meaningful collaborative work look like, whilst honouring and holding these multiple perspectives."