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Southern Cross Quilting Guild Links Australian Quilters

Northern hemisphere (and particularly North American) quilters share a set of assumptions about quilting that are reflected in the discussions on such maillists as Quiltnet and Interquilt. The price and availability of fabric, for instance, are discussed under an assumption of cheap, plentiful and various goods easily obtained at your local quilt store or discount house.

There is another experience, however, shared by quilters in Australia and New Zealand, which is quite different. Despite the presence of southern hemisphere quilters on the "American" maillists, the problems of quilters in large, remote, and sparsely populated countries, and their unique experiences, are not widely appreciated. It was her perception of this, and a felt need to forge an electronic link among southern hemisphere quilters, that led Wendy Pang of Canberra in 1994 to form the maillist that would become known as the Southern Cross Quilting Guild.

"I had been a member of Quiltnet for a while," Wendy says, "and loved every minute of it. Occasionally I would see a note from another Aussie, and I would say hello. Fairly quickly I realised that some of our interests related to the Australian quilting scene. For example, American quilt fabrics - our chief source - cost about A$16 per metre. After a while, hearing Americans talk about the bargain they bought for US$3 gets a bit discouraging. I was also interested to know what experiences other Aussies had had with American mail order houses, and how Australian Customs dealt with these orders.

"Besides, Quiltnet was great fun for me, and I wanted to be able to share this feeling with others here. Aussies are renowned for being quick to take up new technologies, but if you think of the stereotypical quilter as someone 40 or over, just having a computer at home wasn't going to be enough to get her started. So I have always been keen to share my net discoveries with others, in the hope that they will be inspired enough to go through the sometimes difficult process of getting online. These were the primary reasons for starting Southern Cross Quilters."

Southern Cross is small by Quiltnet standards, with about 40 members. Wendy maintained the list manually for its first year until the son of one of the members volunteered to set up a listserver for the group. "Suddenly the group developed a new independence and a life of its own," Wendy said. "We now have a logo block, designed by Leanne McGill of Darwin, with a blue star on a gold cross background. Discussion of anything quilt-related is lively and very friendly."

Asked what unexpected things have come out of the group, Wendy says that personal visits have flourished despite great distances: "I had no idea that we would start to meet and visit each other, as we are so geographically scattered. Here in Canberra I have met several local 'Southern Crossies,' and quilters from Brisbane have visited me. When I have travelled I have visited Melbourne and Perth quilters. A group of us from across Australia recently met at the Sydney Quilt Festival (one of Australia's premier shows), and that included Liz Lewis, secretary of the West Australian Quilters Association, who had flown some 3000 miles across the continent to be at the Festival."

Wendy is now making an effort to include more quilters from isolated "outback" areas of the continent. "Most of Australia's 18 million people live in the big coastal cities. But I know that if I were a quilter living outback, perhaps hundreds of miles from a quilt shop or another quilter, I would be starved for contact with other quilters, and information about good mail order shops. These days, many farms have computers and modems which they use to run their businesses. The meat marketing boards are developing classification standards which allow farmers to buy and sell standard grades of meat electronically. This move is supported by the government as an efficient way to trade. Many government departments, at state and federal level, are also using the internet to bring their services to remote places.

"So if there is a computer and modem already in place, why not use it for fun too? Although we are only using word-of-mouth to reach new virtual quilters, the group is steadily growing. Australian Patchwork and Quilting, a relatively new magazine here, is also profiling the group, and we expect more country people will join us. Perhaps some South Australians, too, as they are currently the only state or territory unrepresented :-)."

Wendy characterizes internet use in general in Australia as "patchy." She says: "In university and government circles, its use has grown enormously, particularly in the last 2 years. Private internet use is in its infancy. It's only in the last year that private internet providers have started to spring up all over the place. I think that most private internet users in Australia discover the net at work or uni, and then find it so compelling that they either move to a private provider, or gain access to their account from home. We have no online provider with the following of Compuserve or AOL in Australia. Instead there are public access providers like APANA (a public-access network of Australia), and private businesses like ozemail.

"We are all wondering what will happen next year. AARNET, the Australian arm of the Internet, has been run by the Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee, a university body. But from January 1996, AARNET access will be controlled by Telstra (the government telecommunications company) body. You can imagine that we are very concerned at what impact that might have on charging."

Despite uncertainties, however, internet use in Australia is expected to continue growing, just as it is in the rest of the world. Wendy has no uncertainties about Southern Cross, however: "In looking at Southern Cross Quilter's development in little over a year, all I can say is that I expect to be further surprised by the talent and ingenuity of the members. But I won't be surprised by their friendliness any more - they are a great bunch of mates."

If you would like more information about the Southern Cross Quilters you can e-mail Wendy at wpang@pcug.org.au



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