Country Women's Associations of NSW and Queensland celebrating 100 years of advocacy

Melody Labinsky
By Melody Labinsky
May 13 2022 - 10:00pm
Bush advocates: Queensland Country Women's Association members gather on the verandah of the CWA hall in Goomeri around 1927.

Seatbelts have saved countless lives since buckling up became mandatory in the early 1970s.

But few would be aware this legislation was heavily advocated for by Country Women's Associations across Australia.

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It's just one example of how the CWA has made a tangible difference to the lives of not just rural Australians but those who live in the cities as well.

Two of these influential groups - the Country Women's Association of NSW and Queensland Country Women's Association - were established in 1922.

Other states soon followed suit with state organisations set up in Western Australia in 1924, Victoria in 1928, South Australia in 1929 and Tasmania in 1936.

CWA of NSW past state president Annette Turner said one of the great things about the association was that its original aims remained applicable 100 years later.

In those early days baby health clinics, hospitals in country towns and rest rooms were top of the priority list.

Mrs Turner said the association wasn't always good at blowing its own trumpet but it had also lobbied for white lines on the side of the road, baby car seats and half-strength beer.

"I remember many years ago, in the 1970s I think it was, we were lobbying and advocating for free breast screen buses back then," she said.

"When you read some of the early resolutions, it's very surprising as to what we were lobbying for and how far back."

A meeting of the Country Women's Association of NSW circa 1940.

Champions of the bush

Mrs Turner has been involved in the association for 35 years and hails from the White Cliffs branch, which is part of the Darling River group in the western division.

When Australian Community Media caught up with her, she was travelling home from the centenary state conference at Royal Randwick.

Mrs Turner said there were a lot of younger members coming through who wanted to move forward and "take hold of the baton".

"The reason why it was started was to work for women and children and families in the bush and it's still relevant today," she said.

"We still need people advocating for us, being a watchdog for us and being able to speak on our behalf at a higher level."

QCWA state president Sheila Campbell said the association remains an important advocate on a variety of issues.

More recent state achievements include increasing patient travel subsidy scheme reimbursements and disability parking permits for the visually impaired.

Mrs Campbell said the Public Rural Crisis Fund was another avenue for helping rural families in need.

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A portion of this funding had recently been used for assisting those impacted by the floods.

The opening of the Biggenden building of the Queenland Country Women's Association in October 1928.

Mrs Campbell has been a member of the QCWA for 26 years and is with the Cooranga North branch in the Maranoa division.

When ACM caught up with her, she was in Nambour for the central region conference.

"People come to us with concerns about their local hospitals, their roads, their local schools and we call for resolutions concerning those items," she said.

"A branch will present a resolution, it goes from branch to division and then it comes to state.

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"When it comes to state, a decision is made on whether it should go forward and from there it usually goes to the relevant ministers and hopefully we get a reply."

Challenging stereotypes 

A big part of the CWA's public perception is tea and scones but Mrs Turner said when people brought this up, she saw it as an opportunity to talk about what the funds from tea and scones goes towards.

"Once in White Cliffs there was a gentleman who came in with Angel Flight and they said, 'look you really should stay and go to the CWA dinner tonight'. So the gentleman decided he'd wait," she said.

"He was telling me later he was sitting on the hotel verandah where we hold the meal and he was looking at his clock and thinking, 'well all of these elderly ladies should turn up soon because they are probably on walkers and walking sticks'.

"Then he said about an hour before it started all these four-wheel drives pulled in and all these young, capable women got out and strode in and within an hour there was this amazing meal prepared and ready to go.

"So his perception and a lot of people's perceptions are that we are all elderly but that's not the case."

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Mrs Campbell said the CWA was an inclusive organisation where ladies could get together, have fun and learn.

From her perspective, friendship and fundraising are key aspects of what they do.

"We bring people together; we have our meetings, we run craft classes, workshops of all sorts and then from that we raise funds," she said.

"We are more than tea and scones; we advocate and we encourage."

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This story is part of a special print and digital series. Ag Influencers is a new publication that aims to highlight the many people making an impact in agriculture across Australia. This special liftout will be inserted into all ACM Ag publications on May 26.

Melody Labinsky

Melody Labinsky

National machinery and agtech writer

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