Woman Buckley, Hannah

Social Worker

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Hannah Buckley was born in 1917. A pioneer in South Australian Catholic social work, she had strong female role models and mentors, such as Amy Wheaton who inspired her. Buckley continued the work that Norma Parker and Constance Moffit had undertaken in Melbourne and Sydney to establish the social work profession.

Buckley came from a long line of Irish Catholics; her maternal grandparents were well known for their community welfare work (Gleeson, 2008, 98). Her early family life in rural Tarlee was disrupted when her parents, Cecilia Kerin and James Buckley, died in 1919 and 1921 respectively. Cared for by two aunts in Adelaide, she attended Loreto Convent, Marryatville, (Gleeson, 2008, 24-25) where she was influenced by the Catholic Action movement and became part of the leadership group of the Junior Catholic Women's League (Gleeson, 2008, 94).

In 1937 Buckley was a foundation student of the South Australian Board of Social Studies Training. With two days a week doing practical work, she finished the course in 1941. Prior to graduating she was appointed to establish the Catholic Social Service Bureau of South Australia. This entailed three months' study in Melbourne and Sydney to learn from Moffit and Parker's examples (The Adelaide Advertiser, 9 December 1941). In 1942 the Catholic Social Service Bureau (CSSB) of South Australia was opened under her leadership (The Adelaide Advertiser, 18 February 1942). She was the only female Catholic social worker in Adelaide in the 1940s and prepared the way for major changes in Catholic children's institutions (Gleeson, 2008, p. 96). Like Parker and Moffit she wanted to reform Catholic children's homes, making them more focused on individuals. As head of the CSSB Buckley dealt with the challenges posed by the evacuation of Darwin families to Adelaide during the war, and later the arrival of British child migrants (Gleeson, 2008, p. 96). Her 'pioneering leadership' influenced Moya Britten-Jones to continue the task of modernising Catholic orphanages (Gleeson, 2008, p. 97).

In 1947 Buckley resigned from the bureau to undertake further study in Sydney. On her return to Adelaide she moved into medical social work, first at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1948 and then with the South Australian Tuberculosis Association. From 1959 to the late 1970s Buckley worked at Adelaide's Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital shaping the social work department. 'Her leadership influenced even the most reticent doctors of the value that social work brought to the medical profession' (Gleeson, 2008, p. 97).

Buckley was an early member of the South Australian Social Workers' Association, formed in 1942, and a member of the South Australian executive of the national association (Australian Association of Social Workers) formed in 1946. In 1980 a Catholic welfare facility was named in her honour. In a career that spanned both the Catholic and the state welfare sectors, Buckley was a key influence on the development of social work in South Australia. She died in 1981.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Gleeson, Damian, 'Hannah Buckley: South Australia's First Catholic Social Worker', Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, vol. 36, 2008, pp. 91-100. Details
  • Martin, Elaine, 'The Importance of the Trained Approach: Social Work Education in South Australia, 1935-1946', Australian Social Work, vol. 36, no. 1, 1983, pp. 11-22. Details

Newspaper Articles


Online Resources