Edited: 20 June 2011
A memorial service was held at the Richmond Town Hall on 22 May, attended by many family, friends and colleagues. An obituary by Mary Draper has appeared in today's age.
A week ago we lost Concetta Benn.
She was extraordinary - and I stand alongside many others in our community with heads down, hands clasped as we mourn her passing.
"There will be no funeral." So read one of the death notices.
So in the absence of a funeral, I'm writing a blog post.
I remember Connie as a warm, hospitable woman. But also fierce and intelligent and uncompromising. She is one of the women who helped make me the woman I am.
As a significant friend and mentor to both my parents she is one of the few non-family members I could say had known me all my life. There's a week passed now for which we didn't share the planet, and many weeks to come for which that will be true. I had not seen Connie for a long time, and last time I did she had become frail in body - but was still very sharp in mind, if not in memory. She still voiced her ideas with passion and commitment, at the same time as forgetting if she'd put the kettle on or not.
But that was personal.
Professionally, her significance is well recognised. I imagine she had a similar if not greater impact on the lives of many many others than she had on me.
In 1992 friends and colleagues made a donation to the University of Melbourne in order to set up a bursary in her name to commemorate her term as a professor of social work. The Connie Benn Social Justice Bursary is open to students who migrated as adults from a non-English speaking background who are experiencing financial difficulties purchasing texts for the social work course.
In 1995 she was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of service to social welfare, particularly in the areas of health and education.
In 1999 she was interviewed by Ann Turner, and copy of the audio and transcript are held by the National Library. She speaks about her background and her career.
She was an ABC commissioner. Connie is quoted on the closure of Melbourne Access Radio station 3ZZ
"All sorts of people, often of opposing ideologies, helped each other, transferred skills and shared cultures. The 3ZZ building was full of warmth and loving care that materialized almost as physical force, enveloping any stranger who entered its portals.
I was interested to find out how accurate was my hypothesis that, given adequate resources, and using participation strategies, ordinary citizens could produce change in society. I now believe this hypothesis was proven, and that it was the threat of such change that caused the closure of 3ZZ.
It was closed against the wishes of the community, the State Government, the ABC and the users of the station."
In 2001 she was awarded the Centenary Medal for service to health.
In 2005 Connie's influence on how poverty is addressed in Australia was noted in an important social policy paper by Alison McClelland published by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Centre for Public Policy called From Saving to Empowering to Including.
In 2009 Connie recorded a series of interviews for MultiCultural Australia. In one, she reflects on the growing acceptance of immigrants into Australian society.
She has published numerous books, reports and articles over the years, some of which have been added to both the Victorian State and National Library Collections. A Trove search returns a glimpse I'm sure is just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2002 she was added to the Victorian Women's Honour Roll. This is the full citation.
Concetta Benn: A leader and advocate for social justice
Concetta Benn has worked professionally for more than 40 years as a caseworker, researcher, social policy development worker, teacher, administrator and social
change agent in the fields of welfare, education and health.
Born in 1926 in Australia of Italian parents, Concetta (Connie) Benn graduated from the University of Melbourne with an Arts degree and in 1949 married Keith Benn, a young psychiatrist. They subsequently had three children. She returned to study social work in 1955 and gained her qualification in that discipline in 1957. Her first position was as a psychiatric social worker for the Mental Health Authority.
She became Vice-President of the Australian Association of Social Workers in 1958 and she was later President until 1972. Connie Benn’s first senior appointment was in 1961 as the Director of Social Work and Research for the Citizens Welfare Service.
Subsequently she was;
- Associate Director, Social Policy and Research at the Brotherhood of St Laurence (1977- 82),
- Head of School of Social Work (Phillip Institute of Technology, (1982-83),
- Director, Social Development Division, Department of Premier and Cabinet (1983-85),
- Deputy Director-General, Community Services Victoria (1985-88),
- Director, Older Persons Planning Office, Community Services Victoria (1988-89),
- Professor, School of Social Work, University of Melbourne (1989-91)
- Chairperson, Adult Community and Further Education Board Victoria (1992-95).
Professor Benn has served on more than 20 Boards, Commissions and Task Forces and undertaken many significant reviews and consultancies.
Throughout her long career in social work, human services and social policy development, Connie Benn has always been passionately committed to social justice. She has championed the rights of people living in poverty, women, Aboriginal people, immigrants, people with disabilities, the unemployed and all who suffer social exclusion.
A remarkable woman, a remarkable leader, a wonderful human being.
Update 28 March 2011:
Connie Benn - from The Brotherhood of St Laurence timeline wiki
- In October 1963, the BSL was part of an interim committee that produced a draft proposal for “An Agency For Homeless Men”. The document was written up by Connie Benn of the Citizens Welfare Service of Victoria.
- Appointed of head of the Family Centre Project. (1973 - 1975).
- Concetta Benn was appointed as a member of the Commonwealth Government’s Migration Task Force headed by the Minister for Immigration, Mr A.J. Grassby (1973).
- Took study leave at the end of 1975 on an Australian Government post-graduate award in order to work for a Master of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne.
- 1977 appointed as BSL’s Director of Social Policy, Research & Innovations. (1977 - 1981).
- 1981 Mrs Concetta (Connie) Benn left the position of head of the Social Policy & Research Department to head the School of Social Work at Phillip Institute of Technology (now RMIT Bundoora).