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Community

Cherished memories for Victorian children through perpetual giving

Leaving a ‘gift’ to the State Trustees Australia Foundation (the Foundation) can make a huge difference to the community, thanks to the power of perpetuity.  This is the story of Edith Florence Bennett, whose legacy has carried on since her passing through her generous bequest to the Foundation with the sole purpose being ‘to help socially disadvantaged children living in Victoria’.

Edith Florence Bennett was born in Western Australia in 1918 into a typical suburban middle-class family. She first became interested in helping others when she was a young girl growing up during the depression and her family would provide meals to men approaching their property asking for work. Although social work was not a recognised profession at the time, Edith’s education from her school emphasised the importance and responsibility of actively bringing the best potential out of one another, which cemented the roots for her deep-set values and principles.

Edith began her career as a teacher at a small rural school in WA after completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia and a teacher training qualification at the State Teachers’ College. Her position as a teacher was short-lived however, and in 1942 she joined the fledgling Women’s Auxiliary Australia Air Force (WAAAF) as one of their first thirty trainee WAAAF officers.  Edith served on various bases reaching the rank of Flight Officer. After discharge at the end of 1945, Edith enrolled at the University of Melbourne and completed a Diploma of Social Studies. In 1948, she gained a position with the Commonwealth Government. Her employment with the Department of Social Services had her working as a social worker in state offices in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

In 1953, Edith accepted a six-month United Nations Fellowship which saw her travel to the United States. Here she studied at the University of Michigan and specialised in casework. Her tutor and mentor, Marion File became a dear friend and Edith kept in touch right through till her death.  

Edith returned to the States many times, and on one occasion spent almost twelve months working as a staff caseworker with Family and Children’s Service of Greater St. Louis. Employment with this top-quality American Family Counselling and Child Care Agency in 1957 enabled her to consolidate her counselling skills particularly around the area of psychiatric social work.

This image shows Turana Depot in Parkville, Victoria, c. 1977
Turana Depot in Parkville, Victoria, c. 1977

After more than a decade with the Commonwealth, Edith left in search of a position where she could work more closely with children. This led to a short stint at the receiving depot in Parkville, known as Turana. Here, she was mentored by a loving matron who recognised Edith’s determination and passion for children’s welfare. It wasn’t long before she was appointed to oversee the transition of the old Presbyterian Children’s Home at Burwood into the Allambie Reception Centre.

Edith was Superintendent of Allambie for ten years from its opening in 1961, and during this time established systems that focused on the children’s wellbeing rather than Departmental rules and regulations. One example from early in her term was her outright rejection of the heavy sandals made for the children by inmates at Pentridge Prison arguing that to build self- respect children needed to feel and look like other children and not like waifs!

She was promoted to Director of Family Welfare for Victoria in 1971, the first woman ever to be appointed to this position. She remained in this role for 9 years till her retirement in 1978.

During her time as Director, Edith became the legal guardian for 1200 children and over the years was responsible for more than 6000 young people, including children awaiting adoption, in foster care, in reception centres and in children’s homes run by government and non-government agencies.

In 1979, Edith was appointed an Officer of The Order of the British Empire (OBE). This award, which has its origins back with King George V during WWI, was presented to Edith at Government House ‘for outstanding public service in the field of Social Welfare, and in particular as Director of Family Welfare’.

After her retirement, Edith continued to contribute to the community and others in need. For several years she volunteered as a Community Guardian with the Office of the Public Advocate.

She sponsored children through World Vision and The Smith Family in order to provide better educational opportunities. She was a staunch friend, helping many people to achieve their goals by providing them with support and financial assistance.

This image shows the late Edith Bennett and her niece at 6 weeks of age, in 1959
The late Edith Bennett and her niece at 6 weeks of age, in 1959

Edith’s legacy has carried on since her passing through her generous bequest to the State Trustees Australia Foundation with the sole purpose being ‘to help socially disadvantaged children living in Victoria in developing special interests and participating in recreational activities for which they cannot obtain funding from government sources or from their own families’.

The initial gift of $100,000 to establish ‘The Children’s Special Interest & Recreation Fund’, a sub-fund of the Foundation has greatly improved children’s wellbeing since its creation 11 years ago.

Her niece, also a Social Worker, continues to contribute to the S.T.A.F. sub-fund set up by Edith and invites any others with similar interests to do so also.

To date, more than $55,000 has been distributed to charities and this will continue in perpetuity.

Our most recent partnership was with Cottage by the Sea – Queenscliff, an Australian children’s charity established over 130 years ago with the sole purpose to enhance the lives of children in need.

Funding provided by the S.T.A.F. – The Children’s Special Interest & Recreation Fund was able to assist Cottage By The Sea’s Mentor Program Support for the past three years. This initiative is run by graduates of the REEF (Recreation, Education, Environment, Friendship) program, an experiential 2-year learning program designed for students beginning in grade six transitioning into high school. Eligible graduates of the REEF program who remain in formal education through Years 8 – 12 can become Cottage by The Sea Mentors. The objectives of a Mentor are to explore identity and increase independence, build leadership qualities and develop skills for life and employment through an array of opportunities such as outdoor education adventures, accredited training courses, volunteer work and the mentoring of others.

This image shows current grant recipients – Cottage by the Sea utilising successful grant for their Equine Therapy program for mentors
Current grant recipients – Cottage by the Sea utilising successful grant for their Equine Therapy program for mentors

Most recently, Mentors attended the Equine Therapy – High Country Trail Ride camp which took place in Mansfield State Forest. Over 4 days, Mentors went horseback riding to enjoy their own ‘Man from Snowy River’ experience, overlooking the high country along the way and creating unforgettable memories.

State Trustees Australia Foundation is committed to understanding the interests of our bequestors and donors and preserving their legacies. As trustee of the Foundation, we are honoured to fulfil the wishes of our donors, just like Edith and her decision to help socially isolated children in Victoria.

Leaving a ‘gift’ to State Trustees Australia Foundation can make a huge difference to the community, thanks to the power of perpetuity.  If you would like to learn more about charitable giving or philanthropy, please call (03) 9667 6740 or email charitable@statetrustees.com.au.

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