When friendships forged by bushfire get sewing

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Sewing for injured wildlife, from left, Melita Benson, Nicole Lyons, Adela Greenbaum, Sue Power and Susan Westcombe.

Country Women’s Association members from Queanbeyan who joined a global crafting effort sewing pouches for bushfire orphaned wildlife, say the experience has left them eager to offer even more practical help in the community.

ARMED with sewing machines, needles and thread and plates loaded with goodies, Melita Benson hatched a plan one Saturday morning in January.

Watching footage of animals ravaged by the fierce bushfires, the Queanbeyan CWA Evening Branch member and unapologetic animal lover, organised a sew-in at her home.

Members eager to help, gathered to trace patterns, cut fabric and stitch pouches for injured and orphaned joeys.

The pouches were made to cuddle and comfort young marsupials that lost their mothers in the fires that raged across the country.

“I felt so helpless about everything that was going on, it was breaking my heart and I felt I needed to do something practical,” Benson explained.

A staggering one billion animals are estimated to have perished and many marsupials were left orphaned or homeless. 

Fortunately, some of these tiny, furry creatures had a chance thanks to legions of volunteers, at home and across the globe, who gathered in homes and halls sewing pouches for injured wildlife.

“It was such a great experience,” Benson said.

“We had expert sewers manning the machines, we had non-sewers cutting out bed sheets, we had people ironing, we had people who donated material and lots of other people donating lots of lovely yummies to keep us going.”

After hours of ferocious sewing, the pouches – made in different sizes – were bundled up and sent to animal shelters in Cooma, Braidwood and the south coast.

Days later, Benson had her own brush with emergency when the Beard fire roared within 300 metres of the front doorstep of her Crestwood home.

“We were evacuated… it was really scary,” she said.

“Most of us who gathered to sew in January had our own personal experiences with the fires, we have all been affected and each one of us has a story.”

Just like club president Susan Westcombe, who joined CWA 12 years ago. 

“I was down the coast when the fires started,” Westcombe said.

“We had to be evacuated from Tomakin, we drove to Ulladulla and we had to spend the night in the car at Mollymook because the highway was closed, it was a frightening time.

“Being able to come together and sew and knowing that something we made went out to local wildlife carers felt really good.”

A sentiment echoed by dressmaker, Adela Greenbaum, a new member of the Queanbeyan branch.

“I was overseas in Canada visiting family during Christmas and New Year and so I was seeing the news reports of the fires and the damage,” Greenbaum said.

“As soon as I got back to Australia, I really wanted to pitch in, it was good to be able to do something constructive to help.

“I think a lot of us are now very interested in finding out about other causes in the community that we can provide more practical assistance, whether that be wildlife products or something for those in the community that aren’t doing as well.” 

Club secretary Nicole Lyons helped defend her family’s home in Batemans Bay, the day the flames ripped through Catalina.

“It was so confronting, the adrenalin was pumping,” she said.

“It was like a war zone down there, it was horrific. There were no phones, no petrol and no electricity.”

That old saying you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl rings true for many CWA members including Lyons.

“I’m a country girl, I grew up in Delegate, I went to ag college, my great grandmother was in the CWA… so I guess it has always been in my blood,” Lyons said.

The Queanbeyan CWA Evening Branch formed 10 years ago after merging with the Queanbeyan CWA Branch, which started in the late ’60s. 

The 36-member group has a strong presence in the Queanbeyan community and is known for its fundraising efforts and lobbying ability, proving the organisation is more than “tea and scones”.

“I joined CWA on the proviso I didn’t have to make a scone,” Benson giggled.

And she hasn’t. It’s evident, one thing binds these ladies together. 

“The friendship,” Benson said smiling.

“CWA has opened up so many doors to friendship for me, it really has, it’s all about making friends and contributing to the community.”

Anyone wishing to donate joey pouches or join the CWA Queanbeyan Evening Branch should email cwaqesecretary@gmail.com

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