History

The NFAW had its genesis in the life of Pamela Denoon (1942–1988), a campaigner for women’s rights and National Coordinator of the Women’s Electoral Lobby1982–1984, and a group of dedicated feminists who looked to establish a durable body to administer funds to promote the ideas and policies of the women’s movement into the future. By the time of Pamela’s death in September 1988, the idea of the NFAW—as a body focusing on research, policy formation and communication—had been formed, and it was set up with $50,000 bequested by Pamela, with a further $50,000 dedicated to the Pamela Denoon Trust for special projects. The NFAW was officially launched in Canberra on 1 July 1989.

Purpose

The NFAW’s founders envisaged a feminist organisation that would be independent of party politics and able to function in a broadly based way forming partnerships with other women’s organisations.

From its inception NFAW has had two major purposes:

  • Ensuring that the aims and ideals of the women’s movement and its collective wisdom are handed on to new generations of women
  • Advancing and protecting the interests of Australian women in all spheres, including intellectual, cultural, political, social, economic, legal, industrial and domestic.

These are set out more fully in Clause 1 of the Constitution of NFAW Ltd.

Founding Sponsors of NFAW

Diane Bell  Eva Cox  Virginia Dowd  Elizabeth Evatt  Barbara Flick
Rhonda Galbally  Margaret Guilfoyle  Jill Hickson  Elizabeth Jolly  Eva Learner
The Hon Dame Roma Mitchell  Ann Morrow  Anne O’Byrne  Elizabeth Reid  Edna Ryan
Kaye Schofield  Kerry Schott  Judy Small  Ann Symonds  Pat Turner  Margaret Whitlam  Judith Wright

The story so far Julia Ryan

1988 was a time when many Australian feminists were thinking about whither the women’s movement? New initiatives and structures were germinating as the first group of second wave feminists realised they were growing much older and concerned about the survival of feminist ideas. Four women whose paths crossed in an airport lounge began talking about their roots in the women’s movement and their need for an assurance that the gains of the past twenty years would not be lost in the hard times approaching.

They decided to spend some weekend time talking with other feminists about possibilities, about their place in the women’s movement and how feminist ideas could move forward.

These meetings of women with definite views crackled with energy as they had to relearn the old consciousness raising techniques of listening to each other. The meetings were held in Sydney but also attended by women from Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT. They commissioned each other to speak about what was happening to as many Australian feminists as possible.

In Canberra some women were considering the practicalities of organising feminist bequest funds. This concern had arisen from the recent establishment of a foundation to administer a prize for an essay on a women’s studies theme, from funds left in Australia by Beryl Henderson and several enquiries from women who were considering how to bequeath money to the feminist cause.

Beryl Henderson Foundation members were aware that the future of their foundation depended heavily on the goodwill and durability of individuals. The idea of establishing a durable body which could administer funds in a secure way to promote the ideas and policies of the women’s movement into the far future began to develop.

This idea grew rapidly when Pamela Denoon approached Beryl Henderson members about a large bequest she intended leaving to the cause of feminism. At this point the group meeting in Sydney to discuss the future of the women’s movement and the Canberra bequest fund group merged and, by the time of Pamela Denoon’s death in September 1988, had hammered out the idea of the National Foundation for Australian Women, focusing on research, policy formation and communication, to be set up with half of Pamela’s bequest.

The following nine months were occupied by extraordinary activity.

Monthly meetings of what came to be known as the Interim Board were held in turn at weekends in Sydney, Canberra and the Wollongong region. The rudiments of an office were set up in Canberra and the Interim Board broke into subgroups to organise the myriad tasks associated with the public launching of the Foundation. Prominent women were approached to sponsor the new organisation. A comprehensive mailing list, compiled from women’s networks and personal address books from all over Australia was begun.

Discussion papers were prepared on the first year’s work program for the Foundation, the need for the widest possible representation on the board of such a body and the management of funds. Consideration was given to other women’s movement initiatives of the time, in particular the Victorian Women’s Trust and the idea of a women’s peak council and the Interim Board decided that the proposed Foumdation differed substantially in aims, an opinion shared by consultation with the VW Trust.

A legal subcommittee explored the possibilities of organisational structure, bearing in mind the contradictions between the openness required of a women’s movement organisation and the needs of ‘waterproofing’ to prevent feminist funds falling into anti-feminist hands. After much discussion the Interim Board decided to proceed with a two-tiered structure with a small company managing the funds and a large association propagating the feminist cause.

The National Foundation for Australian Women was launched at the National Press Club in Canberra on 1 July 1989. with members of the Interim Board explaining the aims and proposed organisation and a symbolic ‘passing of the torch’ from an old to a young feminist. A series of mini-launches in all states and territories and some regional areas within states were held in the following six months. The launches attracted much interest and many members. As expected, discussion focused on the contradictions between the openness of a mass organisation and the need to protect women’s funds. An unexpected but welcome element in the membership consisted of women who had never before been involved in the women’s movement.

The Interim Board continued to run the Foundation until the election.
Results for Association, committee and board members were announced in June 1990.

Realising the need to continue momentum in this period the Interim Board embarked on several Year One projects. The Broadside newsletter began publication, a childcare policy research project commenced and a National Women’s Conference set for September 1990. At the same time the Pamela Denoon Lecture took place for the second year in Canberra. This lecture was set up by a group of Pamela’s friends and supported by the Denoon family. Intense lobbying gained tax deductibility status for donations to NFAW funds. Two women’s funds which had become dormant were passed on to the Foundation.

Association groups met in several cities to consider their role in the Foundation: the Canberra group decided to put their energy into organising the Conference. During this period a lively debate on the structure of the organisation ensued among Association members and the Foundation discovered some of the difficulties in conducting such a debate within a national body.

With some relief, in June 1990 the Interim Board handed over responsibility for running the Foundation to the Governing Body, comprising the Board of the Company and the Committee of the Association.

This National Women’s Conference was at first envisaged as a kind of follow on from the Women and Labour conferences, so popular with the women’s movement from 1978 to 1984. Of course they cannot be reproduced but it is hoped that some of the enthusiasm and positive feelings can be recaptured.

The Conference was also one way of consulting with Australian women about their ideas for a feminist future. From the matters discussed, the papers produced and the activities presented the Foundation gleaned some idea of the direction in which Australian women wished to proceed.