CWA still serves rural families

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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CWA president Heather Allen and treasurer Pam Beatson at the CWA offices.
Camera IconCWA president Heather Allen and treasurer Pam Beatson at the CWA offices. Credit: Sharon Smith

There have been plenty of changes in terms of technology and communication since East Ogilvie’s Heather Allen attended her first Country Women’s Association meeting about 40 years ago.

But the general ethos of the CWA, of striving for better conditions for families in rural WA and the city, has remained the same, says Mrs Allen, who was elected State president at the CWA’s State conference in Perth last week.

Mrs Allen, who farms with husband Peter, son Rodney and his wife Jasmyn, takes over the leadership of CWA of WA from Badgingara’s Sara Kenny, who served the maximum three-year term as State president.

She said the CWA members may turn their focus to helping socially and educationally disadvantaged WA children.

The motivation driving CWA members was learning more about Camp Kulin after manager Tanya Dupagne spoke at last week’s conference.

“Camp Kulin manages camps for kids who have had a tough life or some form of trauma,” Mrs Allen said.

“It was amazing to hear how many children were able to turn their lives around after attending the camp.”

Mrs Allen said last year the CWA awarded a community grant of $10,000 to Camp Kulin, enabling 34 youth to attend.

Providing funds to support a good cause is nothing new to CWA.

At last week’s conference, an $80,000 cheque was presented to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Two years ago, CWA presented around $75,000 to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“The ladies raise money through a range of activities, for example hosting high teas at our homes, fashion parades, garage sales and quiz nights,” Mrs Allen said.

This year’s fundraising will go to topping up funds for CWA’s own funds to support projects such as scholarships.

“The CWA will usually have a major fundraiser one year, followed by a year of raising money for CWA’s own projects such as scholarships etc, which run on a regular basis,” Mrs Allen said.

“For instance, we have provided a scholarship for a rural medical student now in her fourth year and a rural dental student in her first year.

“At conference, a motion was moved to provide a scholarship to a Muresk degree student in their first year. I am hoping this will eventually be expanded to cover the full duration of the degree.”

In addition to supporting various areas within the rural community, the CWA continues its role as a lobbying organisation.

A motion moved at last week’s conference was for CWA to request the State Government make sentencing mandatory for physical and verbal abuse of school staff.

“Everyone in the school needs to be protected, but staff are often subject to physical and verbal abuse,” Mrs Allen said.

“If it keeps on going as it is, we won’t get teachers wanting to work in our schools.”

There are also plans to write to Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi to widen some criteria on the Distress Relief Fund, the recognised State emergency fund, which raised and co-ordinated donations to support victims of tragedies such as the recent fires.

A motion from the Esperance branch was moved that tight criteria be widened to support families with fatalities, and also those who lose income when volunteering to fight fires.

Another motion was moved that the State Government be asked to provide foreign backpackers with literature about how to maximise safety in fire situations.

With a somewhat stable membership of about 2000 members in recent years, Mrs Allen believes CWA members need to use video- conferencing to enable inclusion of more members, particularly the younger generation.

“I would like to see video-conferencing embraced by CWA for smaller meetings,” she said.

“This would enable people in the more isolated areas such as Derby, Kununurra and Broome, even areas like Condingup and Esperance, to be involved without putting in many hours of travel for a meeting that may last just an hour or two.

“You wouldn’t do it for a day-long meeting or two-day meeting, but for shorter meetings, video conferencing is a good way to enable the younger members to come on board, and they are the future of the CWA.”

Mrs Allen said overall, she was encouraged about the enthusiasm for the CWA. As recently as last week, ladies who formed the Baldivis Belles group decided to form a new branch of the CWA.

She said this took the number of branches in WA to 138.

Mrs Allen said she took on the role of State president because she was proud of the organisation and had time to give back.

She has a long history with the CWA, attending her first meeting at Yuna in 1975 and officially joining the association in 1977.

Remaining a loyal member ever since, Mrs Allen has also served office-bearing positions including division secretary, division president and vice-president.

Most recently, she was State treasurer for three years, from 2009 to 2012.

Her motivation for joining CWA around four decades ago was the desire to meet people in her area after feeling quite isolated as a newcomer to the area.

“I found moving to Yuna so different because of the isolation factor,” she said.

“That was even more the case back then because telephone services, lack of quality roads, etc made it more difficult to meet people.

“Back then, our closest neighbour was 10-12km away.

“My initial reason for joining CWA was to just meet people, but it’s kept me sane over the years.

“For instance, in droughts, and there are plenty in this area, it’s good to talk to people going through the same problem and who understand, enabling us to support each other.”

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