By Margaret Maccoll
You might expect the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA) president to hail from country Queensland but Joy Coulson of Cooroy came to Australia from South Africa. The community-minded Joy has been involved with the scout movement for more than 50 years. It was how she met her husband of almost 50 years, Bob, and what took her to a property in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to live. But with increasing civil unrest, landmines littering the landscape and fearing for their safety Joy and Bob and their two young sons decided it was too dangerous to remain. They moved to South Africa and after four years progressing through the migration process, found a new home in Australia.
Having also been involved with Associated Country Women of the World in Africa, an international organisation for rural and urban women with which the CWA is affiliated, when the family arrived in the country Joy sought out the association where she knew she would meet people and form friendships. Unfortunately her work prevented her from attending the branches daytime meetings, a practise that is now seeing changes. But once she retired, and inspired by the work they do assisting people with charitable work, she joined. She threw herself into the organisation at a local and regional level and two years ago was appointed state president.
“It’s been good for me. I made friends and got to know people,” she said. “There are wonderful women in the association.”
Founded in 1922, the QCWA has been focussed ever since on bringing women together for different reasons, whether it is about meeting new people, making new friends, learning new skills or getting involved in the community. They achieve their goals by advocating and providing opportunities for women centred around education, health and community throughout every phase of a their lives.
No one knows more about Queensland’s largest and most widespread women’s organisation with three regions, 20 divisions, more than 240 branches and just under 4000 members than Joy who described her role as a challenge that was very rewarding.
“I’m so lucky I have a good staff,” she said. “I’m a team person. I think it’s my scouting background. That’s how I’ve always worked.
“Sometimes as president I have to make final decisions. I like to get others opinions.”
QCWA works to help women in a variety of situations. Through its rural crisis fund it has been supporting people in the outback as they struggle though weather conditions including drought and flood.
“We support them with water, car registration, electricity, food vouchers. We want to keep the shops open. If there are shops in small towns we can set up credit so they can buy their food.”
Through an initiative called Country Kitchens QCWA is promoting healthy living. Operating through CWA halls the venture, run by a team of four ladies, is teaching hands on cooking.
“Some young women don’t know how to prepare meals from the start,” Joy said. “These programs have been excellent and have been running for three years.”
“With Country Kitchens we’ve brought a whole new look to the things we do. When people hear CWA they think scones. We do make good scones but we do a lot of other things.”
Joy said in some rural towns the QCWA may be one of the few places women can go for support.
“In some places there may be only 10 women or a half dozen. It’s important these branches stay open. They are meeting and communicating. It’s so important for them. We can’t understand it here on the coast. We’re so safe. They have hardship. “
Providing financial assistance to help send children to school and travel allowances to enable women and children to access medical care are also items on their agenda.
Having gained an enviable reputation for making quality cakes and craft over many years the association continues to draw on its traditional skills and holding cake and craft stalls when it comes to raising funds for its many projects.
“They’re very popular,” Joy said. “We sell a lot of craft. There’s also Bunnings sausage sizzles and bingo nights.
QCWA also owns a number of properties which it rents out including Ruth Fairfax house in Brisbane and holiday units on the Sunshine Coast and Bunya Mountains providing both an income stream and affordable holiday accommodation.
Once a year the branches meet during a state convention. This year it will be in Brisbane in October at the Convention Centre when delegates from more than 200 branches will gather. There will be displays of craft, art, cooking, photography and winners will be judged at the state level.
The conference will discuss current projects. One of those will be an international fundraising project aimed at securing water tanks for communities in South Pacific Islands whose water supply has been tainted by salt water.
“It’s a big project,” Joy said. “They’re replacing them with plastic tanks. It’s important for them to have water to drink.”
All state associations meet once a year at a national conference. This year Joy will represent Queensland at the conference in August in Canberra.
Future for QCWA
The organisation celebrated its 95th anniversary last year and as it heads toward its 100th year it has a goal to double membership and already new initiatives are driving interest.
Recently three new branches have opened at the Gold Coast and Toowoomba and holding meetings in the evenings are gaining a growing following from younger women who work.
Joy would also like to see the association take greater steps to bridge cultural gaps, to enrich the association through their diversity and to reach out to women from other countries who have left their network of friends behind and were trying to network with multicultural communities to achieve this end.
“When you come from another country there are no school reunions,” she said.
This is an issue close to Joy’s heart. Having come to Australia with two boys aged six and eight years, only a crate full of items and $800 in their pockets they are appreciative of the second chance at life.
“We have a roof over our heads,” she said. “We manage on a pension. We’re grateful. We’re so lucky we’re in Australia. We count our blessings.”