Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection volunteer Janice Swan answers questions about her experience of volunteering at Museum Victoria, as well her personal connection to rural women's gatherings.

The following story and questionnaire was submitted by Janice Swan, a volunteer on the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection. My name is Janice Swan.

I have spent my life in the Yarragon and Warragul area in West Gippsland. My parents were born in the district as well and my ancestors emigrated from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany in the early 1800s. I spent thirty-six years as a dairy farmer at Nilma North (on the Swan family farm which had been in that family since c.1905), helping out on a day to day basis milking cows and general farm work as well as rearing five children who also helped out with farm work after school when they were older.

I attended the first Gathering in Warragul as a visitor. I joined the West Gippsland Women on Farms group in about 2000, and attended the Beechworth Gathering, which was most enjoyable. I attended each one after that till 2012.

1. How did you get involved with volunteering at Museum Victoria? Can you remember what your first day of volunteering was like?

I became involved with the WoFG volunteering project after the 2009 Gathering held at Warragul. On the first day of volunteering at the Museum in May 2011 we were given a briefing by volunteer coordinator Aaron Lawrence and had our ID photo taken. Later we were shown by Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett what was required in terms of formatting and recording the records. I attend once a month, travelling by train from Warragul with my friend Lyn.

2. What have been the highlights of working at Museum Victoria and can you tell us what sorts of things you have been working on?

I have enjoyed working at the Museum and learning a little about behind the scenes and the finer points about collating and cataloguing. I started working on poems and songs from the event proceedings and then changed to women's stories. It was decided to scan the proceedings so that they could be put straight on to the website and read there, rather than transcribing them. During 2013 I typed up a contents page for the folders housed in the office.

3. What is your favourite object in the WoFG collection? Please tell us why and a little bit about it.

One favourite object is the plastic mug from the 1999 Gathering at Warragul. I have used this mug on many occasions and it is a favourite of mine. Another is the quilt from the same Gathering, each patch depicts a farming scene. The quilt I feel is a symbol of how women come together and contribute to fellowship and friendship. It is now displayed at each Gathering.

4. What is your favourite image in the WoFG collection? Please tell us why and a little bit about it.

My favourite image is of the digital photograph taken at the 2003 Yarram Gathering of the Warragul participants. This photo reminds me of all the happy times had at the Gatherings. The Warragul group always has their photo taken before leaving for home, it enables us to see who has attended each year.

5. Why is the history of the WoFG important? What can it tell future generations about rural Australia?

I feel the history of the WoFG is important as it has given many women confidence to believe in themselves and to know that the part they play contributes greatly to the running of the farm. Over the last fifty years herd sizes have increased from an average of 75 in 1963 to over 500 today and larger hay bales resulting in reduced labour at harvest time from about 12 helpers to 1. Unfortunately the 'get bigger' mentality has put many small farmers out of business and the cost of living has forced farmers to milk large herds of cows to pay their way. It is not the usual practice any more that the son comes home to work the farm as they realise they can earn a better and easier living elsewhere. Computers play a large part in the farm management now and the farmer has to keep up with the technology or be left behind.

6. How is history celebrated at the WoF Gatherings?

Many women share their stories at the Gatherings and we realise the many hardships and successes that are experienced throughout their journey. This is all part of their history and as we realise, our own as well. Life is a journey and we create our own history along the way and hopefully we have left our mark in some small way.

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