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Wednesday, 23 March 2022
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales

Bujari gamarruwa

Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura

Welcome in the language of the Gadigal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which Government House stands. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Dennis and I are delighted to host you at the House on a perfect Sydney autumn morning, although, as we know nothing is perfect and nothing is normal about the weather at the moment.   Thank you to everyone who has travelled a great distance to be here as the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales becomes one of the select centenarian organisations across our State, as it celebrates its very own 100th Anniversary.

Like the scones, jam and cream of CWA fame, the CWA and Garden Parties at Government House are the perfect celebratory combination. Today is not CWA’s first Garden party.  On the 28th of March 1923, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on your Annual Conference held at 77 King Street, then the home of the Feminist Club where, coincidentally the first meeting of the Women Lawyer’s Association was held 70 years ago.  It is now the home of Rebel Sport and Affinity Jewellers.

The conference had been opened the day before by your Patron, Dame Margaret Davidson, an indubitable powerhouse in supporting women and women’s causes, as relayed in the recently published history, ‘Playing Their Part: Vice Regal Consorts of New South Wales 1788 - 2019’.

The newspaper reported that Dame Margaret:

expressed the deepest sympathy with the aims and objects of the association …. and congratulated the association on the growth of its membership [1]

And continued that:

the delegates will be the guests of Dame Margaret Davidson on Thursday afternoon at a garden party here at Government House.

But that was 99 years ago. The first meeting of the Country Women’s Association was opened by Dame Margaret Davidson a year earlier. This ‘Open Conference of Country Women’, as it was billed, was held at Twyford House at 17 Castlereagh Street over three days commencing on 18th of April 1922.  Conveniently, the tram went right past the front door of a solid stone building that is no longer standing.

The widely circulated poster for the conference leaves no doubt about the purpose of the meeting.  It read in bold type:

Aim: Improving the conditions of the Woman on the Land

Stated so simply and so directly, it is unsurprising that Lady Davidson in her opening address the following year well understood the importance of this new Organisation.  That Aim: Improving the conditions of the Woman on the Land has remained both central and critical to the CWA and is undoubtedly integral to its longevity and its adaptability.  It is the ‘ever present’ conditions of the Woman on the Land’ to which the CWA had directed its focus and energies throughout the many seasons of its history.

Returning to that seminal first conference in 1922, if an organisation was to be formed it needed a name, an executive, rules and a membership.  There was some controversy at the meeting about the 2nd and the 4th – the executive and membership – but that tale is much better told in the official History of the CWA to be released shortly. Two key women who had done a mountain of work ahead of the Open Conference were Grace Munro, who was elected as President, and Florence Gordon, as Honorary Secretary.

One hundred years on, when many community groups are struggling, either because their membership has aged or because COVID-19 has ‘taken the stuffing out of them’, CWA remains strong. As of September 2021, there were more than 8,000 members in the NSW and ACT divisions.[2]  Adding together the members across all divisions, the CWA is the largest women’s organisation in Australia.[3]  And you are everywhere, as we can attest, not only doing what you do best, looking after the interests of Country women in country towns around the State, but you are also there when help is needed as we saw last week when we visited flood impacted communities in the Northern Rivers. And scones were still on the menu.

One of the many striking observations I made during that trip was the role women took in leading their communities, with their inimitable ability to organise, to facilitate, to roll up their sleeves, to infuse calm, to do whatever was necessary to lead the immediate local recovery.

From discussions with these women, they have an eye to securing the future, just as the CWA 100 years ago had an eye on the present and to the future of country women.

Today is a celebration of your past up to the present.   In opening last year’s Virtual conference in Bega with its theme “Strength in Adversity”, I asked:  How do you see the CWA in 20 or 50 years?  As I intimated then, even with your healthy membership numbers, you could not ignore the existential challenge posed by a large proportion of your members who fall into what I will euphemistically call the ‘slightly older category’.[4] Having regard to the changing demographics of country towns and the changing professional, business and personal interests of women in regional centres, I suggested that as you go forward, you would find Strength in Diversity.

I am delighted, therefore, to see that the theme of the 2022 Conference is:

"Embracing and Celebrating Diversity in our Centenary Year". 

I look forward, as your Patron, to opening the Conference on the 2nd of May at Randwick and exploring this theme with you.

Scones jam and cream may have been – indeed, still are – a staple of country life, but it is you, the women of the country, who are its heart, its soul and its mind.  

Dennis and I invite you to enjoy the House and its hospitality, as those wonderful women did here 99 years ago. We endorse those now somewhat old-fashioned words of Dame Margaret as we “express our deepest sympathy with the aims and objects of your organisation.”  

Congratulations and Happy 100th

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