Let’s journey down to Tasmania today and have a brief look at the part that Mary Seavington Wood played in the founding of firstly, the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Tasmania, and then the Tasmanian Unit of Australian Church Women (ACW).
Beginning with a little background on Mary, before she arrived in Tasmania, we learn that she was born on 25 June 1912 to Francis and Charlotte Stuckey in Sydney, New South Wales, where she continued to live until 1938. After graduating from Sydney University, Mary became a social worker and married her Victorian fiancé, Gillam ‘Pat’ Wood, in Sydney in 1937. They had met at a student Christian Movement Conference and after their marriage, Gillam was ordained in 1938 as a Presbyterian minister. His first appointment was the Whyalla Presbyterian Church in South Australia, and so began a series of ministry appointments until 1963, when Gillam was called to Scots Presbyterian Church in Hobart, Tasmania.
Mary was a member of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, and she was always very much a leader in women’s activities and interested in ecumenism. On 1 January 1965, Revd Norman Kemp, President of the Tasmanian Council of Churches, wrote to the Interim Committee of ACW in response to an invitation for ‘someone from Tasmania’ to attend the first National Committee Meeting of Australian Church Women. This meeting was to be held in Sydney on 10 and 11 February 1965.
Revd Kemp's letter was to advise the Interim Committee that he had been awaiting a decision from Mrs Wood to consider attending the meeting, and he was now able to confirm that she would accompany her husband, Revd Gillam Wood, to Sydney. Revd Wood would attend the annual meeting of the Australian Council of Churches (ACC) two days later, also in Sydney. Revd Kemp wrote that Mrs Wood had received the good will backing of the Church women of Hobart for her attendance at this meeting, and she and her husband were both taking an active interest in ecumenical affairs and would make a valuable contribution to the life of the wider Church in Tasmania.
He concluded his reply with:
‘Mrs Wood is just the right person to represent the interests of Australian Church Women in this state.’
Mary Wood attended the 1965 Interim Committee meeting, and she was enthused by the proceedings and discussions that took place. When Mary returned to Hobart, she reported favourably on the gathering and began encouraging the Church women of Tasmania to become a part of Australian Church Women.
On 22 April 1965, Mary wrote to the secretary of the Interim Committee to advise that a meeting of denominational representatives of women’s organisations would be held on 1 May, under the auspices of the Tasmanian Council of Churches. It was hoped that a result of this meeting would be the formation of a group ‘which might become the Tasmanian Unit of A.C.W.’
Another purpose of her letter was to request a copy of the South Australian Constitution for ACW, as well as literature on the Fellowship of the Least Coin. Mary said she already had a copy of the Victorian Constitution, and she wanted to use these constitutions as guidelines for the Tasmanian ladies in the drawing up of their own constitution.
The minutes of the meeting that was subsequently held on 1 May 1965 to consider forming a Women’s Inter-Church Council (WICC) of Tasmania informs us that if the motion was accepted the Women’s Council was to be affiliated with Australian Church Women. Mary’s husband, the Revd Gillam Wood, chaired the meeting and after the motion was accepted the election of the officers took place. Revd Gillam handed the chair to the first President of the WICC of Tasmania; the new President turned out to be his wife, Mary Wood.
A draft constitution was drawn up and after minor alterations was approved by the Executive of the Tasmanian Council of Churches on 1 June 1965. The newly formed Women’s Inter-Church Council of Tasmania briefly outlined their plans for the remainder of the year in a follow-up letter to the secretary of ACW. From June until November, little correspondence seems to have occurred between the new WICC of Tasmania and Australian Church Women, as Mary Wood was on four months long service leave with her husband. They travelled to missions in South and Western Australia, as well as overseas to Korea and Indonesia.
In the October of 1965, Australian Church Women wrote to WICC Tasmania and expressed their hope that all was going well with their plans to join ACW and to invite them to send a representative to the 1966 National Committee Meeting. They also requested a copy of the Constitution of the WICC of Tasmania, and it was forwarded to the secretary along with confirmation of their desire to be a State Unit of ACW. At the next Executive Committee meeting of ACW, on 14 December 1965, the Tasmanian Constitution was approved by the Executive and official acceptance of the Council as the State Unit of ACW was sent to Tasmania.
Mary attended further meetings of the National Committee of ACW as a Tasmanian representative in 1966, '67, ’69, ‘70 and ’71; she was an apology for the 1968 meeting. Mary also served as the Fellowship of the Least Coin Convener in Tasmania during 1968-69. Another of her interests was the work of ‘Trading Partners’ – an organisation that enabled disadvantaged people of third world countries to have a market for their products in Australia.
In 1976, Mary’s husband retired from full-time ministry, and they moved to Geelong in 1977 where he was born and grew up, and later served in ministry from 1949–61. They were both active in their Church and local communities in Geelong, and Mary formed the Geelong branch of Women in the Uniting Church Fellowship.
Mary died aged 69 on 26 March 1982 in Geelong, Victoria, and predeceased her husband Gillam. In the ACW Tasmanian Unit’s tribute to Mary’s life, it was noted that she was known for her keen analytical mind and sense of humour.
Mary Wood certainly was instrumental in the founding of the Tasmanian Unit of ACW and a worthy candidate to be honoured in the National Honouring Australian Church Women Book.
Source: National Honouring Australian Church Women Book and ACW National Correspondence with Tasmania.
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