WOMEN from all corners of the State gathered at the Fremantle Sailing Club for the Country Women’s Association (CWA) of WA 94th State Conference last week.
More than 200 women with a shared passion for community, compassion and giving, attended the annual conference which is the biggest event for its members, with some travelling as far as Kununurra in the north and Condingup in the south east.
This year’s conference was themed ‘embracing diversity and working as one’ which CWA of WA president Heather Allen said was “a reflection of (the association’s) strategic direction”.
“Our membership base is a wide range of women of different ages and backgrounds,” Ms Allen said.
“I guess you could look at this theme in many ways, with the diversity of our farming lands and working as one to produce food for our nation.”
Ms Allen reflected on some of the organisation’s achievements over the past year, most notably when it was one of the main voices to stand up for regional students after the State government announced funding cuts to education.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would stand on the steps of Parliament House and speak to a crowd of people at a rally, but our association must stand up for what its aim states – now and in the future,” Ms Allen said.
“Our regional students matter, we do not know which of them will take up agriculture and quite a few visit the school camps to widen their horizons.”
The association presented various awards on the first night of the conference, starting with the Clarice Ruddock Memorial Award in recognition of the finest community effort over the past year, with dual winners being the Baldivis Belles and Bullsbrook and Districts branch.
Baldivis Belles have been working hard to help people who have been affected by domestic violence with various initiatives in place.
This includes donating $900 to the Rockingham General Hospital for an activity board in the waiting room and being involved in the grieving mother poppy tribute at the Comet Bay Village.
Bullsbrook and Districts members were recognised for their community commitment with work including hosting the inaugural Bullsbrook Australia Day Breakfast at Lowery Park, Bullsbrook, organising a winter warming event to teach knitting and crotcheting and collect donations for the homeless, a local women’s refuge and dog shelter – as well as many other projects over the year.
The committee was torn when trying to choose a recipient for the Young Volunteer of the Year Award, instead announcing two deserving winners.
Through various volunteering activities in his local community, 17-year-old Margaret River Senior High School student David Lochore has encouraged more young people to volunteer as he has seen first-hand the positive impact it can have on people’s lives.
Driven by his passion for social justice and adopting an empathetic leadership style, David has been volunteering since he was 11-years-old, something he is keen to continue.
Being involved in diverse volunteering activities through Mazenod College and his Kulin community, Jake O’Brien has been offering up his free time for “as long as (he) could remember”.
After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 14, Jake has become an advocate for those living with the condition at a State and Federal level with actions including being a Perth Diabetes Care Youth Advisory committee member and writing to politicians.
He has hopes of one day running in the New York Marathon to raise funds for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as well as study medicine to become an endocrinologist.
There was tough competition for other awards announced on the night as three CWA branches received community grants, being the Greenbushes Belles, Mt Barker and Nyabing.
The Greenbushes Belles received $3000 for its Poppy Project, which aims to add ambience to the Greenbushes Dawn Service on Anzac Day.
The project encouraged the community to be involved by making poppies for an installation, whether it be to remember a loved one or have a connection to the annual Anzac Day service.
The branch hopes to have 5000 poppies installed on the wire fence behind the Greenbushes cenotaph for its next Anzac Day service.
The Mt Barker branch received $3500 to install a wheelchair ramp in front of its building.
This was considered necessary with six of the branch’s 19 members aged between 90 and 99.
The Nyabing branch aims to create a community mural welcome wall at the local primary school to utilise the student’s ideas on what it means to be a ‘community that cares’ and incorporated the school’s theme of ‘Sowing seeds of success’.
This project focusses on encouraging the growth of the town’s future leaders and received $2000.
Supporting regional students has long been one of the CWA’s objectives and each year the association awards three scholarships.
Olivia Murfit, Geraldton, received the Emma Sherrington Scholarship of $1000 for her achievements while studying outdoor recreation at the University of Notre Dame.
Olivia said the scholarship would help her use the outdoors as a way of encouraging young leaders to make changes and be involved in the community.
“Outdoor recreation is about using the outdoors in a way to recognise young leaders, promote them and help them realise their full potential which I believe CWA recognised in this degree,” Olivia said.
“It was a huge honour to have CWA represent (regional students) at Parliament House this year, we were starting to lose our fight a little and the motion (CWA) put forward really put the wind back into our fight to save our camp schools.
“With this award, I hope to be able to enable other women to reach their full potential in a leadership role.”
The Rural Dental Scholarship went to The University of Western Australia dentistry student, Rani Flynn, Mandurah, who received $5000.
With 18 months of her degree to go, Rani said she now managed 20 to 30 patients in the clinic, working five days a week, as well as juggling studying and various extra-curricular activities.
“This has definitely been the hardest I have studied and worked and without (CWA’s) support I don’t know if I would be making it through,” Rani said.
She also won the scholarship two years ago and said the continual CWA support helped her to become actively involved in the dental industry by being a class representative in the University Dental Student Society.
In this role Rani attended the Australian Student Association Convention last year in Sydney and this year in Perth, which has given her valuable networking opportunities.
Katherine Middleton, Geraldton, received the $10,000 Rural Medical Scholarship on the back of winning the same award last year.
In her acceptance speech Katherine gave an update of her activities.
“I have been working hard the past two years to pay the scholarships forward,” Katherine said.
Some of her volunteering activities and achievements include being involved with Telethon and an advocate with the Australian Medical Students Association where she wrote policies about rural education in the medical curriculum and health implications of climate change.
Katherine is the national project manager for climate change and health group, Code Green, increasing the awareness of climate change on health, which even put her on the world stage.
As one of six students to be selected by the International Federation of Medical Students, Katherine attended a United Nations (UN) Conference in Germany earlier this year.
“I spoke to world leaders about the impact climate change is having on health and members of the World Health Organisation about what we are seeing happening in Australia,” she said.
Katherine said speaking on behalf of the Health Working Group at the UN press conference was one of her greatest highlights and her parents watched the live broadcast online in Australia.
The most prestigious and highest award within CWA is honorary life membership which recognises at least 10 years’ of service, and was presented to a surprised Maureen Wilson of the Cottesloe branch.
Ms Wilson has been with CWA since 1974 and has held various high-ranking positions including president, secretary and treasurer and has been a member of the CWA magazine where she was editor and continues to proof read, despite her fading eyesight.
During her acceptance speech, an emotional Ms Wilson was quite modest of her dedication, claiming her commitments over the years were simply because she wanted to be involved.
“It sounds like I have done a lot but so have a lot of (other CWA members),” Ms Wilson said.
“(They are) all workers, we are workers, I’ve done what I have because I wanted to and I had fun doing it.
“You wouldn’t believe the rewards you get back by doing something in this way, by helping people, making friends and it’s a fantastic association to be in.”
As the opening night drew to a close, the enthusiasm for volunteering and community involvement was evident in each of the attendees, and it was clear the following days were going to be full of activities that united them, while embracing their differences to work as one.
The CWA recognised that every individual’s experiences and ideas are crucial in the organisation’s achievements and the positive vibe throughout the event was certainly infectious, which is intriguing as to what the association might have planned for the future.