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06 Apr 2017

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An honourable local

Melburnian resident Thelma Castles was recently acknowledged with a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia for 18 years of service helping vulnerable women and families.

Thelma joins fellow Melburnian residents Paul Wheelton AM and Anne O’Donovan AO as the third Southbanker to have received Australia Day honours this year.

Having bought off the plan 16 years ago at The Melburnian, she said she and husband John (who also has an AM!) loved living in Southbank.

Since 1998, Thelma has served in a number of roles, including president, deputy president and secretary of The Queen’s Fund, which is one of Victoria’s oldest charities.

While “completely overwhelmed” to have received the OAM, the career speech pathologist said she felt honoured to be recognised for her many years of ongoing service to the organisation.

“I feel honoured to be the recipient of this award which is recognition, not only for me but for the generations of women who, through The Queen’s Fund, have made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of single women and their children,” she said.

Lady Loch, who was the wife of the then Governor of Victoria, established the Queen’s Fund in 1887 for the purpose of financially assisting and empowering single Victorian women and children.

Lady Loch established the organisation to both celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and commemorate the Bulli coalmine disaster, which both occurred in the same year.  

The organisation has held its regular meetings at the Melbourne Town Hall ever since, and has helped thousands of vulnerable women and children who are in distress, crisis or emergency situations.

As Thelma explained, while the type of support the organisation has provided to women and families has changed dramatically over the years, its purpose has stayed the same.

“In those days they would buy poultry so she could keep chickens and sell eggs or an old mangle for washing so they could take in washing or sometimes they would give furniture if they had a spare room for a lodger,” she said.

“It was that really early microeconomics in a way but of course nowadays we fill a gap in the service system.”

In 2016 alone, more than 600 social workers from over 280 organisations referred people to The Queen’s Fund for financial support, which can come in the form of everything from a child’s school fees to a woman’s medical bills.

Having grown up in Melbourne’s western suburbs under very civically-engaged parents, she said giving back had always been a value she held dear.

Thelma currently serves on the 17-person committee as the convener of the submissions sub-committee and she said her passion for The Queen’s Fund was still just as strong as when she started.

“When I was asked to do this, I suppose it was sort of a natural thing and the best thing about this is that you’re at the coalface,” she said.

“I always had that thing about giving back and the truth is you get so much more out of it than you give back. I don’t think people realise that.”

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