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Hunter Valley Branch

A view of the city of Newcastle looking up from the foreshore to the Hill which is the highest point overlooking the city, the foreshore, the ocean and many surrounding areas.
A view taken of the harbour from near Nobbys
Breakwater which guards the entrance to the Hunter River from the southern side

Our Hunter Valley Branch of AFGW is celebrating fifty-three years since its formation in 1960. We continue to meet each month for dinner at which we have a guest speaker. These dinners are held on the fourth Wednesday of the month except for December and January.

Our aims: To continue to maintain a warm and inclusive group for women graduates to join, to foster friendships and as part of AFGW, to support projects for the education of women both in Australia and internationally.

Dinner Speakers in 2012
Our dinner speakers over the past year have, as always, spoken to us on a wide variety of interesting and engaging topics.

In March, Professor Caroline McMillen, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, held her audience captive as she described, with humour, her career path from Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Newcastle, NSW. She expressed her high hopes for the future of the University, citing its solid foundation in research and its forging of a in the building of a strong relationship with regional community.

In May, David Peterson, the manager of Wallsend Community Nursery, raised our awareness of the ‘new look’ nursery that is under the umbrella of Lifestyle Solutions. Social Enterprises trains young people with disabilities, with the goal of training employees for jobs in the workforce.

Dr Alison Hamilton was our guest speaker in August, and presented us with a rich tapestry of her fifty years of experience as an obstetrician, gynaecologist and palliative care specialist in countries around the world, including England, Nigeria and Australia. She outlined her work with sexual health issues in third world countries; and currently in the training of incoming medical students; and her involvement in palliative care concerns in Australia.

In September, poet, Brenda Bryant, entertained us with readings of her own poetry compositions and humorous recollections of her life experiences. She writes a poem a day, ‘to keep her life in order’, and, as a school student, wrote all her lesson notes as poems: she could easily memorise the poems and thus remember the facts – and she gave us a wonderful example of a poem full of architectural terms and descriptions.

In October, Belinda Betts, Director of the Newcastle Museum, chose as her topic, ’Women and Museums: education and democracy’. She spoke about the important role of museums as a place of education that gives an insight into our world, our past, and even our future. It’s a fun place to learn and we’re all aware of how well we learn when it’s combined with fun: ‘an education is a powerful thing’

In November, Our speaker was Jenny Pickering and and she and a dancing student entertained us with, ‘An Intimate Evening with Jenny Pickering’ – a surprise Christmas presentation and performance.  It was most enjoyable and a very fitting way to end our year.

Guest Speakers in 2013
For our first Dinner Meeting in February this year, our speaker was Pamela Whalan. Pamela is President of Newcastle Branch of Jane Austen Society, and an accomplished   speaker to whom we could have listened with interest and delight for longer. She noted that with only six novels, Jane Austen has inspired societies all over the world dedicated to celebrating her works. Pamela conceded that Colin Firth, playing the role of Darcy in ‘that scene’ (emerging with sodden shirt from the water) in the BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”, may have increased interest in that novel. However, all Austen’s novels can be read in many ways and appreciation changes as the reader’s experience of life changes. Each of the novels deserves and rewards re-reading. One reading may view the novel as romantic fluff, another as a shrewd examination of the institution of marriage in Austen’s era. Pamela used a range of Austen’s characters to demonstrate women’s roles and expectations in society of early 1800s

Ricki Schwarzler, our March Speaker, spoke about the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education Summer School Program called ‘The Oxford Experience’. Her enthusiastic, enriching presentation described her six Summer Schools at Christ College, Oxford, as amazing, addictive experiences. We could see what she meant as the members of the group viewed and listened with a great deal of interest and some vicarious envy. ‘The Oxford Experience’ brochures were collected for those who were not able to attend the meeting. They will be available at this month’s dinner meeting, or can be sent to those interested but unable to attend.

Cathy Burgess, our April Speaker, described the various programmes available to individuals who wanted to enrol in university courses without the usual formal education:  Open Foundation – entry for mature age students, 20 years and over;  Newstep – those who come from school without the necessary university ATAR;  Yapug – for indigenous students;  International Foundation – for international students;  Language Centre – English language skills for foreign students.  Short bridging courses and refresher courses are also available. There are difficult issues confronting teachers in this area: varied educational backgrounds of students, ages ranging from 20-50 years, establishing a link between new knowledge and students’ background experiences. The programme began in 1974, with 80 students, and the UoN became the leader of enabling education in the country.  In 2013, 1390 enabling students won positions for an undergraduate degree at the University.

Membership: Each year, members are encouraged to bring along potential members to any meeting, but the August meeting is seen as our Friendship Night and we particularly stress its importance. Most of our new members have come to the group through introduction by a member. We have had two to three new AFGW members each year over several years. We feel that meeting for dinners each month is central to the development of close relationships and the active functioning of our Branch.

We marked the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Hunter Branch of AFUW (now AFGW) with a celebratory dinner in November 2010.

Photos below taken at the 50th birthday, in November 2010, of the Hunter Valley Branch of AFGW at which we also celebrated the earlier awarding of Member Emerita, to Gaynor Reeves, for her commitment and involvement in many aspects and positions in AFUW-NSW over those 50 years. The Award had been presented to Gaynor at the September AFGW-NSW Annual Meeting by the then President of AFGW-NSW, Jane Baker.

L to R: Gaynor, Catherine Davies, then President of AFGW-NSW, Jane Baker, then National President AFGW, and Joan Smith, Our Branch’s Representative on the NSW Central Committee.

Our Branch’s Book Club

Hunter Valley AFGW members formed a book group in 2002 and it is happily progressing into its 12th year with about 9 of our Branch members taking part. We meet on the 2nd Wednesday night each month and derive a lot of satisfaction from participating in some lively discussions. Part of the challenge and reward of belonging to a book club is, of course, reading books which we might not normally include in our personal choice. It also strengthens our friendships.

Titles of books read in the last part of 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley’, by P.D. James, was the book discussed at our August meeting. Having read ’Pride and Prejudice’, we were of the opinion this book didn’t quite ‘make it’, though there was a lively discussion on why P.D.James had chosen to write it.

Our book for discussion in September, was, ’Prodigal Summer’, by Barbara Kingslover.  This book celebrates prodigal nature and the prodigal spirit of human nature. Set in Appalachia during one humid summer, three stories are woven together as the characters face their own challenges.

Our choice in October, was, ‘The Glass Room’, by Simon Mawer. Members discussed the role that the wonderful architectural design had on the lives of the characters.

As November was our last meeting, we ended the year as we usually do, with a movie. Having read, ‘A Game of Thrones’ earlier, we watched the acclaimed film on DVD – and enjoyed a Christmas-themed supper at interval.

Book Club Titles for 2013
The first book of the year was ‘By the Book’ by Romona Koval. She asks what is it about books that make us love reading so much, and how do books make our lives richer.
She goes through the where, the when and the how, the many authors she has read and loved, have come into her life. Her reading covers many wide-ranging areas from ‘Oliver Sachs to Oscar Wilde.’ It is about poetry and falling in love and an unexpected interest in Arctic Exploration. Many members were astonished by the size and variety of books in her catalogue.

In MarchThe Suspect” by Michael Rowbotham was the book discussed.  In this, his first novel, his hero is Joe O’Loughlin, a Psychologist. Rowbotham’s use of first person and present tense gives a great immediacy to what is happening. The plot is fast-moving, beautifully crafted and full of suspense. Although he keeps a tight hold on things as he moves the plot along, members thought the details of person and place exceptional, as they were taken cleverly and unflaggingly to the unexpected and gripping finale.

In April, Our book was a graphic Novel “Blue by Pat Grant. It generated much discussion as most of the members had little experience of reading this genre. It is a handsome book and the author deals with a number of common societal issues in communities. Beach Culture in a small town setting is represented, illustrated beautifully with the author’s drawings. It certainly broadened our reading.

Our May book club meeting was an animated discussion of ‘Daughter of Persia’, the Autobiography by Sattareh Farman Farmaian, born in Iran in 1921, who grew up in the harem of a prince in Tehran, travelled alone to America to study and returned to Tehran to set up the first School of Social Work in Iran. With the help of her aristocratic friends and influential extended family, she accomplished amazing improvements in the lives of the most impoverished, isolated and disadvantaged in far flung areas of Iran – only to be denounced as a counter-revolutionary in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Facing possible execution, she managed to flee to the United States, where she returned to social work. She died aged ninety in Los Angeles in May 2012.

Hunter Valley Branch Newsletter:

The Branch Newsletter is sent to all members each month. It is also sent to the Executive members of AFGW-NSW. It provides details of that month’s Guest Speaker and Guest Speakers for the next couple of months. It is also used to highlight wider AFGW-IFUW issues. Any members from other AFGW branches who would like to attend one of our meetings will always be made very welcome

Hunter Valley Awards 2012 Academic Year
The Huldah Turner Prize for Mathematics
This prize is awarded annually to the student with the best performance in Level 3000 Mathematics by a woman undergraduate. Unfortunately not awarded this year, but we hope to reinstate it next year.

The Margaret Auchmuty Prize for Education This prize is awarded annually to the female student enrolled in a double degree course within the Faculty of Education in Year 4. This year there were joint winners: Kim Maher and Brianna Pearson.

We also support three East Timorese girls in their senior years of secondary school. They are chosen, according to specified criteria, by the Principal of St Joseph’s College in Dili – awarded to girls who show commitment and ability and who may not otherwise complete their schooling due to financial constraints.

University Book Fair: Biennially, the Friends of the University of Newcastle conduct a Book Fair over two weekends and on the weekdays in between. It has been a tradition that the members of our branch of AFGW prepare morning and afternoon teas as well as lunch for the volunteers who work on the Book Fair on both weekends.
Over the past two Book Fairs we have been able to make a good profit which we put towards our educational commitments. Our continuing involvement is, in not only providing food for the volunteers, but we have also added variety to the foods available to the public, including the very popular egg and bacon rolls, sandwiches, coffee and tea and soft drinks. This has increased our profit so that we haven’t needed to arrange other fund-raising activities to continue with our commitments to the East Timor students and our other annual commitments.


President: Valerie Shevels, E:
Secretary: Julianne Harris
Treasurer: Suzanne Johnson
Postal Address:
79 Dawson Street, Cooks Hill 2300 NSW
Phone: 02 4929 6295