CONTRIBUTED BY JOAN MITCHELL
Bronwyn Herbert was a social worker for almost 30 years, working at Silky Oaks Children’s Haven and the Royal Children’s Hospital. She and her brother Lex were the children of Hugh Albert Irvine (known as Mr Bert) and his wife, Eunice. Bert’s brother Sam married Eunice’s sister Zillah, and the two brothers managed Irvines department store. The store opened on Bay Terrace in 1901.
The store (pictured right) provided a wide range of goods from hardware, groceries, haberdashery, manchester, ladies, men’s and children’s wear, shoes, jewellery, crockery and furniture. It was well known that almost all requirements could be purchased at Irvines.
When the brothers retired in 1966, the business was sold to Bayards. It was later demolished, and government offices, including Social Security, were built on the grounds. During the War years and depression period, many local people were able to obtain their groceries and clothing from Irvines when unable to pay for them due to unemployment. Bronwyn felt it was apt that Social Security replaced the business as they also provided support to many families in need.
During Bronwyn’s social work career, she first worked in the residential section for children needing housing and support and then developed the homeless program at Silky Oaks for families needing housing and support. Silky Oaks built some units on their property and had access to some Housing Commission houses to provide this support. A Counselling and Therapy department was developed, and many parents and children received support from Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Art and Play Therapists and Social Workers. Bronwyn found managing the program and supporting so many families very fulfilling and worked in this position until she was in her early 80s. She has since been writing a PhD thesis on what families, including young people who are homeless, need and how best to support them.