Date: 17-19 May, 1996.
Location: Ararat Town Hall.
Theme: Keeping the Strength in Rural Communities. According to the Proceedings of the Ararat Gathering, "the organising committee was very aware of declining infrastructure and services, and the impact this has on rural families. The weekend program was designed to give support to, and acknowledge rural women's vital role in maintaining and developing cohesive rural communities."
Highlights: The 1996 Ararat Gathering was officially opened by President of the Australian Women in Agriculture Dorothy Dunn. Reflecting on the history of previous Gatherings, Dorothy welcomed the 200 participants to Ararat and concluded that "Gatherings have been a first step for many and are an important part of the wider rural women's movement." Following Dorothy's speech, keynote speaker Dr Wendy Craik (Executive Director for the National Farmer's Federation) implored women to practice their public speaking and debating skills, and to get more involved in politics: "the issue for Governments is to find suitable women with industry knowledge", she argued, "I think I'd be right in saying there'd be quite a few candidates in this room right now."
Following these two speeches, women spent the rest of the Saturday undertaking workshops and tours. An evaluative survey contained within the Ararat Proceedings concludes that the workshops were a highlight for Gathering participants, along with a forum that was run by influential speaker and entrepreneur Fabian Dattner. Fabian entertained Gathering participants with stories about her life and according to the Gathering Proceedings, "her message was clear; we all have the capacity to overcome the challenges that life presents us with." On the Saturday night, women were entertained at the conference dinner by a wool fashion parade and a performance by the Ararat Combined School Band.
The following morning approximately 60 women attended the morning ecumenical service, which was followed by the Closing Ceremony. During this ceremony, Gathering participants looked forward to the following year's Gathering - the 1997 Bendigo Gathering - and reflected on the success of the Ararat Gathering. According to a summary provided in the Ararat Gathering Proceedings, "the most important outcomes from the 1996 Gathering (as expressed by participants) were a combination of new ideas; strength to continue, motivation, friendships, education, support and encouragement, self-confidence and endeavour."
Tours: Grampians Pure Sheep Dairy, Brambuk Living Cultural Centre (Halls Gap), Ararat Wineries (Cathcart Ridge Estate and Montara), Oasis Crystal (glassblowing), a yabby farm and a productive pastures farm.
Workshops: Prime Lambs, Responsive Sheepdogs, Financial Planning and Share Market Investments, Who Gets the Farm?, Land Use and Sustainability, Organic Farming - Its Place in Sustainable Agriculture, Farm Forestry, Childcare and Farm Families, Farm Safety, Lot Feeding Bobby Calves, Rural Tourism and Sustainable Tourism, Regional Development, Speaking with Confidence - Tricks to Make It Painless, Women on Leadership, Women and Political Power, Cooking with Pulses.
"[This Gathering was] an opportunity to take time out, to step aside from the 'business' of the farm, family and community. To rediscover that I already have the knowledge, skills, the capacity to effect change and the ways needed to fight for the survival of agriculture." Anonymous, Ararat Gathering Proceedings, 1996.
"The Ararat Gathering was held at the majestic Town Hall. I appreciated the workshops, the local memories and making friends." F. Winsome Anderson, Memory Sheet Reflection, 2004.
"My only complaint was that there were so many interesting workshops and we could only fit in two!" Anonymous, Ararat Gathering Proceedings, 1996.