Urunga CWA turns 90

Urunga CWA celebrated its 90th birthday at the Ocean View Hotel on Friday February 14. Photo Peter Lister
Urunga CWA celebrated its 90th birthday at the Ocean View Hotel on Friday February 14. Photo Peter Lister

Urunga CWA turned 90 on Friday and celebrated its longevity with a party at the same place and on the same date as the first meeting in 1930.

But perhaps the 60 people who gathered on the Ocean View Hotel's back deck on February 14, 2020 were not in exactly the same spot as those who attended the inaugural meeting.

"I suspect we would have been in the ladies lounge!" long-term member Alison Carter said.

The celebration was modelled on a typical meeting, kicking off with morning tea and including a president's report, and it was especially sweet given that the branch almost closed less than two years ago.

On September 12, 2018 the Courier-Sun ran a front page story warning that death, age and illness had cut a swathe through the membership and unless new blood could be found for the committee, the branch would fold the next day.

"I'm the baby and I'm 70," Alison said at the time. "The old ones like Betty Cornwell and Donna Groen have all passed on."

That clarion call brought 16 people to the decisive meeting, including six new faces, and four people put their hands up to take on the roles of president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer at the upcoming AGM.

These days, Alison said, they have 26 members and their average age has shifted from eighties to seventies.

Three new people have joined in the last month, including primary school teacher Linda Batten, who gave a speech at Friday's celebration describing her motivation.

"The craft aspect was the thing that got me in," she said. "How I longed for someone to be as excited about my automatic French knitting machine as I was."

Approaching retirement, Linda was also looking for new friends and activities, and was delighted by the reception she received three weeks ago.

She said joining the CWA, an organisation full of women who support each other and the community around them, had made her realise one of the great benefits of aging.

"Older women are strong, resourceful, powerful and always ready to embrace new friendships and take on new challenges, helping both themselves and others in the process," Linda said.

"I'm so pleased I took the step to join the CWA and I am proud to be a member of such a wonderful organisation."

How and when did it all begin?

Urunga CWA President Margaret Grice Little's speech:

In February 1930 the Country Women's Association had only been established for eight years and it was to be incorporated the next year in 1931. The NRMA sign was becoming a common sight on NSW's regional roads. The Ocean View Hotel had only been operating for three years. The Pilot House was still functional as our town was a operational port until 1933. Timber was still a major industry. This was two years before the ABC was to be established to transmit radio. The township of Urunga was small with many young farming families.

Mrs Stanley Wilson was the only female JP in the district. The spans of the harbour bridge had not been joined. The First World War was a recent memory and the Wall Street Crash which led to the Great Depression had happened only months earlier.

It was a very different world when on the evening of 14th February 1930 a group of local people met here, in the hotel's ladies lounge we suspect, to discuss the formation of a new branch of the CWA.

This branch was to be led by Mrs Wilson as President with Mrs Brodie and Mrs Tatt as Vice Presidents. Mrs Henderson was the honorary secretary with Mrs Gould as Treasurer. It was decided that they would meet on the evening of the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Their first meeting was held a week later on 25th February in the Urunga School of Arts and later meetings were held in the old Golf Clubhouse. Meetings were later held in restrooms in Bowra Street from 1933, which also hosted a baby health clinic. One of their first big fundraising efforts was to purchase a Sylvia Stretcher which was used to assist polio patients.

Our branch was officially in recess from 1942 until the end of the war. However, the war effort was supported through food parcels, knitting, letter writing and helping the families of servicemen.

In 1949 members began saving for their own land and building. The site in Morgo Street was acquired in 1959 and the rooms were purchased from the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen. These were moved on site during 1964. A veranda was added in 1969.

Over the past nine decades many talented and creative women have been members. These women raised large families and contributed to the community in many ways to support and advocate for women and families.

Mrs Wilson became a life member of the CWA in 1943. Our former patron the late Mrs Daphne Williams was recognised as the Bellingen Shire Citizen of the year in 1997.

Today is about recognising the contributions made by all the hundreds of women who have been members of our branch over the past 90 years. Women like Edna Clark, who is represented today by her granddaughters Jann Row and Sally Anne Donnelly. Edna was an active member until her passing in 1992.