Edith Bennett (1918 - 2008)
Born in 1918 to a suburban middle class family in Perth, and describing herself as growing up in a somewhat protected environment, Edith completed a BA at the University of Western Australia, a teacher training qualification at the State Teachers’ College, and then taught in small WA rural schools. In early 1942 Edith trained as an officer in the newly formed Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force, where her later responsibilities included heading WAAAF detachments in rural areas, bringing her into contact with a range of women for whom she provided “general support” – useful preparation for her later social work career.
After the war her WAAAF experience meant Edith was eligible for the post-war Reconstruction Training Scheme, and in 1945 and 1946 she completed the two-year Diploma of Social Studies program at the University of Melbourne, then under the leadership of Ruth Hoban. At that time students undertook a number of brief field placements. Edith’s included working with returned prisoners of war from Japan, where she learned how to take a social history, and time at the Red Cross and the Victorian Crippled Children’s Association.
She began her first paid social work position in 1948 with the Social Work Branch of Commonwealth Social Services, headed by Lyra Taylor. She worked in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra before being awarded a United Nations Fellowship in 1951 that took her to the USA for six months. Here she spent most of the semester at the University of Michigan, being tutored in in-depth casework by Marion Farla, who ran the staff support unit at the University. In 1957 Edith returned to the USA, and worked for a year as a caseworker at a large family service agency, broadening her understanding of casework and psychiatric social work, and developing new knowledge and skills which she applied on her return to Commonwealth Social Services.
In 1961 after twelve years with the Commonwealth Department Edith moved to head the Children’s Receiving Centre at Turana in Parkville, and six months later was appointed to manage the newly acquired former Presbyterian Children’s Home which was to be established as the Allambie Reception Centre. Edith headed Allambie for ten years, setting up systems that centred on the children’s wellbeing rather than Departmental rules and regulations. In 1971 she was promoted to be Director of Family Welfare for Victoria, a position she held until her retirement in 1978.
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