Woman Reid, Joan Innes

Community Worker, Politician and Social worker

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Joan Innes Reid was born in rural Victoria in 1915. She attended Melbourne University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1936. She obtained her Master of Social Work in Canada where she lived for around 15 years. Here she became committed to community development. Returning to Australia in 1953, she took up the position of medical social worker at Townsville General Hospital, the only social worker in northern Queensland until 1962 (Reid and Thorpe, 1996, pp. 55, 97).

Reid also worked with the Queensland Country Women's Association, helping unmarried mothers and homeless women. She introduced occupational therapy for thoracic patients at the Cairns hospital paving the way for an occupational therapy unit. In 1957 she helped found the North Queensland Subnormal Children's Welfare Association (later known as Endeavour) and the North Queensland Prisoners Aid Society (PAS). Rosamund Thorpe wrote: 'Long before empowerment became a key word in social work discourse, Joan was practising it in all that she undertook: building people's confidence; developing people's skills; transferring knowledge and power; and stimulating visions of community well-being' (Thorpe, 2003).

In 1967 Reid was appointed Townsville's first female councillor and in 1973 served as Deputy Mayor. 'With qualifications in literature, languages and visual art, as well as social work, Joan had a vision of community well-being which encompassed so much more than human services. Thus Joan's efforts extended, for example, to education, the performing and visual arts, and early local exercises in Reconciliation' (Thorpe, 2003). She chaired the council's cultural committee, helped establish the civic theatre, art galleries and the Townsville Museum.

Reid joined James Cook University, Townsville, in 1976 as a senior tutor in Behavioural Sciences. She was instrumental in introducing the Bachelor of Social Work degree, and was its first fieldwork coordinator. A foundation member of the Townsville University Society from 1961, she served on the Council of the College of Advanced Education, the Halls of Residence Committee and the University Ethics Committee. She retired in 1981, but stayed involved with the Wildlife Preservation Society, the Townsville Museum, the Disaster Welfare Committee, and the Research Ethics committee at the university. In 1984 Reid was made a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her community work and in 1989 she received life membership of the Australian Association of Social Workers. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University in 1995, the first woman to be so honoured. The University's Joan Innes Reid prize in social work is named in her honour. Reid died in 2001. A commemorative plaque honouring her contribution to social work and politics was unveiled at a ceremony in Townsville in August 2003 when Rosamund Thorpe described her as 'a social worker with very special qualities: of vision; compassion; leadership; energy; dogged determination. In short, a veritable role model for present day social work and community welfare students' (Thorpe, 2003).

Published Resources


  • Reid, Joan Innes and Thorpe, Rosamund, Tropical odyssey of a pioneer social worker in North Queensland, James Cook University: Centre for Social and Welfare Research, Townsville, Queensland, 1996. Details

Online Resources