Jean Downing

Citation for the Award of the Hyslop Medal

Jean Downing has made a significant and enduring contribution to the discipline of Social Work over many decades.
Born in 1923, she completed her secondary education at Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) in Melbourne in 1939, and in 1946 she completed her tertiary education at the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Social Studies. She was one of the University’s early graduates in social work, and according to the Biography of Australian Women’s Register, was then the first appointee as a Social Worker to the Children’s Court Psychiatric clinic in Melbourne.

In 1952 she married Arthur Howard Norman. Together they devised and funded one of the first research projects into the Foster Home Placements of Children (1952).  Following her husband’s death in 1959 she was the Managing Director of the family’s stationery firm, Norman Bros Pty Ltd until 1978.

In 1965 she married Richard Ivan Downing, Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne. They both had a deep commitment to supporting initiatives at the University, and Jean mobilized contributions from individuals, organizations and foundations, including the Howard Normal Trust, to establish the first Chair of Social Work in 1972. In the early 1970s the School of Social Work had yet to realise its full potential as a discipline and the vision to create a Chair assisted greatly with the creation of a bachelor’s degree for social work. The first professor was appointed in April 1974 and over subsequent decades the Chair has provided leadership in the discipline of social work and as a senior position within the University of Melbourne.

Following the death of Richard Downing in 1975, Jean Downing returned to Social Work with appointments at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, International Social Services, the Austin Hospital, and the Department of Social Security (DSS) where in 1978 she worked as a Senior Social Worker at the Footscray Office.  As the first social worker appointed to the Children’s Court she was a pioneer in the area of psychiatric social services. In the 1980s she shared responsibility for Social Work training in Victoria’s DSS State headquarters.

Jean Downing then embarked on a political career, first standing as an Australian Labour Party candidate in the Legislative Assembly seat of Doncaster in 1979. She stood as an ALP candidate for the Federal election for Diamond Valley, and then was elected as a Councillor to Eltham Shire Council in 1979 whereupon she served a three year term.

Over many years she has had a deep commitment to advancing Social Work, and her voluntary appointments included serving on the Councils of the University of Melbourne, the Presbyterian Ladies College, Coburg State College, Eltham High School, the University’s Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee and the Board of Social Studies.

Throughout her life she has been a strong supporter of UNICEF, and made contributions to international organizations. For example, through the Howard Norman Trust she has supported the Christian Hospital in Vellore, India, an organization she continues to support. She continues to contribute to refugee issues through her association with the Flinders group, and had maintained an enduring commitment to ensuring free education, particularly for disadvantaged people.

Jean Downing has been an important supporter of social work at the University of Melbourne, and across the discipline more broadly. Her generosity and vision has supported practice developments and her deep commitment to professional social work has been an inspiration to generations of social work students and practitioners.