Known for her passion, sense of humour and charisma, Bonita “Bonnie” Dorothy Anne Cleveland – who died aged 80 this month due to dementia – had dedicated her life and career to promoting social welfare throughout southeast Queensland.
Known for her passion, sense of humour and charisma, Bonita “Bonnie” Dorothy Anne Cleveland – who died aged 80 this month due to dementia – had dedicated her life and career to promoting social welfare throughout southeast Queensland.

Incredible legacy of pioneering Bonnie Cleveland celebrated

THE Gold Coast's first social worker has been remembered for her work in establishing the city's earliest welfare resources and organisations that still help hundreds of families in need.

Known for her passion, sense of humour and charisma, Bonita "Bonnie" Dorothy Anne Cleveland - who died aged 80 this month due to dementia - had dedicated her life and career to promoting social welfare throughout southeast Queensland.

Appointed by the Gold Coast City Council in 1973, she became the city's first social worker and the first in her profession to be employed by local government in Australia.

Bonita “Bonnie” Dorothy Anne Cleveland became the Gold Coast’s first social worker.
Bonita “Bonnie” Dorothy Anne Cleveland became the Gold Coast’s first social worker.

Ms Cleveland worked to establish and expand crisis support service Lifeline and the Citizens Advice Bureau, known today as the Gold Coast Community Legal Centre.

"Aside from the structural legacy that Mum left the city, I think she'd like to be remembered for the individual differences she made to families and people through her support and advocacy," her son Sam Cleveland said.

"It would mean more to her to help a family in trouble access urgent aid, than to look sector-wide and attach her name to any bigger-picture achievements."

A hands-on woman, Ms Cleveland's first major operational challenge came with the 1974 floods, when she was ferried by boat throughout the city to co-ordinate community relief efforts.

She was a founding member and past president of the Gold Coast chapters of the professional women's advocacy organisation Zonta International and the Australian Federation of University Women, now known as Graduate Women.

In 1990 she was appointed to the board of the South Coast Regional Health Authority, a Queensland Government body formed to optimise delivery of health services.

She also held senior social work and team leader roles at the Department of Social Security, Gold Coast Hospital, the Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland, Baillie Henderson Psychiatric Hospital at Toowoomba, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Ms Cleveland is being remembered for her passion, sense of humour and charisma.
Ms Cleveland is being remembered for her passion, sense of humour and charisma.

Mr Cleveland said his mother had close friendships with people from all walks of life.

"She had a quick sense of humour, she was open and good company," he said.

"Mum didn't put on airs and graces.

"She was educated and very well spoken, could mix with a client in emergency housing and then turn around and talk policy with a government official or senior co-workers, all with the same respect and understanding."

Following her 2005 retirement, she maintained a regular roster of social welfare volunteering work throughout the Gold Coast, particularly in the aged care and veteran support sectors.

Ms Cleveland is survived by her daughter Elizabeth Boursier-Cleveland, son-in-law Mathieu Boursier-Cleveland, granddaughter Anne Boursier-Cleveland, son Sam Cleveland and daughter-in-law Charntel Cleveland.



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