Tasmanian Women in Agriculture began as a result of two events in 1994 that brought together like minded rural women who were keen to improve the status of rural women and help them to connect and strengthen their communities. In May 1994 the Scottsdale Business and Professional Women joined with the North East Dairy Women’s Discussion Group to organise the first Tasmanian “Women on Farms” gathering at Scottsdale. Over 140 women from across Tasmania, representing all industry levels attended. Many of them didn’t really know what this ‘gathering business’ was all about, however it was a chance to hear great speakers and connect with other rural women. Following Scottsdale twenty women were inspired to attend the inaugural International Conference for Women in Agriculture convened in Melbourne that same year. It was the largest international conference held in Australia at the time.
Following these two events, groups of women met at the TFGA House in Launceston and in discussion groups around the state – the birth of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture. This fledgling group approached the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment to seek help and were rewarded with strong support, with the provision of a staff member to assist the organisation and Government to keep connected to ‘grass roots’ farmers.
From the early days, communication to members was via a bi-monthly newsletter called the Bluegum, the title of the newsletter was chosen in recognition of Tasmania’s floral emblem. It featured inspiring stories of rural women, who especially in 1995 were not often featured in mainstream media or acknowledged for the vital role that they play in farm business management. It surprises many people today but in 1994 the legal status for women on farms was ‘sleeping partner – non productive’. With such a long history of neglect and lack of recognition TWiA has worked hard at changing community concepts of rural women and also changing the views that rural women have of their own contributions to farm businesses.
The decision to have TWiA membership free of charge was deliberately made by the founding members. As farm women themselves they saw the importance of reaching out to rural women and providing no barriers to joining.
The first Gathering was held in Scottsdale in 1994 and has been held in the following places since then: Ulverstone 1996, Conningham 1998, Poatina 2000, Smithton 2002, Triabunna 2004, Bridport 2006, Ulverstone 2008, Hobart 2010, Deloraine 2012. The 2014 Gathering will be held in Smithton.
In 2009 TWiA had a considerable challenge due to changes in its operating environment. The Tasmanian Government’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks Water and Environment (DPIPWE) could no longer fund a full time staff member to coordinate the organisation and reduced is commitment to mentoring, email distribution and assistance with projects directly in line with departmental goals and activities. In 2010, TWiA altered its constitution to reflect changes in its relationship with Government and now elects a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasure and Executive Members to undertake the operation of the organisation. The Executive now takes responsibility for the operational running of the organisation.
While the past two years have been challenging for TWiA, the Executive has remained positive and has embarked on an extensive strategic planning process to reflex and re-position the organisation to ensure its long term future.
In 2014, TWiA will see its 20th year which will provide a time for reflection, celebration and looking into the future.
By Carol Bracken with assistance from Joan Field, Ruth Paterson and Jan Richardson