Milestone for country women

Hannelore HepburnCountryman

Community spirit is strong in the small town of Yarloop in the South West, where the CWA branch celebrated its 75th anniversary last month.

Although the town is home to just 600 people the branch has persevered in spite of dwindling numbers.

The CWA movement in WA, with about 140 branches, will celebrate its 90-year milestone next year but a number of branches have folded over the decades.

Yarloop CWA is the only branch still operating between Burekup and Coolup since Harvey and Kingston CWA closed down in recent years, with members of those branches travelling to Yarloop to join the monthly meetings.

The Yarloop branch, driven by a Mrs Stubbs, Mrs Gillard and Mrs Dyer, was founded at a special meeting at the Yarloop Town Hall on August 12, 1938, with Mrs Stubbs taking on the role of inaugural president.

The women used their cooking skills to raise funds through catering for a variety of events and made their first donation to the Southern division's Busselton Happy Holiday Scheme four months after inception.

Members decided in 1939 to raise funds for a rest room and bought a block for the building in May 1944.

Intensive fundraising for the building started and members often travelled to other districts to cater for weddings, sports events, balls, dances and card nights.

They travelled on the back of a truck, sharing the space with equipment and supplies.

Often they didn't get home until the early hours of the next morning.

The branch had raised 300 pounds by 1949 for the building that was officially opened on February 10, 1954.

Today a happy group of women meet monthly for their charitable craft activities, a cuppa and the official meeting.

During the past 75 years, they have donated countless handcrafted items to those in need, assembled hampers and toiletry bags and raised funds to put back into the community.

Ongoing projects include quilted or knitted small blankets for Princess Margaret Hospital, trauma teddies for St John ambulance units and hospitals and bathroom bags with toiletries for the Mandurah women's refuge.

CWA members donate Christmas hampers and presents for struggling families and use their cooking skills to raise funds at the Harvey and Waroona shows and other public events.

They have visited Yarloop Primary School and introduced students to basic cooking or passed on their expertise in knitting or just sewing on a loose button.

The oldest member, Eva Tyler, has fond memories of the branch.

Although unable to attend meetings these days, the 97-year-old still enjoys staying in touch with members.

"They always come to see me on my birthday bringing afternoon tea and a birthday cake, " she said.

"It is a lovely thought and I really look forward to it."

The emergence of the Yarloop Belles, a younger set of country women, gave the branch a welcome boost in numbers last year.

Heidi Blackburn, who co-ordinates the younger group, has often accompanied her mum Lois, the current branch president, and was familiar with the community service of the organisation.

"The monthly meetings on a Wednesday did not accommodate professional women, so I first asked a few of my friends whether they were interested, " she said.

"We meet on Saturdays and experiment in different activities."

Last month both young and old members donned vintage dance outfits to mark the 75-year milestone of Yarloop CWA with an old-time anniversary ball.

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