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Irena Higgins (1914 – 2014)

Irena Higgins circa 1940s

Originally from Polish Ukraine, Irena completed her three-year social work education at the University of Lvow in 1938, and arrived in Perth in 1939. There she met her future husband and after marriage moved to Brisbane and Sydney before finally settling in Melbourne in 1945. In 1946 she began work with the Victorian Society for Crippled Children, where she stayed for two years. In 1951 she applied for a mental health position at Kew Cottages, a facility for inteIlectually disabled children and adults, and was appointed to work at both Willsmere, a psycho-geriatric hospital abutting the Cottages, and Kew Cottages.

While Irena was travelling overseas for six months, Victoria’s mental deficiency and psychiatric services were separated, and she returned to a position at Kew Cottages and its intellectually disabled population. She remained at Kew for 17 years, becoming Senior Social Worker with a staff of three other social workers, a secretary and a number of aides. Two of Irena’s significant innovations at Kew were the establishment of a Parents’ Association, and the development of a network of volunteers trained to work with families in the community.

Her next position was with Melbourne City Council, where she stayed for almost ten years, followed by five years working as a consultant in Carlton on the Kay Street Project. This position finished in 1984; at the time of the interview in October 1996 Irena was still volunteering in community agencies.

Transcript of Interview


Audio of Interview

Audio File Part One

Audio File Part Two


Contact the Victorian Branch

Victorian Branch Services Coordinator
(Monday to Friday)

Ph: 03 9320 1000 or 1800 630 124 (toll free alternative)

Level 7, 14-20 Blackwood Street
North Melbourne

PO Box 2008
Royal Melbourne Hospital
Parkville Vic 3050

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