End of an era for country women

FIFTY-NINE ladies were present on Friday, August 31, 1934, for the inaugural meeting of the Kerang branch of the Country Women's Association.

1982 performance by the Kerang CWA branch.

1982 performance by the Kerang CWA branch.

At the meeting, the association's creed was read, a committee was elected and a resolution made to meet on the first sale Friday of each month.

"It was the Depression years. People had to come into town to do their shopping," former treasurer Nancy Craig says.

"The men went to the market and the women, who were minding the kids, would come in but have nowhere to go. So the club was set up to give the women a social base in town but also to raise money for the hospital and that sort of thing."

Last month the 84-year-old club quietly disbanded - its 11 members now frail, living elsewhere or just tired of taking turns at filling executive positions.

"People were dying and getting older and retiring to other places," Mrs Craig says. "Membership has gradually gone down and down. The next generation are working. And young women socialise differently to what the older ones did."

Of the 13 former branches of the Loddon CWA group only four survive – Cohuna, Lake Boga-Tresco, Barham and Dingwall (which now meets in Kerang).

From its first initiative - to establish a creche at the 1934 agricultural show - the very active Kerang CWA branch went on to contribute to a vast range of local, national and international causes over its 84-year history.

A catering service it ran at stockyard sales and Gun Club events raised significant sums for the town's swimming pool, bush hospital, kindergarten, toy library, ambulance service, Northaven aged care home and the ibis rookery.

The club was also raising funds in the hope of buying its own rooms, though the plan was later abandoned.

During the war years members collected dripping to send to Britain, knitted socks for soldiers and sent packages to former POWs.

Later they crafted items for cancer patients and child victims of the Chernobyl disaster, organised the distribution of donated items during the Kerang floods, and taught beanie making to schoolchildren.

Nancy Craig and then president Marie Faulkner with "pamper packs" prepared and distributed by the Kerang CWA to women affected by the floods in 2011.

Nancy Craig and then president Marie Faulkner with "pamper packs" prepared and distributed by the Kerang CWA to women affected by the floods in 2011.

Demonstrations took place at meetings on an incredible range of craft, cooking and home management techniques, such as basket weaving, flower arranging, flower making from old felt hats, first aid and bandaging, uses of a lemon, and how to pluck, truss and cook a chook.

Over many years Kerang CWA women organized balls, volunteered as stewards and judges at the show and collected funds for the children's hospital in Melbourne.

In the early days they organised letters of condolence and congratulation to local community members, ran a "visiting circle" and took up a collection to buy a state wedding present for Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.

At each meeting members sang the national anthem, and in later years they recited aspirational prayer The Collect, and ended the meeting with the CWA motto: "Honour to God, Loyalty to the Throne, Service to the Country, Through Country Women, For Country Women, By Country Women."

It was "the hierarchy of Kerang" who set up the group, according to Nancy Craig, and they were still running it when she joined nearly sixty years later, in 1991.

"The first meeting I went to there were about 30 to 40 people in the room, and you went there like a little mouse. If a lady in the audience wanted to say something, she'd put her hand up – 'Madame President, may I please speak?' That is how it was."

"We changed it. Brought it down a peg."

"A lot of those older ladies passed away. We had two or three of them left, who needed us to keep the thing going."

The branch had stopped catering and sold its crockery in the early nineties.

They gave up too on the idea of buying their own premises, and savings of around $8000 accumulated for the purpose became available for community projects.

The club continued to arrange talks from experts on a wide range of subjects, organise excursions and run annual entertainment days, where members sang, danced and staged skits and plays.

Twice a year they attended conferences with the members of the other Loddon group branches and competed against them in performance and craft activities.

They kept up their skills in cooking and a range of crafts, such as quilting and hardanger.

"People are either hand workers or they're cooks," says Mrs Craig, a hardanger prize winner. "Nearly all of us could cook a good sponge but we didn't do that so much. We studied a different country every year - that came from CWA headquarters - and we'd have a cooking and eating day and try to make the recipes from that country that were in our magazines."

Alvis Eddy, left, and Nancy Craig have happy memories of their time in the club but have attended their last Kerang branch meeting.

Alvis Eddy, left, and Nancy Craig have happy memories of their time in the club but have attended their last Kerang branch meeting.

"You make marvellous friendships," says Alvis Eddy, a member since around 2007 who performed stand-up acts at many events and took part in photography and literary competitions. "Also with the other branches, when you meet at these big group meetings, you make marvellous friendships there too."

"The friendship was lovely," Mrs Craig agrees. "We enjoyed everything we did. It's only that numbers just went down so far we felt it was getting beyond a joke."

The Dingwall CWA branch continues to meet at the senior citizens centre in Kerang.