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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3149

Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (09:53): Mr Deputy Speaker, today I speak on the Australian Women's Land Army and their contribution to our nation as well as to my electorate of Macarthur. I was inspired to speak on this important topic by one of my lovely constituents, Mrs Beulah Midson, who was a member of the AWLA towards the end of the Second World War. Like all AWLA ex-servicewomen, Mrs Midson is extremely proud of her contributions to the war effort. She is a strong campaigner for the official recognition of the AWLA in Macarthur. On 27 July 2012 our nation will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Australian Women's Land Army. The Women's Land Army was active from 1942 to 1945 and was the first nationally coordinated land army in Australia. The Women's Land Army recruited young women, some as young as 16, from all over the nation to work the land. Their responsibility was to keep the wheels turning in our farms and our factories. They carried out a mammoth task, not just to feed our boys at war but to feed the nation as well as the allied forces stationed in the Pacific. This was especially difficult during the drought years. The Australian Women's Land Army ran efficiently and with military precision, reporting to the Director-General of Manpower. The women lived in dormitories, wore uniforms and were under close supervision of the land army matrons. They performed a wide range of manual tasks from picking fruits and vegetables to ploughing the land, operating heavy farm machinery and building irrigation systems.

The women of the land army worked hard—just as hard as any man could. In Macarthur, a contingent of land army women were stationed at Orangeville and across many dairy farms in the Camden area. The ladies at Orangeville were housed in the local church; they had to pack up their beds and belongings every Sunday morning to set up the hall for church. Kitty Kelly was the last remaining woman who served in the land army at Orangeville. She sadly passed away in January 2011.

The ladies of the Australian Women's Land Army worked tirelessly over the past 70 years to gain official recognition for the courageous service during the Second World War. They faced many hurdles, such as being allowed to march on Anzac Day and to join the Returned Services League—the RSL. Members of the Australian Women's Land Army are now able to access the Civilian Service Medal 1939-1945. Peggy Williams was a public campaigner for the recognition of the AWLA. She was one of the first recipients of the Civilian Service Medal. She is an inspiration to the many women in Macarthur who served in the AWLA. I will also take this opportunity to pay my respects to the hardworking women in New South Wales who volunteered to protect their communities during the war years through the National Emergency Service.

We as Australians owe the ladies of the Australian Women's Land Army a debt of gratitude. With the 70th anniversary of the Australian Women's Land Army fast approaching, I believe it is appropriate to honour these brave Australians. They may not have wielded a weapon or served overseas, but they kept this nation going strong. The domestic war effort rested on their shoulders and they answered the call with energy, stoicism and national pride. We should all be very proud of their contribution and devotion to our country and their efforts to keep this nation running during some of our darkest hours.