A History of Queensland Women
More than just purveyors of baked goods or spiffy needlework, the Queensland Country Women's Association (QCWA) is a champion of women and their history. The Archives of the QCWA, based in Spring Hill, Brisbane, contain a wide variety of materials that attest to this.
Established in 1922, the QCWA took up the important work of supporting country women by improving their education opportunities, access to health services, and community engagement through recreational and social activities; aims they continue to uphold today.
This image shows a snapshot of the Archives' collection of important photographs, artwork, commemorative plaques and honour boards. In addition to such items, the Archives contain other materials, including textiles, merchandise, handicrafts, documents, furniture, flags, paintings, and much more. Established in 1963, the Archives are currently managed by Norma Lovelace, appointed in 2002.
The striking portrait inset shows Madame Henriette Mallalieu, a musician, teacher, and women's rights activist who came to Brisbane from England in 1864. The portrait is the work of Edward Friström, a Swedish-born painter and photographer who came to Brisbane in 1884 and set up a photographic studio with his brother, Oscar. A small number of examples of Friström's work are held in other state collections, however, this is the only example of a painted photograph, making it a rare item.
Blue, silver, and pride
The QCWA logo is an instantly recognisable badge that the organisation has proudly maintained for over 90 years. Designed by Mrs. Mabel Chandler of Canaga, Queensland, it was chosen as the representative symbol of the QCWA at its First Annual Conference of Country Women, held in 1923 in Toowoomba. The colours silver and royal blue were also chosen at this time. The QCWA State Archives showcase the range of applications for the logo, from badges and brooches through to crockery and tea towels.
The pinafore on the right is an example of a homemade garment designed to demonstrate affiliation and pride for the QCWA and its president, Mrs Ruth Fairfax OBE, whose photograph graces the centre of an appliquéd map of Queensland. It is executed in blue and silver on a cream calico background.
The pinafore belonged to Nancy Gregg, a QCWA member from Cambooya, a town in the Darling Downs region of Queensland. Her niece donated the pinafore to the Archives in 2003, suggesting that her aunt made it to wear to a QCWA parade. Ruth Fairfax was president from 1922-31, allowing us to date the pinafore to some time during this period.
Rest Rooms for women
These two photographs show fashionable QCWA members in the late 1920s (below), and early 1960s (above). Their clothing shows the changes in fashion across the decades between them, such as the movement of waist-lines and hem lengths. While they are all wearing variations on the day dress, the silhouettes have changed markedly, and the once compulsory hat has become optional in the more recent image. For country women, occasions to dress up were few and far between. QCWA events allowed women to take some time for themselves and perhaps show off a new, or best, dress.
These photographs show two examples of QCWA Rest Rooms openings. The top image shows a Rest Room in Nambour in the late 1950s or early 1960s; the bottom image depicts one of the first QCWA Rest Rooms being opened in Dulacca in 1927.
The QCWA endeavoured from its beginnings to advocate for the social, educational and health rights of country women. Key to this aim was the establishment of Rest Rooms throughout the state. Here, women could rest, attend to their children in private, interact with other women, and have a safe place to wait for their husbands. In time, some of these buildings were extended to provide rooms for women from remote areas to await the birth of a child, while larger towns hosted dedicated mothers' hostels. In some instances these spaces also provided accommodation for young working women, such as teachers and nurses.
Message on a tea towel
Tea towels are domestic textiles. They are functional, decorative, and gendered items associated with 'women's work' in the home. Tapping in to these associations, the QCWA has been designing and printing tea towels as a popular form of merchandise for over 50 years, many of them drawing on evocative and colourful motifs to produce visually appealing imagery. A large collection of contemporary and vintage examples are now held in the QCWA Archives, reflecting the important and necessary fundraising efforts of its members.
The first QCWA tea towel was printed in 1959 to raise funds for the second iteration of Ruth Fairfax House, built in the early 1960s on land purchased on Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill in 1953. An example of one of these tea towels can be seen on the left, with the Conrad Gargett design for the building featured prominently in the centre.
Other tea towel designs draw on local flora and fauna for Queensland appropriate imagery. The tea towel to the far right, designed by QCWA Rockhampton member Phyl Hamilton in the 1970s, includes Howard Arnold's poem 'My Creed', which had a special meaning for Ruth Fairfax OBE, and subsequently the entire QCWA.
All hands together
The Millennium Cloth is a significant example of handcraft work, designed and made by the QCWA State Handcraft Committee, in 2000-01. It is a large cloth made up of 54 squares (9 long by 6 wide) of two types of needlework; surface embroidery and Hardanger work. Each individual square features different designs and patterns. The surface embroidery squares are colourful renditions of native flowers, while the Handanger squares feature a variety of techniques. The overall effect is spectacular.
The cloth was made specifically to cover the official table at State Conferences. It was a collaborative effort between QCWA members and branches, who worked together on everything from the acquisition of the fabric, to the design and handcraft work itself (done by women throughout the state), to the final joining and finishing of the squares. Hundreds of hours of work went in to the completion of the cloth, which is an impressive example of women's handcraft practices.
This significant textile is a treasured item of the QCWA Archives that showcases the breadth of talent among its own members and the spirit of collaboration within the organisation.
Snapshots through time
This collection of photographs spans several decades, from the 1920s through to the 1970s, and presents a snapshot of the stylish range of women who have contributed to the life of the QCWA.
The earliest photograph, on the top right, shows QCWA State Council members in 1928, including State President Mrs Ruth Fairfax. The majority of women in this photograph are sporting short cropped hair, the fashionable haircut of the era. Beneath this image, a young woman is captured during a stay at Ruth Fairfax house in the 1960s wearing a plaid cotton day dress with wide portrait collar.
In the middle, above and below, are photographs capturing events from 1972, which marked the Golden Jubilee of the QCWA. In the top middle is the 'Best Dressed Woman in Wool' 1972, Mrs Marea Walsh. She made the wool and faux fur trimmed coat she is wearing, accessorised with patent leather knee high boots, gloves and handbag. Beneath her is Mrs Audrey Betts, QCWA Country Woman of the Year, 1972, dressed in an evening gown and sash.
To the far left, the top image shows QCWA state representatives with Aroti Dutt, renowned international social worker, and World President of the Associated Countrywomen of the World, in 1970. Her sari contrasts with the pretty frocks and hats surrounding her.
Finally, beneath this image is a group of 'Younger Setters' photographed in Brisbane in 1959. Younger Sets were the young women members of the QCWA who had their own identity, events, and activities to encourage new generations of women to be involved in the organisation. Their fashion choices show young women at a time before drastic changes impacted youth wear in the 1960s, just around the corner.
Published in Issue 10, on March 11, 2014.