Having now settled back in to my corporate city life in Melbourne I reminisce over my time volunteering for the Queensland Murray Darling Committee and I wonder how the farmers, landholders and all involved are now getting on with their lives. It seems like a century ago I was nursing the combination of barbed wire scars and a bodily rejection of country cooking in the same 24 hours. I leave you with an extract I made in my diary during my last week Volunteering in Dalby.
As the cool winter nights in Dalby descend I crank up the small electric heater in my cold-filled room, my room which over the course of twelve weeks has become unexpectedly content; complete with cobwebs, heavily patterned flowered curtains and industrial beige loop pile carpet that would usually be saved for large scale city offices. The exact same carpet that is responsible for several flying exits out of the bedroom where the joins are not complete and the loops have become loose and worn over the decades of pattering little orphaned feet. One wall is covered in wallpaper that I find synonymous with my primary school classroom; a repeat pattern consisting of an ancient Egyptian theme complete with hieroglyphs, pharaohs, and mummies. Surprisingly I steadily become accustomed to the spiders slowly calculating their way around the four corners of my ceiling, the scratching of mice along the skirting boards, and even the unidentified sounds which I suspect are Gekkos’s catching their evening delicacy of moth.
Feeling the change in seasons, from the Autumn warmth to the now winter chill, alerts me to the fact that I have spent three months in Queensland and I find myself reflecting on my time in Dalby. Realisation hits that I only have one week left of this voluntary project. I think what strikes me most is that during my first week I could not wait to return home and yet now I feel a strange paradoxical mix of emotions. Excitement versus melancholy almost; at leaving what feels like a new and valid family, a lifestyle, a contribution, and warm recognition by a welcoming and generous community.
My time in Queensland is quickly coming to an end. Ninety two days of voluntary work. Three calendar months. Of which I have had the pleasure of spending with many other great humoured, generous and adventurous local and international volunteers from all walks of life. From privately educated 15 year old’s volunteering on their school holidays to 70 year old gray nomads, making their way up from a cooling Victoria to the sunny coasts of Cairns. I have shared my 24 hour days learning and enjoying the lives of others. I have had the fortune of meeting a friendly and enthusiastic group from Conservation Volunteers Australia, who joined us at Bethel for one rather fleeting week. It was an insightful visit learning about their travels and adventures, and admittedly I was envious of their advanced experiences and exposure on their vast geographical tour across Australia.
I smile when I compare my initial solution, to gaining a second year in Australia, with my eventual outcome. When I saw the advert posted for ‘Volunteers required to assist with the Queensland flood relief project’ I thought it sounded like a great challenge to take part for many reasons, some more selfish than others. Much more than this however, I considered how many times in your life can you really just give up everything for three months to help where it is really and truly needed. How many people can leave their family, social life, stop earning, stop paying the mortgage, the monthly bills, sacrifice the fine wines and healthy home cooking for carbs and overcooked sprouts. Or give up their weekly TV fix.
For me; I sacrificed my Saturday CSI Episodes, Friday night drinks and Saturday morning hangovers, overpriced dinners in the city, elitist door staff, and a regular job with regular pay working every regular day. I could have completed three months on a fruit farm, a flower farm or collecting grapes for harvest in the Wine Region; all in exchange for that thing that pays the bills and keeps our regular lives rolling over without a whisper.
The decision to volunteer was spontaneous. Only a week before I boarded the plane to Brisbane had I called, inquired, and trusted the friendly female Queensland voice that promised an additional year in Australia for three simple months fencing. I had no idea what was really in store for me. I suspected it would involve a combination of mosquitoes, mud soaked boots, and mattresses with missing bedsprings (if I was lucky). Beyond my materialistic expectations I could not have predicted the unforgettable experience or relationships I would be so gratefully rewarded with.
I became conscious of many differences to my life in the out back in contrast to my life in the city, and one of which was the desperate need to now have my driving license. Whilst the legal requirements didn’t prevent eager and willing farmers from handing me the keys to their entourage of tractors, Utes and ATV’s; realisation soon hit me that a driving license out here was as crucial as an academic qualification in the Big City. With a handful of hill starts, a scattering of roundabouts, and the population of 12,000 residents to contend with, I finally passed my driving test in Dalby in May 2011.
As a result of this experience my outlook on life has changed. I see two options on the table. You can plan meticulously and achieve the things that society dictates in life; whether that is material, tangible, emotional or spiritual. Or you can take opportunities as they come, choosing a road less travelled without direction, ultimately leading to an unknown destination. By making my choice I believe I have been blessed with lifetime friendships, learning’s beyond the text book, but more profoundly a sense of gratitude for all that I am lucky enough to experience, possess and share with others.