Jean Downing awarded Hyslop Medal

Jean Downing
L - R Professor Glenn Bowes AO, Deputy Dean, MDHS; Jean Downing with Hyslop Medal; and Professor Marie Connolly, Head, Department of Social Work
Jean Downing's citation and acceptance speech can be found below
On Thursday 22nd September Jean Downing (BAGDipSocStud 1946) was awarded the Hyslop Medal for distinguished service to the field of social work at an intimate ceremony attended by close family and friends, Faculty staff and members of the University of Melbourne Social Work Alumni Association Committee.

The Hyslop Medal was created in 2015 in celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of social work education at the University of Melbourne and recognises alumni or staff whose outstanding contributions have been integral to the success of social work at the University, so honouring the qualities and achievements of Jocelyn Hyslop (1897-1974), founding Head of Social Work.

Jean Downing was one of the University’s first graduates in social work, and according to the Biography of Australian Women’s Register, was the first appointee as a social worker to the Children’s Court Psychiatric Clinic in Melbourne. Jean Downing’s long, diverse and significant career in social work included appointments at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, International Social Services, and Austin Hospital. She also served as a Senior Social Worker at the Footscray Office of the Department of Social Security (DSS) and shared responsibility for social work training in Victoria’s DSS State headquarters in the 1980s.  Her deep commitment to justice and welfare also led Jean Downing to a political career culminating in a three-year stint as a Councillor on the Eltham Shire Council.

Jean Downing played a significant role in the establishment of the first Chair of Social Work at the University of Melbourne in 1972 and has shown her deep commitment to advancing social work over the years through the many voluntary appointments she has held including serving on the Councils of the University of Melbourne (1983-1987); the PLC; Coburg State College; Eltham High School; and the Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee (1983).


Jean Downing has made a significant and enduring contribution to the discipline of Social Work over many decades.

Born in 1922, 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 first 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. During this period she became a fellow of the Australian Institute of Management Victorian Branch, and was the first woman to join their Council.

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. The first professor was appointed in April 1974. Over the decades the Chair has continued providing 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. 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 ALP candidate for the Federal election for Diamond Valley in 1977. She stood as an Australian Labour Party candidate in the Legislative Assembly seat of Doncaster in 1979, 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 as Governor-­‐in-­‐Council member of the Council of the University of Melbourne (1983-­‐1987) as well as on the Councils of the PLC; Coburg State College; Eltham High School; and the Equal Opportunity Advisory Committee (1983). 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.


Given by Jean Downing on receipt of the Hyslop Medal on Thursday 22nd September 2016

I am delighted to be the second recipient of the (Jocelyn) Hyslop Medal honouring the first Head of the Department of Social Work in the University of Melbourne.

In accepting this honour I am aware that I represent all those of my contemporaries who became leaders in their diverse fields and I would like to mention three particularly: Marjorie Awburn who was the first medical social worker at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Cynthia Curtis, a pioneer in the field of handicapped children, and Peggy Todd who rode around the streets of South Melbourne on her bicycle, working with the local Council.

I am aware that this medal honouring Miss Hyslop reflects her pioneering spirit, the details of which have been so ably set out by Jane Miller, and of which we were largely unaware as students.

I would like to thank the Medical Faculty for giving us a home recently and in particular Glenn Bowes. It is perhaps particularly appropriate, as I recall, I hope correctly, that when the University Council passed its resolution to establish the Chair six new medical Chairs were established at the same meeting. It may have been helped that my husband Dick Downing was Chairman of the Professorial Board and that the Vice Chancellor David Penington was very supportive. Melbourne was a smaller, more intimate place than it is today.

Jo Isaac, later Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, recalled in his eighties what a welcome sight the first year social work students were in his Economics 1 class and how delightful it was to lecture to a row of bright young girls studying social work.

I would like to thank my supervisors who gave me such practical help when I returned to social work, they include Elizabeth Marshall, Sandy Dodge, Margaret Harris, Margaret Brown and Ann Brennan – such wonderful insights were very valuable.

Miss Hylsop would be very happy to see the present state of Social Worker being led so ably by Marie Connolly, further enriching the work of previous leaders, who often operated under great difficulties.

I am delighted that the Department is addressing the injustices of society as they, being at the coal face, are in a position to observe and report on these and I look forward to reading the text of the lecture to be given tonight.

In conclusion I would like to offer you the words of the Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Jose Saramago (the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature):

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed exactly 50 years ago. There is no lack of ceremonial commemorations. The attention fades you know. When serious matters emerge the public interest starts to diminish, the next day even. I hold nothing against those commemorative acts. I myself have contributed to them in my modest way and if it is not out of place or time or ill advised let me add some more. This half century, obviously governments have not morally done for human rights all that they should. The injustices multiply, the inequities get worse, the ignorance grows, the misery expands. This same schizophrenic humanity that has the capacity to send instruments to a planet to study the composition of rocks can with indifference note the deaths of millions of people from starvation. To go to Mars is easier than to go to our neighbour. Nobody performs her or his duties, Governments do not, because they do not know, they are not able or they do not wish or because they are not permitted by those who effectively govern the world.: the multinational and the pluricontinental companies whose power absolutely over democratic reduces to next to nothing what is left of the ideal of democracy. We citizens are not fulfilling our duties either. Let us think that no human rights will exist without symmetry of the duties that correspond to them. It is not to be expected that governments in the next 80 years will do it. Let us common citizens therefore speak up with the same vehemence as when we demanded our rights, let us demand responsibilities over our duties. Perhaps the world could turn out a little better. 

My regret looking back is that I failed to organise the rich seam of data which came to me on a daily basis.