Rural Australia rocked by jailing of 'Country Woman of the Year'

She was, by all accounts, a dab hand at home-made scones, but Margaret Magnay, a leading member of Australia's equivalent of the Women's Institute, had a dark secret.

Magnay, a matronly-looking 58-year-old, was addicted to fruit machines, and in order to feed her addiction, she stole from her local branch of the Country Women's Association (CWA). A branch and divisonal treasurer, she managed to pocket $30,000 (£14,000) over five years, before anyone noticed.

The CWA, a venerable institution founded in 1922 and known for its charitable works, is in shock at the revelations. Magnay, jailed for 18 months by a Queensland court, was a mentor to young women and girls who belonged to the organisation's "Younger Sets".

Marion Mudra, a CWA regional vice-president, said yesterday: "This is a cruel lesson to the young girls who trusted her, and they have had the rug pulled from their feet because all the time she was stealing from them. I've had mothers and young girls in tears, and I've been in tears myself."

Last year Magnay was named Country Woman of the Year for her division in south Queensland. She was treasurer of the Kumbia branch, on the outskirts of the town of Kingaroy, and carried out the thefts by manipulating audits. She was also in charge of funds for the regional division.

Ms Mudra told the Brisbane-based Courier-Mail newspaper: "When I asked her, 'How could you?', Margaret said she had only taken a little and intended to pay it back, and then she started playing the pokies [poker machines] to pay the money back, and was waiting for the big drop to pay it all back."

Australians are the world's biggest per capita gamblers, with three-quarters of the money wagered swallowed up by poker machines. Pokies, which have colonised pubs and clubs, are an importance source of revenue for state governments. Not surprisingly, Australia has a high rate of problem gambling, which is blamed for a raft of social problems, including crime, debt, poverty, job losses, homelessness, suicide and family breakdown.

In Magnay's case, she was able to siphon off cash destined for charitable causes. The president of CWA Queensland, Heather Wieland, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that a fellow member eventually raised the alarm after becoming suspicious. Police were then called in.

Ms Wieland described Magnay as "very highly respected and trusted". "She'd been a member for some time in our organisation," she said. "The sad thing is that we are always very meticulous in having our books audited. We're trusting, but we do have accountability in our organisation, and that type of thing shouldn't happen."

The Queensland state government has replaced the money stolen by Magnay, in order that charities to which funds had been pledged – including the Royal Flying Doctor Service – would not go short.

The CWA, which has 25,000 members, works to help women and families, particularly in remote and rural areas. It offers assistance to people affected by problems such as drought.

In Queensland, an estimated 1 per cent of the population has a gambling problem. Magnay's defence lawyer, Keith Murdoch, told the court that she was very sorry, and the offences had just "spiralled out of control". Kingaroy magistrates' court also heard that she had two previous convictions for stealing, in 1976 and 1981.

Ms Mudra said: "It's shocking, but we've also got a lot of good, dedicated members, and we're not going to throw the barrel out because of one bad apple."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before