QCWA's first leader a visionary

Founding president of the QCWA Ruth Fairfax.
Founding president of the QCWA Ruth Fairfax. Bev Lacey

ON August 10, 1922 the Brisbane Women's Club organised a meeting to discuss the formation of a country women's association. Those in attendance were women of style and substance. The next day, the Queensland Country Women's Association was formed.

A provisional committee was elected with Ruth Fairfax unanimously voted in as president.

Ruth was a quintessential countrywoman, a generous benefactor and ahead of her time in organisational management.

Raised on the land at Lue, north-east of Orange in New South Wales, she moved to Longreach after marrying John Hubert Fraser Fairfax in 1899.

In 1908, the Fairfax family moved to Marinya at Cambooya on the Darling Downs where Ruth was active in the community.

She travelled extensively throughout Queensland to expand the QCWA and by 1928 she had established 283 branches with 13,000 members. Full membership was five shillings (50 cents) a year.

In 1929, Ruth travelled overseas where she studied at the Women's Institutes in England and Scotland, sharing experiences of her work for the QCWA. She was instrumental in forming the Associated Country Women of the World.

Ruth died in Sydney on February 1, 1948 but her philanthropy continued in the family with her only child Vincent establishing one of Australia's most respected funds the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.

Ruth's grandson Timothy Fairfax is the founder of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation that supports community and arts initiatives in rural, regional and remote Queensland and the Northern Territory.

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Annie joined the Gregory branch when she was pregnant with her son.

"As I wasn't working with my husband any more, I thought I might need to get to know women in the local area," she said. "At the first AGM I attended I was elected secretary and then I started to learn more about the organisation in a broader sense and not just at branch level."


What do you love about it?

"I love the friendship at local level, but also when you attend a regional meeting you get to meet women outside your area and it is so welcoming.

"I also love that the QCWA is a respected organisation that is supported by all levels of government - when we speak, they listen - and that is a very powerful tool for women - regional, remote or not.

"I really enjoy grant writing and organising events - so the QCWA gives me a powerful outlet to do this, whilst being able to contribute to my local community and value add to people's lives."


Annie Backhouse is the Vice President of the QCWA Gregory Branch near Normanton
Annie Backhouse is the Vice President of the QCWA Gregory Branch near Normanton


What are the challenges the QCWA faces?

"It certainly is challenging for the organisation and its members to respect and hold true the values and beginnings of this grand old constitution yet know that we must all move with the times and have a strong plan for the future.

"I think everyone knows we need to change, we need to develop a clear future for the organisation - yet putting that into practice can be challenging and difficult when things have been done the same way for so long."


The future of QCWA:

"With so many things taxing people's time these days, the future of many volunteer organisations is uncertain.

"I am extremely optimistic about the future of the QCWA. We have strong roots, a strong foundation and if we allow it this will keep us in good stead for the future. We need to keep in the forefront of our minds the reason for our organisation's being, for it is timeless - empowering women through friendship, advocacy and education will never change."

State president







"If you are looking for a sense of community in your home town, you will find it by joining your local QCWA branch. QCWA is the heart and soul of the community."


Addressing the Challenges - women who work

"In our heyday women didn't have jobs so they looked to QCWA for friendship, self-development, learning, opportunities and community service.

"In order to attract young members today we hold more meetings in the evenings and each branch tries to be flexible and more relevant to the next generation.

"Many of our new branches are 'night branches' established in areas with young families and we are rebuilding older branches with a modern twist. Our younger members love to be part of old branches with distinguished histories.

"We have found that our younger members want to learn traditional domestic arts, they want to be creative with food, they want to learn to knit and sew, grow their own vegetables and so on. Our older members want to learn about technology and how to be more connected on social media."



"We are a Christian-based organisation which means we do celebrate Easter and Christmas but other than that we don't preach. You don't have to be a practising Christian to join QCWA. We want to encourage all nationalities and cultures to join our association because we can all learn from each other."



"Like all not-for-profit organisations we have to keep up with government policies and compliance issues. Our constitution was created nearly 100 years ago and naturally it needs to be updated to be able to address current organisational structures and procedures. Compliance is a big issue for organisation like ours which is spread all over the state with each branch being very individual."


QCWA State President Joy Coulson - Picture: Richard Walker/RDW Photography 041017
QCWA State President Joy Coulson - Picture: Richard Walker/RDW Photography 041017 Richard Walker

Topics:  qcwa queensland country women's association

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