CWA Conference: Key Addresses from the Patron and Layne Beachley

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Around 800 delegates, members of the Country Women’s Association of NSW, met at Royal Randwick, Sydney from Monday 2nd May – Thursday 5th May 2022 for the 100th Annual General Meeting and conference. The theme of the event was “Celebrating and embracing diversity in our centenary year”.

Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, Governor of New South Wales and the patron of CWA of NSW, opened the event.

The Governor commended the CWA of NSW for its centenary and achievements since 1922. She said the original aim of the CWA was “Improving conditions of the woman on the land”, and the only change over the years has been a shift in language and the addition of one word, “children”. The mission of the organisation today is to “Improve conditions for country women and children”.

Her Excellency went on to say that while it’s important to celebrate the achievements of the past, an occasion like a centenary provides “an occasion for deeper reflection and analysis and understanding of what has changed and why, with a clear eye to the future to what might, and what should, change.”

Her Excellency identified demographic changes in the NSW population: in 1922 the majority of Australians lived in the regions, now the vast majority live in metropolitan areas. Looking at the 2016 Census results, 37 per cent of people living in NSW have one or both parents who were born overseas, the top religious affiliation, at 25.1 per cent, was “No religion”, 23.8 per cent of households in NSW are headed by a single parent. Her Excellency asked the CWA of NSW to consider demographic data in terms of setting its future direction, and commended the organisation for recognising this need as reflected in the theme of the AGM and conference.

The keynote speaker was Layne Beachley, AO. Layne is renowned for her surfing prowess, winning six consecutive world titles between 1998 and 2003. Layne went on to win a seventh world title in 2006 before retiring after the Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour in 2008.

Layne spoke about the discrimination she faced in the sport, and her struggles and determination to be the best female surfer in the world.

One of the obstacles Layne overcame was her desire to be the best: she once thought that coming second was akin to failure. Layne learned that celebration of achievement is important, and recommended that the CWA of NSW stop and celebrate its achievements, such as the establishment of baby health care centres, funding bush nurses, building and staffing maternity wards, hospitals, schools, and rest homes.

Layne spoke of the need to adapt to change, and by way of example spoke about Mr Thomas Bach, the former head of the International Olympic Committee, who said “Change or be changed” and the way in which the Olympic Games have recently changed to embrace sports that attract younger people such as surfing, snowboarding, and skateboarding.

Layne shared that in the past she had a fixed mind-set, which is when we think that we know how to do things, that we have all the answers, and become fixed to the way things have always been done, and keep referring back to the past to justify the choices we make, and blame others when things don’t go our way.

“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned throughout my life, it’s that it’s choice, not chance that determines our destiny. You can’t change until you are willing to look at what’s not working. You can’t change what you can’t see, and I recognised that by coming number two in the world and how it made me feel, that bitter disappointment, that anger and frustration, I had an opportunity. I had an opportunity to either change, adapt, or as Darwinian theory goes, die. I was going to become irrelevant very quickly.

“There was a lot of talk about retirement. There was a new breed coming through, but I’d only been on tour for five years and I was almost considered a veteran by that stage, but I had to recognise that things weren’t working, so I thought, “What am I going to do? Am I to keep blaming everyone for my misfortune, or am I going to do something about it and take responsibility for it?” Layne said.

Layne recognised that one of her fundamental flaws was that she had taught herself how to surf and had poor technique, in fact she “surfed like a crab”. So she took the courageous step of parking her ego and found a surf coach who could teach her the correct techniques.

“Now, if you are this close to achieving your dream, your ultimate goal, almost an obsession in my case, how willing are you to trust in someone else to advise you that what you are doing is flawed? And then, how willing are you to let go of everything you know and start again? My desire to achieve, far outweighed my fear of failure, so therefore I was willing to trust a man that I’d only known for a weekend to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.”

But start again she did, and after relearning surfing and overcoming chronic fatigue syndrome, Layne went on to win multiple world titles.

Summing up her life lesson and its potential implication for the CWA of NSW, Layne said “Winning doesn’t have to be at all cost, the way that we did it yesterday doesn’t have to be the way we do it tomorrow. We can change the way that we do things if we are willing to shine the light on things that are working and aren’t working, and embrace the opportunity to change how we do things so that we can learn from those experiences.

“As I said at the start, with change comes a sense of loss, but if we focus predominantly on the loss then we’re not focussing on what we’re actually learning… Now I know that when I’m not winning, I’m not losing: I’m learning,” Layne said.

Layne’s address was enthusiastically received, and she was heartily thanked for sharing her wisdom and life experiences.

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