Women who Mean Business selling Gippsland 's Finest
  Gippsland Women's Network History

The History of the Gippsland Women's Network and the Women who Mean Business Project is currently being complied. The information below is a brief outline.

On our journey over 30 years, has not been easy- women have faced many difficulties. We remain far from where we want to be.

The Seventies

  Commodity Prices Drop...

The story beings in the 1970s, when Australian dairying suffered a large fall in commodity prices. At this time, dairy farmers had difficulty in gaining support, or even recognition of the threat to family farms.

Fuel prices and interest rates soared, as did the cost of labour. In an effort to keep labour costs down, many women increased their on-farm involvement, whilst others found off-farm employment.

Getting food on the table for the family became a real concern. Young people could not see a future for themselves on the land and left for the city. It was a difficult time to be a mother. Land values fell. Local communities felt (and were) threatened.

During this crisis, most families managed their troubled lives in silence. Only a few sought opportunities to achieve some solution.

  Gippsland Women Begin Lobbying...

In the 70s, Gippsland women lobbied all three levels of Australian government for household financial support. No farmer organisations or government recognised the incredible strain on families and the need for financial support. We needed help to:

  • Put food on the table
  • Clothe our children
  • Meet the costs of so-called "free" education

We did not simply want to repeat what men were saying but wanted answers to the questions vital to us:

  • Will our children be able to be farmers?
  • Will our rural towns survive?
  • What is the social cost of any scheme? And
  • How can we ensure a sustainable future for agriculture?

There was no positive image and no planned target for the future for the dairy industry or for families.

  Tipping Milk Down the Drain...

In February 1979 Mary Salce was interviewed by David Tulloch from the Gippsland Times after she called for dairy farmers to tip their milk down the drains for a week to draw attention to the industry’s problems.

Mary said militant action was needed to wake up the government and “the older conservative dairy farmers” Mary said “it’s the conservative life-time dairy farmer who’s holding the industry back.

He’s been in the game a long time and knows he’ll survive but he doesn't realise today that he has minus return on capital” She also called for the “education” of dairy processing factory managers and politicians.

Mary Salce calls for dairy farmers to
Tip Milk Down the Drain

  Women Risk Speaking Out...

Women who risked going public spoke up about practical solutions for these issues which affected their daily lives. Such concerns were raised many times through phone calls to the Victorian Farmers' Federation and letters to government, but nothing was ever done.

  Women Seek Better Marketing...

Gippsland women also recognised that it was poor marketing of their products, which contributed to low commodity prices.

In 1978, women in the Sale area took up a petition to present to Murray Goulburn’s Co-operative Annual Meeting.

The petition addressed the marketing of three farm dairy products - butter, milk and cheese.

Women wanted:

  • Spreadable butter introduced on supermarket shelves
  • A decrease in the size of flavoured milk cartons for school lunches; and
  • Smaller packs of cheese and more variety.

The petition, which became a resolution, fell on deaf ears, yet, look in our supermarkets today and see how many of these items you can find.

The wide variety of more marketable cheese
products available today

The Eighties

  Pat McPhee Lobbies Safeway to use Real Cream ...

In the early 80s, Pat McPhee, a Gippsland dairy farmer from Warragul, began actively promoting cheese and cream. Pat saw that there were significant opportunities in the marketplace not being explored.

It is through Pat’s efforts in the ‘80s that Safeway use “real” cream in their cakes today. Pat led the way for other women to become involved in promotion of their farm dairy products.

  Women's Drought Support Network...

In the early 1980s also saw one of the worst droughts on record in Australia. The drought affected everybody, not just the dairy industry. But it did trigger some significant changes - especially for farm women.

In Gippsland, the Women's Drought Support Network and the Women in Dairying Group were established. Women from every community background, not just from farming, supported these groups.

Drought of the early 80s - Lake Glenmaggie

Until this time of crisis, there had been very little social activity amongst communities, and certainly no support network lobbying for women.

An absence of any networks meant that information was not shared around. Women discovered strength through building networks. Together, they found a voice to speak up about many shared regional and national concerns.

Women, as always, cared about how social and welfare issues had begun to affect their families. In times of hardship, bureaucratic and politicians' attention had, as always, concentrated on the economics of the situation.

The social impact on the family unit had strained to - and often beyond - the point of collapse.

The change of state government in Victoria in the early eighties saw many farmers - long-time conservative party voters - disassociating themselves from the government of the day.

It was farm women who recognised that in order to make progress, they needed to break down these and other artificial barriers to change.

In 1985, a submission was put to our State government's Rural Economic Study regarding the recessed agricultural sector and the resulting hardship for women and their families.

Little action followed.

Also in the eighties, Gippsland put several resolutions to the annual United Dairyfarmers of Victoria Conference.

The resolutions sought more than token representation of women on Industry Boards, and wanted the key issue of household assistance for struggling rural families given attention. These resolutions gained very little support.

Few male members of producers' boards were prepared to take social issues seriously. Lobbying by women continued on a state and federal level throughout the eighties. We did not give up.

During one of the many deputations, a senior minister of our national government offered women his "full support", but declined to make a formal recommendation since he did not want to risk upsetting the male-dominated National Farmers' Federation!

  Women on Farms Skills Courses began...

Disheartened, but not beaten, women persevered. Their lobbying paid off in 1986 with the successful establishment by the Victorian government of the Rural Women's Network.

Then, in the late eighties, Women on Farms skills courses began in one of our regional centres.

Women on Farms Skills in Warragul

  Women on Farms Gatherings began...

From this recognition as well as the natural abilities of farm women, grew the annual state Women on Farms Gatherings. These gatherings are still held today.

Women on Farms Gathering

The Nineties

  Severe Floods Hit ...

In 1991, severe floods devastated parts of Gippsland. Women who, until this time, often did not even know their neighbours' first names, were encouraged to develop their own strong community support network, and Wellington Farmlink was formed.

But, although progress was being made, it was progress at a snail's pace compared to what had been achieved in other countries.

We recognised that in order to truly succeed, women needed to strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.

Severe floods in 1991

The same area today

   Idea for International Women's Conferences Conceived...

Then, following a trip to Canada by Mary Salce to attend the National Farm Women's Conference in 1991, came the idea for an International Conference on Women in Agriculture, and the establishment of a statewide women in agriculture organisation, which later became Australian Women in Agriculture.

The National Farm Women's Conference in Canada 1991

Mary Salce with Canadian Delegation

  The 1st International Conference on Women in Agriculture...

It took more than eighteen months of submission writing and lobbying by women and women's groups to get even token support from federal and state governments and industry: "What did these women think they were doing!"

The Planning Committee for the Conference chaired by Mary Salce had representation from women throughout Australia. From this, a strong regional, state and national network developed.

The 1st International Conference on Women in Agriculture was held at the University of Melbourne from the 1-3 July in 1994 and was attended by 860 women from 33 countries.

At the conference women had many things to say and a different perspective to add. They wanted more recognition, more resources and more representation.

Women attending the conference found they gained confidence and skills that would help them to ensure the conference had lasting benefits.

After the conference, media started to recognise women's contributions and seek their opinions.

The 1st International Conference on Women in Agriculture - 1994

The 1st International Conference
on Women in Agriculture

The Victorian Delegates at the 1st
International Conference on Women in Agriculture

Celia from Zambia at the pre-conference
cocktail evening welcome to country

At the Official Dinner - 1st int conference
ABC first RWof theY - national - announced

Evaluations from the first conference revealed most women wanted to be more active in decision making within their communities and in agriculture generally but lacked the confidence and self esteem to do so.

From the first conference has grown a whole range of projects in Gippsland aimed at recognising and developing women’s skills and encouraging their industry participation.

  Achieving Your Goals Seminar...

The successful Achieving your Goals Seminar for Women was held in Bairnsdale on the 23rd February in 1996 and was attended by more than 200 women.

From this seminar, the East Gippsland Business Women's Group was established.

Achieving your Goals Seminar
Bairnsdale, 1996

Deb Bye speaking at the
Achieving Your Goals Seminar

  Uniting our Rural Communities...

This was followed by the Uniting our Rural Communities Cultural and Community Leadership Project in 1997.

Sponsored by the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women and the Australia Council for the Arts, it became known as the "project with a thousand outcomes", and involved over 200 women and their families throughout East Gippsland.

The project aimed to help women gain confidence and skills through art, although participants weren't required to be artistic, just willing to learn new skills including business, leadership and communication skills.

The arts focus of the project enabled women to work together in a non-threatening way to produce something that would have a lasting benefit to the community.

Projects were held in Orbost, Omeo, Bairnsdale and Maffra.

The Orbost project group designed and built a mosaic pathway depicting the history of the Snowy River along with carvings made from burls of wood. The project helped to unite a divided community.

The Omeo project group developed a documentary video, now used to promote tourism in the area. It tells stories from the past and the present and looks to the future. It highlights isolation, rural decline and the value of young people.

Maffra women made a wooden outdoor setting for community use. The table was designed in the shape of a water wheel to reflect the importance of water conservation and irrigation in their area. The timber was branded with images depicting the women's lives. The project gave women a sense of achievement and the knowledge that collectively, women can tackle anything.

Snakes and Ladders was the title of the play dealing with local issues written and performed by the Bairnsdale group. The women were involved in all aspects from performing, set creation and promotion. The women of the group developed a great sense of confidence that not only benefited them in the project itself, but also in their lives beyond the stage.

It is recognised as one of the most successful community development projects. Some of the many outcomes of the projects include:

  • More women attending agricultural workshops & field days
  • Many women finding new jobs
  • Some women starting their own businesses
  • Lifting the profile of rural women
  • Women being encouraged and uplifted through media attention
  • Women taking leadership roles in groups such as Landcare, the Fire Brigade, Commodities-based groups, farming groups & kindergartens
  • New networks formed
  • one woman has become a printmaker, a dream she thought she would never achieve
  • Another women started a community art program

The networks formed from this project, and the confidence and self esteem gained by the community, have encouraged many women to strive for goals they have set for themselves.

Uniting our Rural Communities
"...the Project of a thousand outcomes"

Maffra Table & Seats Project

Bairnsdale "Snakes & Ladders"
Performance Project

Omeo Documentary on local stories

Orbost Mosaic Pathway Project

"After the Fires Free Lunch" at Omeo

   The International Conference Bowl...

One of the outcomes was the carving and the creation of the Conference Bowl by the Snowy River Women's group (Orbost) East Gippsland.

Many women are keepers of the family history. They pass on knowledge, skills and stories to their children. So it fitting that the 'family' of agricultural and rural women have something to pass on when they come together.
The bowl was created for the 2nd Conference with the idea that it would, in turn, be passed to future conferences. It was hand carved by the Women from the Snowy River Region who participated in the Uniting Our Rural Communities program. The bowl, with women's hands carved on the outside is a fitting symbol for rural and agriculture women . It is made from a burl of local Mountain Grey Gum from East Gippsland.(South Eastern Australia)
With the passing on of the bowl Australian rural and agriculture women wish the Spanish Organizers and all the participants at the 3rd conference a continuing flow of ideas, many new hands of friendship and everlasting strengthening networks.
That bowl has now been taken to Africa.

The Conference Bowl

The Conference Bowl

      Moving the Posts....

The Moving the Posts project was all about redefining popular misconceptions of farmers and to show non-farming audiences the diversity and achievement of contemporary Australian women involved in all aspects of agriculture.

More than 100 women participated. The women were given either a plain box or a farm fence post and asked to portray aspects of their lives, loves, concerns and spirituality.

Feedback from viewers of the works produced by these women expressed that the works showed not only a sense of diversity and achievement but that they overwhelmingly conveyed the women's love of their lifestyle and environment.

   The 2nd International Conference...

The 2nd International Conference for Women in Agriculture Washington DC, USA : June-July 1998 and was attended by 1200 women from 50 countries. A 120 women represented Australia.

The highlight of the conference was the Salute from Australia Luncheon which showcased Australia and it's produce. Both beef and lamb were served along with Australian wine. This luncheon would not have been possible without the support from the Gippsland Women's Network.

Australian Lamb & Beef served at the Salute to Australia Luncheon
at the 2nd International Conference for Women in Agriculture

  Technology & Leadership Project...

One of the outcomes of the 2nd conference was the Uniting Our Rural Communities Technology & Community Leadership Project.

Over two years, this project introduced more than 500 Gippsland families to new communication and information technology services.

  Gippsland's Voice Network...

An email list called "Gippsland's Voice " which networked with over 100 people throughout the Gippsland area was established where many Gippsland issues were discussed and information exchanged.

  Dr Jill Long Thompson Visits Gippsland...

It is also to the Second International Conference that we owe the privilege of a visit to Gippsland in March 1999 by Dr. Jill Long Thompson, United States Under Secretary for Agriculture and Rural Development, and chair for the Second International Conference on Women in Agriculture.

DR Jill Long Thomson, United States Under
Secretary for Agriculture & Rural Development
whilst in Gippsland

  A Future for Rural Australia...

"A Future for Rural Australia" began after the visit of uniting church senior spokesman Rev John Rickard to the drought areas of Gippsland in 1998.

Through the uniting church and Kilmany Family Care (Kilmany Uniting Care), support committees were formed, issues were clarified and people started speaking out.

The lone rider was part of that project, bringing several hundred submissions from over 50 rural towns in Gippsland to the steps of Parliament in Melbourne.

One of the key organisers, Linette Treasure from Bairnsdale, along with the committee organised the Gippsland Saddlebag ride from the NSW border to Parliament House. Following this successful campaign, others were inspired to get together and make a stand on a range of issues. From a grass roots level we now have an independent member of parliament.

The horse riders collected issues that affected people's lives.

Following this successful campaign, others were inspired to get together and make a stand on a range of issues. From Grass Roots level we now have an independent Member of Parliament.

"The Lone Rider" approaches the steps of
Parliament House, 16 Sep 1999

2000 and Beyond....

  Having Your Voice Heard Conference...

Having Your Voice Heard was a one day conference held at the Princeton in Sale, 18 May 2000.

The Forum provided an insight into lobbying, encouraged leadership and networking and empowered rural people to control their own destiny. It engaged the media as partners and targeted approaches to decision-makers for effective outcomes.

A total of 200 participants attended the forum, workshops and evening program - a humorous hypothetical "The Cake Stall vs the Multinationals".

Participants from various geographic, demographic and cultural backgrounds attended, including men, women and many youth. Fifty disadvantaged participants were sponsored by the Stegley Foundation to attend.

Presenters included members of state and federal government, local, state and national media representatives and political and lobby specialists and facilitators.

The committee received many letter and phone calls from participants thanking them for the opportunity to attend such an excellent forum.

64 participants completed all or part of the evaluation and indicated that one of the key issues of the region was unemployment and the drift of the region's youth to the cities.

Having Your Voice Heard Conference

  The Box Project...

The Box Project, launched on the 2nd of November 2000, was an initiative evolving from the Having Your Voice Heard conference which aimed to source new ideas for local employment, particularly for and from youth.

"The Box" was a spectacular and colourful work of art, fabricated from recycled materials by local artist Di Deppeler.

The kinds of questions asked by the community via "The Box" were:

  • What sort of jobs would you like to see in our area?
  • What special courses would be needed locally?
  • What kinds of skills are out there, just waiting for the right employer to come along?
  • Any ideas for a new industry for our area? (sometimes the wildest dreams come true if people get talking about them!)
  • What "old industries" could be tried again?

Members of the community were invited to submit their ideas by email, mail, phone and via notes placed into The Box. The Box was located in the Gippsland Centre Sale throughout the month of November.

Deb Bye reviewed The Box ideas in a weekly broadcast on ABC Gippsland

Design drawing of "the Box"

Gippsland Centre Sale Manager Brigid Lambert,
Olympian Gavin Chester & Mayor Gordon
Cameron Launch "The Box"

  The 3rd International Conference...

The 3rd International Congress for Rural Women was held in Madrid, Spain and was attended by 1500 women from 75 countries.

About 1,700 people including 160 women from Australia and from 97 other countries of the world were brought together in Madrid.

The conference provided a unique opportunity for women from rural communities across the globe to gather and share knowledge on key agricultural and community issues.

At the conference Gippsland's Mary Salce received a special presentation from the Spanish organisers of the Madrid Congress, to commemorate her role in the conception of the four-yearly international gathering.

The official website for the III International Conference

The 3rd International Congress for Rural Women
held in Madrid, Spain

Graca Machel, chairperson of the Foundation
for Community Development with
the conference bowl

  Women on the Move Conference...

The Gippsland Regional Women's Conference, Women on the Move was held on the 19th of November 2003.

The conference provided an opportunity for women of Gippsland to come together to discuss issues affecting Gippsland. Three key issues were presented in workshop format:

  • We are Running Out of Water - What will we do?
  • Woman & Small Business, What are the opportunities?
  • Rural Communities are Changing, How will we live together?

The conference, held at the Esso BHP Billiton Wellington Entertainment Centre in Sale was highly successful with 208 women attending from right across the region. The majority of those attending were Primary Produces however a large number of Business Women also attended along with students, those working in education & administration, artists etc.

Almost all those submitting feedback forms found the Water Workshop either useful or very useful. The majority of respondents also found the other workshops useful and were motivated to become more involved as a direct result of the workshops.

The vast majority of feedback suggested that these women would recommend this type of event to their friends.

Women on the Move Conference

  Women who Mean Business Launched...

On the 19th of February 2004, the Women who Mean Business.... selling Gippsland's Finest was launched by Minister Thwaites. For more details on the launch, click here.

Details & Updates on this project can be found throughout this website.

The Hon. John Thwaites launches the
Women who Mean Business Project

Jo McCubbin presents Minister Thwaites with a gift of local produce

Speakers at the
Women who Mean Business Launch

Minister Thwaites speaks with
women after the launch

  Women on Water Conference...

The Victorian Women on Water - "Facts, Fallacies, Future" - forum is an opportunity for all Victorians to obtain information about the water debate at International, National, State and Regional levels.

The Forum Dinner commences at 6:00pm on Thursday 14th October 2004 with Keynote Speaker speaking about the National Water Initiative.

Enjoy a three-course meal and the opportunity to network. The Forum Day commences at 9:00am on Friday, 15th October, 2004.

Morning sessions include a presentation on the Victorian White Paper, followed by panel presentations on Mapping of the Victorian Water Industry, International Impacts and Environmental Impacts relating to the Water Debate.

The Nation; The Law & Water:
Panel presentation assisting understanding of the National Resource Management delivery, Financial Industry and Policy and Regulation process.

Social Impacts of the White Paper on Water:
A facilitated discussion looking at the social impacts of water reform. Participants will be asked to contribute their ideas on how changes in the way we manage water resources may affect their families and their communities.

Regional Focus; Gippsland Case Studies:
Panel presentations detailing innovative water projects in Gippsland with representatives from our urban and rural water Authorities as well as a leading groundwater specialist.

All workshops will have a facilitated question time. The plenary session will include a summary of the workshops from facilitators. There will be a question box at the Forum Dinner and Day to assist forum delegates to ask the questions they are not comfortable asking in public.

Victorian Women on Water Website

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