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Celebrating 100 years of service to country women

by Sandra Amore

Congratulations to the QCWA.  The association celebrates 100 years of service to country women.  The Mackay branch has been assisting the community for 99 years.  On the 11th August 1922 the Queensland Country Women’s Association (QCWA) was formed at the Brisbane Women’s Club.  The foundation President was Mrs J H (Ruth) Fairfax from Cambooya, a rural town near Toowoomba.  The QCWA offered friendship, support and connection for isolated and rural women.  Women shared knowledge and assistance in times of need and distress.


The first conference was held in 1923.  The QCWA name, motto, constitution and rules were accepted.  The Association colours of silver and royal blue and badge were chosen.  Central Office was located in Toowoomba. There were two Divisions: Northern and Southern followed by Central in 1925 and Western in 1926.


The commitment of Ruth Fairfax led to the QCWA having 283 Branches and 13 000 members in 1928.  By the end of 1960 the first edition of QCWA Lady Laverack Cookery Book and tea towel were printed.  The QCWA grew to 539 branches and 89 younger sets established within 22 divisions.   


Initiatives provided practical support in country towns to women and their families.

  • rest rooms;

  • hostels for expectant mothers;

  • educational bursaries;

  • shark proof bathing enclosures;

  • aged care housing;

  • cardio-phones in country hospitals;

  • family holiday accommodation cottages;

  • contact for medical and dental treatment;

  • Emergency Housekeeping Scheme.


Members are celebrated cooks and skilled craft workers. The public are welcome to join competitions in cookery, floral art, photography and knitting and crocheting. The QCWA vision is for the women of Queensland to come together to support communities, while celebrating their interests and forging friendships in a respectful and caring environment.  The QCWA is a not for profit, non-sectarian and non-political association.

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Mackay branch: 99 years young

The Mackay branch was formed on the 1st August 1923 with an attendance of 28 members.  The first Annual Meeting was attended by 166 members and 12 associate members.  This meeting was held in a shed at the back of the Farmers League.  The room was donated rent free by the Canegrowers Association.


In 1925 a Tea Booth and Rest Tent was conducted at the Mackay Show and continued for many years.  In 1926 a shelter and two water tanks were erected at Bakers Creek.  The shelter was built to provide a rest area for travellers.  From 1928 it was the site of the Annual Picnic for members’ children.


Hospital visits and sewing for the Maternity Ward was started in 1928. In October 1929 a Younger Set was formed with Mrs Whittaker as convenor.  This group was not active during the war years.  It reformed in 1947.  A Younger Set was active at Mackay State High School for training girls in community service and meeting procedures.

In 1929 land was purchased for £750 cash in Albert Street (Gordon Street).  The Rest Room was built by Frank Guthrie and officially opened in 1938 for a cost of £1976.  Thanks to President Mrs W A Wright who worked tirelessly for 16 years to open the building debt free. 

When World War II began members worked whole heartedly with the Red Cross.  They produced 1531 knitted garments, 1031 camouflage nets, reconditioned uniforms, cakes for the branch link, money for food, seven tons of clothing and 44-gallon drums of dripping to make soap.


In 1947 the Mackay Rest Rooms was designated as a Waiting Mother’s Hostel for expectant women.  Over the years the hostel accommodated permanent residents, TAFE students and mine workers.  The building closed as a hostel in 2002.


In 1948 the shelter at Bakers Creek was sold and a cottage purchased at Bucasia.  The cottage provided holiday accommodation at a reasonable rate to country families.  The cottage was in demand and lovingly maintained by the branch.  The cottage was sold in 2017.


Mackay branch was one of the largest in the state.  The highest recorded membership has been 415 in 1953.  In 2013 membership was 33.   The branch continues to support the state knitting, crochet, cookery, floral art, handicraft, photography and Fundraiser of the Year contests.  One of the surprising changes has been the addition of “Packet Cake” into the state cookery contest.


Through the last 99 years the Mackay branch has worked tirelessly for the association, generously donating and working at functions and contributing to local charities and national disasters.  The branch supports Division and State projects.

Mackay Branch members are hardworking, generous to those in need and dedicated to giving of time.  They are loyal to the aims and objectives of the QCWA.  The branch is a wonderful example of what can and has been achieved by a great group of women.


Esme Kean (1983) wrote, “Any organisation lasting for this length of time must be durable, practical and adaptable to changing times.”

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