Our History

The Evolution of the Older Women’s Network

Our Milestones

The Older Women’s Network has been a vital, strong and consistent voice for older women in NSW for more than 35 years.

We have been at the forefront of progressive change, activism and advocacy since our humble beginnings when a group of women from the NSW Combined Pensioners Association decided to do something for older women in 1985.

We have gone from strength to strength as a dynamic members-led organisation expanding throughout NSW with around 17 groups.

Over the years, OWN has developed services and resources for older women and has written and contributed to numerous influential reports on key issues for older women such as income security, homelessness, ageismwellbeing, abuse of older people and domestic violence.

We have played a big part in putting these issues at the forefront of public policy debates. Equally important is OWN’s history of friendship, mutual support and, of course, fun!

Find out more about our history in the timeline below.

Acknowledgment: Much of the information for this timeline was sourced from the late Dorothy Cora’s histories of OWN, Vision & Vitality and the history of the OWN Theatre Group Centre Stage.

  • 1985
    The first spark  
    Women marching, holding a banner with "Older Women's Network" written on it.

    1985 - 

    Women members of the Combined Pensioners Association are frustrated at the lack of attention about their concerns, especially given that two thirds of pensioners are women. They run a series of Older Women’s Workshops, especially for women on low incomes and women in public housing. 

  • 1987
    The OWN Project launches  
    1987 - A pond at Victoria Park

    1987 - 

    With the overwhelming success of the workshops, Noreen Hewett suggests they form the Older Women’s Network (OWN) Project. A planning picnic, led by founders Noreen and Linda Adamson, is held in Victoria Park Camperdown to energise the OWN Project. The diverse group includes trade unionists, feminists, Quakers, Catholic women and members of the Salvation Army.

  • 1988
    OWN Project goes to Canberra  
    1988 - A woman holding a placard in front of Parliament house, "Age is not a disease".

    1988 - 

    The OWN Project performs on the lawns outside Parliament House to highlight the invisibility of older women with funding from the Australian Women’s Weekly. The performance, attended by Labor Senators Margaret Reynolds and Pat Giles, had a big impact and two federal government grants were soon awarded to OWN.

  • 1989
    A year of rapid growth and optimism  
    1989 Woen sitting in front of a banner "Older Women, the Pacemakers"

    1989 - 

    In February, OWN sets its aims and objectives encompassing enrichment, support, advocacy and skills development.  A series of health workshops is held on healthy ageing and older female invisibility based on the Boston Women’s Health Collective’s Our Bodies, Growing Older model.  Leisure groups bloom, including Tai Chi, exercise, writing and talks. A project worker Pam […]

  • 1990
    The OWN Newsletter launches  
    1990 The Leaping Ladies (illustration of an older woman leaping over the back of another)

    1990 - 

    The OWN newsletter is launched using the ‘leaping ladies’ logo. It replaces the news sheet. The OWN Theatre Group puts older women’s issues in the spotlight in their parody Older Women Centre Stage at the Premier’s Forum Ageing: Facts, Fears and Fictions. OWN workshops expand and move to the Quakers Hall in Devonshire Street and […]

  • 1991
    A new home in the Rocks  
    1991 - A group of women, standing at the OWN office opening

    1991 - 

    OWN becomes official, incorporating in January. Noreen Hewett officially opens the OWN’s new premises in The Rocks. Her dream of a separate organisation for older women finally comes to fruition. The Theatre Group triumphantly performs ‘Just because we’re grey’. A new production, Showing Our Own Age, is performed during Seniors Week. Gwen George and Louise […]

  • 1992
    New staff and a think tank  
    1992 - A Think Tank group of women sitting on beach

    1992 - 

    A new phase begins with the employment of a part-time Development Officer, the tireless Margaret Howard. She sets up a computer system and recruits and trains volunteers. Joy Ross starts working as the Public Officer, doing everything from taking minutes to writing submissions. She works in this position for a decade. A Think Tank is […]

  • 1993
    OWN goes National  
    1993 - Group shot of theatre women

    1993 - 

    OWN goes National: a recognition of national issues affecting older women. A conference of OWN Australia is held.  An Australia Council skill development grant allows the Theatre Group to boost members’ skills and confidence. Linda Adamson is employed to run a research project on the health needs and experiences of older women, WELL-BEING: For and […]

  • 1994
    More branches open and a huge year of reports  
    1994 - Women, in traditional Greek costume, dancing at a Bankstown Greek Group event

    1994 - 

    There is more expansion with fourteen groups established in Sydney and regional NSW and an Aboriginal Study Circle set up.  The Aboriginal Study Circle organises a Gathering of Female Elders at La Perouse.  Twenty-three discussion groups are held. Five major projects are run. Thirteen submissions, papers and reports are presented/submitted and five educational talks are […]

  • 1995
    OWN’s Reconciliation efforts  
    1995 - A group of women sitting around a table of food at the Aboriginal Study Circle

    1995 - 

    The Aboriginal Study Circle (ASC) invites members of the Indigenous community to speak to them beginning with Wiradjuri women Elsie Heiss and Millie Ingram. The ASC visits The Block in Redfern to meet a Yorta Yorta woman, Betty Little, who makes a huge impression on the group.  The first Celebrate the Spirit of Reconciliation is […]

  • 1996
    Improving our advocacy  
    1996 - an older woman holding poster of 3 women with the title "You're in good company. Older Women's Network, Promoting the rights, dignity and wellbeing of older women"

    1996 - 

    A Women and Decision Making Skills project is run via OWN with a series of consultations and skill development workshops on effective advocacy. The OWN Community Festival is held in Miller’s Point Celebrating Older Women’s Creativity funded by the City of Sydney. The Theatre Group continues to wow audiences at the Community Aged Care Conference […]

  • 1997
    Members tell stories of violence  
    1997 - You can make a difference, a guide to consumer advocacy.

    1997 - 

    You Can Make a Difference: A Guide to Consumer Advocacy is published by OWN Inc. The Theatre Group tackles domestic violence in a moving performance for ‘Stop Domestic Violence Day’, based on the members’ own experiences. Betty Little becomes the first Indigenous woman to join the ASC.  The ASC assists with the Sea of Hands […]

  • 1998
    A new name: the Aboriginal Support Circle  
    1998 - The Aboriginal Support Circle commemorates the first Sorry Day at the OWN office with a prominent banner depicting Aboriginal and white women’s feet walking together with the word ‘Sorry’ blazoned across it.

    1998 - 

    Untold Stories: Voice of Older Women is published. Betty Little organises a meeting between the Aboriginal Study Circle and Indigenous women elders in Redfern but the elders stay away because they thought they were going to be ‘studied’. The ASC is therefore renamed as the Aboriginal Support Circle. The first Sorry Day is commemorated at […]

  • 1999
    A record year for the theatre group  
    1999 - A Fairies Theatre Group performer on stage wearing a fairy costume

    1999 - 

    Tell Me More: Voices of Older Women is published. It is the International Year of Older People. The Theatre Group has its busiest year ever performing a record fifty-one shows, including Fairies at Government House for International Women’s Day and, later, at Burwood Girls High School.  Noreen Hewett writes Models of Activism.

  • 2000
    Our OWN Guide to wellness  
    2000 - Older Women's Network Creative Movement Group performing

    2000 - 

    The Theatre Group performs Wow 2000!  The National OWN’s project (The Best of Times, The Worst of Times) on the disadvantages women experience in retirement is launched. The Wellness Guide: For older women, by older women by the OWN Wellness Resource Project Team is published.

  • 2001
    Two organisations, two roles  
    2001 - A table with OWN signage and publications

    2001 - 

    As OWN expands through NSW, it separates into two organisations. OWN NSW, a peak body responsible for Statewide Projects and policy development, and OWN Sydney, concerned with local government issues, wellness activities and socialising.  The newsletter On the Rocks becomes OWN Matters. A resource guide Getting Started: Growing Stronger on how to set up and […]

  • 2002
    Our right to safety at home, more branches open  
    2002 - A woman holding a placard, "What do we want? An end to violence vs women! When do we want it? NOW!"

    2002 - 

    Sydney OWN runs a successful Older Women’s Right to Safety at Home forum leading to OWN’s involvement in a committee to explore resources for older women experiencing violence and abuse.  Bankstown Wellness expands to offer 27 different activities a week, attracting a diverse membership of women from non-English speaking backgrounds. The Illawarra SilvertOWNs perform at […]

  • 2003
    OWN members speak out on national TV  
    2003 - Theatre Group members Louise Anike and Josie Jackson being interviewed on ABC TV’s Enough Rope with Andrew Denton.

    2003 - 

    OWN Theatre Group members Louise Anike and Josie Jackson appear on ABC TV’s Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, sharing their experiences of violence and abuse in an interview he described as ‘one of those that really made a difference’. The Aboriginal Support Circle with the Rona-Tranby Trust and other groups publish Steppin’ Out and Speakin’ Up, personal stories […]

  • 2004
    Over 50 and feeling fabulous  
    2004 - Two theatre group performers (Peggy & Lucy), with "Too Old? Never." written on their shorts.

    2004 - 

    Macarthur OWN’s Melody Makers group stage a huge sellout concert Women Centre Stage in Campbelltown with a cast and crew of 80 OWN members. Newcastle OWN celebrates its tenth anniversary with an event called Well, Well, Well – Over 50 and feeling fabulous.  Blacktown OWN is launched, quickly forming community links with local Indigenous and […]

  • 2005
    Blacktown Wellness launches  
    2005 - A large group of women holding hands in a large circle, line dancing

    2005 - 

    Sydney OWN forms the group, Younger Older Women, which became Jubilacion (Spanish for retirement). It was disbanded after a year. Blacktown OWN receives a grant to establish a wellness project that leads to a wide variety of wellness activities, from Tai Chi to African drumming.

  • 2006
    Our new patron: Quentin Bryce  
    2006 - New Patron Quentin Bryce on stage giving a speech.

    2006 - 

    The Governor General, Quentin Bryce, accepts an invitation to become the patron of OWN (Australia).  OWN’s model of wellness is evaluated in a study, drawing in the experiences of women attended OWN Wellness Centres. The report, Kicking Up Autumn Leaves, is launched by the NSW Governor, Marie Bashir, at Women’s College, Sydney University.

  • 2007
    A huge year for the Theatre Group & Remembering Louise Anike  
    2007 - Three members of the Theatre Group in costume

    2007 - 

    The Theatre Group has a huge year touring Central NSW by train and bus, and has performances around the Central Coast. Halycon Evans becomes the lead singer of the group. The Group performs at the all-women gathering on Women’s Day at Dalgety on the Snowy River on the theme of Passion and Power. The Theatre […]

  • 2008
    Preventing violence against older women  
    2008 - A violence against women poster being held up at a protest march.

    2008 - 

    OWN NSW Advocacy Group conducts a research project on Prevention of Violence Against Older Women.  The Sutherland OWN theatre group, DAMES (Dramatic Active Musos Entertaining Seniors), expands to a full-blown performance group with a grant from the Sutherland Shire Council. Sutherland OWN merges with the Sutherland OWN Wellness Centre.  The OWN Theatre Group performs at a […]

  • 2009
    Coniston Wellness Opens  
    2009 - A group of 9 women from the Illawarra OWN group.

    2009 - 

    Members of Illawarra OWN, including Barbara Malcolm and Thelma Prescott, open a Wellness Centre in Coniston.  Hills OWN in Baulkham Hills is set up by Maureen Gaudry from Parramatta OWN, who is now living in the area. The group offers friendship and support for members. The group disbands in 2013 due to dwindling membership.  The […]

  • 2010
    How Could They? Tackling Domestic Abuse  
    2010 - A group of specialists giving a talk on tackling abuse

    2010 - 

    OWN Coordinator, Beth Eldridge, and Elder Law specialist, Sue Field, launch a project, How Could They?, on practical measures to deal with domestic abuse. A series of five brochures is launched exploring legal and financial security issues in collaboration with the University of Western Sydney and the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.  Noreen Hewett: […]

  • 2011
    Bankstown boost, and tackling homelessness  
    2011 - Homlessness statistic projected on screen, "811,000 low income households in rental stress; 116,00 homeless every night."

    2011 - 

    Bankstown OWN sets up links with the Bankstown Wellness Centre. Northside OWN is launched and is also closely linked with Northside Wellness. The group has a strong emphasis on arts and crafts.  OWN collaborates on a project with Homelessness NSW and the St Vincent de Paul Society on the study It Could be You: female, […]

  • 2012
    Vale Noreen Hewett  
    2012 -Noreen Hewett, lifelong activist and the inspiration behind the founding of OWN

    2012 - 

    Noreen Hewett, lifelong activist and the inspiration behind the founding of OWN, passes away on April 24. She is celebrated for her passion and energy, inclusiveness and countless innovative ideas.  OWN members are invited to Admiralty House for International Women’s Day with The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. She praises OWN for their efforts on behalf of […]

  • 2013
    OWN Wellness hits the mark  
    2013 - OWN wellness class. A class instructor stands on stage showing exercise moves to the class.

    2013 - 

    Report on OWN Wellness Centres finds that they make ‘a major contribution to supporting and enhancing the health, wellbeing and social connections for hundreds of older women in NSW’. The Aboriginal Support Circle marks its 20th birthday. The Sutherland OWN Dames perform at the Illawarra Folk Festival. 

  • 2014
    Dorothy Cora records OWN’s history  
    2014 - Portrait shot of Dorothy Cora

    2014 - 

    Vision and Vitality: Celebrating 25 years of the Older Women’s Network in NSW by Dorothy Cora is launched. The two year project ensures that OWN’s work in influencing public policy and enhancing private lives does not vanish. Illawarra Wellness celebrates five busy years. Bankstown Wellness launches a Chinese Women’s Gentle Yoga Group.  It’s the end […]

  • 2015
    A new home in Newtown  
    2015 - Joy Ross giving a talk

    2015 - 

    OWN NSW headquarters relocates to Victoria Street Newtown amidst the verdant community gardens. OWN founding member, founder of the Book Club and tireless contributor for more than 20 years, the energetic Joy Ross passes away on June 15. Bankstown Greek OWN celebrates its 20th anniversary

  • 2016
    OWN and WEL join forces  
    2016 - Women's Electoral Lobby banner being held up at a march, behind a group of people..

    2016 - 

    OWN and WEL (the Women’s Electoral Lobby) present at the NSW Elder abuse Inquiry. OWN and WEL co-host a roundtable on Women and Affordable Housing. An OWN Symposium on Older Women and Violence is held at Western Sydney University.

  • 2017
    30th anniversary celebrations  
    2017 - Two women (with others sitting at tables in the background) enjoying the OWN NSW 30th Birthday Luncheon

    2017 - 

    OWN NSW celebrates 30 years at an event at State Parliament House! Wellington Wellness Centre opens. Hastings and Newcastle OWN groups close due to lack of members.

  • 2018
    The Theatre Group performs at the Edinburgh Fringe  
    2018 - Don't Knock Your Granny performers waving at the camera

    2018 - 

    Don’t Knock Your Granny is performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by The Feisty Women of Oz, topping off a momentous 30th year for the Theatre Group. Beverly Baker is the new Chair of OWN NSW, Yumi Lee is the new Office Manager and Christine Hall is the new Support Officer.  Workshops are held on […]

  • 2019
    OWN at the Royal Commission and the 25th State Conference  
    Audience members at the National Conference of the National Older Women's Network 2019

    2019 - 

    OWN presents at the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety at the Bankstown Community Forum on March 1st.   OWN NSW travels to Narrabri to take part in the Wellbeing Gathering for Older People event on June 29th.  Penrith OWN celebrates 25 years The 25th annual conference of the National Older Women’s Network is […]

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