The ACT Vegan & Vegetarian Society was founded in 1990 by Kimberley Roberts & Cor Stridjer.  It was called the ACT Vegetarian Society until 21 February 2012 when the name was changed to include Vegan at a General Meeting where all members were able to vote.

The early years of the ACT Vegetarian Society:  by Kimberley Roberts
If my memory serves me well, the year was 1990 when I saw an advertisement calling for volunteers to start an ACT branch of the Vegetarian Society. I was 18 and had been vego for maybe about three years but I knew very few friends walking the same path. In fact, I didn’t have a single vegetarian friend. My family were doing their best to be understanding and my Dad had made a few lentil loafs to tide me over but I have to say things were pretty limited in the information and food department at this stage of my life. So I took the plunge and called the number. Through that contact I was put in touch with a fellow called Cor Stridjer. He and I met up and founded the ACT Vegetarian Society. It was small beginnings for the group, piggy backing on Animal Liberation for a while and sharing resources. Some members may recall, as I do, a protest at the ANU against experimentation on monkeys. Animal Liberation had a man in a monkey suit in a cage to make their point – that man was our Cor who I fondly remember as a beautifully eccentric and passionately outspoken chap.

Animal Lib had an office at the ANU and this is where our first ACT Vegetarian Society meeting was held. In those days the meetings involved hearty discussions and sharing of delicious home-cooked vego and vegan food. We envisaged what was needed in Canberra for such a group and decided that it included the following: to make available accurate information to challenge the myth that vegetarianism is nutritionally inadequate and to let people know of the many benefits that go along with a vegetarian lifestyle, including the reduced impact on the environment. We started having stalls in the CBD and sharing our information and experience.I recall that the Environment Day stalls were particularly popular days where we sold steaming hot soup and filtered lots of enquiries. Cor liked to be a little controversial and one year displayed a sign saying “How can you call yourself a Greenie if you still eat meat?” There were a lot of interesting discussions at the Veg Society stall table, some of them quite heated!Over the years more people joined our small group and a committee was formed and were  eventually incorporated. We met monthly and continued our regular stalls which now sold things like T-shirts, badges, stickers, etc. A lot of dedication from a small number of people over the years kept the society alive. We held quiz nights, information talks, social gatherings, picnics and bushwalks. For me it was a lovely way to create, and be a part of, a community with similar ideals.  I met some of my closest friends through the group who I am still in touch with today, some 20 years later. Sadly, I lost touch with Cor – if anyone knows of his whereabouts, it would be great to hear what he is up to. I believe he left Canberra many years ago. I am now living in Melbourne and although I’m no longer actively involved in vegetarian groups, I am aware that they exist here and that they are active and supportive. The Vegan Fair is a big event held at the Abbotsford convent each year.Maybe some of the current members can recall other interesting facts from the early days?  I’d love to hear about it.

Some Memories From The Early Years 1995 – 2009:  By Jyoti Dambiec
Our family of five arrived in Canberra in 1995 after two years spent living on a land community in Lismore.  Prior to that we had emigrated from New Zealand.  We knew nobody in the ACT and I was keen to become involved in the community as quickly as possible and to make this new place ‘home’. Joining the ACT Vegetarian Society was one of the first things we did.  Life was busy  with three young children.  I was also studying Ceramics part-time at ANU as well as being involved with other community activities including the Refugee Action Committee.  Making connections with other Vegetarians and promoting the Vegetarian lifestyle was still an important priority.The group had only been in existence for about 4 years at that stage and Kimberley, who started the group with Cor, was the President.   The Society was in the process of becoming incorporated at that time and I remember large parts of the committee meetings being around working on this constitution.  At that time I found this whole process very tedious but now, many years later, I am so grateful for all the time and hard work that went into creating this important document.  One of the then-committee members, Garth Hartley, was instrumental in making this happen.Kimberley was keen to hand over the job of President after having been in the role for about five years.   I was a general committee member for a short while before accepting nomination for the position.  Vegetarian Societies were relatively new to me at that time.  I’d been to a couple of meetings at the Vegetarian Society in Auckland and that was all.The Society was very small back then with only about thirty or so members.  Financially we also weren’t flush with funds.   We had a small one page newsletter which was mailed out a few times a year.  This was ‘pre-email’ days so even this small task took time and money.  Folding, sticking on stamps etc.  Communication and life was so different back then.  We also used to get bulk Vegetarian & Natural Health magazines posted down which we would then take to various health food outlets to sell.  Later on, we offered our members the choice of Vegan Voice as well.Over a period of years, we gradually built up our membership and funds.  We moved towards creating a more professional image and employed a graphic designer for the artwork on a membership pamphlet, letterheads and shells for our newsletter.  The newsletter was growing in content and was an important way we communicated with our membership.  A competition was held to come up with a name for the newsletter and the winner was ‘Vegetarian Bites’.We did many social and outreach things over the years.  Making big pots of hot soup, vegetarian rolls and cakes for a variety of events was a regular occurance.  Some information and food stalls that stand out in my mind are attending the first ‘National Sorry Day’, the annual Enviroment Days in Garema Place and providing hot soup at Refugee Action events.  We had large stalls at O Day at ANU for a couple of years.  These food stalls were always very popular and they enabled the Society to build the funds to a healthy level. We also had stalls regularly at the Annual Community Aid Abroad Xmas Fairs & Walk Against Warming.Over the years we had a number of talks where we also provided food.  Dr Keiren Fallon gave two excellent  talks.   Dr Jiitendra Singh came from Melbourne to present a talk on ‘Vegetarianism & Spirituality – How Food Effects Our Minds’.  This drew a crowd of about 100 which was the largest group we’d seen at any event.The committee organised restaurant meals, pot-lucks, pool parties, walks, tennis, and other social activities.  A big crowd turned up for a potluck & music/dance afternoon at our place.  Music was provided by Jamn’n, a band who perform Baltic/Macedonian music.  Afterwards one of the band members set up a whole lot of large, beautiful wooden marimba’s  which we then enjoyed playing.  That was a memorable get-together!In 2004 it was time for me to step down after a busy 9 years as President.  Mike O’Shaughnessey had been on the committee for a little while and was ready and willing to take on the job.  I remained on the committee for a while longer before leaving to concentrate more on my work as a ceramic artist and teacher.   Mike was President for 4 years and then passed on the mantle to Robert Davy for a year.

Challenging Times in 2009
Robert sent an email out prior to the AGM which mentioned he was going to stand down and that the Group faced the real possibility of being wound up.  At that time I was no longer a member but I contacted Mike and asked if he would be willing to be involved again.  Neither of us wanted to see the demise of the Vegetarian Society that had been going for so long.  We both had a discussion and decided to rejoin and do our best to revitalise the group.  I nominated Mike as President and he nominated me as Vice President.  After seven months Mike resigned as he had come to the view that he couldn’t work within a group that wasn’t solely vegan in it’s philosophy.  You can read more about his reasons in the Newsletter from that time.  By this time our committee had dwindled to only three members.  I became President by default after Mike’s departure.  I was nominated officially at the following AGM a few months later and found myself facing the somewhat daunting task of revitalising the group with an almost completely new committee.  Thankfully Natasha and Tracey from the 2009 committee stayed on.

Moving Ahead in 2010
Considerable time and energy was invested in communicating with potential committee members prior to the AGM in 2010.  This bore fruit in that we started out with a full committee of dedicated people who wanted to rebuild and grow the Society.We clearly informed people  nominating to the committee of the roles and expectations.  It was so inspiring to see that at the following AGM nearly everyone re-elected.  We also gained two very keen new committee members.

Inspiring Times
Since the AGM in 2010 things have been moving full-speed ahead.  The internet, collective email lists, website and facebook have all enabled us to communicate much more efficiently than was possible in the early days. The focus back on the essential nature of the group as being a Vegetarian Society which is inclusive of all varieties of Vegetarian encouraged past members to rejoin and also inspired new people to become involved.  During this time the Committee has worked in a harmonious and cooperative manner.We have organised the usual wide variety of regular activities including talks, walks, cooking classes, newspaper articles, picnics, pot-lucks, stalls, and restaurant meals.One fantastic initiative was the creation of this wonderful website.  Another exciting thing underway are the preparations for more regular cooking classes and also talks and other work in schools.The Society has gone through many different phases over the years.  Each president & committee puts their own unique stamp on the direction and focus of the group.  We will continue to change and grow as we bring our compassionate lifestyle to others and move with the needs of general society.  The present time is a wonderful time to be bringing the vegetarian message to others.  There is an increased openness among the general public as people become more aware of health issues and the environmental difficulties our planet now faces.  Our task as a Vegetarian Society is to be there with information and support.

An Important Change:
On 21 February 2012, a General Meeting was convened and all members were able to vote on proposals to change the name of the Society to include ‘Vegan’ and also to change a number of sections in the Constitution.  The decision was made that the Society would only promote a wholly plant-based vegan diet even though ‘Vegetarian’ was still retained in the name.  The overwhelming majority voted in favour of the changes, with only 2 votes against the proposals.   The Society’s name changed to become ‘ The ACT Vegan & Vegetarian SocietyIncorporated’.The aims in the Constitution were amended:(a)   promote a wholly plant-based diet which excludes all food derived from members of the animal kingdom;
(b) promote a lifestyle that causes the least possible suffering to animals and the ideal of a healthy, ethical and humane mode of life;
(c) encourage and facilitate co-operation between vegans and vegetarians throughout the world;
(d) co-operate with other organisations and people concerned with sound nutrition, positive approaches to physical and mental health, the preservation and improvement of the environment and the prevention of cruelty to members of the animal kingdom;
(e) facilitate the supply of vegan food;
(f) promote the use and development of animal-free alternatives for food, clothing and other purposes, for the benefit of humans, non-human animals and the environment.

Another Change:
At the AGM in 2013 it was decided that the Role of ‘President’ would be renamed ‘Facilitator’ and the direction was a move away from the more hierarchical structure of the past and dependence on a key individual in a ‘Leader’ role.  The hope was that committee members would feel more empowered and that the work load would be better shared.

More Important Changes:
At the AGM in 2014 a decision was made to create a shared Facilitator role being ‘Outreach Facilitator’ and ‘Online Facilitator’.  The aim was to continue to move the Society towards a more collective style of management.The Committee passed a motion to consider updating the 18-syllable name ‘The Vegan and Vegetarian Society Incorporated’ to something shorter and more dynamic like ‘Vegan ACT’. A Special General Meeting was called on Tuesday 22nd April 2014  and was held at the Conservation Council.  This meeting was to discuss and vote on a name change.  Prior to this meeting a survey had been sent out to all members and a consultation process had occurred where a number of name options had been put forward.Members were assured that anyone seeking to transition towards a more compassionate lifestyle would always be very welcome in the organization.The reasons for changing the name of the group was to clarify the purpose of the society and to send a clearer message about the animal suffering, environmental degradation and health problems that result from the consumption of animals and animal products.It was felt that the updated name would make the organisation more attractive to those who are looking to take action, raise awareness, help the environment, improve health for all, bring about social change and see an end to the exploitation of all animals.The name ‘Vegan ACT’ also better reflects and enables us to meet the aims of the society as they appear in the Constitution.At the AGM in 2015 it was decided to discontinue using the name ‘Facilitator’ as the group continues to work towards creating a more Collective and inclusive manner of working.

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