For the last couple of days I have been compiling a list of achievements by the Country Women’s Association with the aim of interrogating the myth that it’s all just tea and scones. Even though I’m now aware of many of the achievements, I think I had associated all of their moving and shaking with last century. This afternoon, in my ongoing my research, I plugged a new phrase into Google: “Country Women’s Association” AND “Hansard”. Hansard, for those who are unfamiliar, is the verbatim record of all government proceedings in any of the state or federal parliaments and includes proceedings of parliamentary committees. There are 7,240 entries with this search and I’m assuming that there would be many more if all of Hansard was digitised and available online. Obviously I haven’t checked every single entry, but as I started to make my way through the first couple of links, I found that even as recent as June this year, members of the CWA are there, in the list of those present and in the recorded presentations about all kinds of issues. What I discovered, was women prepared to be involved in the decision-making process of government, irrespective of their perceived standing, professional skills or experience. While I didn’t always personally agree with the views put forward, the tone of presentations to the committee were humble and issued from a grass-roots perspective. Critically, they were issued from the perspective that it is better to be there and have your say, than do nothing at all.
The manual for the CWA that was presented to us at the opening encourages women to open branches:
The opening of new Branches is always an exciting event and women are encouraged to start new Branches for a specific reason eg lobbying government, undertaking research into current issues. (Country Women’s Association in Tasmania Inc, Information Booklet, printed 2009)
This is certainly not tea-and-scones territory. So here I am challenged again (in a positive way) by this organisation. In a world awash with information, where its possible to ‘witness’ many different forms of suffering and difficulty in any one day, what do you do? It would seem that if you’re part if the CWA then you just get out there and have your voice heard. In doing so, you shouldn’t worry about how you might be characterised or ‘placed’ within society (from the country, a woman, an aged person), because the democratic systems that are in place should, in principle, allow you to use that voice.
Judith Abell, Branch Secretary , CWA CBD Branch
Photograph: Country Women’s Association meeting in the first floor function room, Lennon’s Hotel, Brisbane. Taken in 1965. Photographer: Wolfgang Sievers.