Why you should join the Country Women's Association

Country Women's Association ... feminist organisation of a different kind.

Country Women's Association ... feminist organisation of a different kind.

This past weekend I had the considerable honour of sitting on a panel alongside Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf and Eliza Griswold at the Sydney Opera House's The F-Word: A Day Of Feminist Debate.

At one stage of the spirited discussion, an audience member enquired as to what feminists could do, moving forward (to use a hideous corporate turn of phrase that said audience member didn't), in terms of working out which organisations, political or otherwise, to align oneself to.

Our facilitator Jenny Brockie turned to Prof. Greer to respond, and in that inimitable manner of hers she eventually suggested that we consider the Country Women's Association.

Clem Bastow prepares for the CWA jam competition.

Clem Bastow prepares for the CWA jam competition.

I haven't watched the video of the event yet because I can still remember what my shamefully enthusiastic response was: a single, exaggerated clap, like my Nanna.

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You see, I've long been bending my fellow feminists' ears about the power of the CWA. Each year, I enter my jams and preserves at the Royal Melbourne Show (as I rather hysterically noted on Sunday, hoping La Greer would approve – she did - I am a two-time blue ribbon winner for Raspberry Jam), and for that ten days in September I spend a lot of time at the Showgrounds, which is really just an excuse to spend some time with the ladies of the CWA Victoria at lunch and dinner.

It wasn't always thus; for many years, I thought of the CWA solely as those nice bosomy nannas who made sandwiches and scones in the Show tea rooms (do you know they bus in at 4am every morning of the Show?). One year, though, when I was about 17, I decided to pick up their newsletter along with my Devonshire tea.

“Hang on,” I thought, as I flipped through stories about environmental activism and surviving domestic violence, “where are the chicken point-sandwich recipes?” (Up the back, as it turned out, and they were very good.)

Effectively, while not an expressly feminist organisation, the CWA is working towards the same goals as many feminists – and yet I'd hazard a guess that many self-styled “modern” feminists would look askance at the CWA as being old-fashioned or out of touch.

You see, as Australia's largest women's organisation, with over 25,000 members, the CWA does some pretty impressive work. Not that they'd crow about it; in their own humble words, they are simply “a self-funded, non party political and non-sectarian organisation” that “aim[s] to improve the conditions for women and children and make life better for families, especially those living in rural and remote Australia”.

And, as Prof. Greer noted on Sunday (and often does), concern about the desperate state of our environment goes hand in hand with feminist issues; here, the CWA's work is impressive, drawing attention to everything from salinity levels to the sinister spectre of coal seam gas mining.

We spend a lot of time these days discussing the semantics of feminism: should we give it a new name, has it failed, are people scared to call themselves feminists. On Sunday, we all agreed that the definition and title wasn't as important as getting out there and doing feminist work. Perhaps, with that in mind, it's time to reconsider the CWA's work. Not only do they want the same things we do, they serve a damn good pavlova while doing it.

15 comments

  • Grouse.

    Commenter
    Alex
    Location
    Finley
    Date and time
    March 08, 2012, 7:51AM
    • Clem this is a brilliant piece. Really love it. As a pretty well educated woman in my mid twenties with a penchant for jam, cakes and preserves, I'm thrilled to hear about the other great stuff the CWA do. Quiet achievers. I'm from the country but Melbourne is my home now, so I'm wondering if there is any way for us urbanites to join up? I'll google it.

      Commenter
      Kate
      Location
      Armadale
      Date and time
      March 08, 2012, 9:53AM
      • The Tasmanian CBD branch of the CWA is made up of a core group of artists, most in their 30s and 40s, who stage community events. They recently had a beauty pageant where people were invited to present their version of beauty (Andrew Wilkie looks great in a dress and feather boa; and one small boy spoke about the beauty of a zombie apocalypse). They also had a temporary drop in child centre, where children and their parents would come in to play and socialise, highlighting perhaps the lack of facilities like that in Hobart. Check out their website: http://cwa-cbdbranch.com/

        Commenter
        Lucy
        Location
        Hobart
        Date and time
        March 08, 2012, 10:07AM
        • Hi Kate, from memory there are a number of metropolitan groups and branches. CWA Vic will help you :) http://www.cwaofvic.asn.au/

          Commenter
          Clem Bastow
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          March 08, 2012, 10:08AM
          • I can remember having my preconceived ideas about the CWA completely change after watching 'Not All Tea and Scones' on the ABC a number of years back. What an amazing organisation - thank you for reminding me to check out my local branch!

            Commenter
            Jellybean3
            Date and time
            March 08, 2012, 10:49AM
            • Thanks Clem. Yep, I'm so signing up!

              Commenter
              Kate
              Location
              Armadale
              Date and time
              March 08, 2012, 11:10AM
              • Sometimes we need to be reminded of the wonderful community spirit and friendship that knits our country together, by the wonderful women in the country, through drought and floods they keep calm and soldier on. By the way I love the tea cosy and aprons in your photos.

                Commenter
                retro25
                Location
                southern highlands
                Date and time
                March 08, 2012, 5:16PM
                • What a fantastic and timely article Clem. I went to my first CWA meeting this morning - my membership was a birthday gift from friends for my 40th last month.

                  Even though I'm the youngest member at my branch, the other members were so lovely and welcoming. I've already found my baking tribe and am looking forward to learning a lot from these amazing women.

                  I'm writing up a blog post about it tonight and will be referencing your article.

                  I hope your article encourages other 'young' women to find out more about the benefits of CWA membership. Its more than just baking scones...:-)

                  Commenter
                  DiLishLife
                  Location
                  Langwarrin
                  Date and time
                  March 08, 2012, 5:42PM
                  • I've been a member for several years now, they didn't care I had 2 little ones and purple hair when I joined (no dramas from anyone). We call ourselves "chicks with attitude", ages range from 94 down to mid to late 40's and we have a blast. There are several branches in the city, just contact head office and they will steer you in the right direction

                    Commenter
                    Tracy
                    Location
                    Lancefield
                    Date and time
                    March 08, 2012, 6:04PM
                    • What a great article! And you know, even the traditional aspects of what they do are a form of feminism: good food and effective household hints save women time, money and energy that can be used elsewhere.

                      Some of the traditional craft guilds are very similar for women who are more into handicrafts. The Spinners and Weavers Guild is a particular joy!

                      Commenter
                      Ms D Writes
                      Location
                      Erskineville
                      Date and time
                      March 08, 2012, 7:05PM

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