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Edna Hopkins (1920–1996)

by Emma Macdonald

from Canberra Times

Edna Hopkins, by Lister Hopkins, 1974

Edna Hopkins, by Lister Hopkins, 1974

photo supplied by Richard Hopkins

Edna Hopkins, a devoted teacher of English as a second language and former Canberra Times Canberran of the Year, has died, aged 76.

Mrs Hopkins began her career teaching English to refugees arriving in Australia from Austria and Germany just before World War II.

In 1968 she was the first ACT teacher to gain a permanent appointment to teach English as a second language and divided her time between Narrabundah Primary and Telopea Park High School before setting up the Introductory English Centre within the high school.

Mrs Hopkins believed that a lack of English was one of the greatest handicaps for refugees coming to Australia but also thought it was just as important for them to maintain their mother tongues and their cultural values.

Educated at Brisbane Girls Grammar School and the University of Queensland, she worked in the Middle East, West Indies and Indonesia. In 1981, Mrs Hopkins went to Thailand to start a three-month English program for refugees at the transit centre at Phanat Nikhom.

She aimed to prepare refugees for integration into Australia and the "shock" of arrival into a new community. Mrs Hopkins planned to sponsor the trip herself but the Canberra branch of the Indo-China Refugee Association was so impressed that it set up a trust fund to take public donations.

Mrs Hopkins said the benefits of teaching some English to refugees before they arrived in Australia was "whatever they are able to absorb will facilitate an easier and more stress-free entry into this country, and it will reduce the learning load at the time when they are under pressure in terms of adjustment to climate and basic settlement tasks such as finding accommodation and employment".

Her time overseas had made her "fairly sensitive to the needs of migrants" and Mrs Hopkins said she knew what it was like to "be an alien" and that she had learned Arabic in the Middle East "the hard way".

Her efforts towards increasing the language opportunities for migrants and refugees both in the ACT and overseas have led to many long-term friendships outside the classroom.

She died on Monday at the ACT Hospice. She is survived by her husband Lister, sons Andrew, Richard, Priyaratna, and Nick, and seven grandchildren.

A public gathering will take place on January 18 at a time and place to be announced in the Canberra Times on January 11.

The family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations could be made to Amnesty International.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Edna Hopkins

Citation details

Emma Macdonald, 'Hopkins, Edna (1920–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 February 2024.

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