CWA Macquarie Group is a strong voice mobilizing for better health services in the region | wellington time

Robin Godwin, Chairman of the CWA Macquarie Group. Photo: Elizabeth Frias

Among the 8,000 voices in Australia’s largest women’s organization, the Country Women’s Association, are those from the 15 branches of Dubbo-Orana led by current president Robin Godwin.

They are known as the Macquarie Group, whose membership has dwindled in recent years, but one of the strongest and most unanimous motions at the 100th anniversary state conference of the CWA at Randwick Racecourse in May this year was their brainchild.

They called on the government to urgently provide obstetrics and maternity services to rural and remote towns in New South Wales.

A young mother from Coonamble, pregnant with another child, nearly died trying to get to hospital in Dubbo, a nearly two-hour journey to safely deliver her baby.

When details of the incident reached CWA, it was the final straw for them, Ms. Godwin said. They were made aware of a number of life-threatening cases of mothers in the more remote towns of the far west risking long journeys to attend prenatal check-ups because there were not many doctors in the surroundings.

“You can’t wait to give birth and then drive more than three hours to get to Dubbo. Some of them are traveling ahead of time which is disruptive to a family and expensive to find accommodation,” Ms Godwin said. .

Robin Godwin, (second from right) with the CWA band Macquarie at the 100th Gala Ball at Randwick Racecourse in May 2022. Photo: Supplied

Members of the CWA Policy Committee did their research before tabling their motion and found some of the towns in shock without obstetricians or doctors nearby, including Cobar, Gilgandra and Baradine.

Federal and state governments have recognized the shortage of doctors, nurses, and medical specialists in rural towns. They therefore embarked on recruitment programs or set up services in the most remote towns through the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

The spate of near-death incidences involving residents of remote towns prompted the CWA to take its advocacy to the highest levels of government by calling for the highlighting of health services in regional areas at its centenary conference.

“There seems to be a contraction of health services in rural areas. Really, these problems existed 100 years ago and are still there after 100 years,” Ms Godwin said.

The CWA began in western New South Wales because CWA founder Grace Emily Munro, née Gordon, was born in Warialda in 1879 and lived near Bingara when she married the rancher Hugh Munro in 1898.

Her youngest child died while she was in Sydney caring for another sick child and that loss and grief prompted Munro to work for charities and the Australian Army Corps helping women and children during the First World War.

In 1922 Munro organized the first CWA conference and traveled across NSW and Queensland establishing branches which quickly grew to 68 by 1923, including the Dubbo branch. In 1926 she retired due to health problems, but more than 100 branches were opened, mother and child toilets and maternity centers were built in many cities.

Ms. Godwin said the original theme of “bringing together all the women, children and girls of the country and making life better, brighter and more attractive, thus helping to stop the drift from the countryside to the city” is still faithful to CWA today.

“We went through a bit of a downturn at the turn of the century because so many women are working and involved in other organizations…and juggling family and work that they just don’t have time for. charity.

“Things have improved in rural areas since the 1920s, but the issues of concern are still the same and some are getting worse like the health situation in regional areas today.

“So many small towns can’t have doctors or hospitals closed or their services reduced, especially maternity.

“That was the main thing that the CWA was formed, to give women maternity services, general health care and better education in rural areas.

“During the First World War, there were more women and children who died in childbirth than men died in war, and this has never been acknowledged.

“A lot of the women lived in pretty spartan conditions and found it difficult to get around, they relied on horses and sulkies or any other means that could get them anywhere.”

In the 1950s, Ms Godwin said the Macquarie Group had established a boarding house in Brisbane Street for students from outlying towns, but the original building called the Matthew Robinson Hostel was no longer there.

CWA founder Grace Emily Munro was born in Warialda NSW and lived with her rancher husband Hugh Munro at Bingara in County Gwydir. Image: Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Many motions backed by the Macquarie Group have been continued by successive governments, such as illuminated signs on the side carriages of trains so they can be seen by people on carts and horses traveling at night, the ration of milk to children at school and lines of white paint on the road for pedestrians and motorists.

Ms Godwin joined CWA in 1990 when she and her husband Doug and their children returned to the family farm on the outskirts of Dubbo after nine years as a researcher in the United States. They met when they were students at the University of New England, where Ms Godwin graduated with a degree in rural sciences.

“Mostly just to meet people for friendship and camaraderie and learn things,” she said.

Since then, Ms Godwin has been part of a country women’s movement that has gone to work helping farmers and their families at the height of the millennium drought by providing “care packages” for women.

The Macquarie Group collected countless parcels containing non-perishable food, groceries and toiletries that women went without when drought destroyed livelihoods and the lives of farmers.

“The mental health issues have been a huge toll on everyone in the family, the drought has affected everything… It was all about supporting each other and continuing to meet, have a cup of tea and chatting,” Ms Godwin said. said.

Even during the pandemic, they haven’t stopped raising funds and helping families in need, but it wasn’t just about making scones and collecting cookbooks or knitting pillows for people recovering from cancer.

Their advocacy work for country women and their families is like never before, they’re just “not so vocal and confrontational because that’s not the CWA way,” Ms Godwin said.

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Elizabeth Frias

Elizabeth began her reporting days in Western Sydney before joining the Daily Liberal’s Dubbo NSW newsroom.

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