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90 years of great work!

The article below written by two members gives us an understanding of the 90 years of service provided by members and the important role this Association has played in Victoria during the past 90 years! Enjoy the read and congratulations on all your outstanding achievements – Lynne Jordan Executive Director

The Country Women’s Association of Victoria was formed in 1928 out of a need to improve the lot of rural women and children, when Victoria was facing the problems of drought, the onset of the great Depression, and re-settlement of returned soldiers from the First World War and the influx of new migrants. In recognition of the isolation, lack of support and services, and the health and welfare of women and children, the then President of the Royal Agricultural Society, Sir Charles Merrett called a meeting to discuss these matters of rural welfare which was chaired by Lady Somers who was the wife of the State Governor. At that meeting it was passed that a committee be formed to consider the formation of the Country Women’s Association similar to New South Wales and Queensland which were both formed in 1922.

Lady Somers said “We realize the vital importance to this State of arresting the drift from the country to the city. No effort must be spared to brighten country life and to ensure prosperous rural communities. There is a need for a statewide organized body of women untrammeled by political sectarian obligations to speak with authority on, and command attention to, matters of public interest connected with community affairs” To this day, the CWA takes great pride in being nonpolitical and nonsectarian. Nothing much has changed either with the drift from the country to the city still happening in many places.

On the 12th March 1928 the Country Women’s Association of Victoria was formed and at its first annual conference there were 20 branches and 1700 members. It was obvious that the need for such an organization was very real and of great benefit to communities.

The growth after the Second World War was amazing. Branches were formed into district groups throughout the State and in the heady days there were 50 groups with 31,000 members in 700 branches. In Victoria today, we have 40 groups with 330 branches, nearly 6000 members and growing. We are regularly opening new branches, most of them meeting at night to suit women in today’s world. We are the largest women’s organisation in Victoria.

This growth in membership has been driven by women in many parts of the State looking for a friendship group, who want to contribute to improving conditions for women and children and our communities especially those most vulnerable. They look to become a part of this iconic organization and to help with the projects and work we are involved in as well as learn skills which many in the CWA have to pass on. It is a testament to the organization that many members choose to belong for a lifetime—that the Association has kept them engaged in its work and friendship for 40, 50 and sometimes over 60 years.

The majority of new branches hold their meetings at night to accommodate working women and those with very young children. We offer support and interest for all, whether it be in social issues, agricultural and environmental issues, learning a new craft or improving cooking skills, entering our annual statewide public speaking, literature or photography competitions, helping at the Melbourne Show, joining the choir or letting their creativity fly with performing arts.

In our communities today we have a large need for people to meet, form friendships, share ideas and talents, learn new skills, widen networks and advocate in support of relevant issues and work for the common good.

Services which are taken for granted in today’s communities such as infant welfare centers and the Home Help Scheme were initiated and administered by the Country Women’s Association for many years – in the case of the Home Help Scheme this was run by metropolitan branches for over 30 years. Infant welfare services were begun as a result of the isolation of the women in the Mallee. Both services were then taken over by local councils. A dental van for remote country areas, library services, building of small country hospitals, a home tutoring scheme for migrants to learn English and to learn about some of our customs, and working with Aboriginal women were all projects undertaken. Isolation and lack of services are still a huge issue. We worked with the RFDS to help bring mobile dental services back to the Mallee a couple of years ago.

Many public amenities such as playground equipment, tree planting, and seating in parks were also put in place over the years. Did you know that the white lines we take for granted on our roads as a safety measure, were in fact a CWA community safety initiative.

In the late 1930’s and early 40’s the Association entered the War effort along with many other organizations. 150,000 camouflage nets and sheepskin vests for the air force were made. Food parcels, clothes, woolen quilts and jumpers were sent to England for the children of the women who worked in the munitions factories. The CWA was called upon to be represented on many wartime committees.

The CWA of Victoria is affiliated with the world body- the Associated Country Women of the World which has over 9 million members in 78 countries. We work through them to support international projects and through our country of study each year to understand other cultures and the lives of women in other parts of the world. In 2019 the world conference of ACWW will be held in Melbourne at the Melbourne Convention Centre. In Victoria our particular focus is the South Pacific area.

The welfare work undertaken by the Association today to support those most in need, both locally and internationally is mind boggling. Locally we provide 1000’s and 1000’s of knitted goods including rugs, beanies, scarves and gloves, jumpers, toys, as well as hard groceries, and to the South Pacific area and East Timor we provide — kinder and school requisites, birthing kits, sewing materials and funding for water tanks. Toiletry packs are made up for women arriving at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre without any possessions, and pyjamas and knitted toys for the children of inmates who accompany their mothers, crocheted octypussies to provide comfort to premature babies

Wherever there is a demand and we are asked we always try to help. At our State Conference in 2017 we donated $21,000 worth of nappies to the Caroline Chisholm Centre , at the 2016 State Conference we donated an enormous number of handbags filled with feminine hygiene products to Share the Dignity and the year before, about 500kg of tinned tuna to Foodbank.

Most major hospitals are assisted with goods in the form of premature baby clothes, outfits for stillborn babies, knitted booties beanies and tiny teddies and trauma dolls. Branches also donate to their local hospitals, nursing homes, in some areas breakfast to schools, helping children learn to knit and provide aid to kindergartens.

Our work during the long drought distributing $7.1 million from the Federal Government and Woolworths “Back the Farmer Days’ was a huge undertaking. It was mainly to reimburse or pay accounts for fuel, electricity, grocery bills, school requisites, dental bills and we were accountable to the government for record keeping.

1000’s of pamper packs were distributed during the drought, the 2009 bushfires and the 2011 floods. Approximately $300,000 was donated to the Association in 2009 by people who knew it would go to where it was most needed, and some of it was used for fencing materials for farmers as this is not an area covered by any other agency.

We are an advocate for women everywhere, and over the years through our network we have been able to take Suicide Awareness skills to rural and metropolitan areas, we have run forums on farm safety, women and the law and problem gambling. When “Family Violence What can I do” was our social issues theme in 2012 and 2013 we facilitated workshops with Family Violence Victoria throughout the state.

The Thanksgiving Fund is voted mainly to research with the preference for an organization with its head office here in Victoria. In 2018 our Thanksgiving Fund donations will be going to The National Centre for Farmer Health, and our social issues focus is Awareness of Elder Abuse.

We formed a standalone Cooking Committee in 2013 and they are being rushed off their feet with requests for cooking classes and demonstrations from the members. We are definitely NOT just tea and scones but scones open many doors for us. Just two examples are the Melbourne Show where we bake and serve over 1500 scones every day and at the open day at Government House on Australia Day where we serve scones which helps to showcase the CWA to the wider community and raises money which goes to the State Project.

Did you know that we have a successful paddle team in the Murray Marathon each year, and that we are represented at Traveller’s Aid Australia, Council on the Aging, Community Utilities Advocacy Centre, Council on the Aging, the health services committee of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Farmsafe Victoria, and have a memorandum of understanding with Carers Victoria. The State President also sits on the policy council of the Victorian Farmers Federation.

In 2016 we took a whole of community approach to supporting a small Mallee community which did not have a presence form any agency. The community depended primarily on farming and it was the end of a series of dry years. We provided a set box of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and eggs every week to every family at the P12 School and the kindergarten. We did not try to pick winners and losers and we know that we improved the nutritional outcomes for that community and took some financial pressure off struggling families and community groups. The goods were bought through the local supermarket thus keeping funds in that community by supporting business. Anecdotal evidence showed that nothing was wasted and any excess was shared with elderly neighbours—caring for those most vulnerable.

Working for the Country Women’s Association is a very rewarding experience and a privilege.

Carol Clay. Past State President

Janette O’Keefe. State Treasurer