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2001 North East (Beechworth) WoFG

North East (Beechworth) Women on Farms Gathering organising committee

Image: North East (Beechworth) Women on Farms Gathering organising committee

Source: Museum Victoria

Date: 20-22 April, 2001.

Location: La Trobe University, Beechworth Campus.

Theme: The New Pioneers. According to the North East (Beechworth) Gathering Program, "Pioneering women have to find ways to break down barriers and we did that by accessing the electronic technology that is available to us. Our theme focuses on heritage and on the future." 'NEW' also acts as an anagram for 'North East Women'.

Icon: Spring

Highlights: With its theme, "The New Pioneers", the North East (Beechworth) Gathering was strongly focused on celebrating the history and heritage of rural women, as well as looking towards the future. The Gathering, which was attended by some 300 women, was opened with an Aboriginal smoking ceremony and welcome to country. This was aimed at celebrating the unique achievements of North East rural women and the diversity of agriculture in the region. During the weekend a Heritage Display was available for viewing in the main theatre of the convention centre. Included in this display was an exhibition of quilts by North East quilters and craftswomen, a "Pioneer Woman Display" (loaned from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria) and a series of "Women on Farms Gathering History Boards" that highlighted the history of past Gatherings. According to the North East (Beechworth) Gathering Proceedings, the North East organising committee hoped that the Heritage Display would "encourage the acquisition of further information and photographs, and provide an example of what may become a permanent collection."

With their keen desire to create a permanent "Women on Farms Heritage Collection" - a collection of objects and stories from past Gatherings - the North East organising committee allocated time in the weekend's program to "discuss this proposal, including such issues as who should store the collection, what form it should take and how it will be funded." Following the Gathering, Museum Victoria was contacted by two of the organising committee members and the first seeds of the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Agreement were sown. The majority of the women's stories and keynote speeches featured at the North East (Beechworth) Gathering were also focused on history and heritage.

On the Friday night, four local women - ranging from sixteen to eighty years of age - reflected on their farming background and the various challenges that they had faced over the years. Janet Taylor, for example, spoke of leaving her home country of England in the 1960s to start a new life in Australia, and concluded that she became "a new pioneer" when she married an Australian and moved to a farm in Whorouly. On the Saturday morning, keynote Speaker Margaret Alston - a prominent rural women's researcher - delivered an address that highlighted the historical invisibility of farming women in Australia: "Women have always made a significant contribution to agriculture", argued Margaret, "but their efforts have been discounted and ignored leading to a very biased view of agricultural history." At the conclusion of her address, Margaret argued that "we owe it to the early female pioneers and we owe it to our daughters and granddaughters to change the way agriculture is interpreted and portrayed." Following this address, Gippsland resident Shirley Martin delivered a memorial reflection for Muriel Dick - co-founder of the inaugural 1990 Warragul Gathering. Muriel's friendship, sense of humour and enormous contribution to the rural women's 'movement' was recognised and celebrated, and her name was added to the Women on Farms Gathering Memorial Plaque.

On the Sunday morning, women were invited to attend an ecumenical service in an old stone Chapel, or to go for a walk. This was followed by a panel session whereby two mothers and their two daughters discussed their lives and experiences of farming. The Gathering was then officially closed, which included the 'handover' to the next year's Gathering - the 2002 Macedon Ranges (Kyneton Gathering).

Tours: Farm Forestry, Beechworth Architecture Tour, Wine and Roses Tour, The European Connection Tour, Milawa Gourmet and Lifestyle - Mustards and Cheese, Milawa Gourmet and Lifestyle - Equestrian and Cheese, Brown Brothers Winery Tour, Mt Pilot Aboriginal Heritage Tour, Chiltern Heritage Tour, Apples and Antiques Tour, Nuts and Needles Tour.

Workshops: There were over thirty workshops held at the Beechworth Gathering. Some of the highlights included: Women on Boards, Lobbying, Succession Planning, Drawing on the Artist Within, and Farm Outbuildings Heritage before 1920s. Also popular was the singing workshop, in which participants learnt to sing three songs to be later performed at the "Handover Ceremony" on the Sunday afternoon. According to the Beechworth Gathering Proceedings, "all at the Handover Ceremony heard the wonderful results, when the group performed three songs to great acclaim."

Reflections:

"Beechworth was my first and I vowed not to miss another from then on. It was a kaleidoscope of talent, information, enjoyment and friendship. The importance of recognition of rural women had a huge impact. I was inspired to go home and type my mother's memoirs, which are fascinating her grandchildren." Pamela McKimmie, Memory Sheet Reflection, 2005.

"I was chair of at North East, 2001, and the whole experience was beyond any ideas I had ever had on organising such an event. When I walked out on stage the very first time on Friday night I was completely unprepared for the emotional effects and to just realise that all that hard work by the eighteen committee members was finally being experienced by more than 300 women was just overwhelming. That Gathering holds a special place in my heart, as I know that the other committees from the other Gatherings all feel the same about their Gatherings." Marion Rak, Beechworth Committee Member, Memory Sheet Reflection, 2005

"I was impressed by the speaker from the Victorian Museum. The emphasis was on recording women's stories, as early women hadn't been recorded. Only the men's stories and hard toil had been recorded." Patricia Mitchell, Memory Sheet Reflection, 2005.

Song:

2001 Beechworth - 'Celebrate!'

Related Stories:

History of Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings
Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection

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