Power of women: VIEW celebrates 60 years of friendship, strength and support

Friendship and commitment: Club president Mrs Reeves (centre) with members of VIEW in the 1960s.
Friendship and commitment: Club president Mrs Reeves (centre) with members of VIEW in the 1960s.

In 1960, the head of The Smith Family had an idea for a new club he hoped would be a valuable service for Australian women.

At a time when ideas about women's roles in society were changing and the movement for greater rights was growing, the vision was a club where women from all backgrounds could come together in friendship and to share ideas and knowledge with discussions beyond the "housewife" stereotype.

The brainchild of the charity's general secretary George Forbes, this new club was to be called VIEW - which stood for Voice, Interests and Education of Women. As well as creating a network for women, Mr Forbes hoped they would be keen to devote some of their time to help the less fortunate in the community by supporting The Smith Family in its work.

The idea struck a nerve. Less than three months after an ad inviting interested women to a meeting appeared in the Manly Daily newspaper, the first VIEW Club was formed. By September, Balgowlah VIEW Club had 41 active members and within weeks there were 21 clubs across Sydney. Word spread quickly and VIEW had 1000 members by November.

Fast forward 60 years and that first club has grown into the national network, VIEW Clubs of Australia, that comprises a 15,000-strong membership of passionate women with a shared commitment - using the collective power of women to make positive change in the community, for women and families, but especially for children.

And this year that passion is in overdrive as members of the more than 300 clubs in the cities and towns of Australia mark the diamond jubilee of the much-loved organisation that remains a strong voice and support for women, as well as for The Smith Family with VIEW's exclusive support for the children's education charity.

The largest community sponsor of The Smith Family's "Learning for Life" program, which provides long-term education support for children and young people in need, VIEW has raised more than $40 million and members today sponsor more than 1400 of the program's students. They also dedicate more than 70,000 volunteer hours annually.

VIEW's 60th anniversary celebrations kicked off this week in Sydney with a reception at Government House attended by 100 members where the organisation's achievements were applauded by NSW Governor Margaret Beazley.

It was the first of many events planned as VIEW aims to harness the milestone anniversary to increase awareness about the organisation.

At the reception was VIEW's recently elected new president, Pokolbin's Anne-Louise O'Connor, a member for more than 11 years. She is overcome with pride when she tells people about VIEW and its work.

60th celebrations: (from left) VIEW national vice-president Jo Gray, The Smith Family head of state and territory operations Leonie Green, VIEW national president Anne-Louise O'Connor, The Smith Family chairman Nicholas Moore, Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley, VIEW national manager Maryanne Maher and VIEW national vice-president Beryl Pike.

60th celebrations: (from left) VIEW national vice-president Jo Gray, The Smith Family head of state and territory operations Leonie Green, VIEW national president Anne-Louise O'Connor, The Smith Family chairman Nicholas Moore, Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley, VIEW national manager Maryanne Maher and VIEW national vice-president Beryl Pike.

"It is still such a strong club," Mrs O'Connor said. "And a huge part of that strength is the passion of our members. VIEW's success is founded in the incredible friendships you make but it's really cemented by our shared sense of purpose.

"We have a lot of fun but also get so much satisfaction from making such a difference in young people's lives. There are so many wonderful success stories of children who have been through the program and gone on to achieve success in their education.

"We know what we're doing is working and education is the way to break the cycle of disadvantage."

VIEW's ability to evolve and stay relevant to today's women has allowed it to thrive. New VIEW clubs are opening around Australia to cater for the growing number of women who want to be a part of it and who spread the word wherever they go.

Lorraine Montgomery, a past national president and member for more than 20 years, joined VIEW when she retired from her career as a law clerk in Sydney and moved to Shoalhaven Heads. Today she's part of the Future of VIEW working group focused on the road ahead for the organisation.

"When I joined VIEW I just thought it would be a great way to make new friends," Mrs Montgomery said. "But I quickly found out about the strong connection with The Smith Family. That's the glue, the ability to directly make a difference in the lives of our future generation.

"Our members are our great asset. They are in their communities talking about what we do and what The Smith Family does, spreading the word wherever they go."

While VIEW has its eyes on the future and continuing to stay relevant to new generations of women, this anniversary year will also shine the light on the hard work of the members who have come before.

"Even though we celebrate what VIEW is today, we're also very much celebrating those hundreds of thousands of women who have been part of this organisation that is still going strong today," said VIEW's national manager Maryanne Maher.

Focus on education: VIEW member Clare Messiter with a Ballina Public School student.

Focus on education: VIEW member Clare Messiter with a Ballina Public School student.

"Those first VIEW members were amazing, intelligent women who wanted to come together, to make a difference and to have their voices heard. They wanted more from life and opportunities to develop and grow.

"This was at a time when women's options were very limited, they had to leave their job when they married, they weren't allowed to join service clubs, and they couldn't even go into the public bar at a hotel.

"A lot has changed but there is still this need for women to come together and connect with other women of different ages and backgrounds, with a shared purpose, and a strong collective voice to advocate for change where it's needed. That is what VIEW does."

Ms Maher said the Voice of VIEW is an important aspect of the organisation's commitment to being an advocate for social change that has been at its heart from day one.

"Through our national Resolution process, we are able to collectively identify and articulate issues that are important to the women of VIEW. For many years now, our campaign to reduce violence against women has been a high priority for our members.

"VIEW members have maintained a strong and powerful Voice for close to 60 years and we aim to continue to do so."

If you would like to join a VIEW Club near you, visit view.org.au for more information.