Hon Mia Davies MLC official opening address at Dowerin GWN Machinery Field Day
Author: Mia Davies
Published on: 24-August-2011
I’d like to acknowledge the Balardung Nyungar people as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
I would also like to acknowledge Mr Philip Metcalf and the Committee and staff of Dowerin Events Management, Life Members Mrs Thelma Hatwell, Mr John Metcalf and Mrs Shelia Munyard, Shire President Cr Dale Metcalf, Councillors, my Parliamentary colleagues, exhibitors, volunteers and guests
Thank you for inviting me to open 47th Dowerin GWN Machinery Field Days. This is a great honour and privilege.
I have attended the Field Days since I was a young girl, growing up on my family farm in Wyalkatchem and it is a thrill for me to have been asked to open the event.
Country Shows and Field days play a special role in bringing together people, within the community and from across the region and state.
The Dowerin Field Days are a premier event in the local calendar and the exceptional management of the event highlights the skills and enthusiasm of the Dowerin community.
The efforts of everyone, from the volunteers to business owners and event organisers, mean these days run like one of those finely tuned machines out there on the oval!
This year, the 47th year the event has been held also marks the centenary of International Women’s Day.
And as the only woman elected in the current Parliament to represent the Agricultural Region perhaps this explains why the Committee asked me to speak!
Today I’d like to reflect on some of the inspirational women, past and present, who trod the path to Dowerin and the wheatbelt, helping shape the communities we are all part of.
Of course, long before European settlement the Balardung people lived on this land. They have been custodians of this place for thousands of years nurturing their families living off the land.
Their history became entwined with ours at the time of European settlement, when the likes of my ancestors arrived in the Wheatbelt seeking to live off the land, albeit in a different way.
100 years ago, when International Women’s Day first began, there were already a number of women living in and around Dowerin.
European settlement began in the Dowerin area in 1897 and the town of Dowerin was established in 1906.
The region has a rich history, with a number of pioneering families who remain prominent in the Wheatbelt today.
Women played a central role as pioneers of the region, yet interestingly there is little written in our formal histories about these characters.
The harsh conditions of the wheatbelt was not really a place for a European woman in her long layered skirts and pale skin, yet I suspect our families all have stories about those that rolled up their sleeves, showed true grit and made a go of it.
As the men set about clearing the land, the women created homes for their families, raised their children and began building the community around them.
Others arrived via a different route with records showing that as early as 1853, a group of Irish women arrived at the Toodyay Emigrant Depot following a request from local Mr Harris to the Governor, who said: “scarcely one single female of marriageable age is to be found in this residency,” and requested “a liberal number of needlewomen be placed in the district”.
This was at a time when all women were judged against the nineteenth century belief that we had smaller heads, our brains were smaller compared to men’s and incapable of logical thought.
Where pay, let alone equal pay, was decades over the horizon.
And yet women played a fundamental role in the development of this region, its communities and key industries.
They took to corralling their community, forming groups, organising social and sporting days, starting charitable organisations to care for those less fortunate and generally taking on the role of community development.
They were multi-skilled and multi-tasking long before it became a requirement on your resume.
The women in Dowerin were no exception.
The pioneering names associated with Dowerin those of Couper, Place, Anderson, Stewart and Fraser.
As is the case in much of our formal history, the references to women are typically in relation to their stoic acceptance of primitive’ conditions, taking on family life and working side by side with their husband.
I read, as I was preparing for this speech, that Allan Cooke’s mother carted water from a soak in a 50-gallon tank hitched to a sledge hauled by a horse.
I read about Len Robinson’s father who returned from the First World War and brought his French wife with him. She must have felt so far from the thriving metropolis of Paris when faced with the prospect of a 50 kilometre horseback ride to Goomalling for the delivery of her first child.
As the district and families began to grow, they taught their children, they nursed them through illness, they worked the land.
They did this without the assistance of modern household devices such as washing machines, dishwashers or communication tools.
Women played a key role in developing the business services available in the town.
Mrs Stacy was responsible for opening the town’s first store. This was followed by the first bakehouse, opened by Mrs Ayling and a dining room, run by Mrs Allan.
Another prominent pioneering woman, Mrs O’Shaughnessy, moved to Dowerin to be with her new husband in 1915.
They built the home that serves as the town’s museum and their daughter, Mrs Carmel Redding, remains very involved promoting Dowerin’s heritage.
I have found Mrs Redding to be a great source of local knowledge!
To go slightly further afield, a significant example of pioneering women in the region is Mrs Adams of Mangowine.
The Mangowine Homestead, about an hour away from here near Nungarin, is a snapshot in time, preserving a home and farm as it was during the pioneering days.
Mrs Jane Adams arrived at Mangowine with her husband in 1874. Together they built the homestead from local stone and mud bricks.
They had 12 children, most born at Mangowine, and three generations of Adams’ lived there for nearly 100 years.
Mangowine was not only home to a great pioneering woman, but it also boasts the first purpose built Country Women’s Association of Western Australia (CWA) restroom.
No-one could talk about women in the country without touching on this iconic organisation.
In the early days CWA restrooms were a key feature of the association, acting as a meeting place and rest facility for families or women who had travelled long distances, often in heat and difficult conditions.
The CWA here in Dowerin was established by Mrs Macey in 1929, and played an important role in bringing women together and providing social services to the town.
When the Dowerin CWA celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1989 four members recorded exceptional service, each having served 50 years, Glad George, May Metcalf, Coral Henning and Mary Richards.
Over twenty years later, the Dowerin CWA still remains, and I’ve no doubt that Mrs Margaret Bartlett and the CWA continue to play a key role in Dowerin.
My Grandmother was a member of the CWA, and I’m proud to be a member – although I’m not sure my scones would be quite up to scratch!
Today, CWA continues be a relevant and important group in regional communities.
The organisation is a great example of the powerful and enduring role women have played in regional areas.
And while I have talked about the importance of our forebears and their role in developing this community we should also celebrate those women who are making a contribution today.
I was delighted to walk into the Dowerin Art Group’s Exhibition last night and see a painting of Mrs Milly Lee. The painting depicts her with a number of medals pinned to her jacket – one of which is for 50 years’ service to the Red Cross.
Mrs Mary Richards, who I’m told makes a mean sponge and is still an active volunteer in the community, Mrs Thelma Hatwell, Reverend Norma Metcalf, Mrs Anne Robson and Mrs Lorna Fairly are just a handful of the women who were mentioned in despatches.
There are many more. On a broader note, I couldn’t speak about women in the Wheatbelt without mentioning two of our contemporary regional champions.
Caroline Robinson, from Woolocutty near Narembeen, and Sue Middleton from Wongan Hills.
Caroline won this year’s Western Australian RIRDC Rural Women’s Award and then went on to take out the National Title for her work in establishing the Wheatbelt Business Network.
The award is a highly prestigious accolade that recognises and encourages rural women’s contribution to primary industries, resource development and rural Australia.
Caroline has followed in the footsteps of another Western Australian, Sue Middleton from Wongan Hills, who won the national title last year.
It is a great credit to the calibre of women in rural WA, and not just rural, but the Wheatbelt, that two years in a row we have taken out the national title.
From our pioneering days through to the cutting edge of business and development of agriculture women have played a key role in the development of our region and its collective identity.
These days we have women on Shire Council, we have women in business, women in academia, women in Government, women in Parliament.
As a woman from the Wheatbelt I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the role my forebears and contemporaries played in making this a unique part of the world.
And so I return to where I began, as the only female representing the Agricultural Region in the State Parliament.
I attribute much of my sense of community, what is right and fair, my values and work ethic to the fact that I grew up in the wheatbelt surrounded by people who put their heart and soul into their community.
It is a privilege for me to be a part of a team that shares these values and has refocused the State Government on the importance of regional WA and communities like Dowerin.
In closing, I would particularly like to thank Mrs Carmel Reading and Mrs Shirley Anderson for their assistance in providing me with the information on Dowerin - their knowledge and passion is a real treasure for the town.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, not just the women but also the men, involved in organising this fantastic event.
It is no exaggeration to say that it takes a whole year to prepare for an event of this size, and that cannot happen without the efforts and dedication of the organising committee and the wider community.
Congratulations on staging this event for the 47th year and thank you for inviting me to be part of it.
It is now my great pleasure to declare the 2011 Dowerin GWN Machinery Field Days open. Best wishes for the days ahead.