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Barbara Hamer (1926 - )

Coming from a family with a demonstrated commitment to involvement in the welfare of the broader community, Barbara planned to study medicine when she left school. This plan was abandoned when she learned about a new course in social work being offered by The University of Melbourne, which she thought would fit her interests much more closely. She enrolled in the combined four-year Arts-Social Work program in 1944, completing it in 1947.

After graduation she moved to London and found a probationary position with the Children’s Welfare Association at Toynbee Hall. This was followed by a job as a relieving House Master at a boys’ reformatory in Cirencester, where she was the only woman on the staff. It was becoming clear that to get a job in England more suited to her social work interests and education she needed additional specialised training, so she applied for and was accepted by the Almoners’ Certificate course at Tavistock Square.

After the death of her father, Barbara returned to Australia and was able to complete her final Almoners’ Certificate placement at the Alfred Hospital, supervised by Alison Player. She continued working there until 1953, when she returned to London and a number of locum positions. On her return to Australia she worked briefly at Prince Henry’s Hospital before moving to the Austin Hospital, then in 1955 moved to Sydney and a job in the Adoptions Section of Paddington Women’s Hospital.

In 1959 Barbara moved with her naval officer husband to Canberra, where although not employed as a social worker, she continued what could be called social work activities. She worked with Naval wives raising money to establish Barnardo’s Homes in Canberra and Sydney, and became interested in the welfare of sailors, campaigning for the establishment of a naval social work service to provide welfare services for naval personnel and their families.

After Barbara’s husband was elected to Federal Parliament, she volunteered in a number of settings, and became Chairman of Southern Family Life, an agency that was exploring the use of volunteers to deliver services in the Sandringham-Beaumaris area of Melbourne. Feeling she needed to update her social work knowledge, in 1979 Barbara returned to The University of Melbourne to upgrade her Diploma of Social Studies to a BSW, and worked for a time at St Anthony’s in Footscray, under the leadership of Sister Joan Healy. When her social work employment ceased, she continued to draw on social work values and skills in her positions on the Board of Social Studies at the University of Melbourne, and on the Board of Moreland Hall. At the time of the interview on 30 August 1996 Barbara was a member of the Council of The University of Melbourne, and was involved in fund-raising for the “Copelen Cares” appeal to support family welfare initiatives.

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