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Byron Shire
September 29, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: 100 years of the CWA

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The CWA have always been a fierce voice for equity and justice.

In nearly every small town in Australia there is a modest hall where older women meet to have tea, compare crotchet patterns and commit acts of random kindness, otherwise known as improving conditions for disadvantaged people in their rural communities. They have been doing that for 100 years. They are the CWA. A non-party political, non-sectarian organisation that mainly relies on volunteers. 

The focus of the organisation is addressing the welfare of all women and children through representation and lobbying to all levels of government, and of course fundraising. They could teach it at TAFE; if you have flour and sugar, you have a political tool. These women know how to turn good old fashioned home cooking into cold hard cash. And that cold hard cash has changed people’s lives.

As a teenager I was the recipient of the good work of the CWA. When I was 15 I was chosen to represent Queensland for basketball. But as the daughter of a country town widow, who scratched by on a meagre income, I wasn’t able to go. In stepped the CWA and I flew to Perth on the back of a lamington. Those women made sure that a kid from their country town wasn’t going to miss out on a life-changing opportunity. (Although I would go on to drop sport in favour of punk music and radical feminism).

I love the CWA. As a university student I used to sneak into their Women’s Tea Room in the middle of Brisbane. There was something comforting about it. And the tea was always really good. I’ve often thought of joining, and while I love the ethos of the organisation, and the camaraderie of women, the motto is a bit hard for me to stomach: ‘Honour to God. Loyalty to the throne’. They are two things I don’t do very well. I imagine it’s a bit off-putting for many women. I’m more than happy to serve tea alongside a god-honouring royalist, but I’m an agnostic republican. So I’ll wait for an amendment… and the good news is, there is a mood for change. And the CWA still have clout.

The work the CWA do isn’t just tea and scones. It never has been. In a way it’s typical that the important work they have done has been minimised or ridiculed because they are a bunch of mature women. But the CWA have always been a fierce voice for equity and justice. This year they are calling for a ban on political donations from fossil fuel companies; they want to see protections in place for Australian farmland; food labelling laws that support Aussie farmers; and they continue to push for our regional and rural health care crisis to be addressed.  

Women’s health is one of their core values. The lack of access to healthcare was one of the key reasons the CWA was created. Infant and mother mortality for regional and rural women was so significant that during the First World War as many infants died in Australia as men fighting at the front – around 60, 000. The campaigning of the CWA resulted in the establishment of baby health care centres and maternity and other related health facilities. A century on they continue to keep the conversation loud around the issues that affect women – like the crisis of domestic violence and the lack of options for so many regional and rural women.

So, this year the CWA turns 100. And as a regional woman I say, ‘Thank you. Bloody awesome work’. As soon as the motto changes, or I can join without saying it, I’ll be there. I can’t knit, or bake scones, but I do make a bloody good cup of tea. Oh, and I’m a cranky old trouble maker. So I reckon I’d fit right in.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Mandy you should join you don’t have to say the motto and you are depriving yourself of lifelong friendships. CWA need woman with passion like yours.

  2. You certainly don’t need to say the motto, you just need to be loyal to Australia and support Aussies. We need people with diverse interests, passion for reform that benefits women and families – and we need your friendship. I’m sure you will find your niche in CWA! So come on, Aussie , come on come on!!

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