IT has been 90 years since the Country Women’s Association of Victoria was founded – a milestone the Bendigo branch shares, having formed a few months later.
Much has changed throughout the years. But members say the desire to play an active role in the betterment of society is as relevant now as it’s ever been.
CWA Bendigo branch treasurer Marilyn Tangey said Victoria’s first branch was born of wealthy socialites in Melbourne, who shared a desire to do something to help women “in poor circumstances”.
The association grew to twenty branches and 1700 members by 1929.
Ms Tangey said joining the CWA ‘was the thing to do’ for a generation of women in central Victoria.
Meetings took place during the day and were forums not just for socialising, but for addressing issues of concern to communities.
“CWA got the white lines on the roads,” Ms Tangey said.
“Things like that we now take for granted, the CWA were in the mix making some of it happen.”
Priorities at this year’s 2018 Country Women’s Association of Australia National Conference included improving the process for identifying and classifying drought areas; introducing a broader set of drought support measures; and restructuring and significantly increasing drought funding.
The CWA highlighted a lack of banking services available to residents in rural and remote areas, and called on banks to improve access to over-the-counter service and a selection of ATMs.
It urged state, territory and federal governments to implement measures to reduce elder abuse, and sooner, with up to 10 per cent of Australians subjected to forms of abuse.
Delegates at the conference in Canberra, at the end of August, resolved to raise awareness of the need for additional social and affordable accommodation.
“The general wellbeing of older renters is well below the normal wellbeing range,” a supporting statement said.
“Recent legislation and announcements of public-private plans are welcomed but inadequate to deal with even the current levels of homelessness and rental stress of elderly Australians.”
The CWA also highlighted a need for governments to ‘immediately, substantially increase rental assistance to vulnerable single females 55 years and older… to enable them to live in safety and dignity’.
It did so citing ‘the growing disparity between the current increased commercial rentals and inadequate rental assistance’ as factors contributing to ‘the increasing crisis of homelessness amongst older single women’.
Bendigo-based CWA stalwart June Reid attended the conference as an observer and said she had the opportunity to speak to the homelessness issue.
She was of the belief organisations such as church groups should be playing a bigger role in the creation of social and affordable housing.
“I think it’s wrong that people have to sleep on the streets, particularly on these freezing cold nights,” Mrs Reid said.
“If you are a true CWA member, you need to be there [at the national conference] to have your voice heard.”
Mrs Reid joined the CWA 54 years ago. She is presently a member of the Kangaroo Flat branch, one of five branches involved in the CWA Bendigo Northern Group.
Others include Axedale, Bendigo, Golden Night and Dingee District.
Ms Tangey said several of the branches met at night instead of during the day, reflecting the lifestyles of their members.
One might be forgiven for thinking CWA membership in the Bendigo Northern Group was dwindling, looking at the statistics.
Ms Tangey said there were 13 branches and more than 200 members 10 years ago.
Now, she said there might be 60 members in the five branches. The Bendigo branch has about 14 members.
“When it’s a time of need, that’s when more people join,” Ms Tangey said.
She said the Dingee District group was relatively new, and was born of a need to help manage a new library in the community.
CWA branches in central Victoria have also been involved in supporting farmers, providing bushfire relief, and aiding community-led initiatives such as Bendigo Mums 4 Mums.
“A lot of what the branch does is in the background,” Ms Tangey said.
While the contributions of individual branches might seem small, she said the cumulative efforts of CWA branches statewide were significant.
“The thing that is holding us together is the fellowship,” Mrs Reid said.
That fellowship is expected to be on display today, as the Bendigo Branch celebrates its 90th birthday with a high tea.
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