The volunteering life

Morning all,

Now that I’ve been volunteering for three months (having been in Australia for nearly 4 months), I think I’m reasonably qualified to do a “week in the life” post for visiting volunteering. I’m really enjoying this kind of set up, as it’s allowing me to actually see places and get to know the locals (which to my mind is a lot better than just meeting other travellers and doing the things the tourists do).

On a side note, apologies that it’s taking so long to roll out posts. This is partially due to Australia’s gloriously abysmal internet availability (when I can get access to the internet it’s generally too slow to do anything useful with… Seriously, it’s like the UK 15 years ago… No, really), my busy life, and having lost my otg cable, meaning I can’t get photos from my camera to my tablet. Nonetheless, I will persevere, hopefully things will be a little better in cities.

Anyway, I digress (already!).

Everywhere that I’ve volunteered so far I have been (kindly) provided with accommodation by local hosts, which has included beds in houses, a shed, a room for staff in a visitor centre, and most recently, in a holiday unit (what us POMs would call a flat). Let’s just say I’ve not been uncomfortable. My hosts have also provided me with food (again, out of the kindness of their own hearts), which means I’ve been eating a lot better than I would’ve left to my own devices (yesterday for instance we had kangaroo steaks followed by lemon meringue pie for dinner!). Cooking arrangements have varied from my own little kitchen etc through to eating with my hosts for virtually every meal. While in every case so far there’s been no nominal obligation to do a given amount of work to “pay” for this kindness, I usually do at least a few hours work in the morning and a few in the afternoon to help me justify my existence, with a few exceptions (to be noted later).

On working days I’m often stuck into the first bit of work for the day between 8 and 9 in the morning. Work might include pulling out weeds (on my own, with random other volunteers, or with weekly volunteer groups), going out with contractors to assist them in one way or another (lugging gear around, killing weeds under their direction etc), a bit of handyman work (which has ranged from shifting material around with a tractor to wrecking an old wardrobe to salvage the wood, to wrangling adolescent emus). Usually I’ll work for 2 or 3 hours at a time and then stop for half an hour or so for some kind of beverage/consumables break. This ensures I drink plenty (it’s rather warm during the day, and when you’re working you can dehydrate quickly) and stops me from getting too bored of one particular task. I’ll usually do four or five hours of work per day, either doing one job all day or jumping around between multiple tasks.

One interesting thing which my host said when I moved to South West Rocks was (paraphrased) “if you get bored, stop. There’s nothing worse than a bored volunteer doing the job badly and not enjoying themselves”. This is one of the major differences between “working” and “volunteering” and one which I very much appreciate.  When you’re volunteering, you’re self driven, and therefore if you’re not enjoying it, you can just stop. I put this into practice the other day when working in a very damp area which turned out to have enough leeches to drain a herd of elephants of blood in seconds. Suffice to say after half an hour of trying to clear some weeds while being besieged by the invertebrate menace, I decided that would be a good day to do something else, and ended up filling holes in a wall with gyprock.

Some of the local wildlife I've been all too closely acquainted with. A lovely leech.

Some of the local wildlife I’ve been all too closely acquainted with. A lovely leech.

I usually have the evening to myself, which might be a case of sitting back with a good book, sitting around with a glass of wine in deep philosophical debate (I might be making that sound more grandiose than it really is), or going for an evening stroll if the weather is ok (though now it gets dark around 5:30 in South West Rocks, so that’s not much of an option). At the weekends I generally have time off from work and I often have time to do whatever I fancy (usually going off walking somewhere) but sometimes an offer will come up to go somewhere new. For instance two weeks ago we went out to visit a friend of my hosts who owns a big tract of land in the mountains to the west, where he is steadily building what could only be described as a native botanical garden right in the middle of nowhere. Last weekend we went down to visit another of my host’s friends who’s a wonderfully eccentric man who has designed and built an incredible house for when his family come to visit, but he actually lives in a caravan in the garden! This is the kind of opportunity which you don’t get it without getting involved in the local community. Similarly we’ve been to the Gladstone market twice, which is a monthly market of local produce, which makes for a fantastic outing where you can just chat away to random vendors and locals. Again, having gone with a bunch of locals, I found out that the baker at the market (who makes fantastic bread) used to be an ecological consultant, and so we had a good long chat… and bought some delicious breads and pastries.

So in summary, the volunteering life is busy, but not too stressful with plenty of opportunity for a bit of R&R alongside the work (which is usually pretty fun anyway). My only issue at present is a lack of taxing cognitive work, perhaps I should get into brain exercises, or start some deep philosophical debates.

For the future however, there are interesting things ahead. I’m going to head out on a few hikes to test out my shiny new tent (a Vango Banshee 200… more on that in a later post) because in a few weeks I’ll depart from the urban metropolis of South West Rocks to spend 5 weeks working with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy in the Northern Territory in the proper outback, doing some animal surveys, which should be a great change of pace from my current weed killing.

Anyway, more on that in due time.

Until next time


One response to “The volunteering life

  1. Starting philosophical debates, that’s just like you. Your poor hosts… 😉
    Well if you want something more intellectually challenging I wouldn’t mind if you wrote more blog posts. It’s all good stuff, and really gives an idea what it’s like for those thinking of volunteering. From what you’ve written I certainly fancy it! You could also give us Poms more of an intro to the Australian wildlife. Your observations, however simple, would be very interesting also.
    Impressive leach by the way. Much more unpleasant looking than the ones I’ve seen before.
    The animal surveys sound very cool, can’t wait to hear about what they involve.

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