Remarkable women highlight CWA in WA over the past century

    Vivienne Rowney (front left) and members of the editorial team

    The women who made up the Country Women’s Association in WA over the past century represent a microcosm of what has made our state so great. Pioneering, brave and enterprising these women made an indelible mark on our history.

    How fortunate then to have a book, Women of Spirit – A Centenary of CWA Stories showcasing 100 stories of CWA of WA women who have made a significant contribution to the association and the broader WA community down 100 years.

    The beautifully illustrated book, launched by 32nd Governor and the first female Governor of WA, the Hon Kerry Sanderson, is a tribute to the pioneering women and modern-day trailblazers, who have faced challenges, endured hardships and worked to improve the conditions of women, men and children.

    Vivienne Rowney, a member of the editorial team of Pam Batten OAM, Jocelyn Mitchell and Alan Jones, who put the book together, said the women represent the history of the CWA.

    “But it’s also a social history of WA highlighting what these women achieved in remote settlements when people came out from Britain,” she said.

    “The conditions they lived under were shocking, many lived in poverty. There was one story in the book about Lillian Austin whose story came to us quite unexpectedly, she was a member of the Middlesex branch just out of Manjimup.

    “It was Governor Sir James Mitchell’s idea to create the dairy industry down there and people had to clear land and do so much before they could acquire animals and a house; the conditions were very harsh.

    “Many branches with English names opened in the area around Manjimup, later amalgamating with the Manjimup branch. CWA was their lifeline.

    “In the pastoral areas we had the Air branches through the RFDS pedal radio. About six women in the book have pastoralist backgrounds.

    One woman, Eileen Lanagan, from County Cork, Ireland, accompanied her husband George taking a mob of 800 cattle down the Canning Stock Route from Billiluna Station to Carnegie Station west of Wiluna, a distance of 1450km.

    “She became the only white woman to make a droving trip down the Canning Stock Route.

    “I met her as an older woman and she said it was lovely to have a fridge and regular mail delivery, something we take for granted.”

    Many notable women profiled in the book include Shirley Vier Forrester, the first female vice-president of the RFDS, Ellie Eaton who, when elected in 1982, became the first female councillor of the Royal Agricultural Society in its 151-year history and Dame Raigh Roe DBE, state president, national president and world president of the Associated Country Women of the World and also a commissioner of the ABC.

    Vivienne said it had been a challenge to set guidelines to distil 100 stories from the thousands of women who had been members over the past 100 years.

    Country Women’s Association of WA state president, Anne Gething – Nadia Mitsopoulos – former Governor of WA, the Hon Kerry Sanderson (second right) and Minister for Women’s Interests Sue Ellery (right)

    “After five years of resolute research, Women of Spirit is also a record of our State’s social history through a century of good and bad times, surviving the Great Depression, a World War, floods, droughts and cyclones,” she said.

    “Our research was through our own CWA archives, The Countrywoman magazine, Trove, Battye Library, local historical societies, Metropolitan Cemeteries Board, Birth, Deaths and Marriage Register, families and friends.

    “Sometimes we had to resort to our own memories which, at times, was a challenge.”

    An interesting result of the research was the continuing themes facing women over a century. From 1924 to 2024, rural and city women have stories of finding an inner strengrth, giving generously to their community and connecting with like-minded women,

    There are stories of women campaigning for social change and women balancing society’s priorities.

    Women of Spirit – A Centenary of CWA Stories, retails at $100 hardcover and $65 softcover from the CWA shop,