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Poetry and Song - The Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings

Musical entertainment at the 2005 Benalla Women on Farms Gathering

Image: Musical entertainment at the 2005 Benalla Women on Farms Gathering

Source: Museum Victoria

The sharing of poetry and song is an integral feature of the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings. Performed throughout the weekend, poems and songs have highlighted guest speaker presentations, entertained guests and bonded women together. Some poems and songs have been especially written for the occasion and some have been adapted from traditional verse. All of them have honoured the coming together of women as farmers, wives, mothers, teachers, volunteers, supporters and enablers - working alone, with each other, and alongside men.

An important element of the poetry adaptation has included the re-writing of traditional Australian literature. Participants of the Gatherings have taken well-known Australian songs and poems and altered the words to make the voice of women farmers a core element. This is of particular importance considering the historical invisibility of farming women in mainstream Australian narratives, and the traditional focus on the 'bushman' and 'farmer'. Through changing the words of more traditional, male-focused bush verse, Gathering participants have used poetry and song to reposition women in Australia's wider history. As an example, at the 2003 Yarram Gathering, local farmers Holly and Val Colbert wrote the 'Women on Farms Song' to the tune of the popular ballad Waltzing Matilda. Replacing the story of the 'Jolly Swagman' with the story of the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings, the song was written to celebrate the history of rural women, and their many roles in agriculture and rural life:

Once some Jolly Farmers wives,
met alongside Warragul
Amidst the fog and the Strezlecki range
And they chattered as they learn, new skills to take back home that day
We'll make a gathering that women can share.

Such works recognise women's contribution to farming life on the land, and women taking ownership of it with pride. The simple act of singing and reciting poetry at the Gatherings has drawn participants together as a group with a solidarity of purpose. It has offered validation for the hardships that have been encountered in farming life, on the land, through droughts and flooding rains, through all seasons, good times and bad. The abiding outcome has been and continues to be one of bringing the group together and providing a vehicle to allow participants to relax, have fun and just be themselves for a short time before stepping back in to their real worlds. Songs and poetry have helped to break down personal barriers and have offered opportunities for women to express feelings, share experiences, receive validation from others and recharge their batteries. Singing had also allowed women to participate with pride, cry in a safe environment with joy or sadness, and let down their burdens for a short time. Poetry and song continues to send women participants home revitalised with a sense of wellbeing, unity and purpose.

Example Poems and Songs:

1993 Tallangatta - 'Women on the Land'
1993 Tallangatta - 'Aussie Women Farmers: We Are One!'
1994 Glenormiston - 'The Law of the Land'
1994 Glenormiston - 'Tune, Springtime it Brings on the Shearing'
1995 Swan Hill - 'As Many We Are One'
1995 Swan Hill - 'I Was Thinking Over Old Times'
1996 Ararat - 'A Rural Woman's Time'
1996 Ararat - 'Prayer'
1998 Ouyen -'Women of the Land'
2001 Beechworth - 'Celebrate'
2003 Yarram - 'WOF Song'

Related Stories:

Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection

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