At the National General meeting held at El Arish on the 19th March, 1997 one of the topics discussed was branches exchanging ideas on how they run their branch meetings. The reason being, it would give all branches ideas which could then be incorporated into their own meetings. This would hopefully then help to build up membership.

The Capricornia branch is happy to be first cab off the rank and hope that other branches will follow suit. We start this under the heading of 'Sharing', as we believe this is what our organisation is all about.

The Capricornia branch has been running since 1983. Barbara and I joined about 1988. At that time, meetings were held in a local Yeppoon hall on a Saturday morning, starting at 10 a.m. We had a small fruit display, fruit tasting, a guest speaker and raffle and trees for sale. Around 1989, the committee at that time decided to try an on-farm meeting. This was so successful that we have never been back to the hall and our branch has gone from strength to strength.

In the one move, the branch made three very important steps forward. 1. Cost of the hire of a hall was eliminated. 2. We meet in the environment that we are talking about and 3. Our meetings became more informative, which brought in more members.

We try to move around to different properties and we have two requirements: one being things of interest, and the other, some sort of shelter in case of rain.

Our meetings start at 2 p.m. on a Saturday. We hold our business meeting first, which we try to have finished by 3 p.m. or sooner, We then have a short introduction by the owners of the property, telling us about their setup, then we proceed to go on a farm walk.

Usually this finishes about 4 p. m. Whilst the meeting and farm walk are in progress, the fruit display and tasting table are set up and the cooking competition is judged. Everything is then ready and waiting for members to return from the farm walk. Due to all of the members bringing along some of their spare fruit, we always appear to have a very good range of fruit on show and for tasting.

Our cooking competition has three sections. Section 1. Savoury; Section 2. Sweets; and Section 3. is our new section which is for our juniors. This is already proving very popular and is encouraging our members of tomorrow. The prizes are either trees, books or a gift voucher.

We fund raise at each meeting by holding a raffle and auction. This revenue covers all expenses incurred in holding our meetings. The raffle and auction has usually been grafted trees, but recently we have started including books that were purchased from our Office Manager. Because we have a fairly big turn-up at our meetings (the membership being about 90 - 100), we more often than not have no less than 10 items in both the raffle and auction.

We do not charge to come into our meetings, but we have a branch fee which is paid each year with the National subscription; this covers the cost of printing and posting to our members, 6 bi-monthly newsletters, and I strongly believe this is the way to go. Members do not have to pay to come in or for tea and coffee, and only have to put their hand in the pocket if they wish to purchase a raffle ticket or buy something through the auction.

Our branch attends as many local functions as possible, such as Good Earth Expo, Yeppoon Show, Rocky Show, Caves Show and some of the local schools and church groups. We are looking at present at the Multi Cultural Fair which is held at the Central Qld. University. We have a fruit display and tasting where possible and we freely give out as much information as possible, and thereby we get more new members. If someone appears interested we take their name and address and then send them our next newsletter which tells them where and when our next meeting will be held. If they then turn up at our next meeting, we welcome them and give them a name tag and ask one of our members to stay with them to explain things. We believe this makes them feel part of the group from the start and no pressure is put on them to join until they are confident that this is what they want.

This year we started a "Help us Help you" box. It is for members who normally would not get up and speak at a meeting. They can put their ideas into the box for the committee to look at. Whilst we have not had the box for very long, it appears to be working.

Our meeting is ended by presenting a gift to the owners, if they are not members of our organisation. We then finish off with a BYO BBQ.

Our branch has recently taken up an idea from the Townsville branch and started having an evening meeting on the alternate month to our usual branch meeting. We have called it "Plant of the Month" similar to Townsville. We have two members to do each presentation who choose their own subject and how they wish to do the presentation. They are given approximately 8 weeks in which to research the subject. These meetings are proving to be popular. We have held two and two more are in the pipeline.

Whilst it can be difficult to keep on coming up with new ideas, I feel it is the only way to keep the interest of the members. If the meetings become stale, so does the membership, hence the idea of printing this in our National Newsletter. Your ideas may be stale for you but to us they may be a breath of fresh air. So please exchange your ideas with ours.

Lew Fitchen

DATE: August 1997

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