The Women’s Security Agricultural Production Service (WASPS) was formed by Don Shand, a grazier from Armidale, to ensure that rural food production was sustained and increased during World War 2 to feed Australians at home and troops abroad. Shand set up the initial WASPS group using female students from Armidale Teachers’ College and casual labour.
Port Macquarie Branch
Following his local success Shand travelled around NSW on a tour from Murwillumbah to Maitland promoting the scheme. He came to Port Macquarie and addressed a meeting held at the Council Chambers on 17 April 1943. It was agreed to form a local branch of the WASPS with Mrs Mary St Clair elected President and Mrs Lena Campbell appointed Secretary after consultation with the local Vegetable Growers Association. The local branch set to work quite quickly.
In October 1943, Port Macquarie hosted a women’s pea picking competition arranged by Don Shand and the Port Macquarie Vegetable Growers Association, featuring women from the Women’s Security Agricultural Production Services (WASPS) across NSW. The competition was reported in an article in the Australian Women’s Weekly. ‘Never again shall I shell a pea with nonchalance. I shall wonder whether it is a Gem or a Greenfeast, was its picker a one-hander or a two-hander, and did she leave a nice clean vine’ wrote journalist Dorothy Drain. The winner was Thelma Batchelor, aged 21 from Oberon, picking 369 pounds of peas in 8 hours. According to Thelma, if you wanted a week to pass quickly you should spend it picking peas. She received a prize of £25 for her efforts in addition to her 2/6 per bushel payment. Joan Northcott, aged 20, from Port Macquarie came second picking 338 pounds.
In June 1944, the first regional conference of the WASPS was held at Port Macquarie. At that time the Port Macquarie branch had 150 members, the largest WASPS branch in the State. The branch provided labour to 60 local growers, who transported the women forwards and backwards for their 8-hour day work. In one week alone 132 tons of peas and beans were sent to Sydney, and 200 cases of cucumbers were picked in one day by two women. Pay was 2/6 per bushel for peas and 1/6 for beans, with the average worker picking 37 to 40 bushels of peas per week and 60-80 bushels of beans.
When they weren’t working, the WASPS socialised and held fund raising events for local charities including the Hastings District Hospital. The Port Macquarie WASPS branch was disbanded in 1947 with a ‘Final Flutter’ ball held to celebrate their work. Remaining WASPS funds were eventually used to build the town clock at the corner of Horton and William Streets to commemorate the work of the Port Macquarie WASPS.