There’s a lot more to the Country Women’s Association (known everywhere in Australia just as the CWA) than tea and scones. That being said, their scones are famous, and teams of CWA ladies regularly descend on Melbourne during the Royal Show to produce scones for the masses. Over the years, the various divisions of the organisation have produced a plethora of cookbooks and their country cooking has catered for hungry soldiers, weary firefighters, weddings, funerals and even film shoots. The influence of the CWA on how Australia eats cannot be underestimated.
With the objective of advancing “the rights and equity of women, families and communities in Australia through advocacy and empowerment, especially for those living in regional, rural and remote Australia”, the CWA is Australia’s largest women’s organisation. As of 2021, the national organisation claimed 17,000 members via its affiliated state bodies. This, presumably, does not include Western Australia, which opted out of the national body in 2001.
The culinary activities of the CWA owe something to the traditional role of women in the family at the time the organisation was formed. As feminist commentator Karen Pickering writes, it’s also a useful way to raise funds for worthy causes. The CWA women also catered for all kinds of local functions. For Anzac day in Bungendore, where I lived for 17 years, they took over the memorial hall to put on a spread for the veterans, who had completed a march down the main street involving a diversion into each to the town’s pubs.
Feeding the troops wasn’t a new thing. An RAAF serviceman wrote of the CWA in Quorn, South Australia, during World War II:
Someone mentioned the magic word ‘tucker’, we stumbled out of those mobile sweat boxes and stood blinking, bewildered and miserable, at the sun scorched platform…Then we saw them: wonderful, smiling sunburned faces under grey hair and wearing crisp flowered aprons. Every one of them just like our mums and offering us fabulous food…piping hot and served, not on service issue tin plates, but on white bone china. Who were these angels…?
After the war, the CWA played a key role in assembling food parcels for Britain.
The first cookbook was produced by the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales in 1930 and took the form of a calendar with a recipe per day. The recipes were contributed by members and cookbooks were sold to raise funds. Three of these calendars were produced and each year had a theme. One edition, titled Cakes and Afternoon Tea, sold 35,000 copies at two shillings each.
Over the years, many cookbooks have been produced by the various state organisations and even individual branches. In 1936, the Western Australian CWA produced The C.W.A. Cookery Book and Household Hints for the first time. It has run to 54 editions and is still in print.
The national Association produced a new cookbook in 2011 titled Country Women’s Association Classics. No doubt it contains this recipe for Show Scones:
8 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon salt
500 ml cream
750–800 ml milk
Preheat oven to 250°C and grease baking trays.
Add the cream to the sifted flour and salt with enough milk to mix to a soft dough. Roll out and cut into a decent size.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.
When cooked, brush tops and bottoms with melted butter. It removes any flour and helps to keep them nice and soft.