Date: 18-20 March, 2005.
Location: Benalla Bowls Club.
Theme: Time to Smell the Roses. According to Chief Organiser of the Benalla Gathering, Louise Armstrong, "The weekend is to remind us that we too must take time to smell the roses and enjoy the journey rather than just focus on the destination."
Icon: Rustic Rose
Highlights: The Benalla Gathering was jam-packed with tours, workshops and entertainment and many participants reflected that they enjoyed the humour and upbeat spirit that the Gathering fostered. The Benalla Gathering Committee were keen to place an emphasis on "fun", and to this end they developed a program that allocated space for "fun time", and that included humorous and outrageous performances. At the Gala dinner on the Saturday night, for example, women were encouraged to dress up, to dance and to "give yourself permission to go over the top - think glamour, think sparkle, think outrageous." According to the Gathering Proceedings, "at the Gala dinner we arrived in splendour, wearing a little bit of glitz, some displaying flamboyant hats decorated in an earlier workshop...Sumptuous food, local wines, laughter, toe tapping music and dancing all designed to celebrate, unwind and connect with the 'wild woman' within." With its focus on humour and laughter, the Benalla Gathering was hosted by the MC "Aunty Stella", who entertained and regaled guests with hilarious tales of her fictional life in the fictional town of "Goomabudgerong."
As well as humorous entertainment, the women's stories were also a highlight of the Gathering, with four local women sharing their stories through a multimedia presentation. These stories brought a more serious side to the Gathering. Natalie Houghton, for example, spoke of the gruelling work that she faced running an outback cattle station in Queensland. After experiencing heavy stock losses at the hands of prolonged drought, Natalie and her husband decided to move to Benalla, where Natalie learnt that "when we face adversity we surprise ourselves with what we can do." Another guest speaker was Marie Finlay, who travelled from Western Australia to share her interest in storytelling. She argued that stories "help us work out how to be in our own lives" and encouraged women to continue sharing their stories with each other.
As well as the women's stories and speakers, the Benalla Gathering offered a host of tours and workshops, as well as the customary ecumenical service and the handover ceremony. Ending on the Sunday morning with an allocation for more "fun time", the handover ceremony saw the Gathering being passed from the Benalla Gathering Committee to the next year's committee - the committee for the 2006 Hamilton Gathering.
Tours: There were thirty tour destinations featured at the Benalla Gathering. Some of the highlights included: Milawa Cheese Factory, Ned Kelly Trail, Benalla Historical Society, Dookie College and Benalla Gardens.
Workshops: There were forty workshops held during the Benalla Gathering. Some of the highlights included: Digital Photography, Gumboot Painting, Succession Planning, Public Speaking, Line Dancing and Mental Health First Aid, Keeping the Books, Fencing and Farm Safety.
"To me it is a very spiritual weekend identifying with other rural women from diverse backgrounds." Nanette Car, Benalla Gathering Proceedings, 2005.
"I always enjoy the women's stories. This weekend I think Stella has been fantastic, she has kept me on a high all weekend. I have thoroughly enjoyed the workshops. The gumboot painting was fun. At the dinner, the rock & roll, line dancing & gumboot dance was terrific. Let's hope we keep going for another 16 years!" Jean Irvine, Memory Sheet Reflection, 2005.
"This was my first Gathering. I always thought you had to be 'on the farm' to be involved, but not so. The energy when I first walked in the room on Friday night was fantastic. Being with so many women from rural Australia was wonderful. I spoke to so many people from one end of the country to the other." Gail Atkins, Memory Sheet reflections, 2005.
"I live in a Melbourne suburb, but I was very interested in the Gathering... I know I'll talk about it and remember it for a long time to come. Women together are a powerful source for good and will always have a good time." Philippa Greenwood, Memory Sheet, 2005.