February 28 - March 6, 2021: Issue 485


Susan Benson

Susan Benson, President of the Zonta Club of Northern Beaches, is hosting, alongside Zonta Club NB Members, her last International Women's Day Breakfast in this role this coming Wednesday, March 3rd. Although the breakfast has reached capacity for seat allocations under current rules and conditions around COVID-19 safety, how this local organisation has persevered during these challenges, and what's coming up in 2021, are well worth hearing about.

Residents can keep up to date via their Facebook platform page: www.facebook.com/ZontaNorthernBeaches

Or find out more via their District 24 website, where you can subscribe for their Newsletter updates, at: zontadistrict24.org/d24-clubs/area-1/northern-beaches

The Club celebrated its 45th 'birth day' in 2020, while in 2019 Zonta International itself was celebrating 100 years of commitment to empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy.

To celebrate the contribution and achievements of the organization and its districts, clubs and individual members, the Centennial Anniversary Committee drove a decade-long project to compile a history of those 100 years. You can read these Chapters, online, at: https://zonta100.org/celebrate/our-history/100-years-of-zi/

That same year, at the Zonta NB International Women's Day breakfast, which is the platform from which The Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater, announces the 'Pittwater Woman of the Year' annually, the club itself was named 'Pittwater Women of the Year'

Photo by Michael Mannington, Community Photography

In announcing the Zonta Club of Northern Beaches as those whose work was to be honoured Rob mentioned Bayview's Maybanke Anderson as one of our earliest advocates for the rights of women, including the right to vote, to divorce, to earn a living, to speak up and out for others. Other 'local ladies' have also been members, Dorothea Mackellar of Lovett Bay for instance, and her good friend, Ruth Bedford. Clearly the pen has been mightier than the sword in this regard, locally.

The then [2019] President of Zonta Northern Beaches, Bernardine Guy, gave the following response to Mr. Stokes' announcement:

To the Hon Mr Rob Stokes, thank you for this wonderful acknowledgement of “Pittwater Woman of the Year” award, by honouring the service and work that ZCNB does in our local community. I humbly accept this award as President of our Club on behalf of each member. 

Zonta International this year celebrates 100 years, and Zonta Club of the Northern Beaches have been part of that community for almost 45 years. Our membership of 28 combined has volunteer experience of over 300 years, with some of our members giving in excess of 20, 25, and 40 years of service. We are professional women, with families, some retired, others working, young and not so. But together we believe in the principles of Zonta ‘Gender equality for all and a world where no women should live in fear of violence.’

Today we are here on IWD to celebrate women’s social, economic and political achievements and to call for gender equality.

International Women’s Day began in 1911 a result of the upsurge of the suffragette movement in Austria, Denmark and Germany, when over 1 million women took to the streets demanding equal rights and the right to vote. IWD was adopted by the UN in 1975.

Each year IWD has a theme and the theme for IWD here in Australia 2019 is “Balance for Better” representing a call to stand in unison for gender equality. 

In 2021 the IWD theme is 'Choose to Challenge'. 

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

IWD this year calls for us all to; Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

IWD sees a number of MISSIONS to help forge a gender equal world. Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key.

For 2021 these have been nominated:

You can find out more at: www.internationalwomensday.com

For our area the Zonta Club of the Northern Beaches (District 24) are the advocates for the empowerment of women. This encompasses on the ground 'at the coal face' works as well though, those that support women who live here as well as contribute to international projects. Although the annual Birth Kit Packing Day is a visible reminder of one of their projects, there are others going on quietly, and out of sight.

As we head into our own IWD 2021 Celebratory week, a few insights from the current Zonta NB President, also a Bayview lady herself, is a good place to start.

What’s your background Susan?

I was a Science teacher. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Wollongong, studied in Sydney and then taught in the Illawarra region for 20 years where I was an active member of the Science Teachers’ Association.

We then moved to the Northern Rivers, living in Ballina for 21 years. I taught  Science, Marine Studies and Distance Education in a local high school. While in Ballina I also worked at The Southern Cross University and was the North Coast Science Consultant. We then took some time out, bought a Dutch cruiser boat in the Netherlands and spent six summers travelling along the canals of the Netherlands and France.

What attracted you to Marine Studies?

I’ve always had an interest in this area and in the Northern Rivers, it is quite a big field of interest in schools and the Southern Cross Uni has a research area.  This tied in with the Science that I had been doing. Because the school I taught at was a Distance Education Centre, I ended up writing some of their Marine Studies Senior Course. 

Cruising in the Netherlands and France for six summers, could you please share two of your favourite experiences or places?

In the Netherlands, we had no expectation of what it was going to be like. It was just lovely, a beautiful place; it was easy to move around, easy to deal with the authorities. This would certainly be a destination I would go back to.

In France the most marked observation would be the variety and the change all along the way - of scenery, food, locks and local traditions. I loved Nancy – a beautiful city, - and of course, Strasbourg. Nancy is the capital of the north-eastern French department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, and the Marne–Rhine Canal runs through the city, parallel to the Meurthe. Nancy is surrounded by hills that are about 150 m higher than the city centre making the canals, locks and tunnels in the area extremely interesting.

Did you put on weight?

No, because we had to walk everywhere. I did eat all the pastries, yes, I was a pastry freak, but because we didn’t have a car and had to walk to the supermarket and carry everything, and on the boat, due to the number of locks, it’s relatively active. We could do anything up to 30 locks a day in the smaller canals; by the time you throw the ropes, get them in, help the lockkeepers open and close the gates, you’re on and off the boat and it’s fairly active.

When did you move to our area?

We moved here in 2014 to be near family – I have grandchildren here.

How did you become involved in the Zonta Club of the Northern Beaches?

I had been a member of a similar organisation on the North Coast for 20 years and so when I came to the Northern Beaches I researched what clubs were available, looking for a similar club.  Zonta fitted the bill, exactly. I happened to meet Ann Asker at a yacht club function and she kindly invited me to attend a meeting and on it went from there.

When did you take on the President’s role?

Two years ago – I’m just coming to the end of my tenure in this position. People who fulfil this role take a two year position, so my time ends in May this year.

What’s involved in being the President?

Setting up the Meetings, looking at what’s to be on the agenda and supporting those items with background information, supporting all the different committees within the organisation and keeping your finger on the pulse of where they’re going and what they’re doing. We have many different committees who all work independently, get things done and then they share the information with the club, which is great as you can then accomplish so much more. 

Last year (2020) was a little different as we couldn’t hold physical meetings and so we went to Zoom, and all learnt new skills. As soon as we were able, we started having coffee mornings, meeting in the park. We commenced down at Narrabeen beach and then went to Patricia Giles park at Mona Vale, with plenty of room to spread out. These coffee gatherings could go on for two, two and a half hours at a time – very productive. As soon as we were allowed 10 attendees outside we started meeting for coffee - and it worked really well, and then of course it got a bit larger. The club enjoyed it and so we are going to continue this – a nice meeting outdoors and a bit of a boost for local coffee vendors as well.

What is on the Zonta Northern Beaches Program of works for 2021?

We have the annual Pittwater International Women’s Day Breakfast, and hopefully we will run a Trivia Evening this year. It’s generally in June but last years’ had to be cancelled. An Advocacy Dinner in October is usually a big event for the club with up to 200 attendees. The Club also gets involved with White Ribbon functions each year. These are the main functions each year.

The Z-Club at Mackellar Girls campus have a teacher on the staff who has taken over running the Z-Club, very keen and active, so we liaise with her. The students have returned to meetings and there are some very active members in this group– some started in Year 7 and they’re still keen participants.

The Zonta Club of Northern Beaches, in fact Zonta itself, has a very strong focus on empowering women, as exampled locally in providing funds for women at the Manly Women’s Shelter, in 2020 to attend education courses to secure employment and financial independence – how important is this to the club in 2021?

Last year the club provided a lot of financial support, as well as organising all sorts of goods and needs that they had, we were buying vouchers for the women so they could purchase food, there was a whole gamut of needs to be met. We also supported the homeless men by buying vouchers, so we took a very different tack last year to keep that maintenance and to keep supporting people, and that was our main focus in 2020.

The other was our Student Grants within the schools, which was a little harder last year, and this will be another major focus this year - along with enabling women to get re-educated and acquire the skills they need for the workplace.

Why is it important to have women advocating for women in 2021?

Because women supporting women is a great way to show those in difficult situations that others care.  When women are fleeing domestic abuse, and they have children, it is the whole family suffering.  The Club is able to provide items and money needed immediately, and then provide access to training courses for the women.  The provision of educational experiences hopefully opens new avenues for the women and their children.

It is not just locally that this is occurring. We do work internationally with the United Nations under UN Women in trying to end child marriage around the world and in Madagascar they are helping to improving the education of the children. In aiming it at the girls we also see that the boys get the benefit too. 

The Birthing Kit and Breast Care Cushion Initiatives, which are bigger and bigger for the Zonta NB Club annually, are also great outreach programs – will they be going ahead in 2021?

Oh yes. The Breast Care Cushions have enough completed and ready to go up until the end of March. We still supply Northern Beaches and SAN hospitals with these. This is not a very visible project– people can see the Birthing Kits because these are highly visible, and they can be part of it, but the Breast Care Cushions are well received. These are supplied to both men and women and we get lovely letters back from the recipients on how much relief they provided. We have people who donate their time for sewing, stuffing and putting them together. We also have some money donated for fabrics, so this helps as we don’t have to dip into other funds to fulfil this program. For men we’ve been making slightly larger ones with longer straps in different colours to suit – we tend to get personal requests for those and that has increased in recent years. This, as part the Breast Care Cushions, is another one of those projects that continues quietly. 

It must be wonderful to be part of a club where you’re surrounded by such local luminaries – all of the members have not only done great things in their chosen careers but also have contributed as individuals to the community over a sustained period of time. How does all that knowledge and all those connections coalesce – how does it feel, personally, for you to be a member?

Oh, wonderful. It’s enlightening, and humbling, to work with such a talented and dedicated group. As a simple example of how that works; we had to have a logo to give to Council for a site and I didn’t have the skills to create that logo at the dimensions required. We asked around and one of the members daughters-in-law could do it. It’s that sort of interconnections that makes it work so well – they all come with such fabulous skills. If there’s a subject or a challenge we can pretty much do it ‘in house’. Members are very passionate about their area – they all decide which area they’re going to work in, and even during 2020, when we couldn’t meet, we’ve had new people join. They’re all also great as a touchstone – you think your life is busy and then you get a glance at someone else's and realise everyone is doing a lot all the time.

The club organises, knows what needs to be done to achieve a goal, but the local community stand behind them by attending functions, offering raffle prizes and donations. 

Samantha Shaw is your Speaker at the 2021 Zonta International Women’s Day Breakfast – will Sam be doing a song or dance as part of that? – no, just joking!

How lovely would that have been?  As recent announcements state, a short burst of song is OK with current Covid conditions!!!

Divine – you will be hard-pressed to stop her singing, I’d warn her before she steps up to the microphone. Levity aside, the annual breakfast is a great get-together for local women?

You are now allowed to have a few people singing but she won’t be able to have a whole choir. And, of course, having someone local as the speaker is always a bonus – most of the Speakers have been ‘localish’ and very committed to the community here making it a very exciting event.

How does someone get in contact with the club if they have ideas, donations or need help?

Via our District 24 email account initially: districtsecretary@zontadistrict24.org

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

Bayview – because it’s close to us and I love walking along that pathway around that area, looking at the boats or enjoying the cafes. It is a beautiful place. 

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase that you try to live by?

Be honest to yourself, and support others.

Zonta Club Of Northern Beaches Inc - Chartered 1975

Address         6 Siobhan Place Mona Vale NSW 2103
Located         Northern beaches of Sydney
Meets            4th Monday for dinner
Contact         Email  - Facebook - Website


Encouraging Education

We award study grants worth several thousands of dollars, including paying for textbooks and computer equipment. Study grants enable local women to access further education, and improve not only their own lives, but those of their children. We also make student support grants to young women in Years 11 and 12 at local schools who are having difficulties at home.

Supporting victims of domestic violence

Our club has formed a strong and close relationship with the Northern Beaches Women’s Resource Centre. This support includes donations of new household items and paying for children’s swimming lessons, after-school care, support tuition and ‘back to school’ kits.

Breast Care Cushions

Zonta Breast Care Cushions are a great comfort to women who have undergone breast surgery. The cushions are made by members and women in the local community, and are given free of charge to local hospitals. Since 2005, our club provided approximately 1300 cushions.

Birthing Kits

Our club has a very strong record in making Zonta Birthing Kits which are distributed to women in the developing countries under an education program with hospital support. Each year, up to 3000 birthing kits are assembled with a great deal of community involvement and member fellowship.


Fundraising is obviously an essential part of club activities, and we try to have as much fun as possible! Past fundraising activities include:

  • Trivia nights
  • International Women’s Day
  • Australia Day Breakfast at Newport Beach
  • Special Social Events


Zonta Club of Northern Beaches thanks the DeeWhy RSL for support of our student support program. The Dee Why RSL Community Support Program is providing more than $2,000,000 in cash and in-kind support to over 100 community organisations this year. The program reaches and assists a broad scope of our local community and we are proud to be partnered with them. For more information about the support program, please visit https://www.deewhyrsl.com.au/community.

We also acknowledge the assistance of the Northern Beaches Council with the organisation of International Women’s Day Breakfast and Australia Day Breakfast.

You don’t need to be a member of a Zonta club to contribute to Zonta’s efforts to improve the lives of women and girls. Service projects always need money – your donation to Zonta’s work in general or to a specified local or internal project is welcomed.


We are always looking for the next generation of community-minded, professional women to continue the service and advocacy work of Zonta in our area and beyond. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have an interest in becoming a Zonta member or just want to help support our work.