Our Past | How the Maitland CWA helped during the floods | The Maitland Mercury

Date: 1970-01-01 00:00:00

news, local-news,

During the 1949, 1950 and 1955 floods the Maitland Branch of the Country Women’s Association responded to the needs of its community. The branch was able to provide a refuge when Maitland flooded because its hall was in a fortunate location. The spacious CWA hall in Bulwer Street, which opened in 1941 and had functioned as the Service to Soldiers Building during WWII, was in a relatively raised position and possessed an upper level. Two-storey buildings were important refuges during floods. In the 1949 flood at least 1600 Maitland homes took in water. The CWA sheltered several hundred people of all ages, in addition to their household goods and pets, and even, reportedly, a cow. Similar numbers sheltered in the hall during one of the 1950 floods. Fortunately the hall was structurally unscathed during these floods. Their 1949 and 1950 experiences made the branch ladies critical of the official flood response up to that time. At the 1950 CWA Hunter River Group Conference at Quirindi, the Maitland Branch successfully proposed a motion to request that the New South Wales Government “institute an effective automatic flood warning system on the Hunter River, so as to avoid repetition of the undesirable and conflicting reports made during the 1949-50 floods”. During the lethal 1955 flood, although the Bulwer Street hall suffered water damage, it again provided many locals with temporary shelter. When news of Maitland’s 1955 flood reached the wider CWA organisation, groups from around the country gave what they could in an outpouring of solidarity. Contributions were received from the CWA head office in Sydney and from 23 individual NSW branches including Taree, Forbes, Liverpool and Picton. Donations came from branches as far away as Dulacca (Qld), Narrikup (WA) and Natya (Vic). Money was even received from a women’s organisation in England. Some donations were monetary, others were of goods. They were funnelled through the Maitland Branch, which itself gave £410 (the equivalent of more than $14,000 in 2021) towards flood relief. Many donations were of simple items of immediate need. For example, CWA branches around the state sent new items of a personal nature such as underwear, pyjamas, nightgowns and layettes. The branches also sent used clothing and the Maitland Branch held several hand-out days to distribute them. Branch president Mrs Minnie Parish organised the distribution of hundreds of sheets, towels, blankets, pillow slips, tea towels and tablecloths. The branch purchased and handed out kitchen utensils and groceries. The Newcastle CWA Branch forwarded a hundred pairs of shoes from the Paddle Shoe Company. The Chatswood Evening Technical Handicrafts class sent many storage baskets, and 500 bottles of Zixo Bleaching Fluid were received from Cawley and Co. Many toys were donated to the branch. They were forwarded to the Crippled Children’s Maitland Committee and the Kindergarten School. The floodwaters had barely abated before the branch’s ladies were again critical of the government’s preparedness for floods. They made their opinions known. At the State CWA conference in April 1955, on the representations of the Maitland Branch, a telegram was sent to the Premier Joseph Cahill on behalf of the 1000 delegates, urging him to take immediate action at government level to remove the causes of floods and avoid further disasters. Many members also sent him individual telegrams of complaint.

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