Rights, dignity and wellbeing: the Older Women’s Network

Plunging into a timeline is a great way to get to know an organisation. Over the past week I’ve been piecing together the history of OWN, the Older Women’s Network for its new website. The many achievements of the past three decades suggest their motto could be ‘getting stuff done’. It’s a spirit that’s inspired me as I have discovered more about this can do group of women in their busy and friendly office set amidst the verdant community gardens in Newtown. Each day different activities are held in the large airy room next to the office: exercise classes, book groups and writing sessions to name a few of their varied activities. Since it formed in the mid 1980s this feisty grassroots women’s group has lobbied, advocated, fought invisibility, promoted health and wellbeing and had a lot of fun and friendship along the way. This was evident in the box of photos I looked through this afternoon. The camaraderie and self help ethos shone through, although I wish more information was written on the backs of the photos! 

OWN is a diverse organisation encompassing a theatre group, wellness centres, a Greek women’s group and a long running Aboriginal Support Circle with close links with senior Indigenous women in Sydney. It has written and contributed to countless reports and research on domestic violence, housing insecurity and financial issues affecting older women. The theatre group has wowed audiences throughout NSW and even performed their show Don’t Knock Your Granny about elder abuse at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018.

OWN has nineteen groups in NSW, they all offer something a bit different depending on members’ interests, and wax and wane in numbers. During the uni break I’m taking a train trip to Coniston to meet octogenarian Barbara Malcolm, and to record her history for OWN. Going through the old newsletters, her name kept coming up as a vibrant force for older women and wellness in the Illawarra, and as a champion quilt maker. I’m looking forward to recording her story as one of the tireless, quiet achievers of OWN.