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Marjorie Awburn (1919 - 2010)

Marjorie Awburn circa 1950s

Marjorie Awburn’s social work career was an unintended consequence of her experiences as an employee of Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, where she worked towards becoming an analytical chemist after leaving school. When she became disenchanted by the unfairness of male CSL employees being promoted and encouraged to undertake university degrees while women were denied these opportunities, she explored social work as a career option, and in 1944 at the age of 25 enrolled in the two year social work course offered at the University of Melbourne under the leadership of Ms Jocelyn Hyslop.

In 1946 she won a scholarship offered by the Auxiliary of St Vincent’s Hospital to undertake the third year of training that was offered by the Institute of Hospital Almoners, and in 1947 she began to work at St Vincent’s Hospital in the social work department. At that time the department functioned more like a welfare department, and when the nun in charge moved to Sydney, Marjorie found herself the only social worker. After fulfilling her scholarship bond to work at the hospital for two years, Marj stayed on for another two years to achieve what she wanted in the department – and finally retired 36 years later in 1984, with a break of only one year when she worked at St Vincent’s Hospital in New York after winning a Fulbright Fellowship.

Throughout her time at St Vincent’s, Marj never lost sight of what she saw as the three essential functions of hospital social work – patient care, teaching and research; and never forgot that in a hospital setting, suggestions for innovations such as a special alcohol clinic were more likely to be realized if the impetus came from the medical profession rather than the social workers who might have initially identified an unmet need.

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Anneka Farrington
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