The Victor Harbor branch of the Country Women’s Association celebrated the 75th anniversary of its inaugural meeting last month. A few members reflected on a meticulous account of its first 50 years compiled by foundation and life member Glad Marvell in 1988, but generally there was no pomp or ceremony.
There were probably a few chuckles at one recording: “… In April, 1940 a great decision was made at a branch meeting – that no cake was to be served for afternoon tea.” To this day no record of the rescinding of that motion has been found, yet on the third Tuesday of every month the ladies do just that; they have their cake and eat it too.
Some may suggest this little anecdote sums up the CWA; a group of older ladies fussing about their next cake stall and whether a fictitiously named Ethel puts enough sultanas in her fruit cake.
However, peer on the wall by an Australian flag in their clubrooms on the corner of Crozier Rd and Torrens St and you see the CWA creed: Honour to God, loyalty to the throne, service to the country through country women, for country women, by country women.
Look further into Glad’s recollections and we discover the amazing role this club – indeed the association as a whole – played from within days of the outbreak of World War II in September, 1939. Among many things, it sorted kindly donated clothes that were collected for refugee children, knitted extra-warm clothing for our troops, found relief accommodation for evacuated women and children, and sent food parcels to Great Britain.
It was also a time when members of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) were living at Mount Breckan, and because many of the girls were homesick our local CWA members, especially Mrs Colebatch, who acted as their ‘mother’, helped them through difficult times.
There were eventual moments too, like when a fully-loaded milk tanker on its way to the AMSCOL Factory (now the Lutheran Centre on Adelaide Road) swerved to miss a car that went through a stop sign and ran into the CWA Hall wall. Sounds familiar.
Current president Gwenda Maynard paid tribute to the countless members of the CWA from years gone by who raised money to support an incredible number of projects, including the maternity section of the South Coast District Hospital, and generally meet the aims of the CWA internationally. The 2013-14 state-wide campaign is to help the Riding for the Disabled.
Above all, Gwenda is honoured to be able to serve her community, and CWA of Australia, which was formed in 1922 and is a member of the Associated Country Women of the World, a non-government organisation status at the United Nations with more than 9 million members in 62 countries.
With emotion, Gwenda said the need for the CWA remained great. Still today our local branch, which consists of 48 members, rallies from a phone call from head office when there is a need to help young mothers with newborn ‘baby bundles’.
The role these ladies play has always been important, and according to Gwenda being a member goes beyond the obvious duties and perhaps respite with activities like craft sessions and a brilliant choir led by Margaret Lush.
“The CWA is about a group of women from diverse backgrounds who like to share a common bond,” Margaret said. “It’s different from family, and we give strength to each other.
“There is a need out there, my word; we have not touched the surface. The CWA in South Australia was formed (in 1929) to bring together women in Burra who felt isolated, and I firmly believe that today in our own community we also have women who feel isolated from other women.”
Many stories of kindness have touched these CWA ladies, and in Gwenda’s mind high among them was during a community service club annual dinner in 2009. Some organisations spoke of the monies they had raised; Gwenda stood up and said how costly it was for the CWA to maintain its building and there was a grave prospect that it would need to be sold.
Within days the local Lions stepped in to do urgently needed maintenance and repairs, and so did the men from Rotary. And then more joined in the transformation. The CWA building was saved.
As Gwenda said, it shows what the people of this town and surrounding areas are like. It seems that more than women live by the basis of their creed.
In some ways, the building seems obscure until we have the next accident at the intersection. May we suggest if you want to meet new friends and enjoy helping the community and those abroad that you call in on the third Tuesday of the month and have an illegal piece of cake with a cup of tea. Here, you will discover what these ladies are really about: ‘…service to the country through country women, for country women, by country women’.