End of an era for housewives

If your undies are in place you can probably thank the South Australia Division of the Australian Housewives Association. Along with free toilets, use-by dates on food and not having to marry at 12. But they’re calling it a day. ConnectPink writer Donna Kelly caught up with secretary Suzanne Deer for a natter.

For 86 years they’ve fought for women’s rights, helped new wives find their feet and even won the battle for better elastic in underwear. But, at the end of the year, the South Australian Division of the Australian Housewives Association, the last in Australia, is calling it a day. 

Numbers have dwindled to about 12, from a staggering 30,000 in the 1930s. But secretary Suzanne Deer says during her time with the association, 20 years, not one member had said “they didn’t want to come anymore”. 

The sad truth is, she says, “they’ve all died” or gone into nursing homes. “And unfortunately we can’t get the younger ones because they all have to work.” 

But Suzanne said while the last official meeting was held on Melbourne Cup Day, there was still the annual Christmas lunch to look forward to “and we’ll still meet next year, but just as friends”.

Suzanne said the association was started in 1926 with many of the women from England. It was a lobby group, and the original consumer affairs organisation for the state, with its foundation president Agnes Goode. 

Its aims, according to the publication Housewife in its April 1927 edition, were to “support, protect and raise the status and interests of the home, women and children; to promote and establish co-operation among housewives; to oppose profiteering in every practical manner; to encourage the greater use of Australian-made goods”.

Some of its earlier battles included changes to the minimum age of marriage for girls, which as late as 1927 was 12, equal rights for women in the guardianship and custody of children, equal pay for women, free milk for students, fair gas prices and the free use of toilets for women. 

“And they used to help new arrivals to the state and go out and teach new brides how to look after the home. It sounds odd now but at the time there would have been dirt floors and no garbage collection,” Suzanne said.

In later years, during Suzanne’s time, issues included food labelling – along with the addition of use-by dates and trying to get rid of guns – although this took the Port Arthur massacre to really gain traction. 

“We didn’t do too good with the pokies though. We didn’t succeed in everything but we did succeed in a lot.”

Suzanne said the association also always had speakers, although in recent years it had been reluctant to ask someone to address just 12 members. 

“We have also had some musical items but sometimes there’s more people on stage than watching. 

“But I’ll miss those.”

Suzanne said she always thought they would make their 100th celebrations, but another 14 years “was too long for my members”. 

“It’s been a good time, and it’s a bit sad, but I think we have chosen the right time. And really when we had the final meeting last Tuesday I thought that would be very sad but at the end everyone just said ‘see you next month’.

“And I’m already organising the bus trips and outings for next year. It’s just we’re doing it as friends now.”

What do you think? Have your say at www.connectpink.com.au.

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