Australia is a filthy place to volunteer. Literally. With thousands of miles between city centers, and more than a million native species inhabiting those wide-open spaces, most programs focus on environmental conservation in remote locations. Expect to get a bit of red soil under your fingernails, and sweat like a colloquial shrimp on the barbie (though Aussies actually call them prawns). But you can also prepare to witness one of the world’s most unique and changing landscapes, a land of extremes and opposites: from the rainbow waters of the Great Barrier Reef, through the gentle green hills of the Barossa Valley, to the barren scrubland of the Western Pilbara.
Its people and culture are just as unusual as the scenery, which makes Australia the perfect place for any volunteer who is ready to serve internationally, but not quite ready for a placement in tribal Amazon. This is not just another, hotter, British colony. The English is faster and flooded with slang; the mammals carry eggs; and you can get third-degree sunburn in December. Hospitality is a source of pride, and visitors — especially those coming to volunteer in Australia — will be welcomed with gruff handshakes and exclamations of “Good on ya, mate.”
People who want to volunteer abroad in Australia can get involved with programs centered on:
Conservation. Besides the abundance of opportunities available, these volunteer programs are an ideal introduction to Australia’s distinctive flora and fauna. Over the past decades, the country has implemented aggressive campaigns to protect Australia’s native species — which, experts say, make up more than 80 percent of all endangered species — from extinction. Sustainability, environmental protection, and habitat restoration are key government concerns. So, though planting trees, surveying wildlife, and collecting seeds might not be everyone’s idea of volunteer service, they are essential safeguards.
Programs tend to be short term (one day to four weeks), and many incorporate outdoor adventure activities, such as caving and hiking, into the itinerary. Programs often charge a fee, most of which goes towards the project itself. Accommodation and some meals are typically provided. Volunteers may contact the various states’ Departments of Environment and Conservation for other, free opportunities.
Indigenous Peoples. More than 500 Aboriginal peoples have inhabited Australia for so long, they are considered to be some of the oldest indigenous populations in mankind. And yet, a conversation with most Aussies will convince you otherwise. The status of these peoples is similar to that of the Native Americans of the United States and Canada: many have been relocated to closed communities on tribal land, and struggle with issues of substance abuse, lack of education, poverty, and problems with physical and mental health.
Volunteers interested in working with indigenous peoples have limited opportunities in this field. Programs tend to be longer-term (four weeks-several months).They often charge a fee, most of which goes towards projects in the native community. Programs focus on education and classroom teaching, community development, and cultural identity. Volunteers with more specialized skills are especially considered. Accommodation and some meals are typically provided.
Refugees/Immigrants. Located so close to Southeast Asia, Australia is a haven for refugees and immigrants from that part of the world. While the country has some of the toughest immigration policies in the Western world, it’s working hard to erase its history as a “whites only” asylum. In cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, volunteers can work with placement programs and agencies that provide services to new arrivals: tutoring and English teaching, health and psychological care, and cultural support. Opportunities are typically free, but require a longer-term commitment (3-6 months) and require international volunteers to live in the city, at their own expense. Most programs do not place volunteers in this field; interested candidates generally research opportunities on their own.
The Inner City. As in any country, the biggest cities in Australia have typical problems: poverty, substance abuse, domestic abuse and gang violence. While Australia is a social welfare state, it still has citizens “sleeping rough,” (homeless), starving and malnourished, and needing rehabilitation. Volunteer opportunities are typically free, but require international volunteers to live in the city, at their own expense. Depending on the size of the organization or program, volunteers may be needed for both short- and long-term periods of time.
Most international programs do not place volunteers in this field; interested candidates are expected to research opportunities on their own when they have arrived in the city.
Visa. Keep in mind that if you’re volunteering abroad in Australia, you’ll be expected to obtain a visa prior to entry. Many pre-organized international programs will take care of this for you. However, if you plan to stay in the country for a longer period of time or have not arranged for a visa through your volunteer program in Australia, contact the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship for visa information relevant to your plans.