Women, Care, and the Settler Nation: The Victorian Country Women’s Association, 1928

Burns, Karen

Ngā Pūtahitanga / Crossings: A Joint Conference of SAHANZ and the Australasian UHPH Group

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Care has long been a gendered attribute, frequently associated with women but rarely, until very recently, understood as an ethic and action shaping the built environment. This paper proposes using the lens of care to uncover women’s material culture contributions to the built environment. Histories that focus on the formal intersection of architecture and town planning and their professional identities can exclude women makers who, historically had to find other ways to shape built material culture. Under the rubric of care, this paper examines how women makers worked in applied art media across a range of “care” sites through the post-suffrage organisation, the Victorian branch of the Country Women’s Association (CWA). This philanthropic organisation was established in 1928 to advance the rights and care of women, children, and families in regional areas. Through exhibitions, media, touring lecturers and an affiliation with the Victorian Arts and Crafts Society, the CWA Victoria used craft and domestic material culture to democratise craft ideals and ameliorate poor environments in rural homes and towns. It fostered public health, welfare and the comfort and repair of self and communities. Through these means the organisation also provided support for the influx of new arrivals generated from the post-war rural reconstruction schemes of soldier settlement and mass migration from Britain. These larger projects allied the CWA Victoria organisation to a post-war settler identity which reanimated settler myths of land. In early twentieth-century Australia, care of the settler, built environment was gendered and racialised, an event that prompts an intersectional reassessment of the feminist model of care.