From Earth Hour to Women of Wool

How I put the wow in Women of Wool


Sheep
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Former Earth Hour co-founder Jacqui McArthur helped launched the hugely popular Women of Wool.

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Jacqui McArthur with her daughters Alexandra and Francesca and husband Malcolm Starritt, a past president of the ASBA.

Jacqui McArthur with her daughters Alexandra and Francesca and husband Malcolm Starritt, a past president of the ASBA.

Ever wondered just who put the wow in the Women of Wool?

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of this now signature Australian Sheep and Wool Show event it couldn't be a better time to catch up with Jacqui McArthur.

Ms McArthur, who co-founded Women of Wool (WOW) in 2009 with her friend and mentor Robyn Russell, explained it was initially devised as a drought-relief effort after she married a farmer and moved to a sheep and wheat spread in southern NSW.

“From 27th floor Sydney, I landed at ground floor Womboota in the middle of the hundred-year drought,” she recalled.

“I became a new member of a community of formidable women, living in a very difficult situation - surviving and thriving against the odds for their family and their farms.”

Putting their heads together Ms McArthur and Ms Russell determined more than anything that the women in the industry, who often hold farms together, needed a reason to laugh.

“Laugh your scarf off was the tagline for that first event,” Ms McArthur said.

“The whole thing was about getting the best Australian comedian that we could.”

Women of Wool gather for lunch. Photo by Peter Weaving

Women of Wool gather for lunch. Photo by Peter Weaving

While the idea was ambitious, Ms McArthur – the former communication manager of the World Wildlife Fund Australia - had plenty of experience of putting on large events as co-founder of Earth Hour; now the largest environmental campaign in the world with a billion participants.

So it was with the full backing of the Australian Sheep Breeders Association and support of event manager Abbie Place that the women enlisted comic Denise Scott to kick off WOW.

“She was wonderful and we were all roaring. I remember one woman in the back saying, I am 80 and I think I have cracked a rib laughing,” Ms McArthur said.

Fine dining at the Women of Wool lunch. Photo by Peter Weaving

Fine dining at the Women of Wool lunch. Photo by Peter Weaving

“The best thing was right from the start we had women of all ages. We had four generations in one family.”

Mercifully the drought ended, but WOW was such a hit it became enshrined in the ASWS program. The incredible line-up of past speakers includes then Governor-General Quentin Bryce, acclaimed designers Jenny Kee and Collette Dinnigan, Tracks author Robyn Davidson and top-flight MCs like comics Jean Kitson and Rachel Berger.

But it has been the stories told by less-known women like Jean Heywood, the principal of the Strathewen Primary School, a school razed during Victoria's devastating Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, that most resonate with many event goers.

Alexandra Gartmann, managing director of the only Australian-owned and operated agribusiness bank Rural Bank, is confirmed as MC for the event.

Alexandra Gartmann, managing director of the only Australian-owned and operated agribusiness bank Rural Bank, is confirmed as MC for the event.

This year, for the first time, Ms McArthur will experience the event entirely from the audience.

“I have stepped back to open it to new ideas and new people because I think it is important to do that with events so they can evolve,” she said.

The stellar 2018 luncheon line-up includes former Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Nancy Pilcher along with Sportscraft and SABA general manager of product Elisha Hopkinson and head of development Naomi Vestnes.

Lisa Griplas, global editor of the Woolmark Company, will facilitate panel discussions while Alexandra Gartmann, managing director of the only Auustralian-owned and operated agribusiness bank Rural Bank, is confirmed as MC.

Former Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Nancy Pilcher

Former Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Nancy Pilcher

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