Brian Slee reflects on what being a volunteer means to him
How I see volunteering.
Contributed by: Brian Slee
Volunteer with: National Parks Association ACT
The amount of unpaid work waiting to be done is enormous. For me volunteering is essentially about being active, doing something useful in the environment rather than complaining about neglect. With any task I persist until I finish, or accept that there is either no end or the end is not worth pursuing. Then I start something else. Fortunately, there are many like-minded, easy to get along with people willing to share chores and pool talents.
Volunteers need to begin with a generosity of spirit and a willingness to undertake activities as an end in themselves. Rather than praise they seek emulation, hoping others will join them and build on their efforts.
I planned to begin volunteering when I retired in 2001 but drifted into it earlier through the ACT National Parks Association (NPA). The NPA was involved with the Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group’s project to rehabilitate Boboyan Pine Forest after it was clear felled, burnt and reseeded with native species. The effort to rid it of pine wildings took ages but we had a clear objective, the work was good exercise and we enjoyed each other’s company every month for decades in the lovely Gudgenby Valley. As wilding numbers dwindled, our attention turned to other exotics such as briars, blackberries and hawthorns. Additional activities have included tree planting, erosion control and fence removal.
Following the 2003 bushfires, the NPA revived its program of work parties. Under government direction, we have been involved in numerous monthly outings in a variety of projects of short and long duration. Examples include:
- Blundells Flat, where hundreds of large pines and thousands of poplars were lopped;
- upper Cotter valley, Naas valley and Glendale, where large areas were cleared of briars;
- Rendezvous Creek valley, where many kilometres of fencing were removed;
- several arboreta, where both native and exotic species were controlled; and
- south of Brayshaws Hut, where a continuing battle is waged against invasive broom.
A separate program, led by NPA’s Col McAlister, concerned the restoration of Glenburn historical precinct, east of Kowen Forest. Stretching over many years until 2018, I attended most of the four work parties per year. Memorable activities included mortaring to stabilize a ruin and construction of walking tracks.
In 2013 the NSW Parks Service sought NPA assistance in restoring endangered grassy woodlands in Dananbilla, Illunie and Koorawatha Nature Reserves, north of Boorowa. I attended the 19 work parties (51 days, and continuing) in which we initially removed farm fences but later seeded areas, planted trees and undertook erosion control.
Apart from organised volunteering, since 2001 I have undertaken activities in a Canberra suburb to eliminate graffiti, collect rubbish, free paths from obstructions, and weeding. It occupies many hours a week.
Learning from others
Volunteers never stop learning. Rangers are invariably knowledgeable, competent and affable. Similarly, the work attracts fellow volunteers with practical skills and often with scientific or technical qualifications related to the environment. Volunteers also pick up practical skills when organising for work, particularly in remote areas, in tackling off-road driving or preparing to camp out.
Ongoing fascinations: the power of kangaroos and wallaroos; the cuteness of wallabies; the cries of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos; the effortless glide of Wedge-tailed Eagles; the extraordinary beauty of eucalypts.
Ongoing pleasures: accessing remote areas beyond locked gates, visiting bush huts, experiencing severe frost and snow and the burst of spring flowers.
Memorable moments: Darren raising a rock to reveal a legless lizard; Philip discovering a lyrebird nest cantilevered from a boulder; Adrienne identifying blue finger orchids; Simon zipping out intractable fencing behind his 4WD; Kathy’s, Hazel’s and Deidre’s magic puddings. And numerous examples of the kindness of others.
An enduring hope
That there will be more Indigenous participation.