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1990 Warragul Gathering (Inaugural Gathering)

Digital Image - Women on Farms Gathering, Warragul 1990

Image: Digital Image - Women on Farms Gathering, Warragul 1990

Source: Museum Victoria

Date: 31 March-1 April, 1990.

Location: McMillan Campus, the Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture, Warragul.

Theme: Bringing Farm Women Together.

Icon: No icon.

Highlights: Emerging in response to the 'Women on Farms Discussion Groups' and farms skills courses that had been occurring in the Victorian region of Gippsland during the late 1980s, the inaugural Women on Farms Gathering was the first of its kind in Australia. The idea for the Gathering arose after a Discussion Group in April 1989, when three local farming women talked about the possibility of bringing farming women together from across Victoria. Discussion Groups in the 1980s had provided a space where rural women could tour each other's farms, increase their skills and gain strength and confidence through networking and storytelling. The purpose of the inaugural Warragul Gathering was to extend these discussions beyond the Gippsland region to women across wider Victoria: "Our [discussion] group felt a need to look at the challenges faced by women on the land, to share skills, information and experience, and to help each other grow" (1990 Gathering Proceedings). In the lead up to the Gathering, monthly meetings were held in order to plan the funding, venue, topics, speakers, childcare, publicity and catering for the event. Organisational support was given by the Rural Women's Network, the Office of Rural Affairs and PROCEED. Held in Warragul at the McMillian Campus of the Victorian College of Agriculture and Horticulture (the same venue as the previous farm skills course), the inaugural Warragul Gathering saw 120 women travel from across Victoria to attend two days of workshops, speeches, discussions and networking.

The Gathering was officially opened with a panel of three local farming women, Muriel Dick, Maureen Walsh and Heather O'Connor. Each speaker had her own distinctive story to tell of their journey into farming. Following the speeches, workshops were offered by local people who were knowledgeable in their field. In the workshop 'The Changing Role of Women on Farms', for example, local farmer Maureen Walsh spoke of the ways in which women were not publicly recognised for their role as farmers, and argued that "farming women need to challenge the system that reinforces social attitudes that don't recognise the professional occupation of farming women." Other workshops - such as 'Safety on Farms' - were targeted at increasing the skills of farming women, or giving them more confidence in the skills that they already possessed. Women were encouraged to be more confident and to advocate for themselves, and many of the women's stories and workshops were aimed at facilitating this.

In her closing address on the Sunday, Convenor Shirley Martin stated that "we've come to the end of a wonderful weekend and we hope everyone has met new friends and leaves here with a lot of enthusiasm."  A measure of the enthusiasm that the Gathering fostered can be found in the evaluations and letters that were received by the Warragul Gathering committee at the end. In one letter, Berriwillock resident Jenny Simpson wrote that "to be told that there are choices, that the contribution women make to farms is finally being recognised was like music to the ears." Jenny, along with several other women from her region, was so excited about the Gathering that she offered to host another Gathering the following year - the 1991 Sea Lake Gathering.

Tours: There were no tours at the inaugural Warragul Gathering.

Workshops: Ten workshops were offered: Politics and Farming, Chemical Awareness, Stress Management, Farming - Learning the Ropes, Women on Farms and Finance, Confidence Building and Decision Making, Safety on Farms, Legal Issues, and Physical Wellbeing.

Reflections:

"If there is another women on farms Gathering I urge all women involved in farming to attend. The friendships made, the learning that was done, the support and understanding that flowed and especially the emotion of the closing addresses at the culmination of two fantastic days cannot be adequately expressed. Women who arrived feeling they had little or no worth, women who felt trapped, women who were ignorant to how their farms were working - financially and physically - have gone home with new skills, information and resources to help them with their individual needs." Jenny Simpson, (Originally published in a Swan Hill newspaper), Warragul Gathering Proceedings, 1990.

"It is important for farm women to come together and realise they are farmers in their own right. The Gathering will provide a forum to discuss common issues of rural living such as isolation, which many women farmers experience." Maureen Walsh, Culgoa, 1990 Gathering Proceedings.

"I remember the keynote speaker was Christina Hindhaugh, who was so entertaining with her wit about helping her husband on their property in the Western District. Some of the workshops that I heard about were learning how to use a chainsaw, driving a tractor and calf rearer. There seemed to be a nice crowd of people enjoying one another's company, and chatting over lunch." Janice Swan, Reflection, 2011.

Related Stories:

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

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