Our Volunteer Experience at Bellbunya, Australia

by isvolunteers on Monday, 16 May 2016

ISV Australia Project Leader, Tansy Boggon, and ISV participants reflect on their experiences with Bellbunya. ISV have been partnering with this community who are a living example of sustainable lifestyle choices, using renewable energy and producing their own food in the Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland. This is a habitat conservation project working towards the long-term goal of protecting and enhancing vital habitat for rare and endangered species in the area, as well as creating a wildlife corridor linking the State Forest to the Mapleton National Park.

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The Bellbunya Community are a living example of sustainable lifestyle choices, using renewable energy and producing their own food in the Sunshine Coast hinterland of Queensland. (c) ISV

The adventure begins

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Not only did our Bellbunya volunteers make a meaningful impact to the environment, a close bond was formed between them and the local community. (c) ISV

Our adventure of a lifetime began at takeoff from our home countries (the United States, Canada and Scotland). We were filled with excitement and nerves. Many of us had never been overseas before and none of us had ever visited Australia.

For some, traveling to Australia had always been a dream. For others, it was an opportunity to give back to the environment and explore a foreign country. Any apprehensions we had soon dissipated as we learned more about each other and our reasons for coming on this adventure. We were all open-minded to what the experience would bring.

We quickly began considering the Bellbunya community a ‘second family’. They are people who ask how you are, and genuinely want to hear your response. They are people who ask what you want to do with your life, and will sit for a hours to listen to what you have to say. We each felt accepted for who we are as individuals.

A typical day

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The area volunteers worked in will be a linkage corridor for a multitude of native animals such as wallabies, sugar-gliders, micro-bats and various bird species. (c) ISV

Our work days started with the opportunity to stretch our muscles in the community hall with a yoga session led by our Project Leader, Tansy. After a healthy breakfast, we would head to our work site. Before starting work we’d spend 15 minutes of silence in our ‘magic spot’ in the bush. It was an opportunity to clear the mind explore our connection to nature.

Our work varied from weeding, tree planting, house maintenance and painting. We particularly enjoyed starting our day pulling and cracking into the dense Lantana, as it energized us and gave a great sense of accomplishment. Lantana is a nightmare of a weed. It’s a woody shrub that grows impenetrable thickets that smother native vegetation. It was rewarding to uncover natives from among the weeds and learn about these indigenous plants.

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Volunteers weeding lantana. This is a nightmare of a weed, growing impenetrable thickets that smother native vegetation. (c) ISV

Tansy and Bellbunya Coordinator, Kestrel, were impressed by our enthusiasm and declarations of love towards weeding Lantana. Despite how much we enjoyed this work, it was very physical and exhausting. Fortunately our days were divided into 1.5 – 2 hour blocks so we able to rest or change tasks.  We enjoyed delicious morning teas by the lake, games to re-energize or group massages to relax our tired muscles. At the end of each day it was incredible to look over what we had achieved.

We would finish with discussions on sustainability, self-sufficiency and getting to know one another better. We’d get to bed early each night with a feeling of elation for what we’d accomplished and learned.

Eating sustainably

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The teams’ revegetation work improves water quality. Eva Ford, co-ordinator for Mary River Catchment Care Group and Queensland frog expert, with volunteers conducting a fauna survey of the creek and together evaluating the creek health. (c) ISV

Listening to our Host Organisation explaining the path of an Aboriginal Songline that passes through Bellbunya

‘Volunteer tasks varied from weeding, tree planting, house maintenance and painting. (c) ISV

To fuel our work efforts, we demolished delicious, mostly vegetarian food. All the meals served at Bellbunya are created with a wholefood organic diet in mind. The ingredients are gathered from local producers or collected from the gardens tended by the Bellbunya community and volunteers. When helping in the kitchen, we were allocated the chore of exploring the garden to pick various leafy vegetables and edible flowers for our salads. Meals were served five times a day, varying from brothy potato and lentil soups to bean burritos. We made desserts from vegetables such as sweet potato and arrowroot. All food is created from the freshest possible ingredients and packed full of flavor. This experience demonstrated to us how easy it is to prepare food that is good for us and the planet.

Through the community and Tansy, we learned about the environmental benefits of eating local and consuming less meat. We discovered how wasteful we can be back home and how much of our food is packaged.

Realizing the power of our choices

Waverly and Laura enjoy the view from the top of Mt Ninderry after a hard days work.

Waverly and Laura enjoy the view from the top of Mt Ninderry after a hard days work. (c) ISV

In two weeks working in the bush, we have learnt so much about sustainability and self-sufficiency that we will stay us for the rest of our lives. We have experienced the benefits of spending time in nature to reconnect with who we are on this planet, and how intricately we are linked to every other living organism.

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Click the image above to view an inspiring video from one of our groups at Bellbunya last season! (c) ISV

We have realized the power we can make as individuals through our choices – particularly what we put on our plates. Eating and purchasing products made locally, cooking from raw ingredients rather than packaged foods, eating less meat and growing some of our own foods are just some of the practical things we will take home. However we will take away more than practical steps with us from this experience. What will stay with us for life is the experience of creating an ISV and Bellbunya family in such a short time, and our shift in perspective of our connection to others and the planet.

Find out more about volunteering with ISV in Australia here.

Click here to read the End of Season report written by Bellbunya, outlining the incredible achievements volunteers made possible in 2015.

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