House debates

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Macarthur Electorate: Camden District Red Cross

9:23 pm

Photo of Russell MathesonRussell Matheson (Macarthur, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I recently had the great pleasure of attending the book launch of Ministering Angelsa book about the Camden District Red Cross between 1914 and 1945. Ministering Angels is written by Dr Ian Willis of the University of Wollongong and conveys the extraordinary story of conservative Camden women, who, within the confines of rural life, carried out patriotic duties during the war.

Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, an inspiring, wealthy and powerful group of Camden Edwardian women formed the Camden District Red Cross branch—the first branch in New south Wales outside of Sydney. Dr Willis's book reveals that these women of the Red Cross were portrayed as mothers and guardian angels to wounded soldiers on the battlefield. As such, Camden district volunteers were encouraged to immerse themselves in this ministering angel mythology by assisting 'their boys' serving in overseas battlefields in every possible way they could.

After reading Dr Willis's book, there is no doubt in my mind that Camden was full of devoted guardian angels. Women of the Camden District Red Cross worked selflessly and wholeheartedly from the day the branch was established on August 14, 1914. During this time, their key objective was to produce goods that would help 'their boys' serving overseas and more generally the 'old country' in their war efforts. Sewing, knitting and cooking volunteer activities were   interspersed with fundraising stalls and raffles. In the Camden branches first year, its dedicated volunteers managed to send 4,000 garments overseas and raised 2,145 pounds from individual and community donations—a huge total for those days when three pence was regarded as a worth donation. This achievement was an indication of the Camden district's women's hard work and sheer determination to make a valuable contribution to their country.

Dr Willis's powerful narration also makes an important contribution in highlighting how the Red Cross empowered Camden women to engage in patriotic endeavours at a time of national emergency and changed the landscape and history of volunteerism in the Camden district. The story that Dr Willis conveys in MinisteringAngels shines a light on the outstanding leadership roles that Camden's Edwardian women played in the Red Cross, particularly its founders Sibella and Enid Macarthur Onslow. Their leadership roles in establishing and directing the Red Cross created groundbreaking opportunities that empowered women to make meaningful contributions in supporting Australian soldiers at war, as well as the broader community during peacetime. Whilst local studies and publications such as Dr Willis's are few and far between, Ministering Angels is a timely reminder that it is possible for us all to make a meaningful contribution to a cause bigger than ourselves, no matter who we are or where we are from.

The recent publication and launch of Ministering Angels is a fitting way to commemorate the Camden Red Cross Branch's 100 years of service this year. The Red Cross was, and still is, a significant international voluntary organisation. It continues to practice charitable ideals and to organise a host of social, cultural and political activities. It is clear from reading Ministering Angelsthat the Camden Red's Cross 100 years of service has established an important legacy of women's voluntary activism in Camden. This legacy is so deeply entrenched within the Camden community that the district branch continues to thrive today.

I am proud to recognise that Camden is still blessed with many wonderful ministering angels who dedicate their time to the Red Cross cause. Camden identity, Joyce Thorn, is described by Dr Willis in the book as a person that continues to perpetuate the ministering angel mythology. Ms Thorn joined the Red Cross in 1973 and was president of the Camden branch in 1993. As a spritely 91-year-old and after 40 years in the organisation, Ms Thorn still engages in Red Cross fundraising activities. I was pleased to learn that Ms Thorn's strong commitment to serving the community was recognised in 2005, when she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Penny Love is another Red Cross volunteer who fits the ministering angel mythology. Ms Love balanced her teaching responsibilities with organising the junior Red Cross society at Camden Central for over 25 years.

I would like to commend the author of Ministering Angels, Dr Ian Willis, for documenting the experiences of the women who devoted their lives to the Red Cross cause with missionary zeal. It is an important part of Australia's history—a part that should never be forgotten. I would also like to recognise John and Julie Wrigley of the Camden Historical Society and Camden Museum for the contribution they have made to the publication and launch of Ministering Angels.

I was delighted to attend the book launch in September, and I congratulate the Camden Red Cross current coordinator, Mrs Judy Wilson, on its success. Mrs Wrigley must also be commended for her role in curating a fantastic new exhibition at Camden Museum that tells the story of the Camden District Red Cross in War and Peace. The colourful exhibition includes many photos, a spinning wheel from World War I and Red Cross recruitment posters from World War II. Dr Willis, Mrs Judy Wilson and Mr John and Mrs Julie Wrigley have all made a fantastic contribution in bringing this important part of Macarthur's' history into being and for aptly capturing the generous spirit of the Camden Red Cross Society that is still well and truly alive today. (Time expired)