You hear it again and again: Volunteer organisations struggling to keep, let alone grow, membership.
So how does the Eden branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) continue to go from strength to strength?
On March 14, the Eden CWA will celebrate their 60th birthday.
They’ve come a long way from being the town’s baby centre to having shire mayors caving in and just saying ‘yes’ to their collective might.
For current Eden CWA president Margaret Kirkwood, it’s the friendships that make the CWA such an appealing prospect.
“Friendship is the first thing. It’s not just friendship of women here in Eden, its friendship with women as far up as Batemans Bay. I’ve got really good friends, close friends all over the state because of the CWA. They do such a good job, particularly in the country,” Margaret said.
“I think the CWA is still really important because of the issues we tackle. The CWA is fighting Coal Seam Gas - fracking. It’s absolutely scary what can happen with fracking. Unless we stop that there’s not going to be a country for future generations,” Margaret said.
Monica Wood (nee Welsh) is one of four sisters who are all branch members. Between them they have notched up well over 100 years of CWA membership.
“I came home (back to Eden) in 1966 and I joined the CWA in 1967/68. Mother made me do it and I’m glad she did.
“As Margaret said, you would never, ever get friendship like you get in the CWA and the diversity of that friendship…
“The CWA ‘girls’ are unreal. We’re not just about tea and scones. The CWA are the instigators of light beer and getting lines put on the outside of country roads.
“We get things done. We’re entrepreneurial. We must be one of the few CWA’s who has managed to rent out our men’s toilet.
“When Peter Grant was building the Retravision next door, he asked us if he could put a portaloo on our site while they did the work. We said ‘why would you do that when we’ve got a perfectly good (well- it needed a bit of a clean-up) men’s loo here – you can rent that. And he did.”
The Eden CWA is now in the enviable position of not having to fund raise. They are financially secure.
“We’ve got no street stalls now. We’ve got the rooms rented and the flat and the dancing girl takes lessons down there. We’re a very entrepreneurial branch,” Monica says.
The Eden CWA’s ability to get things done when others just seem to talk on and on about getting things done, has elevated them to cult status in the Bega Valley.
“When we wanted to beautify the nature strip in Imlay Street outside the Fishermen’s Club the council said they couldn’t do anything, because the town hadn’t approved it. So we got a petition up and got the town’s support. We wrapped it up with a big bow – we weren’t going to put it in an envelope.
“We went up to council chambers in Bega and asked to see the Mayor. They said he wasn’t available and we said we would wait until he was available. He (then-mayor Tony Allen) came out and we gave him our petition. Tony said ‘I’ll get the engineer’. Wayne Sartori came in and Tony said to him: ‘I’ll give you a little bit of advice Wayne. Whatever they want, give it to them, give it to them now, because they won’t stop until they get it.’
“And we got the go ahead.”
With the retaining wall done, the gardens planted and mulched with natives, it’s the CWA ‘girls’ who are now rostered on watering duty to help the plants get through their first summer.
Their next project?
“Well, Mary (Cocks) has her eyes on the northern entrance to Eden. She thinks it’s a disgrace,” Margaret said.
This week however, it’s all hands on deck as the CWA prepares for the 60th anniversary in just a few weeks.
“We’re having a lovely lunch at the Country Gardens Club and we’ve invited past members and friends.
“We have Pauline Knowles from Merimbula who was a foundation member and Janet Gill coming from Pambula CWA. Pambula CWA was 60 quite a few years ago. They came down to organise the Eden women when the CWA first started here.
“We’ve also got past state president Margaret Smith coming down from Bowral. She’s very fond of Eden. She’s really, really happy to come. She came down here for one of our functions a while back and Lloyd (Cocks) took her out to the bush and cooked her a steak on a shovel!” Monica said.
“Gail Commens, the CWA State International officer and president of Eurongilly CWA, is coming. Every CWA branch has a sister branch and ours is Eurongilly in the Riverina. We know Gail really well and when we go to Conference we always have a dinner with our sister branch. We got very close to those girls, we know the hardships they go through, fires, floods, and the like. We help them when we can. When they couldn’t pay their membership fees we sent them money to help them,” Margaret said.
If you are looking for friendship, to learn new skills, or be part of a group prepared to take on the hard issues all in support of country children and women, you might consider joining the CWA.