NSW Country Women's Association step up during NSW Drought

SOME OF THE HARD WORK: (Clockwise from top left) The Macquarie Group CWA accept a cheque, NSW CWA CEO Danica Leys and state president Stephanie Stanhope, Deborah Marr from the Orange CWA and the Bathurst Evening Branch at Marmalade Mania. Photos: FILE.
SOME OF THE HARD WORK: (Clockwise from top left) The Macquarie Group CWA accept a cheque, NSW CWA CEO Danica Leys and state president Stephanie Stanhope, Deborah Marr from the Orange CWA and the Bathurst Evening Branch at Marmalade Mania. Photos: FILE.

The Country Women's Association is often associated with baking, particularly tea and scones. What you might not know is the CWA is actually a formidable group of women Australia-wide who are advocating and lobbying politicians and parliaments for change every day, and the groups in the Central West are no different.

The CWA ladies are proud to be known for their excellent baking skills and the ability to host one of the most scrumptious morning teas you will probably ever consume.

They are also proud of the fact that they campaigned to get warning labels on energy drinks, that they were a part of lobbying for the safe access zones in reproduction clinics and that they continue to advocate for health and education in rural and remote areas of Australia.

Danica Leys is the NSW Chief Executive Officer of the CWA. She said a lot of people don't understand all of what they actually do.

"We're talking to people more about what we do. So many people don't understand what the CWA does, we shouldn't be shy in talking about what we do and we shouldn't be shy about what we're asking the government," she said.

"A lot of our policy is agricultural based and a lot is around social issues. A lot of our policies are about access to adequate health and education services in rural and remote areas. They are our main drivers, equity of access deals that people want to have a voice in.

"We've lobbied for more funding, for more health-related positions to moderate success."

These policies and ideas are formed from people on the ground, members who are at the grassroots level.

The Macquarie Group and Bathurst Evening Branch are both big supporters of making quad bike roll bars compulsory, a policy the CWA is advocating state politicians for.

"We're lobbying the government on many, many things. The government does listen to us and the state president has wonderful access to politicians, they do appreciate our views" Macquarie Group president Karen McHale said.

Every CWA branch also has the capacity to pick projects the members are passionate about supporting.

In Orange the members collect clothing for a third world country.

"We collect clothing for mothers and babies in Papua New Guinea and other practical things our members enjoy," Branch secretary Deborah Marr said.

In Bathurst the Evening Branch offers support to domestic violence victims.

"We make domestic violence victim packs and then help women to get skills for the workplace," president Sheena Rigby said.

"Sometimes it's the small things that are more powerful than making lots of money."

Sometimes it's the small things that are more powerful than making lots of money.

Sheena Rigby, Bathurst Evening Branch.

While the fundraising, advocacy, lobbying and policy making is very impressive, there's another wholesome element to the CWA. The group provides harmony for like-minded women.

"I've only been in the Orange CWA since 2012, but we are very fond of each other and we're a very disparate group," Mrs Marr said.

"[This group] teaches you to be respectful of individuals and the gifts they bring."

In Bathurst, Ms Rigby said their group of women was very welcoming. Their evening branch is full of mostly full-time working women.

"We feel we're making a difference. We're not so much a lobbying branch as a how can we help branch," she said.

Mrs McHale said the Macquarie Group of women was very reliable.

"When I call for help to do things, I just email and they come help, they're just there," she said.

Working hard to help our farmers

The Country Women's Association has raised more than $13 million for drought-affected communities across NSW - and that's just through the head office.

At a local level, branch members are also doing whatever they can to help their drought-affected neighbours.

Macquarie group CWA president Karen McHale said they had organised multiple hay delivery days in Gollan in the Central West in conjunction with the local Red Cross branch.

"Farmers get eight bales of hay, food hampers, cat and dog food and other practical things," Ms McHale said.

"People come from all over the area, some travel up to 150 kilometres for the deliveries."

Bathurst evening branch president Sheena Rigby said they were also helping out in a practical way.

"Whatever we fundraise goes to drought relief," Mrs Rigby said.

"One way we assist is we actually send money to a branch in the Far Western Group to pay membership. It keeps CWA members connected to the community.

"There's not a lot of them out there but it helps get them to the AGM, which is a long way."

NSW CWA CEO Danica Leys said the organisation had given out close to $13.7 million in household assistance since July 2018.

The CWA offers a $3000 one-off payment to eligible households to help with bills and other expenses.

"We started with $100,000 and it's money in and money out, we try and keep that as tight as possible," she said.

"The demand is still there. We haven't been able to offer a second round even though the bills are still rolling in.

"We're still getting first-time applicants and we only have a finite amount of money."

This allowance is similar to the government's household allowance scheme for drought-affected families - but with less red tape.

"It is easier to get the money from the CWA, we have a lot of feedback in that regard," Ms Leys said.

"We have a level of oversight, we want to make sure every dollar is donated.

"We're lobbying [the government], it's ridiculously hard to get the farm household allowance and we hear of farmers giving up.

"[Through] our name and more importantly our network of 400 branches across NSW we're administrating our drought grants.

"Our branch network gets the word out there, gets the applications out there and gets the donations out there."

But there are these scone recipes that are well-known for a reason

Although they are so much more than tea and scones, the CWA has been making the best scones for almost 100 years. Here's some of the recipes they've been using.

For the traditionalist

Makes 12-18 (depending in the size of your scone cutter)

  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons of oil (she uses vegetable oil)
  • 2 cups of milk (or 1 1/2 cups milk and half a cup of sour cream or thickened cream)
  • 4 cups of self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Beat the egg, oil and milk until combined. Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Add the egg mixture to the flour. Knead until just combined and then turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Pat into a flat shape of the thickness you'd like your scones. Cut with a floured scone cutter and then place on a greased tray. Cook at 220 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

If you're feeling adventurous

Makes about 12

  • 1 cup pure cream
  • 1 cup lemonade
  • 3 cups self raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Flour, for dusting
  • Jam and cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C (fan-forced) or 200 C (conventional). Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the cream and then the lemonade.Quickly (but gently!) combine the ingredients into a dough in order to trap as many bubbles as possible into the mixture. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and, once again gently, roll it out to a thickness of about 2cm. Cut your scones out with a cutter. Arrange evenly on a tray and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Serve with jam and thickened cream.


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This story More than tea and scones: What are the CWA doing during the drought? first appeared on Daily Liberal.