In good times and in bad, for nearly 100 years, the QCWA has “been there” for communities around Queensland.
Since 1922 the QCWA has been a prominent fixture in country and city towns alike. From the humble beginnings of providing an organisation for women to overcome the loneliness and worry of isolation it is now a society providing friendship and support to women across the world.
Throughout the years women across Queensland have banded together to share in a history filled with love, care and of course we can’t forget our tea and scones.
Rest rooms were established in country towns and villages near railway stations. These rooms were invaluable to women and their families, enabling them to rest, feed children and meet other women. Later, waiting mothers’ hostels were added or built separately for country mothers to be near medical care at the time of birthing.
The QCWA has had a presence at the Brisbane Exhibition (the Ekka) since the 1920s, providing food to the public. At the Ekka and at almost every country show, QCWA members are also involved as judges, stewards, and competitors in the pavilion sections, such as cooking, handcraft, floral art. At some shows, an inter-QCWA branch competition is held.
Huts and cottages were built at beaches, initially close to rail lines for families to enjoy respite from the harsh conditions of Queensland interior. Medical and dental treatment could also be accessed during this time. Today, the QCWA continues to operate many cottages, hostels and units, some directly on the beach.
Foundation President, Ruth Fairfax represented the state at the inaugural meeting of the International Body of Rural Women. The events were held in London and Vienna. From these meetings, the Associated Country Women of the World was formed. QCWA has been a member ever since and provided the first Australian President – Alice Berry who later became a Dame for her services in 1953-59.
Emergency Housekeeping Scheme (EHS) operated first by individual branches, providing relief house help to families. Service was provided at a small cost or no cost. The EHS was formalised in 1938 as a statewide project and later received a small state government subsidy to provide in home care for families if the mother was ill or away having a child. This service was known as ‘the silent service’.
Members worked tirelessly:
• providing hot tea and food at railway stations on the Northern line where the steam trains had to refill the water tanks
• working in groups in Brisbane making papier mache splints, hospital trays, bowls etc using a new QCWA-devised method (which was patented) which they called ‘laminating’. (There were 600 volunteers in 1942.)
• growing and drying herbs to help the military kitchens
• knitting socks, scarves, beanies, mittens, gloves, pullovers etc for servicemen
• making clothing, curtains etc for repatriation hospitals
• repairing uniforms
• making camouflage nets (this was done by members living outside the metropolitan area)
• recycling aluminium pots, pieces of brass, copper, lead and zinc, clean rags, canvas, jute scraps, old clothing , rubber tyres etc.
• raising funds for sheep skin vest production (sheep vests were for airmen and naval personnel.) The 1945 QCWA report shows that 30,000 skins were acquired and over 8,027 pounds were raised—from this, the NSW Handcraft Committee made 32,000 vests; 3,478 pairs of gloves; 2,706 pairs of mittens; 2,450 pairs of innersoles; 4,365 pairs of slippers; 1,148 pairs of wristlets; 640 pairs of children’s slippers.
During the war, Aramac branch members embroidered a supper cloth, now of national significance. Signatures on this cloth include the three 1945 prime Ministers (John Curtin, RM Forde and Ben Chifley); Cabinet Ministers of the day; Lord Gowrie, the Governor-General; General Douglas MacArthur; Field Marshall Thomas Blamey; Eleanor Rooseveldt; State Premiers; ACWW and CWA luminaries.
Aged Care accommodation became a focus for the Association, when the Lota Seaside Home (in Brisbane) was converted from a low cost coastal respite home for country families to a home for elderly women. In 1989, it was rebuilt as Helena Mylne Memorial Home. West Moreton Rest Home was converted during the mid-60s and Rawlins Court in Labrador was purpose-built; Jubilee Gardens was built in Redcliffe and Sunset Lodge in Yeppoon in the 1980s. QCWA Oakey House opened in 1978. It is the only QCWA aged care facility still operating. It has accommodation for 40 residents.
Cookery competitions kick off around the state, promoted by Queensland Country Life.
$50,000 raised to purchase 80 cardiophones for country hospitals, saving the lives of those living remotely.
Much of the QCWA’s work over the past 20 years has focused on assisting drought-affected and flood-affected women and their families. QCWA members have worked tirelessly on the ground, raising millions of dollars for direct practical assistance, such as providing grocery store vouchers to put food on the table, providing store credit or paying bills. No cash payments are made. By helping in this way, not only is the recipient assisted but the money stays in the local community.
The QCWA distributed:
- in 2011, over $400,000 to more than 500 families
- in 2013/14, the QCWA distributed $179,000 from its Public Rural Crisis Fund to 330 families in rural and remote Queensland communities.
- For the first six months of 2014/15, $160,000 has helped 230 struggling families.
Click here to continue learning about how QCWA has helped over nearly a century
RUTH BEATRICE FAIRFAX OBE
Ruth Fairfax was the founding president of The Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA).
A remarkable and quintessential countrywoman, she was raised on the land at Lue, north-east of Orange in New South Wales and moved to Longreach after marrying in 1899. In 1908, the Fairfax family moved to Cambooya on the Darling Downs where Ruth was very active in the local community. She also established a Sunday school and lobbied for bible-study in state schools.
In 1922, Ruth was appointed President of the newly-established QCWA. She travelled extensively to promote the organisation and by 1928 she had built 283 Branches with 13,000 members.
In 1929, Ruth travelled overseas where she studied at the Women’s Institutes in England and Scotland, sharing experiences of her work for the QCWA. She was instrumental in forming the Associated Country Women of the World.
Ruth was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1935 in recognition of her community work. In 1944, the QCWA established the Ruth Fairfax Bursary to assist a young person in pursuing agricultural studies.
Ruth died in Sydney on 1 February 1948. One week later, the relocated QCWA state headquarters in Brisbane was officially opened and called Ruth Fairfax House.
Ruth’s only child Vincent later became Sir Vincent Fairfax. He established one of Australia’s most generous philanthropic funds the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation www.vfff.org.au
Philanthropy continues in the family as Ruth’s grandson Timothy Fairfax is also the founder of charitable fund the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation which supports community driven initiatives in rural, regional and remote Queensland and Northern Territory: www.tfff.org.au
Wise words from Ruth Fairfax:
“In our Association we are a great sisterhood of women and a democratic one, putting aside petty difficulties of position, wealth and pride. We are out to be a mutual help to one another, the town to the country and the country to the town and there is plenty of room for improvement in this way.”
“The aim of every right and good policy is to make people prosperous and happy, and every religion to make them good, and the more we come together the more we can contribute to each other’s happiness and realise the good there is in everyone.”
“Branches meet together every month socially and to discuss the affairs of their district and help to further its interests, trying to break down the barriers that have gradually arisen between people and do away with suspicion and the fear of being belittled.”
“Where a Branch of the CWA exists, in town or country, it should not weaken any other existing body of people who are working for the good of others, but do all it can to strengthen them and help them if our rules will allow.”