"We felt a need to look at the challenges faced by women on the land, to share skills, information and experiences, and to help each other grow."- Shirley Martin, convenor of the inaugural Gathering held in Warragul in 1990.
Women have always been involved in farm work. Their contribution to farms became more apparent during the rural crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. In the face of ailing rural communities, women came together to support each other, acquire new skills, and share strategies to revive their farms. In the Victorian region of Gippsland, a flurry of activity was generated with the inception of the Women on Farms Skills Courses in Warragul in 1988. This program was devised by State Government and education bodies in consultation with local farming women. Participants were given the skills to build fences, use chainsaws, do their own calving, lambing and kidding, and deal with broken-down tractors, among other skills traditionally considered 'men's work'. Each course was filled to capacity, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone involved was keen to keep the ball rolling, and several Gippsland women capitalised on this interest by developing a regional 'Discussion Group'. This network provided an invaluable way of sharing information and support for one another. Members would give tours of their farms, describing their enterprises and the ways they managed the various challenges they encountered. These discussion days were valued as much for their informal sociability as for the opportunity to learn about various farming practices.
Following the growth and success of the farms skills courses and discussion days, three local farmers - Shirley Martin, Muriel Dick and Bronwyn Cowan - decided to organise the first Gathering in 1990, to concentrate the discussions into a weekend-long, statewide conference. This was shaped to address the specific needs of farming women for education and training in their profession, recognising the value of networking as a means to share experiences and knowledge, and overcome isolation. According to the 1990 Warragul Gathering Proceedings, "the aim of the Gathering was to bring farming women of Victoria together, to promote our role as farmers, to supply information on resources available and to provide food for thought." Over 100 women attended this Warragul Gathering and came from locales as far-flung as Mitta Mitta, Hamilton, and Ouyen. Women from the Mallee were so inspired by the event that before the weekend was over, they decided that they would hold one in Sea Lake the following year. The annual Gathering was born. Please click on the related articles below for a detailed summary of the first twenty Gatherings - from 1990-2009.