Our History


Past Chief Social Workers and Senior staff – L to R Sonia Posenelli, Norma Parker (front) Valda Ferns (Social Worker – Oncology) and Marjorie Awburn (1993)


Norma Parker- St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (1932)

Norma Parker

The profession of social work at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM) has a long and distinguished history. Almoners, as they were known; were the earliest social workers. In 1932, Norma Parker founded an Almoner Department at SVHM; the third such department in Australia. Norma studied social work at the Catholic University of America before returning to Australia in 1931 to realise her vision to reform Catholic welfare in Melbourne. Norma was also an active member of the central committee of the Catholic Women’s Social Guild, a feminised group that mobilised Catholic women to monitor economic and social conditions. Norma was regarded as one of the founders of social work in Australia and was central to the establishment of our professional body – The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).


Marjorie Awburn (circa 1950s)

Marjorie Awburn

In 1947, Marjorie Awburn commenced at SVHM. She went on to be awarded a Fulbright travel grant, which enabled her to work at St Vincent’s Hospital New York and study social work in an international setting. Marjorie believed there were three essential functions of hospital social work– patient care, teaching and research; which continues to guide the Social Work Department in their activities today.


Victorian Public Healthcare Awards 2005 – Winner Hospital and Community: Working together to strengthen service provision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. L to R Sonia Posenelli, Michelle Gallagher-Winters, Stephen Vale and John Willis

Patricia McKendrick

In 1982 the first Koori Liaison Officer was appointed at SVHM and in 1985, Patricia McKendrick was appointed as the Chief Social Worker.


Sonia Posenelli – Chief Social Worker 1991 – 2016 (circa 2001)

Sonia Posenelli

In 1991, Sonia Posenelli commenced as the Chief Social Worker and during the next 25 years her attention to detail, flare for innovation and ability to drive strategic change provided a platform for her unique and valued contribution to the profile and development of health social work in Victoria. Her ability to accurately “read” the forecast of social need, government policy and health service direction was inspirational. She has been a courageous voice in her commitment to health equity, social responsibility, workforce development and the wellbeing of vulnerable communities. Throughout her career, Sonia has made significant contributions to improving the health experience for the Indigenous community and patients experiencing homelessness, family violence across the lifespan, aged care, disability and cancer care. Her knowledge and experience in workforce development and training, system redesign, quality, research and data is held in high regard.

Lisa Braddy was appointed Chief Social Worker in 2016 when Sonia Posenelli stepped down to retire. Working with an energetic and inspiring team the SVHM Social Work Department continues to be influenced by the legacies and wisdom of these social work pioneers. Social workers at SVHM work across many areas; with inpatients, outpatients and within a diverse range of community based teams. Social work is an important contributor in achieving the overarching mission of SVHM.