QCWA: Fresh faces bring new future

President of Brisbane City Nights Branch Nikki Verrall (front) with Brisbane City Nights Branch Vice President Rachael Hartikainen and QCWA State President Joy Coulson - Picture: Richard Walker/RDW Photography 041017
President of Brisbane City Nights Branch Nikki Verrall (front) with Brisbane City Nights Branch Vice President Rachael Hartikainen and QCWA State President Joy Coulson - Picture: Richard Walker/RDW Photography 041017 Richard Walker

MEET the future of the Queensland Country Women's Association. They are young, smart professional women who live in rural, remote and urban Queensland. They embrace community service, personal development and retro domestic arts.

This year brings the QCWA's 95th anniversary and the organisation's state executive board is under no illusion about where the future lies. It depends squarely on young women taking up the mantle - a mantle prepared lovingly by generations of women before them.

In its heyday the QCWA boasted more than 20,000 members making it one of the state's most influential and respected organisations. But natural attrition of up to 1000 per year reduced membership to 4000 in 2016.

A potential crisis was averted in the nick of time. Hundreds of happy, enthusiastic 20-40-somethings are demonstrating how to put a modern spin on this much-loved organisation. It's their hard work that will take the QCWA into its 100th year and beyond.

Poles apart







When architect Nikki Verrall moved from her home in Darwin to Mackay, she didn't know anyone. Having grown up with cooking, crafts and community she decided to join the local QCWA branch and see what it was like.

"Suddenly I had all these amazing surrogate aunts and grandmothers," she said. "It was good to have support in the community outside of work.

"You're missing out on a lot if you don't have an older person in your life. You're missing out on knowledge and memories from yesteryear."

Nikki said the friendships and personal development are highlights of the organisation for her.

"As a business owner I have found the QCWA is also great for networking. I have met so many interesting people at the state conference and regional meetings. It takes you outside your bubble," she said.

Nikki said the organisation was not just about "old ladies and cooking".

"Sure some of us love to cook but we do so much more than that including fundraising, workshops, lectures, training and we participate in a variety of community events," she said.


Nikki Verrall, president of QCWA Brisbane City Nights branch
Nikki Verrall, president of QCWA Brisbane City Nights branch Mark Norman

Embrace changes







As an employee of the QCWA's state office in Brisbane, Rachael decided to join her local branch and experience the organisation from a member's perspective as well.

"I had also wanted to learn more craft skills because I never had anyone to teach me," she said. "Our branch offers a variety of arts and crafts workshops and I am now more inspired and more confident to have a go at new things."

She said what she loved about the QCWA was the people in the organisation.

"There's always something to look forward to whether it's a tour of state library, a guest speaker or a workshop we always learn something new," Rachael said.

She said one challenge that faced the QCWA was that the organisation could be resistant to change.

"But change is inevitable and there are lots of young members offering skills and suggestions about how to manage the transition and embrace new technology - we just need to be heard," Rachael said.

"QCWA's original focus was supporting women and children and I think it sometimes loses that focus as it tries to tackle broader issues. I would like to see QCWA commit to its values, mission and goals rather than try to be all things to all people."


Vice President of Brisbane City Nights QCWA branch Rachael Hartikainen.
Vice President of Brisbane City Nights QCWA branch Rachael Hartikainen. Richard Walker

Young gun







Traditional handicrafts are back in fashion and like many millennials Arielle Simpson was keen to learn. She joined her local QCWA branch as a "young leader" which is a group for members aged 10-25. She forged wonderful friendships and has learnt life and leadership skills.

"I love the opportunity to meet amazing young women across the state," Arielle said.

"Our annual camp in particular has been a fantastic source of connection. I have learnt lots of practical skills through Young Leaders such as cooking, sewing, bookkeeping and chairing meetings - all invaluable as I continue to gain independence and build my career."

Arielle said one of the biggest challenges for the organisation was engaging more young women and increasing membership numbers.

"There is a growing need for community and personal connection in this increasingly technological world and QCWA provides the opportunity for women across Queensland to come together in genuine friendship," she said.

"The skills learnt through the organisation, from cooking to handicraft to executive procedure, are essential to thrive in this modern, fast-paced world."


QCWA's State Young Leader Arielle Simpson
QCWA's State Young Leader Arielle Simpson


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