Behind the shining young graduates who grace the Winthrop Hall stage on graduation night, there is a dedicated team of women who have made sure they look just right.
The volunteers at the Australian Federation of University Women (WA) hire out gowns and other academic regalia to raise funds for their Education Trust and to support women in education.
The volunteers are university graduates who care deeply about achieving better access to education for women.
Before each ceremony, AFUW(WA) headquarters in Park Road (behind St Catherine's College) are transformed into fitting rooms where graduands come to try on their graduation gowns, hoods or stoles of the prescribed colour.
"We take great care in choosing a gown of the correct length for each of the graduands," said Wendy McCallum, Academic Dress Convener, who is pictured at right with a graduand. "We make sure they know how to wear their hoods correctly and we always ensure the regalia is beautifully clean and pressed." Wendy says she spends many hours cleaning the silk hoods. "We send the gowns out to be dry-cleaned, but we take great trouble to clean all the hoods by hand."
Karen Bothwell, the only paid (part-time) staff member of the Association, together with up to 30 volunteers ensure that the gown hire for each graduation season runs smoothly, outfitting about 120 graduands each day.
"The Spring season is not so hard, with only four ceremonies, but the Autumn season now has ten ceremonies and that's a lot of work spread out over a much longer time and involving late hours for our helpers," said Karen.
Nevertheless Wendy and Karen agree that it is always happy work.
"And we raise money for our bursaries at the same time," Wendy said.
AFUW (WA) has a long history of providing financial support for the education of women. It awarded its first bursary in 1971. The Education Trust was established in 1992 to manage funds raised through gown hire, donations and bequests and to fund the bursaries.
The Trust has offered five postgraduate bursaries each year, worth $17,500 in total, to postgraduate women at all WA universities. The Federation also funds an annual scholarship of $3,000 for a St Catherine's College student, funds three young women from a country high school to attend a summer school at Murdoch University each year, provides financial assistance to a student studying at a regional university and has sponsored United Nations Youth Forums at WA universities. Most recently, AFUW (WA) has provided funding for three new scholarships of $2,000 for postgraduate women enrolled at Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and Notre Dame University.
AFUW (WA) has also raised money to provide new pyjamas for children whose mothers have taken them to women's refuges, donated books for women in prison, and a laptop to Trinity Church for its teenage mothers' program. Many members are currently fund-raising to help children at a preschool in Sri Lanka which was devastated by the tsunami.
"It is a great group to join," said Wendy, a former teacher, with a BA from UWA. "We're affiliated with the Australian Federation and International Federation of University Women and through this we meet some wonderful people in Perth, regional WA and from all over the world. I have stayed with Sonja in Finland and Romy in Switzerland. I correspond with Alia in Cairo and recently had breakfast with Shirley from Rwanda."
New members are always welcome to join AFUW and to become a volunteer. AFUW (WA) can be contacted at 9386 3570 or email for more information about the Association and the Education Trust. Find out more about the goals and activities of AFUW.
- This article from UWA News, 5 October 2009