Members of the Far South Coast Country Women’s Association of NSW [CWA] are pushing ahead with plans for the five-day annual state conference – to be held in Bega in May 2021 – despite uncertainties about whether the event will be able to go ahead due to COVID-19 regulations.
It is especially fitting that Bega won the vote to host the conference next year as the newly elected CWA of NSW state president is Stephanie Stanhope, who is a member of CWA’s Bega branch.
“Stephanie has only been in the position for about 12 months and her family lost their home in the bushfires, along with so many others, so it’s encouraging to have this event to look forward to – a place we can all come together and support each other following a tough year of drought, fires and COVID-19 isolation,” says Annette Kennewell, from CWA’s Tilba branch.
The 2021 state conference committee is even more determined to proceed following the cancellation of this year’s planned event in Newcastle.
“We’re going ahead as though it’s happening right up until it’s not,” says Annette.
The 2021 committee – comprising Annette as well as Nelleke Gorton, Helen Galton, Vicki Hummel, Sue Hall, Alison Jenkins, Robyn Wright and Lyn Lawson – is planning to host 500 women, although the conference usually attracts at least 800 and they are aware COVID-19 restrictions on crowd size are likely to be constantly changing.
“We want to have a fabulous event,” says Annette. “Many of our members have been attending the state conference every year. They bring their partners and use it as their annual holiday; a chance to see different parts of NSW.”
The group recently held its second meeting in Cobargo, a midway location for members of the organising committee coming from north and south.
Committee president Helen Galton says she is impressed with the organising committee’s enthusiasm and energy and how constructive the meetings have been.
Being part of the CWA is so important to these women that many of them learnt how to be part of a video-conferencing call so they could have virtual meetings, although Annette says her local group in Tilba has met once in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“We decided to meet in a socially distant circle outside, where the risk of spreading the virus is lowest,” she says. “We all brought a takeaway coffee or thermos of tea and our own bickies and sat on the oval on a beautiful winter’s morning. It was actually one of the best meetings we’ve had.”
Annette – who joined the group as a way to meet local women when she moved from Newcastle to Tilba eight years ago – says the future of the CWA is evolving.
“Some groups are very traditional, while others have adapted to the needs of their local members, with some branches holding evening meetings for members who work full-time,” she says. “Working women bring all the skills of their career with them, but many are also retiring early and have so much time and energy to pour back into their community.”
According to Annette, the evolution of the CWA is characterised by the fact there is a branch in Nimbin, in northeast NSW, a place known for its alternative lifestyle.
During the 2021 state conference next May, Annette will be responsible for organising local tours and she is “so excited to show people how beautiful the Far South Coast is”.
CWA Bega’s branch president, Nelleke Gorton, is responsible for the conference’s catering and will source local food where possible, including a ploughman’s lunch from the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre.
The group is also working with Bega Valley Shire Council to ensure the event creates minimum waste by utilising council’s FOGO composting system to dispose of food waste.