Carolyn Mallam

Carolyn Mallam graduated with a Bachelor of Social Studies in 1974 and has been working on the frontline as a counsellor ever since. Now semi-retired, her 30 year career as a social worker has included periods working in disability care as well as family therapy. The majority of her professional life though has been in relationship counselling where she encourages emotional honesty and understanding between partners, and guides them through their difficulties.

Initially, she began her career working as a social worker with the NSW Society for Crippled Children (now the Northcott Society) in a hospital and a school setting. Then at UNIFAM as a sessional counsellor for individuals and couples while raising her young family. As was the case for many social worker’s during this period, Carolyn worked on a pro bono basis – “We had truly excellent professional support, but I can’t remember when we began to be paid for our work – in the early 90’s I think”. The decision to serve others was clearly not made for any financial benefit but because of an overwhelming desire “to make a difference where I could”. Carolyn has run her own private practise in Epping since 2005, working with both married and pre-married couples.

1. Could you tell us about yourself, your background, how you ultimately became a teacher/social worker?
I was born and raised in Sydney, the second of three children. I was state-educated at a co-ed school. My father died when I was 15 years old – this put a considerable amount of strain on my mother; financially as well as emotionally – there weren’t a lot of great work opportunities for single mothers. The situation became such that I was almost forced to leave school in year 10. However, we were fortunate enough to have family friends who helped us. Through the encouragement of these friends, I not only completed my HSC but went on to University, the first in my family to do so.

Even after all this time, It’s difficult to pin down exactly why I became a Social Worker but those family friends, who were there for our family during our loss, experiencing this generosity when we were in need, was formative. One of our neighbours was a young Canadian woman who was the first social worker I knew - she was inspiring.

2. What’s your current role?
I have worked as a Relationship Counsellor with UNIFAM since 1979 and my present role there is to run a small educational program for highly conflicted separated parents. In my semi-retirement I continue to see couples on a part-time basis through my private practice in Epping.

3. What degree/s did you complete and was there something in particular that attracted you to these courses of study?
I completed a Bachelor of Social Studies (BSocStud) in 1974 which was then a 4 year degree with thesis. I majored in Anthropology, which was my first great love in terms of my studies. During the mid-90’s, whilst I was at UNIFAM, I undertook a certificate in Couple and Family Therapy.

4. How has your degree supported you in your professional life?
My BSocStud has supported me in two major ways:

  1. Instilling Professional Ethics. We were taught from day one that you put the client first, not yourself.
  2. How to prevent burnout in your work. How to care for yourself emotionally and physically so you can do your job and I can’t stress enough how important this is.

5. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?
The time I spent with my peers outside the classroom, those were some of my happiest times. I thoroughly enjoyed discussing ideas about current issues with my co-students, especially debating the morality of our country sending troops to fight in Vietnam, and the then hot topic of conscription by ballot of young men of university age. I didn’t spend a lot of time on campus until the final two years of my degree which coincided with the practical part of my study. I was working and studying part-time until then. There weren’t too many places to eat on campus in those days, so our catch ups took place at a pub somewhere in Newtown!

6. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?
Professor Ian Hogbin and his lectures remain vividly in my mind. He was in his mid-60s by the time he taught me but was an absolute inspiration. He was a social anthropologist and his work on Melanesia and the South Pacific was particularly fascinating. His lectures were wildly popular –- even the aisles of the Wallace Theatre were full of students, many of whom weren’t enrolled in Anthropology! People had heard of his lectures and would come all over just to hear him speak.

7. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?
This is this is a tricky one. But I suppose “do unto others as they would do unto you”… this has served me well both in my professional and personal life. Compassion for the other is a very good foundation for us all. What drives me now is the fact I’ve seen people change. And I still have that optimism - that people and situations can change for the better.

8. What are your plans for the future?
I am semi-retired now but - once a social worker, always a social worker. One doesn’t stop being passionate about the social injustices and inequalities in our society and the world. So, I will continue to work with couples on a part-time basis through my practice. But I am also involved in several asylum seeker initiatives – to me they are most maligned and disadvantaged group in our society. This is an area of passion that I will continue to be involved in.

9. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?
I think to remember that your learning continues long after you graduate. Listen to those who are more experienced than you – look for mentors, I always had wonderfully encouraging ones. Also, I think as a social work graduate – never lose your hope in changing systems.

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