While Victoria was the first state to officially hold a 'Women on Farms Gathering' - the inaugural 1990 Warragul Gathering - it didn't take long for other Australian states to start hosting their own Gatherings...
New South Wales - 'The Women's Gathering'
In April 1992, a small group of rural health workers from farms in the Central West of New South Wales attended the Numurkah Women on Farms Gathering in Victoria. This Victorian experience provided the catalyst for the forming of women's gatherings in New South Wales. The skills and experience of community and farming women - combined with resources and support from NSW Health and NSW Agriculture - provided the necessary organisational base. The inaugural 'Women of the Land Gathering' was held in Orange at the Orange Agricultural College in 1993. Attracting over 450 women from around NSW and other states, the gathering featured keynote speakers, workshops, the sharing of stories and farm tours. Since the first gathering in Orange in 1993, NSW gatherings continue to take place annually and run to a similar format each time. They are held in different locations around the State and are organised by local communities who make key decisions, develop a theme and map out the weekend program. In 1998/99, the RWN conducted a review of its program and activities and after long discussions, the committee decided to rename the annual event to 'The Women's Gathering.' This name change reflected a desire to make the gatherings more inclusive as the old title, 'Women of the Land', seemed to foster perceptions that these gatherings were only for farm women. An official history of the RWN states: 'Women's gatherings are for ALL rural women including: farming women, Aboriginal women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, mining women, women in the fishing industry, women who live in regional cities, towns and villages; and coastal women.'
Queensland - 'The Queensland Rural Women's Network Conference'
In the same year that NSW had their inaugural women's gathering in Orange, 1993, Queensland also hosted an inaugural gathering in Twin Waters. This gathering was the first gathering of the Queensland Rural Women's Network (QRWN) - who formed in 1993 'to meet the needs of women in rural communities throughout the state.' Barbara Anderson, who was appointed first president of the QRWN recalls: 'There were many small groups discussing the need for further networking. We decided that a singular network would provide cohesion and a better means through which women could organise themselves as a community.' The QRWN thus became this cohesive networking body, with a vision 'to bring together women to support and enhance rural families and communities by building networks of information, friendships and resources.' Just like the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings, the QWRWN conferences are held over a weekend and include keynote speakers, entertainment, workshops and tours.
Tasmania - 'Tasmanian Women in Agriculture Gatherings'
In a similar fashion to the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings, the Tasmanian Women in Agriculture Gatherings became a reality through the efforts and ideas of women involved in discussion groups. Ringarooma is a small town situated around 95 km from Launceston and it is here that the Dairy Women's Discussion Group decided to initiate Tasmanian gatherings. The Dairy Women's Discussion Group formed in 1990 when a local farmer, Rae Wardlaw, invited about twenty women to meet in her kitchen. Rae recalls, 'We were experiencing times when dairying was a bit down. If we got together to discuss what we did on our farms, we could find support and comfort.' In 1993, a few members from the Dairy Women's Discussion Group travelled to Victoria to participate in the Tallangatta Women on Farms Gathering. On returning to Tasmania, these women decided that they should endeavour to create a similar form of gathering in their own state. A partnership was sought with the Scottsdale Business and Professional Women's Group and it was not long before plans were being made for the first inaugural gathering in Scottsdale. This gathering was given the title 'Women on Farms Gathering' and attracted over 140 women in May 1994. Not only did the gathering bring women together for a weekend of networking, but it also provided inspiration and momentum for the creation of a women's organisation in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Women in Agriculture (TWiA). Since its formation in 1994, the TWiA continues to support Tasmanian women's gatherings, which are held biannually across the state.
South Australia - 'Rural Women's Gathering'
The first South Australian Rural Women's Gathering was held in Murray Bridge in 1996. Akin to the Tasmanian experience, South Australian gatherings were inspired by discussion groups, networking of local women and a visit to the Victorian gatherings. In 1993, a small group of women from the Mallee area formed a group called 'Mallee Women on the Move.' This group organised workshops and discussion groups in small towns and encouraged women to get involved in local networking. In 1995, a small contingent of these women organised a bus trip to the Victorian Swan Hill Women on Farms Gathering. Janet Flohr, a founder of the 'Mallee Women on the Move', was present on the bus trip to Swan Hill and recalls: 'On the bus trip back we were really excited about the prospect of women's gatherings. We decided it was time to organise something in South Australia.' Thus, on returning to South Australia, women from the Mallee Women on the Move got together with Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRSA) and formed a committee of women dedicated to the inauguration of a South Australian gathering in Murray Bridge. Following a similar format to the Victorian gatherings, the inaugural Murray Bridge gathering was planned over a weekend and included keynote speakers, workshops, field tours and festivities. Since the first gathering at Murray Bridge, South Australian gatherings have continued to be held annually over a weekend and include similar kinds of activities to the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings. Unlike Victorian gatherings, there is no passing on of objects, yet there is an ongoing ritual of hitting a gong at the beginning of each gathering and burning a lantern throughout its duration.
History of Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings
Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings - What is a Gathering?
The Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Agreement
Women on Farms Gathering - The Perpetual Banner and Patches
Australian Rural Women's Movement - Timeline
Bibliography - Australian Women on Farms