CWA branch celebrates 90 years of border support with big gathering

A little over 90 years ago a group of Wallangarra met to discuss the possibility of opening a local sub-branch of the Country Women’s Association, and on Tuesday, February 27 nine decades of work and friendship were celebrated in the Wallangarra School of Arts.

The event attracted around 65 CWA members and guests primarily from the Border Division but from as far as Brisbane and Toowoomba, with Tenterfield CWA also represented.

Attendees enjoyed the casual atmosphere of the party, and the opportunity to renew acquaintances and make new friends.

The first meeting of the Wallangarra CWA was held in February 1928 with Southern Region vice president Mrs Elwell officiating. She went on to report that the group had achieved full branch status in June of that same year. Tenterfield CWA members were apparently pleased to hear that their counterparts farther up the highway would be on hand to provide ‘traveller’s aid’ on the border.

Under the traveller’s aid charter members would meet trains and provide refreshments (including fruit etc for the children), accomodation and any assistance required. Current branch secretary Kerry Hampstead said there was one incident where a sickly child traveling north with her mother was assured her passage was clear, but instead had to stay with one of the local CWA members when informed her journey couldn’t proceed into Queensland until she received medical attention.

As it does today, the CWA lobbied various government department over issues, particularly cross-border ones in Wallangarra’s case. The branch also worked with the Wallangarra army base, with members sewing insignias onto uniforms, meeting newcomers and even providing housekeeping assistance.

At that stage CWA meetings were held in the Wallangarra School of Arts hall. In 1947 Wallangarra CWA campaigned for a site on which to position rest rooms, and was duly granted a piece of land on May 12, 1949 for ‘health purposes’, with the branch named as trustee. Construction plans were put on hold when focus turned to rebuilding the School of Arts which had been destroyed by fire in 1953.

Come 1956, however, the branch funded builder Les Atkins’ plans with a 550 pounds bank loan plus community fundraising. In 1957 the community celebrated the opening of the CWA building where it still sits today.

Mrs Hampstead said since its foundation branch business has changed little.

“Traveller’s aid is no longer needed but the branch and members are committed to our charter: we support our local community, sister branches, our division and our state,” she said.

“We attend and participate in meetings, functions, activities and members have and still hold positions at district and state levels.

“Memberships have fluctuated over the years but there are some now gone who were, are and will be the reason this branch is 90 years old, and will hopefully see its 100.”

Relatives of honoured members Audrey Fletcher, Muriel Hodgson Meryl Ruming, Heather McCall and Kath Bradley were invited to participate in the 90th celebration, with several sharing their memories of their mother/grandmother/wife’s commitment to the branch.

“The QCWA is now an organisation of its time,” Mrs Hampstead said.

“Tea and scones are still there, along with the Public Rural Crisis Fund, Disaster Fund and, as a broad spectrum, advocacy for all women, children and families covering social and health issues.”

She was particularly excited about a new program – Country Kitchens, a joint initiative with the Qld government – to tackle obesity in children by promoting healthy eating.

“Our branch is on board with this,” she said.

The branch’s 60-year building is a little the worse for wear but a Premier’s Department grant just received will be put towards repairs and maintenance .

“This hall will stand and still be used as it was meant, for another 90 years,” Mrs Hampstead said.

Current Wallangarra branch president Noelene Daisy said while members still cook their cakes, many people don’t realise the important projects the CWA undertakes.

She has seen the organisation become more focussed on projects, and she hopes this will attract more younger members. 

“It’s hard to get members in Wallangarra,” she said, saying she hoped to still be a part of the branch to celebrate its century in a decade’s time.

“I really do enjoy it,” she said, “and it gets you out.”