Australian Voluntary Work
As we landed in Cairns, we knew that the next day would be when we start to work in Australia; it was a bizarre and wonderful thought. We were thrown into this world of the unknown, we didn’t know where we were staying or who we would meet in the next couple of weeks. Our first thought was “it’s baking”. We jumped into the nearest cab parked up at the airport and handed him a map of where we wanted to go. Little did we know it would cost about $40 for the ride, but at least it had air con. We pulled up along side this detached house which looked completely different to a standard house in England. It was a house built for practicality, with living space all on the first floor, and the ground was dedicated completed to office space, and truck parking.
The leaders of CVA (Conservation Volunteers Australia) weren’t expecting Kim and I to turn up, there had been a problem with the paperwork. A sole destroying moment for us when we had just travelled across the world to be there. We had found, and paid for the experience ourselves. So with this small ‘blip’, and after a couple of hours of discussing what to do, we were put into the nearest Nomads hostel for the night with the hope that they could make room for us on the team. CVA contacted the STA branch in Manchester and instructed they fax over all of the relevant documents to prove that we booked.
As it turned out, they eventually believed us that we had booked and we were accepted on the work scheme. The next day, we made our way back to the base to start work. The leader of CVA ran through us all of the ‘must know’ regulations such as “you may die if this bites you” and “stamp your feet hard as you walk through areas of grass to scare away any snakes”, which made us feel great…
That same day, we went upstairs to the main living space where the rest of the team would be. They were working at this point and hadn’t come home yet. This gave us time to wonder around the whole upstairs, chose our beds, unpack (sort of) and have a much needed cup of tea. The fridge and cupboards were packed full of food and drinks which surprised us. The leader came upstairs and asked if we would like to do the weekly food shop with her as she would allow us to chose what we wanted. We expected to maybe fill a shopping basket. With a short walk there, and a huge trolley full later of mostly fruit and veg, (they were very strict), we were good to go. We got back, unpacked the shopping and then the rest of the team piled through the door, covered in mud and looking red hot from the day.
There were so many different characters, and about 14 of us in total. Most had travelled alone, some as a couple and were pretty much each from somewhere different in the world. Kim and I were the only ones from England; we dealt with a lot of accent queries, and had a laugh over that with the Americans.
We all got to know each other very quickly in the house that night, where we played drinking games like never have I ever, and truth or dare. Despite being told “there is to be NO alcohol in that house” by the leader. We had to hide all of the empty bottles in a bin bag under one of the beds, and snuck it out the next day. Everyone was so laid back, and we were all about the same age. When you’re forced into a situation like that when suddenly you’re all living together, it’s very easy to all get on.
The next day, in a hungover state, we were woken by the loud squawking of hundreds of dinosaur sounding birds sat on a tree right outside our bedroom window. We soon learnt that they make that noise every time the sun rises and sets. Great.
That day, we began our work. We filled two jeeps and set off. We were on a ‘Tramp Ants’ project. A foreign breed of ants had began to take over certain areas of Cairns. Some had been found near houses, and in back gardens which was deadly as these ants could blind animals, and with the rare case of humans as well. Australians love their dogs, so we had to help soon. They loved sausages and tuna and jam (I have no idea why either), so we set off to place a pink flag, with the food on the land below it. We would do this every 20ft or so, and then would come back an hour later to see if there was any of these ants on the food. Most of the time, we would find normal ants on the food, but occasionally there would be really tiny, yellow ants which move very slowly on the food, these were the deadly ones that we were looking for. Whenever we found these, we would drop a sample into a liquid filled tube, to be sent off to the lab. It would then be the specialists job to take further action from there. We did this every day in a different area of Cairns.
The team leaders mentioned an opportunity of a lifetime trip to Mapoon which the other team members would be going on soon. Kim and I weren’t sure at first as this work was only a small part of our travelling plans and we weren’t sure how much our funds would stretch. After some time of persuasion, and the price of the trip coming down significantly, we decided to go. It would take 3 days to get to Mapoon by jeep, and then another 3 days back. We had only allowed ourselves 2 weeks of the voluntary work out of the 7 weeks in Australia. This trip was actually a 10 day trip, 3 days over our plan. But, we soon learnt that when you go somewhere so far from home, it’s likely that things won’t go to plan so you have to be lenient when it comes to decision making – basically don’t make many.
We set off on the 3 day trip. 10 of us were crammed into this jeep, all facing each other, and a new team leader was driving – Ross the boss. Everyday we would travel through the Australian outback for hours and hours, passing through one of the most ancient rain forests in the world. Australia was stunning, an untouched picture, which wasn’t ruined by tourism like most of the places are. Every night we would stop off at a new place to camp, one of them being a place called Laura, where there was a hippy festival being held, so we had some fun there. There really is too much to talk about. The main aim of this trip was to help out with a Chilli beach clean up in Mapoon. We set up camp when we FINALLY arrived on the third day. Got an early night and then began the 7k clean up the next day. It was 40 degrees, it was exhausting and without a doubt the hardest work I had ever had to do, but at the end of the week, when the work was complete, it was so rewarding. We had collected over 4,600 ‘thongs’ (flip-flops to us), along with thousands of lighters and floats. We made it into the local newspaper and our achievement was broadcasted online. A life changing experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend others do if they ever have the chance.
The photographs do the rest of the talking.
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