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Country Women's Association

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Reference: The First Fifty Years Golden Jubilee History of the South Australian Country Women’s Association

Mary WarnesMary Warnes
courtesy of SACWA Opening of the CWA Rooms in Chapel Street Burra1961
Opening of the CWA Rooms in Chapel Street Burra

In 1926, Mrs T. R. Bowman, then President of the National Council of Women in South Australia called a meeting of all country Mayoresses and wives of chairmen district councils. The CWA had been established in New South Wales since 1922, and in Queensland since 1923; Victoria had what were then called Women’s Institutes; all these were already demonstrating their value. Mrs Bowman had been asked by the National Council of Women in the eastern states to try to establish a similar movement in South Australia. She did not receive one reply to her invitation.

Undaunted, Mrs Bowman invited a number of country women known to her personally, or by reputation to afternoon tea at the Queen Adelaide Club in Adelaide. To them she explained the aims and objects of the association already operating in the eastern state. Those present said they could see what they could do in their towns. The only person who did call a meeting was Mrs I.J. Warnes of Burra. “So we Grow”, the Silver Jubilee publication of the SA CWA, tells of her this way:

“Mrs Warnes, formerly Miss Mary Fairbrother of Adelaide, had gone as a very young bride to Koomooloo Station, east of Burra, outside Goyder’s line of rainfall; a very isolated spot in the days of horse transport and no telephone. He sister married her husband’s brother, who lived at Old Koomooloo Station seven miles distant, and Mrs Warnes would often tell of the pre-arranged weekly meetings of the sisters. Each would set out from her home on a bicycle over the bush track, and at half-way point they would sit for a couple of hours, chat over a cup of tea, and then bicycle home again their various ways. Apart from infrequent trips into Burra, these weekly meetings were the only contact Mrs Warnes had with another woman. It is further recorded that on these infrequent trips to the town, Mary Warnes would sometimes go into a shop to by a yard of ribbon she did not need in order to speak to another woman. Years later, the family moved to the “inside” property of Wahroonga. Now middle-aged, Mrs Warnes thought a great deal about a means of making the life of the outback woman less isolated. She felt the women of the town could make them welcome, as she herself had never been welcomed. She felt country women should band together for mutual help. Mrs Bowman’s meeting opened her eyes to what could be done. She heard of the rest rooms that had been established in other states. This immediately became a goal: the setting in Burra of a room where country wives could rest and relax, tend the baby, make a cup of tea, meet and chat with others on that infrequent trip to town. What a contract it would be in the common experience of wives and children waiting hours after hour in a trap, or buggy, or even the spring cart, whilst the husband completed his business.


Too modest to claim the name “Country Women’s Association”, Mrs Warnes returned home and called a meeting from which the “Burra Country Women’s Service Association” was formed on 5 November 1926. Mrs Bowman was there at the hall adjoining the show office to give the benefits of her experience and knowledge. She pointed out that the National Council of Women already had as much business as it could handle, and that countrywomen needed their own organisation to represent rural interests. She stressed that CWA was non-political and non-sectarian, and that its motto was “Loyalty to the throne, through service to our country, by countrywomen, to countrywomen”.

Mrs Warnes became the first president, a position that she held for 15 years.

Mrs Warnes’ conviction was that the country would be a better place for living, a happier one for its women if they banded together to help one another to broaden their lives by bringing into them fresh interests. The Constitution of the Burra Country Women’s Service Association, adopted in December 1926, stated these aims:

To improve the welfare and conditions of life of women and children in the country.

To draw together all women, girls and children in country district.

To bring opportunities for recreation and enjoyment within the reach of all members.

To encourage the active study of local, municipal and district affairs and to promote a wide and kindly spirit.

To promote educational facilities in the country.

To secure better provisions for safe-guarding of public health, especially for children, and to help provide more adequate medical and hospital facilities for country districts.

Within days of the formation of the Service Association, a rest room was opened in rent free premise behind the stationery shop of Mr and Mrs. C D Wilkinson, open from 9am to 6 pm on week days, and to noon on Saturdays; available to any women of the district over the age of 18 years.

Mary Jane Warnes lived from 1877 to 1959.