Woman Benn, Concetta

Occupation
Community activist, Policy adviser and Social worker

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Concetta Benn, was born in Melbourne in December 1926. Her parents, Madalena (nee Paino) and Antonio Megna were Italian migrants from a wealthy, middleclass background ('Benn tells her father's story', 2009). Benn's childhood coincided with the 1930s Depression, and her subsequent work was deeply influenced by the way in which the Melbourne Italian community supported its members during this crisis (Draper, The Age, 20 June 2011). Labelled a 'dago', she learnt to fight during her primary school years. At the selective MacRobertson Girls' High School she fared better, getting to know Jewish girls whose parents had fled Nazi Germany ('Benn, Schooling in the 1930s', 2009). In 1949 she graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Journalism. Involved in student politics, she met her future husband Keith Benn, who studied medicine, and later became a psychiatrist. Benn had three children, David and twins Yolanda and Madelena, and then returned to study social work, graduating in 1957 (Draper, The Age, 20 June 2011).

In her professional work Benn moved swiftly into positions of leadership, and is remembered for her role in redefining understandings of social justice and poverty. After working as Director of Social Work and Research with the Citizens' Welfare Service, 1961-1966, and as research officer to Clyde Holding, then Leader of the Opposition, 1968-1971, she moved to the Brotherhood of St Laurence (Turner, 1999). Here she played a core role in the innovative Family Centre project 'an important Australian anti-poverty experiment which showed that given the right resources, supports and opportunities, there is a capacity in everyone to build a good life' (Draper, The Age, 20 June 2011).

From 1983 -1985 Benn helped shape the Cain Labor Government's social justice strategy as director of the Social Policy Division in the Department of Premier and Cabinet. She also helped establish the Victorian Women's Trust. After rising to the position of Deputy Director-General of the Victorian Government's Department of Community Services 1985-1988, Benn left the public service to return to academia, becoming Head of the School of Social Work and Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne (Turner 1999). Throughout her working life she also accepted positions of leadership in professional and community organizations, including the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Victorian Neighbourhood House program, and the Italian welfare agency, Co-As-It (Turner 1999). In 1993 she was elected president of the North West Hospital Board of Management, the first woman to occupy that position (Draper, The Age, 20 June 2011).

One of the most prominent social workers of her generation, Benn received honorary doctorates from the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1995 she was awarded the Order of Australia and the Centenary Medal in 2003. On her death in March 2011, she was remembered as an inspirational and passionate leader, whose ideas and language about the changing understandings of disadvantage, continued to resonate four decades after she first rose to prominence in her field (Draper, The Age, 20 June 2011).

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Concetta Benn interviewed by Ann Turner, 21 July 1999, ORAL TRC 3908; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Books

  • Benn, Concetta, Attacking Poverty Through Participation: A Community Approach, PIT Publishing, Bundoora, Victoria, 1981. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Title
Concetta Benn interviewed by Ann Turner
Type
Audio
Date
21 July 1999
Place
National Library of Australia
Control
139947
Repository
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

Details

Title
Concetta Benn tells her father's story
Type
Audio Visual
Date
27 March 2009
Publisher
Making Multicultural Australia

Details

Title
Concetta Benn on schooling in the 1930's
Type
Audio Visual
Date
27 March 2009
Publisher
Making Multicultural Australia

Details