L-R Colleen Condliffe (Source: Jeanette Severs), Caroline Hogg (Source: Museums Victoria), and Audrey Dreschler (Source: Jeanette Severs)
Five key trailblazers of the Rural Women’s Movement share their thoughts on what rural women wanted 32 years ago and what they want today.
Caroline Hogg, former Australian Labor Party MP and supporter of the Rural Women’s Network explains why the network came about in the 1980s: “I suppose it was a lack of recognition of the work that women were doing. Many of the women I got to meet, were in fact the off-farm earners, though I also met many women who were farming as well. There were patches of bad drought during that time.”
Audrey Dreschler: a former Gippsland dairy farmer, regularly worked on her father’s farm and in his bakery before school in her childhood years. She recalls: “I think women wanted recognition for all the hard work they do. Often women would do the dairy work as men had to go to meetings and to cricket,” says Audrey, who at 82, still enjoys riding motorbikes — a skill she mastered while working on the farm.
Valerie Lang, Rural Women’s Movement and Women on Farms Gathering pioneer, says the rural women’s groups in the early days encompassed all rural and regional women, including Indigenous women. “I recall working with Leann Wilson and she was amazing. She actually became the second President of the National Rural Women’s Coalition and took us to all sorts of places, Indigenous places that we wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to go to,” she says.
Colleen Condliffe, Loddon Shire Councillor, dairy/livestock/cropping farmer from north-west Bendigo, key contributor to the first Rural Women’s Network and Central Victorian Rural Women’s Networks. “I was the eldest of four girls growing up on a farm. Dad told me you had better get educated as none of you will be farmers. I am encouraging my granddaughter who wants to study agriculture. I don’t reckon what rural women want has changed a lot. They want connection with other rural women and there’s just more technology around now,” she says.
Lyn Johnson, a retired dairy farmer and founding director of a cheese manufacturing business (Tarago River Cheese Company) was an early promoter of Women on Farms Gatherings: “Women wanted better communication and skills. What women want now is not so different. They want to be ‘visible’. I think women are great disseminators of information and they are very keen on education, especially encouraging younger people to consider the many careers in agriculture,” says Lyn.
See a timeline of events in Australian rural women’s history (post 1970s) at collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/4424