This story is a tribute to the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA), which is celebrating its 100th anniversary on 11 August 2022, and the Kingaroy Branch, which is also celebrating its centenary in August this year.

The Kingaroy Branch of the QCWA formed at a meeting on 22 August 1922, just over a week after the Queensland body came into being. The official launch of the Kingaroy Branch took place at the Kingaroy School of Arts one month later, on 15 September 1922.  

Members of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch toast its 100 years.
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Members of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch toast its 100 years. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2022.

In 2022, 100 years after its formation, the QCWA is still going strong. As “Queensland’s largest, most widespread and active community of women”, the organisation comprises approximately 3500 members and 220 local branches based in cities, towns and small communities across the length and breadth of the state.

I’m not a member of the QCWA, and I’ve never been a member. No women of my family have been, or currently are, members of the QCWA. I have no connection with the Kingaroy Branch of the QCWA. So, you may ask: Why are you writing about the QCWA’s 100th anniversary? What is your interest in the QCWA?

NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of the post. Specific references are numbered and noted throughout the text by brackets: [X].

My interest aroused: QCWA Koumala Branch

My interest in the QCWA began six years ago, soon after my daughter and son-in-law and their family moved to Koumala. My son-in-law had been appointed principal, Koumala State School, a position he held from 2015 to 2019.

Koumala’s a tiny rural Queensland town located approximately 900 kilometres (km) by road or rail north of Brisbane and 20 km from the coast. It’s 280 km (about 3 hours’ drive) north of Rockhampton and 22 km south of Sarina. At the 2016 Australian census, the total population of Koumala and district was 831.

During our family’s sojourn at Koumala, my husband and I visited Koumala a number of times. Generally, we stayed for five or six days at a time. During these visits, I got to know Koumala and district quite well.

Most days I accompanied our daughter on her afternoon walk. As we power-walked through the streets and back roads of Koumala, I took note of the town’s major sites and landmarks. One building that stood out was the Koumala QCWA Rest Room, located at 33 Brown Street, between Molinas and Bull Streets. (More about this later.)

Prior to our family’s move to Koumala, I had heard of Koumala and remembered passing through the town once or twice as it is on the Bruce Highway (the main road linking Brisbane and Cairns). However, I confess that before I came to stay in January 2015, I knew next to nothing about Koumala. And I was not alone in this.

When I told people we were going to Koumala, or that my family lived in Koumala, invariably they would look at me blankly and ask: “Koumala: Where’s that?” Clearly, not many people I came across had heard of Koumala, knew where it is or much (if anything) about it.

In 2016, I decided to write a blog article about Koumala. My aim? To share with others what I had discovered about this apparently little-known rural Queensland town and district. I called my story Koumala: Where’s that? (September 9, 2016). In it, I took readers on a virtual tour of Koumala and district, checking in at its major sites and landmarks, and along the way sharing a little about Koumala’s history and the Koumala community today.

Koumala QCWA Rest Room

One of the buildings I featured in Koumala: Where’s that? was the Koumala QCWA Rest Room. It’s a quaint little cottage painted white with a blue door and blue trim, situated on a large allotment at 33 Brown Street. (Brown Street is Koumala’s main street, on the town side of the Bruce Highway through the town.)

Koumala QCWA Rest Room, 2016.
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Koumala QCWA Rest Room. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2016.

The building opened in October 1953. It replaced an older one that stood in the Koumala recreation grounds at the corner of Brown and Bull streets. The QCWA Koumala Branch strove for six years to raise the funds to construct the new rest room. It cost £400. The monies came from public subscription and numerous fund-raising events. [1]

The Koumala QCWA building has been an important part of the Koumala community ever since.

The QCWA Koumala Branch formed in 1928. It closed during World War II and, like many other QCWA branches, was replaced by a branch of the Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) for the duration of the war. The QCWA at Koumala reopened in 1947. The branch is still active today although, sadly, the number of members has dwindled in recent years.

My granddaughter Madison at the 2019 Koumala QCWA Garden Party, 2019.
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My granddaughter Madison at the 2019 Koumala QCWA Garden Party. Photo source: Ruth Salecich-Brown 2019.

My story Koumala: Where’s that? (September 9, 2016) was well received. One of many enthusiastic responses came from Meg Trimble, a long-time member of the QCWA Northern Region, who wrote (in 2016): 

Wonderful story. I visited Koumala a couple of years ago in my role of (the then) State Vice President of the QCWA and was fascinated to read what you have written. I reckon other small places should pay you to do a similar thing for their town. Maybe we need to talk to the Education Department and arrange the future transfers of your son-in-law to other places who could do to have their many attributes advertised like this.!!! Well done and thank you for taking the time and trouble. I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey and will make sure I spend time there next time I am travelling that way. Incidentally – the QCWA branch has three new members and is still going strong!

My interest in the QCWA became a crusade

The Koumala QCWA Rest Room was the first QCWA building I photographed and researched. It triggered my desire to find, photograph and learn about QCWA rest rooms (and branches) in other Queensland country towns.

Since I began this “crusade”, I’ve found and photographed nearly 40 QCWA buildings all over Queensland.

I’ve discovered that almost all Queensland towns and communities, even the tiniest ones, have a QCWA building. Most of the buildings I’ve found and photographed are in very good condition, despite their age, and are still in use by a local branch of the QCWA.

Sadly, though, some of the buildings lie vacant, or have been sold and repurposed, as there is no longer an active branch of the QCWA in that town or community.

Here are three examples of the QCWA buildings I’ve photographed and researched.

You can read their stories on my Love in a little black diary Facebook page. You’ll find the links to the stories in the captions under the photographs.

QCWA Innisfail Branch building, 2017.
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QCWA Innisfail Branch building. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2017.
QCWA Capella Branch Rest Room, 2018.
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QCWA Capella Branch Rest Room. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2018.
QCWA Goovigen Rest Room, 2018.
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QCWA Goovigen Rest Room. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2018.

The gallery at the end of this post features images of all the QCWA buildings I have found and photographed up until now.  

The beginnings of the QCWA

The Queensland Country Women’s Association (to be known as QCWA) formed at a meeting in Brisbane on Friday 11 August 1922. The meeting took place on the last day of An Open Conference of Country Women held in Albert Hall, Brisbane, from 8-11 August 1922. The object of the conference: “To Improve Conditions for Country Women”. The Brisbane Women’s Club organised the conference to coincide with the Royal Queensland Show (also known as the Brisbane Exhibition or “Ekka”), when many country folk were in Brisbane for the show. [2]

The women who attended the meeting on 11 August 1922 appointed a provisional committee to organise the Association and draft a constitution. Interim office-bearers comprised president, six vice presidents, honorary treasurer and secretary. All country women present at the conference were considered members of the general committee, and were given the authority to convene a branch of the Association in their own district. [3]

A branch forms at Kingaroy

Mrs Kathleen Oakes, of Kingaroy, was one of the women at the conference. At the meeting on 11 August 1922, she accepted one of the vice president roles on the provisional committee. Here was a woman totally committed to the vision of a country women’s organisation. So much so that when Mrs Oakes returned to Kingaroy, within days she called a public meeting, with the intention of forming a branch of the Association at Kingaroy. [4]

At a meeting held in the School of Arts building at Kingaroy on 22 August 1922, Mrs Oakes easily persuaded the women present to form a branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association. Attendees elected a committee comprising Mrs A (Daphne Florence) Youngman (president), Mrs Kathleen Oakes (secretary) and Miss H O’Neill (honorary treasurer). Other founding members were Mesdames R Evans, J D Lee, A Perrett, S Elliot, A Horn, R Tancred, T Cornish, D Young Snr, S Reddan and D O’Neil. The official launch of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch took place a month later, in September 1922. [5]

c. 1923. View of Kingaroy Street, Kingaroy, showing the former School of Arts building.
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c. 1923. View of Kingaroy Street, Kingaroy, showing the former School of Arts building. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

The Kingaroy Branch prides itself as the first-established and therefore oldest branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association.

The first conference of the newly formed Queensland Country Women’s Association took place in Toowoomba on 8-9 February 1923. With the provisional committee’s six-month tenure over, delegates to the conference elected its first Central Executive committee. Most office bearers on the provisional committee were reappointed. Mrs J H (Ruth Beatrice) Fairfax (of Marinya, near Cambooya, in the Toowoomba district) continued as president, Mrs F Cocks (Toowoomba) honorary treasurer and Miss Marjorie Scholefield (Toowoomba) secretary. Mesdames Farmer and McCrae (both of Toowoomba), Oakes (Kingaroy) and McDougall (Warwick) were elected as vice presidents. [6]

In the six months prior to the 1923 conference, six branches formed. In addition to the one at Kingaroy, branches had been established at Warwick, Roma, Chinchilla, Allora and Laidley. [7]

QCWA constitution, motto, membership, aims and objectives

The provisional committee met in Toowoomba on 12 September 1922 for the purpose of drafting a constitution. The committee drafted a constitution based on the notions that the Association be non-political and non-sectarian, only those women whose income was derived from the land be eligible as full members and the state would be covered shire by shire, with the principal town in each shire responsible for the rest of the district. [8]

Delegates at the 1923 conference approved the Association’s proposed draft constitution and accepted “Queensland Country Women’s Association” (to be known as QCWA) as the name of the Association. [9] They agreed to the following motto:

Loyalty to the Throne
Service to the Country,
Through Country Women,
For Country Women,
By Country Women.

The phrase “Honour to God” was added as the first line of the motto in September 1945. [10]

The delegates settled on a design for the QCWA badge (and logo). They chose a design submitted by Mrs A H (Mabel) Chandler (of Burra Burri, a rural community north west of Toowoomba). It comprised the (now familiar) upper case Q wrapped around the letters CWA in upper case. Delegates voted to adopt silver and royal blue as the Association’s colours. [11]

All women over 18 years of age outside the metropolitan area, and all women inside the city of Brisbane, whose income was derived from the land could become members of the Association. Country girls under 18 and other women living in the metropolitan area interested in the Association could apply for associate membership. Associate members could attend meetings, take part in discussions, but could not vote. (Membership rules changed over the years to include any women and girls over 16 years of age.) [12]

In 1923 the fee for full membership was set at five shillings (5/-) and associate membership one shilling (1/-). [13] (In 2022, branch membership fees can cover one year, three years or five years. A one-year branch membership fee is $74.19.)

From the beginning the Association rules made it easy for members to establish and organise a branch. Each branch elected its own president, secretary, treasurer and two vice presidents. It had the authority to manage its own affairs and draft its own bylaws (subject to approval of the Central Executive). The branch sent a report to the Secretary of the Central Executive at least once every three months and provided a copy of the financial statement and a full list of officers and members within seven days of the Branch Annual Meeting. The branch kept a minutes book and the minutes of meetings were signed by the branch president and secretary. A branch could be formed with just six members, with a quorum decided by the members. This simple structure set a model for the QCWA’s operations at branch level that have changed little over the years. [14]

The aims and objectives of the Association approved at the 1923 conference were broad, but specific, and included:

  1. To improve welfare and conditions of women and children in the Country.
  2. To draw together all women, girls, and children in Country Districts.
  3. To bring opportunities for recreation and enjoyment within reach of all Members.
  4. To encourage the active study of Local, Municipal and State affairs and to promote a wise and kindly spirit.
  5. To improve educational facilities in the Country.
  6. To secure better provision for the safeguarding of Public Health especially of children, and the securing of more adequate Medical and Hospital facilities for Country Districts. [15]

The QCWA gained registration as a body corporate in February 1926 and the QCWA badge was registered as a trademark in 1928. [16]

From about 1929, QCWA meetings began with members reciting the words of “My Creed”, a poem by Howard Arnold Walters. “The Creed” soon became an important part of QCWA formalities. Miss Laurie Sterne put the words to music and introduced the sung version of “My Creed” to members at the 1931 State Conference in Townsville. There it was sung for the first time. [17]

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all – the foe – the friendless,
I would be giving and forget the gift
I would be humble, for I know my weakness

I would look up – and laugh – and love – and lift.

The first decade and early growth

The early growth of the QCWA was phenomenal. Much of this growth can be attributed to the deputation work and influence of the foundation president, Mrs Ruth Fairfax, and a number of other founding members. They travelled the length and breadth of the state, speaking at open forums and setting up branches.

A Northern Division, based in Townsville, formed in July 1923. [18]

By 1924 the QCWA had 57 branches, nine sub-branches and 3029 members. By 1928, the Association comprised 283 branches and 13,000 members and by 1930, there were 324 QCWA branches and 14098 members across the state. [19, 20, 21]

A number of Younger Sets formed in the early 1930s and, by 1934, there were 69 Younger Sets. [22]

In 1926, the Association divided the state into four divisions, each with its own executive committee: Southern Division (based in Toowoomba), Northern Division (based in Townsville), Central Division (formed in September 1925 at the Longreach meeting, headquarters in Rockhampton), Western Division (formed at Mitchell in July 1926, headquarters in Charleville). [23]

In 1944, the Association split the state into 17 divisions. Later, this increased to 22 divisions. In 2022, there are 20 divisions and three regions (Northern, Central, Southern). [24]

In 1945, all State CWAs met and formed the Country Women’s Association of Australia (CWA of A). [25]

Membership of the QCWA reached a peak of almost 20,000 in the late 1950s. [26]

The QCWA at Kingaroy

Since its formation in 1922, the Kingaroy Branch of the QCWA has had 37 presidents. The inaugural president, Mrs A (Daphne Florence) Youngman, held the position from 1922 to 1933. Today, the term of office for a branch president is limited to three years at a time.

In 1922, the QCWA at Kingaroy began with 13 members. By 1934, the branch had 81 members; by 1947, it had 137 members. In 1930, 33 girls formed a Younger Set under the leadership of Mrs T Towne and Miss May Towne. [27]

Undated. QCWA Kingaroy Branch Younger Set.
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Undated. QCWA Kingaroy Branch Younger Set. Photo source: QCWA Kingaroy. Public domain.

The QCWA Kingaroy Twilight branch formed in 2013. It is a separate entity to the QCWA Kingaroy Branch. It holds its meetings at night, to cater for its members, all of whom are working women such as nurses, teachers and business operators. At present the Twilight Branch has about 9 members. 

In 2022, the QCWA Kingaroy Branch has 26 financial members, ranging in age from 42 to 82 but, despite its size, it’s just as strong and active as ever.

My meeting with Lois Thurecht, QCWA Kingaroy Branch

On Wednesday 27 July 2022, my husband and I drove to Kingaroy to meet Lois Thurecht, a former president and recent vice president of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch. Lois spent 2-3 hours with us, enthusiastically sharing her knowledge of the QCWA and of the local branch.

Lois joined the Kingaroy QCWA in 2010. Prior to that she belonged to the Elgin Vale Branch. (Elgin Vale is a rural community about 50 km east of Kingaroy.) The QCWA has been a major part of Lois’s life. When Lois’s mother joined the Elgin Vale Branch, Lois (at 13) joined too, as an associate member. (Without revealing her age, I can safely say that Lois has been a member of the QCWA for more than 50 years. That’s more than half the lifetime of the Association!)

Lois Thurecht proudly displays the QCWA Kingaroy Branch centenary sign.
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Lois Thurecht proudly displays the QCWA Kingaroy Branch centenary sign. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2022.

Lois Thurecht is excited to be part of this year’s 100-year anniversary of the QCWA and of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch. As its main event, the Kingaroy QCWA is celebrating its centenary with a semi-formal dinner dance at the Kingaroy Town Hall on Saturday 27 August 2022. All interested persons are welcome to attend. Prior bookings are essential. For further information, contact Lois Thurecht on 0407 965 094.

QCWA Kingaroy Rest Room and Hall

After its first meeting on 22 August 1922, for the next 3½ years the newly formed Kingaroy Branch held its meetings in the School of Arts building, the old Club Hall or the sample room of the Club Hotel. [28]

c. 1907. Club Hotel, Kingaroy.
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c. 1907. Club Hotel, Kingaroy. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

Like most newly formed QCWA branches, the Kingaroy Branch sought to have a building of its own. Here it could hold meetings and, more importantly, provide a refuge (“rest room”) for country women and their children when they came to town.

In 1926, Mr Arthur Youngman, of Taabinga Homestead, husband of the inaugural branch president, Daphne Youngman, donated land for a building in Kingaroy Street. Mr Charlie Gills constructed the timber building for £475. By the time the building was completed, the branch has raised £200 towards its cost.

Mrs J H (Ruth) Fairfax, State President of the QCWA, presided at the official opening of the Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room on Saturday 5 June 1926.

In her opening address, Mrs Fairfax affirmed that the Kingaroy QCWA was the first branch of the Association to form. She commended Mrs Oakes, “that very grand woman”, who attended the first conference in Brisbane where she (Mrs Fairfax) was elected president. Mrs Fairfax praised Mrs Oakes for her initiative, adding, “She got in and formed a branch of the Association long before I did.” [29]

“I’ve always held up the Kingaroy branch as an example to the other branches of the Association, because it has done such good work,” Mrs Fairfax told those present. She said she was not referring to erecting buildings such as rest rooms, hostels or seaside homes, but the fine spirit the Association was trying to cultivate amongst the women of Queensland. That is, the spirit of sisterhood among the women of the State. [30]

Mrs Fairfax described the Kingaroy building as “a most lovely little rest room and the best in the Association”. She made special mention of Mr and Mrs Youngman, whom (she said) had done so much for the branch. Acknowledging that the branch had to go into debt to erect the building, Mrs Fairfax said she was sure branch members would not rest until they had cleared the debt. [31]

The building had been in use for some time before its official opening. Mrs Fairfax said she was pleased that the people of Kingaroy and district were making good use of it. “That is how the townspeople can help the country people, for that is one of the great things of the Association, to bring the town and country people together, and inspire a spirit of sisterhood amongst them,” she added. [32]

The Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room has undergone many changes and improvements over the years.

To those who attended the opening ceremony in 1926, the building today would be unrecognisable.

At some stage, the front verandah was enclosed and given a brick façade. Front windows were added, a dividing wall removed, and the entrance stairs moved from the front to the side of the building. In the last year or so, chamferboards have replaced the bricks on the façade, in keeping with the weatherboards or chamferboards on the rest of the building.

The Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room in 2017.
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The Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room in 2017. Photo source: Lois Thurecht.
The Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room in 2022.
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The Kingaroy QCWA Rest Room in 2022. Photo source: Judith Salecich.

In 1937, Mr Gill added a kitchen and living area (the latter for a caretaker). In 1947, the Kingaroy Council connected town water to the building. In 1950, the building was painted, paths laid, and the kitchen gained a servery.

In the 1950s, due to the volume of catering carried out by the Kingaroy QCWA, it became clear that the branch needed a larger hall. Thus, in 1956, the branch hired Brigden Brothers to build a large brick veneer reception hall, costing £2,500, behind the rest room. By March 1963, the branch had fully cleared its debt on the hall.

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Century Pioneer Dinner for folk 70 years and over, held in the new Kingaroy QCWA Hall, 1959. Photo source: QCWA Kingaroy Branch.

Other additions to the buildings include sewered toilets and disabled access ramps and handrails (to name a few). In 2017, the rest rooms gained a new kitchen and servery. In 2020, the Kingaroy QCWA obtained a grant from the Gambling Community Benefit Fund, which enabled the branch to reroof the rest room and hall and repaint the rest room.  

Activities of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch

The Kingaroy QCWA is very active in the local community. If you scroll through the posts on the QCWA Kingaroy Branch Facebook page, you’ll discover the extent of the branch’s activity.

For example, just days before my meeting with Lois Thurecht, on the weekend of 23-24 July, the Kingaroy QCWA participated in a Quilt Trail, one of the events included in Kingaroy’s annual Winter Craft Festival.

Quilt Trail display by members of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch, July 23-24, 2022.
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Quilt Trail display by members of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch, July 23-24, 2022. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2022.
QCWA members have long been known for their handcrafts and cooking.

The Kingaroy QCWA hosts craft days on the 2nd, 4th and 5th Tuesdays of the month, commencing at 9:00 am. All kinds of handcrafts are taught and encouraged – knitting, crochet, embroidery, applique, patchwork, quilt-making, toy-making, to name a few. Importantly, these craft days provide an opportunity for participants to befriend and have fellowship with like-minded women on a regular basis.

Most of the handcrafts the women make are given away to those in need or sold to raise funds for the branch and its chosen charities. In 2020, from the end of March to mid-June, the rooms were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In spite of this, Lois encouraged members to keep their hands busy. As a result, the women made scarves and scrub hats (96 in all) for the nurses at the Kingaroy hospital and dozens of facemasks. The money from the sale of the facemasks brought in much-needed revenue at a time when rental income ceased due to closure of the rooms. (Many local groups hire the Kingaroy QCWA rooms on a weekly or ad hoc basis.)

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The women of the Kingaroy Branch made dozens of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2020.
From its earliest days, the QCWA promoted healthy eating and home cooking.

It’s not a new concept for members, despite the QCWA’s long held reputation for its “tea and scones” morning and afternoon teas.

Since 2016, the Kingaroy Branch has been part of the innovative QCWA Country Kitchens program. This program, funded by the Queensland Government, aims to support people living in regional, rural and remote Queensland improve their health by adopting healthier eating practices. Lois Thurecht and Janelle Reeves facilitate the program at Kingaroy, by conducting healthy eating workshops for women, young people and children.

Girls participating in a Country Kitchens workshop conducted by the QCWA Kingaroy Branch in July 2022.
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Girls participating in a Country Kitchens workshop conducted by the QCWA Kingaroy Branch in July 2022. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2022.

In the QCWA rest room at Kingaroy, a locked glass-front cabinet displays many of the branch’s memorabilia and books. Among the books are a host of QCWA cookery books, many of which are available for purchase.

I spied the QCWA Bundaberg Branch Cookery Book. I said to Lois, “I have a copy of that book.” Indeed, I own two QCWA Bundaberg Branch cookery books: one published in 2003 (twenty-second edition), the other published in 1979 (sixteen edition). The QCWA has published many cookery books over the years. But the Bundaberg QCWA was the first branch to publish a collection of members’ recipes, commencing in 1928.

The QCWA Bundaberg Branch Cookery Book is among those displayed in the cabinet.
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The QCWA Bundaberg Branch Cookery Book is among those displayed in the cabinet. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2022.

I couldn’t help myself buying another QCWA cookery book…or two. After all, I collect recipes. (Later, you may like to check out some of the recipes I’ve shared in the FOOD category on my blog.)

As a collector of recipes, I’m in good company.

Florence Bjelke-Petersen (later Lady Bjelke-Petersen), unarguably Kingaroy QCWA’s most famous member, published two cookery books: Classic country cooking (1992) and Classic country baking (1993). Mrs Bjelke-Petersen was the wife of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland from 1968 to 1987. Mr Bjelke-Petersen was knighted in 1984. Mrs Bjelke-Petersen entered Federal politics in 1981 and served as a Senator for Queensland until her retirement in 1993. Lady Bjelke-Petersen, who died at Kingaroy in 2017 aged 97, remained a member of the QCWA and the Kingaroy Branch until the day she died. She was much loved and greatly admired by the people of Kingaroy and district.

A country and product of study

Amongst the items displayed in the cabinet in the Kingaroy QCWA rest room, I noticed three beautifully handcrafted felt “pineapples”. Lois told me she made them to mark this year’s product of study (the pineapple). Each year QCWA members study a country and an agricultural product (plant or animal), chosen by ballot at the Association’s annual general meeting. The practice of studying a country each year began in 1945, with China the first country studied. [33] In 2022, because it is the QCWA’s centenary year, members chose Australia as the country of study.

Lois Thurecht's felt pineapples, representing this year's featured product.
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Lois Thurecht’s felt pineapples, representing this year’s featured product. Photo source: Judith Salecich 2022.
Kingaroy’s seaside respite cottage

On the table at the entrance to the Kingaroy QCWA rest room, I found a brochure about a QCWA Tin Can Bay Seaside Cottage. The fully self-contained two-bedroom cottage at Tin Can Bay is available for holiday bookings. Tin Can Bay is a small coastal town in the Wide Bay – Burnett region of Queensland, about 200 km (2½ hours by road) northeast of Kingaroy.

From its earliest days, the QCWA sought to establish seaside respite cottages, to give country folk low cost, clean and basic holiday accommodation at the Queensland coast. [34] Mrs Kathleen Oakes, inaugural secretary of the Kingaroy QCWA, caught the vision. She fought to raise funds for a holiday home at Torquay (Hervey Bay). Torquay is on the Queensland coast, about 225 km (2¾ hours by road) northeast of Kingaroy.

The Kingaroy Branch named its seaside home “Oakholme”. Over the years, many country children and families spent their holidays at “Oakholme”. For most of the children who came as part of the Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme, it was their first visit to the seaside. Following Mrs Oakes’ death in 1946, the branch renamed the home “Kathleen Oakes Memorial Home”, in her honour.

Undated. Gathering at "Oakholme", Torquay.
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Undated. Gathering at “Oakholme”, Torquay. Photo source: Unknown. Public domain.
Help in the home initiative

An early initiative of some QCWA branches, the Relieving Housekeeper Scheme (1928), became a state objective in 1938 and was renamed the Emergency Housekeeper Scheme. [35] It was a forerunner of the Blue Nursing Service and Government-funded in-home care services such as those provided by community organisations today. The Kingaroy QCWA set up its emergency housekeeping service during the 1950s and 1960s. Members were paid a nominal sum to perform house duties for families when the mother was absent or sick in bed. Their duties included care of children, cooking and cleaning.

“Waiting mothers” and student hostel at Kingaroy

From its inception the QCWA identified a need to provide town accommodation for country women in the late stages of pregnancy. The first “waiting mothers” hostel opened at Stanthorpe in 1927 (or thereabouts) and, by 1931, the QCWA had three such hostels (at Stanthorpe, Goondiwindi and Warwick). [36]

In the 1950s, members of the Kingaroy QCWA realised that their district needed a “waiting mothers” hostel. Other QCWA branches in the South Burnett area helped the Kingaroy Branch raise funds to purchase the land and cover the cost of the building. After a number of setbacks, the hostel opened in 1957. It provided much-needed accommodation for expectant mothers from the district who had to stay in town until their babies were delivered at the Kingaroy hospital.

From its earliest days, the QCWA focussed on improving educational opportunities for children living in regional, rural and remote parts of the state. For example, members wanted country children to have access to secondary schooling. Many families couldn’t afford to send their children to expensive boarding schools in the cities. When the State Government failed to provide these families with any financial support, the QCWA solved the problem by establishing student hostels in towns (like Kingaroy) that had a secondary school. 

The QCWA hostel at Kingaroy, like those in a number of other Queensland towns, went on to serve students as well as expectant mothers. By the 1960s, the hostel was catering for country girls who attended secondary school or TAFE or who worked in town during the week. Today, the QCWA retains its focus on education by offering bursaries to assist secondary and tertiary students to continue their studies.

From 1997, the QCWA Kingaroy Branch leased the hostel to the South Burnett Area Youth Services (SBAYS), which provided crisis accommodation for homeless youth. More recently the South Burnett Community Training Centre took over the lease, providing the same services as the SBAYS. Over the years, the hostel became known as “The House of Dreams”.

Tragically, on 19 January this year, fire destroyed “The House of Dreams”. The hostel’s destruction came as a severe blow for the Kingaroy branch. According to Lois Thurecht, the Kingaroy QCWA hopes to rebuild the hostel, so it can continue to provide accommodation for those in need (whoever they may be).  

QCWA Kingaroy hostel, after the fire earlier this year (2022).
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QCWA Kingaroy hostel, after the fire earlier this year. Photo source: QCWA Kingaroy Branch 2022.
The QCWA serves locally and overseas

Branch members serve their local communities first and foremost, but they also support and provide funds for service organisations working in other countries. Every year, the Kingaroy Branch sends money to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, an organisation dedicated to the treatment and prevention of childbirth injuries called obstetric fistulas. The branch also supports the QCWA’s Kits for Kids project. Members collect classroom items such as pens, paper, scissors and glue and pack them into A4 size boxes for distribution to schools in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and other nations of the South Pacific. 

QCWA Kingaroy Branch women packing Kits for Kids earlier this year.
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QCWA Kingaroy Branch women packing Kits for Kids earlier this year. Photo source: Lois Thurecht 2022.

Closer to home, the Kingaroy Branch contributes to the QCWA’s Public Rural Crisis Fund, which provides support for Queensland women and families affected by natural disasters or experiencing other crises. It also supports QCWA’s partnership with DV Connect, Queensland’s statewide crisis hotline for anyone affected by domestic violence or family violence. Branch members prepare and distribute “care packs” to women in the district who have to leave their homes to seek safe accommodation. These care packs contain basic hygiene products and (often) small items for children.

But there’s more…

When Lois and I met on Wednesday 27 July, Lois was disappointed that she didn’t have enough time to tell me more about the branch’s activities.

But to be honest, I was somewhat exhausted and quite overwhelmed with what I had already heard. “How much more could the women do?” I thought.

Why the QCWA has endured

You may be wondering why the QCWA – formed 100 years ago for the purpose of improving the lives of Queensland country women – is still going strong in 2022. What is the source of its strength and endurance?

I believe the QCWA has endured because of the vision, passion and dedication of its founding leaders and those who have followed in their footsteps. Many of these women were well ahead of their time. I mention just a couple: Mrs J H (Ruth) Fairfax OBE and Mrs H (Elizabeth) Sterne OBE.

Ruth Fairfax, the QCWA’s Founding President, was State President 1922-31 and Southern Division President 1922-1926. Mrs A E (Ethel) Crowther OBE, President of the Northern Division, in a letter to State Council in 1934 [37], described Mrs Fairfax as a leader with wisdom and courage and one who inspired both women and men. As a leader, Mrs Fairfax was beloved by all, and her name became a household word all over Queensland. She set an example for others to follow – working tirelessly and selflessly in the interests of women and children. Mrs Fairfax was single-minded about the vision and purpose of the Association. She would say to her peers, “Keep your vision clear. Do not allow personal feelings to cloud your vision. Always keep a firm grip on the ideals of the Association.”

Elizabeth Sterne, of Warwick, was State Treasurer 1924-44, State International Officer 1944-47 and 1951-53 and State President 1947-50. Mrs Sterne was an intelligent and extremely capable woman, a dogged advocate for the Association’s agenda and issues that concerned women, especially country women. She made many approaches to the Queensland Government on behalf of the QCWA and became well known and highly respected by Government officials. [38]

Despite many knock-backs, Mrs Sterne never gave up. For example, after at least two years of lobbying by Mrs Sterne, the Queensland Government eventually appointed Mrs Fairfax and Mrs Sterne, of the QCWA, Queensland’s first women Commissioners of Peace (later known as Justices of Peace). [39]

Mrs Fairfax, Mrs Sterne and their QCWA peers had a clear focus on women (and children) and women’s issues, but they were not “feminists” in the modern sense of the term (they did not seek equality with men). What they wanted was for country women and children to have the same educational, medical, cultural and social opportunities as those who live in the cities.

The women who led the QCWA in its formative years were well ahead of their time. They identified needs, raised concerns and took action long before the State or Federal Government played a role or showed any interest in the concerns they raised. Examples include childcare, maternity wards in public hospitals, pre-natal care, baby clinics, mobile dental clinics, bush nurses, aerial medical services, mental health services, in-home help, community aged care services, residential aged care facilities, women police officers, rail travel concessions, telecommunications in rural and remote Queensland. I could go on. 

At first the QCWA rewarded its most outstanding leaders and members with life membership. The first two recognised were Mrs J H (Ruth) Fairfax and Mrs A J (Ethel) Crowther. [40] But this practice was discontinued after a few years because, with the growth of the Association, there were too many women deserving of such an honour. (By the way, Mrs Kathleen Oakes, of Kingaroy, was one of a dozen or so women awarded life membership in those early years.)

Any organisation is only as strong and effective as its leaders. Clearly, during the 100 years of its existence, the QCWA has been blessed with many inspirational and competent leaders, at state, division and branch level.

I note with awe that almost all of the women who have held the office of State President since 1922 have received British or Australian honour awards for outstanding achievement and service. [41]

In 2013, the QCWA was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame and, in 2019, the Queensland Government conferred on the QCWA a Queensland Great Award for its work in empowering and inspiring women across the state.

In 2022, the QCWA’s vision and purpose are expressed in a more contemporary way than they were in earlier days, but they have changed little in 100 years. The Association and its members are still focussed on service, friendship, loyalty and advocacy.

That’s why the QCWA has endured.

And what of the Kingaroy Branch? After all, it’s also lasted the distance.

I’ve taken the liberty of updating what Mrs Fairfax said about the Kingaroy Branch in 1926 when she opened the Kingaroy QCWA Rest Rooms:

[In 2022] the Kingaroy Branch is a fine example to the other branches of the Association, because it is doing such good work. I’m not referring to a building program, such as one planned to replace the hostel recently destroyed by fire, but the fine spirit the Association is trying to cultivate amongst the women of Queensland. That is, the spirit of sisterhood among the women of the state.

Well done, Lois Thurecht and the Kingaroy QCWA. Congratulations on your 100th anniversary!

GALLERY

Images of QCWA buildings I’ve found and photographed in cities, towns and small communities all over Queensland since I began my “crusade” in late 2016.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I offer my sincere thanks to Lois Thurecht, of the QCWA Kingaroy Branch, who so willingly and generously spent time with me, sharing her knowledge and experience of the QCWA generally and of the Kingaroy Branch in particular. Importantly, Lois gave me a copy of an updated version of The history of Kingaroy Branch of QCWA, which has proved to be invaluable in my research and preparation of this article. In addition, following my visit, Lois sent me numerous photographs of recent activities of the Kingaroy Branch, many of which I have included in this post. Lois, you are a great QCWA ambassador!

REFERENCES

MAIN SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), 601-614.

Lovelace, N. (2012). From the Outback to the Sea : A Pictorial History of QCWA 1922-2012 / [compiled by Norma Lovelace for the Queensland Country Women’s Association].

Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics.

QCWA Kingaroy Branch. (Undated). The history of Kingaroy Branch of QCWA. Unpublished document.

SPECIFIC REFERENCES

  1. Koumala C.W.A. grows (1953, October 5). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169662151
  2. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), p. 602.
  3. Ibid.
  4. QCWA Kingaroy Branch. (Undated). The history of Kingaroy Branch of QCWA. Unpublished document.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. pp. 4-6.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), p. 604.
  14. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. p. 6.
  15. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), p. 603.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), pp. 605-606.
  18. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. p. 7.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. p. 45.
  21. Ibid. p. 53.
  22. Ibid. p. 65.
  23. Ibid. pp. 7, 10.
  24. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), p. 606.
  25. Ibid. p. 612.
  26. Ibid. p. 610.
  27. QCWA Kingaroy Branch. (Undated). The history of Kingaroy Branch of QCWA. Unpublished document.
  28. Ibid.
  29. C.W.A. REST ROOM. (1926, June 11). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), p. 3. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253871916
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. p. 152.
  34. Lovelace, Norma. (2012). ‘History of the Queensland Country Women’s Association: “More than tea and scones”’. Queensland History Journal, 21(9), p. 604.
  35. Pagliano, Muriel. (1998). Country women: History of the first seventy five years : The Queensland Country Women’s Association. Brisbane: Merino Lithographics. p. 90.
  36. Ibid, p. 68.
  37. Ibid, p. 68.
  38. Ibid, p. 11.
  39. Ibid, p. 15.
  40. Ibid, p. 51.
  41. Lovelace, N. (2012). From the Outback to the Sea : A Pictorial History of QCWA 1922-2012 / [compiled by Norma Lovelace for the Queensland Country Women’s Association].
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Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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6 thoughts on “QCWA and Kingaroy Branch celebrate 100 years this month”

  1. Judith,
    My maternal grandmother Agnes Littleproud, started a branch of the QCWA in Canaga, about 20k north east of Chinchilla, in early 1920s. Among others, she signed up my mother Emma, then aged 16, and my aunt Nita, about 14. That branch survived for many years.

    After my mother married, she and my father settled at Oak Park, about half way between Chinchilla and Canaga. Mum, then Emmie Redgen, helped to start a branch of the CWA there, and it flourished over many years. The membership probably never rose above 10, and all the offices were rotated among the members. At various times Mum was President, Secretary, and Treasurer. When I was about 16, I joined as a Junior member, and still cherish my membership badge.

    I have special reason to remember the QCWA with gratitude. When I sat for our ‘Scholarship’ exam, at the end of Primary School, I won the Bursary awarded by the Maranoa Division. That was in 1956.

    Mum later moved to Chinchilla and joined the branch there. She continued as a member of the CWA right up to the final years of her life. I have a photo of her being entertained by the Chinchilla branch on her 90th birthday. She attended many conferences around the state over the years, and counted many of the other members as her best friends.

    I have lived in Adelaide for more than 50 years now. I did once visit the state headquarters of the CWA in South Australia, as the guest of a friend who had moved to Adelaide from a country town. At that stage, there were still suburban branches in Adelaide.

    Long may the CWA continue to support the women of Australia

    Reply
    • Dear Barbara. Thank you for sharing your significant connection with the QCWA. It was truly a family affair! Did you see the photo of the Chinchilla QCWA Rest Room in the gallery collection? I’m so glad my story stirred precious memories for you. Yes, long may the CWA continue throughout Australia. Kind regards, Judy.

  2. My grandmother and Aunt were very active members of the CWA in Urunga, a small coastal town south of Coffs Harbour, NSW. I loved going to the fetes, flower shows and all else they held in the School of Arts. Both my Nona and Aunt were excellent cooks and they had a keen student with them. How I loved to help with the baking and bottling and learning along the way. My grandfather was also involved where possible… he was very proud to win a prize for his produce.He had a slight advantage, having been a farmer for many years.
    Thanks for rekindling great memories, Judith.

    Reply
    • Dear Chris. How wonderful to read about your special memories of your Nona and your Aunt and their involvement in the CWA at Urunga. I’m sure you would have been a good helper and a quick learner. How good to read about your grandfather’s cooking prowess as well! Love, Judy.

  3. Thank you Judith for an amazing article. I was a member of the Deeragun branch of C.W.A. until it closed a few years ago. I thought of you yesterday and spoke of meeting both of you in Townsville a few years ago to my friend when we went to the Coffee Club in Castletown, Townsville.

    Reply
    • Dear Elaine. Thank you for your encouraging response. I’m glad to read that you belonged to the QCWA until recently. What a great contribution you must have made to your community. And fancy you thinking of Tony and me yesterday, when you met with your friend at the Coffee Club in Castletown. I remember well the time we met with you there. It was most special. I hope you are keeping well. Many blessings, Judy.

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