NSW Rural Women’s Gathering

The 25th NSW Rural Women’s Gathering is being held in Narrandera from October 27 to 29.

It is an annual event organised by local committees with support from the Rural Women’s Network.

Gatherings are for all rural women including farming women, Aboriginal women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, mining women, women in the fishing industry, women who live in regional cities, towns and villages and coastal women.

They will meet inspirational, internationally achieving women, make new friends, participate in educational and skills-building workshops, provided with the opportunity to network and be highly entertained. The hard-working local committee behind the organisation of this Gathering, which is being held in Narrandera for the first time include: Tammy Galvin (Committee chair), Kimberley Beattie, Beryl Brain, Stacie Carroll, Jane Carter, Robyn Claibourne, Kristen Clancy, Jacinta Hayward, Mary-Anne Lattimore, Carolle Leach, Charmaine Lee, Merilyn Limbrick, Fran Macdonald, Fran McLaughlin, Marilyn Manning, Josie Marks, Leonie Napier, Lee Reavley, Sharyn Rowlands, Kerry Sproston and Lee Sweeney.

Two years of hard work pays off for committee

The Rural Women’s Gathering is the result of nearly two years of hard work from a team of dedicated Narrandera women.

As the gathering is now celebrating its 25th year, the committee is delighted to have the chance to host the gathering in a milestone year.

“About two years ago Tammy [Galvin] got together a group of women,” said Kristen Clancy, a member of the committee. “We put in the submission, although Broken Hill got it for last year. The full committee’s been ready and working for 18 months now.”

The Rural Women’s Gathering is also an exercise in data gathering. During the weekend, the Rural Women’s Network, a  subsidiary of the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), uses the gathering as a means to explore the needs of women living in regional Australia. The data becomes a report, which winds up on the desk of the Minister for Primary Industries. The reports are also available for anyone to access through the DPI website.

Last year’s report from the gathering in Broken Hill highlighted the fact that for most rural women, accessing data and internet services was the most pressing issue. There were also calls for more support for rural carers and for overcoming isolation.

In order for the data to be gathered, the gathering has to take place. The planning of the conference is no small task. The Rural Women’s Gathering follows a certain template, although hosts can take liberties with some of the activities on offer.

“There are things that we follow – there’s a pack that we get. Part of it always involves doing workshops, although you can choose what kind are on offer. You always get a keynote speaker to come and draw in the crowd! But the gala dinner can be however you want it,” Ms Clancy said. “Our real point of difference is the work with the Cad Factory. That was actually part of our submission to the DPI, that we were planning to have a collaboration with the Cad Factory.”

The Cad Factory’s exhibition, Shadow Places, will launch the gathering on Friday night. Shadow Places refers to spaces that directly affect people’s lives despite few people knowing about them or where they are – like farms.

What was incredibly important to Narrandera was the theme for this year.

“Every year we get to choose a theme. We chose Women, Culture, Land – Just Add Water. We thought that it covered the area, the Riverina, and it was perfect for here too, with the river and the irrigation around here,” Ms Clancy said. “It’s just an important milestone for the whole event.”

A means to show support

A gathering of women, Stacie Carroll says, is not just about networking  with the women who can make the journey.

“This is a women’s function, but that means we need to support other women who need help,” Ms Carroll said.

As part of the Rural Women’s Gathering, the committee have organised a donation drive for items to help women who are in shelters and refuges.

“We’ve organised a drop-off point. We’re looking for personal products – pads, tampons, soaps – the sort of things that don’t get donated.”

Women who are fleeing domestic violence situations are often lucky to get away with just themselves, let alone a packed bag with everything they need. Many women who suffer from domestic violence are also subject to economic abuse, where their partner may deprive them of any funds, empty their bank accounts or rack up enormous credit card debts in their name.

The means and money to buy the basics are not always available to women in refuges, and toiletries are not items which people think to donate. As the Rural Women’s Gathering committee realised that many women would be travelling to Narrandera from long distances, they have also organised ‘travelling packs’ that women can purchase and donate.

“We got a lot of donations for those. Each pack has a face washer, little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and a travel hairbrush. It’s all those little things that someone trying to get away wouldn’t have, or just wouldn’t have the chance to grab,” Ms Carroll said.

The donation point will be next to the registration table at the Gathering, so women attending will have a one-stop shop to register, purchase a pack or donate goods they have already brought with them.

Currently 250 women are registered to attend the Gathering, which will provide for a lot of opportunities for people to donate items. When women register at the beginning of the gathering, they will receive a bag of goods on arrival. Filled with a grab-bag of items from breast cancer information to free pens to little bags of prunes, any useful leftover items after the gathering will be donated by the committee to a women’s refuge.

“It’s about getting those things for women that people don’t think to donate. They say that even organisations like Vinnies or the Salvos don’t get things like socks and undies. We know why they don’t, but they’re the things that they need,” Ms Carroll said.

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