Yvonne Jennings on the Women on Farms Gathering
Yvonne Jennings is from Swan Hill and is a member of the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Committee.
Here she talks about the gatherings, and in particular the support that the gatherings provide. She also discusses the Swan Hill Gathering.
YVONNE JENNINGS: Swan Hill's an agricultural service center, and any woman who works here in the town is part of that scene-- really part of that scene. And women have historically not gone to gatherings because, I'm not a rural woman. Yes, you are. You're a rural woman because you live out of Melbourne.
Ann Young and I went to Tallangatta to the Women on Farms Gathering there, and we were so blown away by the event. And we said, we need one for Swan Hill.
Things were pretty dreary back then. They really were. There were many empty shops in the town, and things were crook-- really crook then. We did a brainstorming, and actually it's in our scrapbook-- the 10 things that we could see needed to be done.
We looked at it 15 years later and said every one of those things, you can now give a tick to. Now, we can't claim that we did them personally-- like, setting up a shop with local produce. Other people have done that. But putting it out there, things started to happen. And there's always magic things happen after a Gathering has been in the town.
When I said something magic happens in a town after a Gathering's been there, it's because a group of people have learnt to work really well together to showcase where they live-- to start looking with different eyes at what their place is. And that's where the magic starts to happen after the Gathering goes.
I've been asked in interviews, why Women's Gathering? And I say, why not?
With the Swan Hill Women on Farms Gathering, we worked hard at pulling all women's groups in the town together to work together on this function. Business and professional women did the registration for us. Penguins-- it's a group that teaches the art of chairmanship and public speaking, so they helped with the farm women who stood up and told their stories.
It was women telling their story. And so instead of history, his-story, we had her-story of being on the land.
The Swan Hill Gathering was unique in a couple of ways. We set down as a group and talked about previous Gatherings. And our sense was that our blokes and the part the play in our lives wasn't being truly depicted.
We approached Bryce Courtenay as a keynote speaker. Now having a man as a keynote speaker at Women's Gathering did not gel with some people, but we believed it was important because we love our blacks. We work beside them. They're with us every day. They're part of it. Bryce Courtenay-- God bless him-- little bantam rooster in amongst the hens, he strutted up and down that stage. He was brilliant. He really was.
The other way Swan Hill was unique was we were the first Gathering to recognize career women. So we got Ivy to tell her story, and it's in the booklet. We got career women to do a workshop on medicinal plants. And we actually had quite a large contingent of Aboriginal women come from South Australia, because South Australia were ready to start Gatherings in South Australia too. So they were part of that. So Swan Hill-- that was a first for Swan Hill.
The Saturday night dinner was just truly inspirational. The Italian ladies group were brilliant. They sang in Italian, and brought tears to our eyes because it was a very moving, powerful thing for them to stand up and sing to an all-women group.
At the end, the Aboriginal women-- the Ngarrindjeri women from South Australia-- they were so moved. They wanted to be part of it. They stood up as a group and said, can we sing? Can we sing? And we said, yeah, of course. So up they came, and they sang hymns.
You see, those icons to you guys are so important. But to us, they were, oh bloody hell. Do we have to do this? They done it at the last one. But that is the thing with a sense of history. Don't we wish-- well, don't I wish-- that I went crazy with a camera when I was a kid and recorded what our life was really like then.
We didn't actually sit down and have a formal committee meeting and go, what's really relevant? And what means us? And all of that. It was very informal. Isabel said, oh, my son does woodwork. We'll get a mallee stump. And I said, a mallee stump? And she said, no, no, no-- It'll look good. It'll look good. Don't worry about it.
When Cath brought it in, here it was-- a mallee root sawn in half and the top had been polished. And inside the mallee root is this beautiful grain, of course, and my thoughts-- of course-- were, it is like us Mallee women. Yes, because we work so hard, because we're often outside-- knobbly on the outside, tough, resilient. But on the inside, you just chip away and have a look and great beauty-- great beauty, softness, warmth, tenderness.
The thing I gleaned from the Fourth World Congress for Rural Women was the incredible support that women give women over there. It's vital to our being as women-- to be supported when we step out. And I suspect it's why often women don't step out in leadership roles in rural communities-- because they don't feel supported and enabled.
Now, the Rural Women's Network have played a very, very important role in each of the Gatherings. They have come to the country and been part of the Gathering committee in a purely advisory role. And I can remember vividly Janet Barker sitting up at my kitchen table where we were having a Gathering meeting and saying, have you thought about multiculturalism? And we went, huh? Well, you have a strong Italian community here. What are you doing? Oh. Oh, yeah.
So she didn't say, you should have Italian women being part of this. She put it on the table. So yes, we recognized cultural diversity, and now we know what it is.
A classic quote from the Fourth International World Congress for Rural Women which says, "Nothing about us without us."
As a member of the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Committee, I look at Liza Dale and the role that she's played, and it has mirrored what the Rural Women's Network has done along the way. And there's been nothing about us without us. And, you know, maybe that's a slogan for Museum Victoria's work in this with the Heritage Group. When I said, who's going to be the keeper of the Gathering? Maybe it is Museum Victoria, because I believe they have taken their shoes off and stepped into our space with us.
Museum Victoria and the Heritage Group have woken us up to the fact that this is her-story stuff. And we need to consciously reflect on what we're doing and look after it. And that it's precious.