Recognition: Fiona Gardner’s work with a variety of social welfare organisations has earned her an OAM. Photo: JULIE HOUGH

Social welfare work awarded

June 13, 2021 BY

FIONA Gardner’s passion for working with diverse communities began at a young age and on this year’s Queen’s birthday she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to the community through social welfare organisations.

“I was absolutely astonished when I got the email saying that I could get this award I suppose because it feels like, to me, there are so many people doing so many wonderful things,” Ms Gardner said.

“I was quite amazed but also very appreciative that somebody has thought that I am doing something that is worth awarding this for.”

Ms Gardner’s career in the social work field was sparked by her own migrant experience as a nine-year-old from Scotland and following the completion of her university studies she moved to Albury-Wodonga as a social worker.

After seeing the challenges that regional community experienced trying to find qualified social workers or pursue an education in the field first-hand, Ms Gardner made it her mission to improve the situation.

Following her relocation to Bendigo in the late 1980s, she began developing a social work and social policy course at the La Trobe University Rural Health School in 1996.

“They just had expressions of interest, I said ‘I’ll come for 12 months, let’s get the course going’, three other people came part time and together we got the course started and now we’ve been here for nearly 25 years.”

She now serves as the discipline lead of the course, coordinating it across all four regional campuses in Bendigo, Wodonga, Shepparton and Mildura.

Ms Gardner has been a member for Quakers Australia since the 1990s, representing the group on the Bendigo Interfaith Council. In 2001 she joined Rural Australians for Refugees, most recently representing them in the City’s Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Committee in 2014.

“When I think about the organisations I’ve been involved with in Bendigo, that reflects my interest in wanting to work with people who maybe have come from somewhere else or have a different cultural background,” she said.

“I think in all my life I’m going to be forever interested in these kind of community groups.”