BORN in 1922, Betty Wilson had no idea her life would become so entwined with an Australian institution founded in the same year.
But the paths of the Country Women's Association and Mrs Wilson have been inseparable since 1941, when a young Betty was posted to the NSW outback town of Nyngan to work in the local bank and first joined the CWA to make friends.
More than 70 years later, a sprightly Mrs Wilson is now 90, living independently in Orange and still attending monthly meetings of her local Borenore branch at its little CWA hall.
She has been a loyal member of the CWA for more than 70 years, represented her CWA branch, district and state at countless meetings, street stalls, afternoon teas and garden parties, and helped make sandwiches and knit beanies to support everything and everyone from local families in need, to victims of floods, bushfires and droughts, Pacific Island communities and the war effort.
As a bonus, it was through a CWA-organised tennis tournament in Nyngan that Mrs Wilson met her sheep farmer husband, John, whom she married in 1944.
And it was because of her long and selfless service to rural Australia and its communities, mainly through her CWA roles, that Mrs Wilson was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2003.
Despite their shared 90 years of age - and just like Mrs Wilson - the CWA is still going strong as an integral part of the social and support fabric of rural Australia.
"Regardless of its image, it's definitely about much more than tea and scones," Mrs Wilson said yesterday.
"It used to be about the women coming in from their farms and meeting in town for a cuppa and a chat while their husbands went to the (livestock) sales, but that was a long time ago; now we have speakers, talk to ambassadors and politicians and raise funds around the world."
Despite being just half the size it was in its heyday , the CWA still has more than 27,000 members nationally and branches in most country towns, and retains a key role in the ebb and flow of rural life.
It has also moved into taking a stronger interest in lobbying for better services for rural and regional women and children.
"Back then, everybody belonged to the CWA; it helped with the loneliness out in the outback areas, helped you make friends, and gave country people a voice, besides organising every social gathering that ever happened in a country town," Mrs Wilson said.
CWA state president Elaine Armstrong, who farms at Oura near Wagga Wagga, in NSW, is equally insistent the CWA is not an anachronism.
"While it's not so much about coming into town and having a cuppa and a chat, the CWA still plays that role of bringing women together to make new friends and support each other," Mrs Armstrong said.
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