The CWA's century of charm and change

·2-min read

Couples gathered in a hall on a bleak winter night to dance, dine and play cards next to a roaring fire.

Organised by the Country Women's Association, the occasion was breathlessly described in the Braidwood Review and District Advocate newspaper in July 1933.

"All patrons agreed that they had received more than value for their admission fee of two shillings," the report said.

The night was a fundraiser for the needy, including a local man and his three children who had lost their possessions in a house fire.

Now known for serving fluffy scones with jam and cream at community events, the CWA has used country charm to become a formidable force for good in rural Australia.

"Tea and scones are an integral part of the association," says NSW president Stephanie Stanhope.

"Through money we raise, we're able to do so much advocacy. Scones are an opening to get people talking."

The NSW CWA is holding its centenary conference in Sydney this week, staying true to its socially-minded traditions.

Members will decide whether to advocate for more funding for women's refuges, better sex education in schools, greater access to endometriosis treatment and obstetrics services, and affordable housing for older women.

Backing action on climate change, supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 are also up for discussion.

"The role of the CWA hasn't really changed much in 100 years," Ms Stanhope told AAP.

"It was founded to stop the flow away from regional areas and improve conditions in remote areas, and that's still the case.

"It's what's important to women and their communities."

A new president will be elected, as Ms Stanhope's three-year tenure comes to an end.

The role has helped her open up about her experience with domestic violence and suicide, issues that affect many rural communities.

Soon after speaking publicly about her first husband's death by suicide, she met another CWA member whose daughter had recently ended her life.

"She knew what I'd gone through and joined the conversation, which she probably wouldn't have done without that connection.

"We're there to help everyone but we are part of the community and we support each other as well."

Beyond its centenary, the organisation is looking for a new generation of members. It will focus on connecting with women from diverse backgrounds.

"How do you know what is important to someone new to the country? It's probably something we all take for granted," Ms Stanhope said.

"Unless we have the conversations, we will never learn."

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