Acknowledging the Contributions of Women to the Gatherings
The Women on Farms Gathering Memorial Plaque is prominently displayed at each gathering to acknowledge the special role of key women in past gatherings.
It was initiated by Maree Ryan, a member of the organising commitee for the Ouyen Gathering in 1998 and presented with the names of Eileen Patricia (Pat) Hall from Mittyack, and Kathleen (Kath) Paynter from Chillingolah, who had both attended every gathering since its inception in 1990. Over the years other women have been acknowledged on the plaque including Rhonda Weatherhead and Muriel Dick.
Mallee Root - a Symbol of an Enduring Spirit
The memorial plaque is made from a Mallee root, cut and polished by John Hughes, a local craftsman from Manangatang.
The north west corner of Victoria was the last region of Victoria to be settled. This was largely because of the challenges of this dry, semi-arid area and the abundance of mallee scrub. The mallee eucalypt has many stems that rise up from a large bulbous woody root (lignotuber); they are tough trees and can withstand the ravages of droughts, fires, and land clearing. Farming in the mallee demands the same tenacity and toughness that characterise the mallee scrub.
The mallee root was also selected as one of the icons for the Swan Hill Gathering to symbolise the enduring spirit, energy, beauty and resilience of rural women. The single furrow plough on the top of the plaque directly references the Mallee farming community.
The plaque was created following the tragic death of Pat Hall in January 1997. While on holiday at Rosebud, she was injured in a car accident and died from her injuries two days later. Pat was remembered as 'A woman of many dimensions ... kind, generous and compassionate - a person who truly celebrated life' (Women on Farms Gathering, 1998b, p.3). Jenny Simpson recalled at the Ouyen Gathering how 'Those of us who attended the first Women on Farms Gathering in Warragul some 9 years ago will all remember how Pat and her good friend Marion shared their stories of life on a Mallee farm with the Gathering. Both their stories brought with them laughter and tears. It was the next day that Pat and Marion decided with the few other women from the Mallee that it would be fun to hold the next Gathering' (Women on Farms Gathering, 1998a, p.9). And so began the annual tradition of gatherings of rural women across Victoria.
Pat was also the inspiration and energy behind the organisation of the 1998 Ouyen Gathering and its theme United We Meet United We Stand. The Ouyen Gathering and the Ecumenical Service were dedicated to the memory of Pat Hall.
Kath was born in Ballarat, 1922. Her parents were pioneers of the Chillingollah district where she lived all her life, except for secondary schooling and teaching. She left teaching and married a local farmer in 1948 and raised six children. In addition to farming Kath taught at the Lady Byrnes Centre for Intellectually Handicapped people for seven years.
Kath was a member of the 1995 Swan Hill Gathering organising committee and attended all of the gatherings. She loved the concept of the gatherings as a way to renew friendships, share experiences and swap ideas and information.
Dedication to Pat Hall and Kath Paynter, by Yvonne Jennings at the 1998 Ouyen Gathering
The passing of our dear Pat Hall from Mittyack and Kath Paynter from Chillingollah saddened us all. I recently read a book called 'For She is the Tree of Life: Grandmothers through the eyes of women writers', edited by Valerie Kack-Brice, and it brought home to me the real value of our elder members - their wisdom, stability, continuity and practical commonsense.
In this book the stories of many different grandmothers are told and there is something to be learned from each - although like Pat and Kath, each of these women would probably be amazed to hear that.The following quote is particularly apt I feel: 'The Cut of Her Cloth':
While many of our Grandmothers led simple lives, some lived simply in the middle of extraordinary circumstances, demonstrating great courage, fortitude and commitment. Undaunted by specific events, they were tenacious in their survival, hope, and connection to family. For some grand-daughters, the example of how their grandmothers lived offered valuable lessons and gave gifts, sometimes even resulting in a determination to live differently. For others, a particular quality of being, such as eccentricity, stoicism, or dignity, is most notable.
I believe Pat and Kath are here with us and the last thing they would want is to have us overcome by their not having a visible presence. As 'grandmothers' of the gathering who have passed on and become part of that spirit of the Gathering that is generated each year when we get together I know that they would not want us to dwell on and be weakened by their passing, but instead be strengthened and healed by being together.
As a mark of respect and in their memory a board with their names has been made and people from other areas are welcome to add women from their area if they wish. It will be passed on to each Gathering with the banners. (Women on Farms Gathering, 1998a, p.7)
Dedication to Rhonda Weatherhead, by Marie Harding at the 1999 Warragul Gathering:
6th June 1937 - 7th August 1998
Rhonda died last year on the 7th August, she was born in Yarram on 6th June 1937, 61 was far too young to die. Rhonda was a true Gippslander, she went to school in Gormandale and Traralgon. At 20 she fell in love and married a young farmer from Tynong North, Graham Weatherhead. They had four children - Sally, Ian, Jan and Allan, very sadly Ian died of SIDS.
On the farm Rhonda shared the workload with Graham. Her country upbringing, love of animals and boundless energy made her a good farmer. Rhonda was an inaugural member of our Women on Farms organisation and co-founder of the Tynong North Community Group. She was also an active member of the Uniting Church. Rhonda was a fun lady and a bit of a dare devil. She had an infectious laugh, and would have a go at anything. When Rhonda and Graham retired 4 years ago they expected to have a long life of fun in the sun in the northern winters in Mackay, Queensland. But sadly that wasn't to be. Rhonda was the one who introduced me and many others in this room to the Women on Farms and I like many here tonight miss this lady greatly. (Women on Farms Gathering, 1999, p.36)
Dedication to Muriel Dick, by Shirley Martin at the 2001 North East Women on Farms Gathering, Beechworth:
Vale Muriel Dick
This year we remember Muriel Dick, a true pioneer and co-founder of the original Gathering. In marking Muriel's death from breast cancer, we acknowledge her friendship, sense of humour and enormous contribution to the 'movement'. Muriel's name will be added to the women on Farms Gatherings Memorial. Shirley Martin spoke about Muriel's life and legacy:
When I first met Muriel back in 1988 at an informal meeting of setting up the Skills Courses for Women on Farms I thought to myself my goodness what have I met? This woman, farming over 200 acres, running 100 breeders on her own, very independent, strong willed, strong in her views on farming, especially looking after the environment.
When Muriel was talking to farming women who lacked self confidence in themselves, she would encourage them to have a go. Muriel herself was once in the supporting role, saying 'yes my dear' till the death of her late husband. Then the shock hit her; sell up the farm, live in town or take on the challenge of managing the farm herself? And yes, Muriel took that challenge on and all the women who knew her could understand why.
For many Gippsland farming women Muriel was a real light in their life, always making sure that any new women who came to the Women on Farms Discussion Group would not be alone and feel uncomfortable. Muriel enjoyed these discussion group days and the Gatherings where she was able to chat with other farming women. Often she would give a cheeky grin, cover her lips and say 'Oh, was that me? I will be quiet.' But five minutes later away she would go again. You could always guarantee that the farm and her two beloved dogs, sex and men would come into the conversation. There are three sayings that Muriel used, they were 'Say it as it really is'; 'Yes I do know what you are saying and where you are coming from' and 'Always love and nurture yourself'.
The women who have come to know Muriel as a friend are very grateful for the friendship and knowledge that she has given to them over the years. Many thanks must go to Muriel because of the informal chat that led to the very first Gathering at Warragul in 1990 and we are all here this weekend in Beechworth to enjoy this wonderful Gathering. Her smiling face will be sadly missed. (Women on Farms Gathering, 2001, pp. 20-21)
Women on Farms Gathering 1995a, The 6th Annual Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, Swan Hill Women on Farms Gathering, Swan Hill, Victoria, p. 5
Women on Farms Gathering 1995b, The 6th Annual Women on Farms Gathering, April 28th, 29th & 30th, Swan Hill Women on Farms Gathering, Swan Hill, Victoria, p.14
Women on Farms Gathering 1998a, 9th Annual Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings Handbook, Friday 27th to Sunday 29th March, Ouyen Women on Farms Gathering, Ouyen, Victoria, pp.7, 9
Women on Farms Gathering 1998b, Weekend Handbook, 27-29 March 1998, Ouyen, North West Victoria, Ouyen Women on Farms Gathering, Ouyen, Victoria, p.3
Women on Farms Gathering 1999, Tenth Annual Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, 30th April to 2nd May, Warragul Women on Farms Gathering, Warragul, Victoria, p.36
Women on Farms Gathering 2001, 12th Annual Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, 20th, 21st and 22nd of April, Beechworth, North East Victoria, North East Women on Farms Gathering, Beechworth, Victoria, pp.20-21