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To Volunteer is to Know

Unpaid work is still work.
 Where would the world be without volunteers? 
Think of the organisations that wouldn’t exist without the aid of volunteer labour?  Across this country at the sign of any sort of trouble the community will pitch in to help one another. A flood, a fire, an earthquake, or any natural calamity and people help one another. Ordinary men and women will appear to help the victims with whatever aide they can muster as soon as possible. A prolonged drought will prompt others to make up a shortage of stock feed,  These signs of benevolence are gifts the donors make without thought of payment. They are simply an acknowledgement of human kindness. Gifts from one to another are driven by compassion.
Any day of the week on Main Street there is a similar story. Beavering away in the background of every opportunity shop is an army of volunteers. Their only thought is to help the ultimate cause. Often they are so far removed from the management of the organisations for which they  raise funds the befitting groups may overlook their work. The volunteers do not stop and think about their work in this way they just get on with it in the hope the needy will benefit. 

In relating this story on volunteers I am drawn to writing about my maternal grandmother, Mabel  Mason. At just under five feet tall she was born in the nineteenth century Mabel Lillian Hayes. She was the youngest child in the family that lived in Seddon, just beside Footscray. After marriage her life was a busy one spent rearing 8 children in the Yarra Valley. Evelyn my mother was her first born. By the stage Evelyn was nearing ready to leave school the Great Depression had settled upon our land. My grandfather who had worked as an axeman cutting sleepers for Victorian Railways could not find work. Like many young girls my mother joined the post Master General’s Office (PMG) as a telephonist. This was despite topping the public service entrance exams that year. Instead she went to work so she could help the family. Together with her younger brothers, Ron and Doug – who also left school, she helped keep the family stick together in any way they could. 
Being busy was the lot of housewives in those days yet despite her busyness my grandmother volunteered to help her community in Lilydale. First she helped raise money for the local school. Long after her last  children (the twins)  had left the school. Through the 1960’s  she was still making toffee apples for the school fete as she always had.  In those years some grand children attended the school. She also assisted her church raise funds by catering for weddings on  weekend. For this work she was awarded  life memberships as a member of the Red Cross, and the local state school. With a big family her kitchen was a place she rarely left except to help others.

Her contribution to community life was generous but not dissimilar to the lives of other women of her generation. They did what they could to build relationships though tireless service. Being a volunteer in the CWA was usual. Helping in the church community was too. There were also people who gave their spare time to the scouts, the guides, Apex, Rotary, the Lions. You could list dozens of similar worthy groups. They all attracted volunteers. Municipal councils also depended on the generous help of citizens who put their community ahead of their own interests without payment. 
Sometimes only one or two people kept alive an organisation just so it didn’t fall over. My uncle Fred was such a person.  Long after Jim Clarke – the Scottish formula one racing driver was killed Fred kept the doors open to a museum dedicated to him in Duns. Perhaps this is why it still runs today. Volunteers keep things going.
Today volunteering is dying. Perhaps it is the cost of insurance. Perhaps it is dying because people are too busy. Of course things still operate. An example of this is found every weekend when  parents turn up to sporting  ovals and assist organising activities for their children. Little athletics, tennis, foosball, soccer, you name it, they all depend on the volunteers that organise their games. The kids are oblivious to the men and women who coach them, groom them, and feed them, at games. These groups only survive because of volunteers. 
Many organisations have died though. Jobs once done voluntarily only get done now because a cheque book is opened. Councils only operate with paid councillors. Things done in the name of charity are not always as charitable as they could be as the “volunteers “ are paid fund raisers. Hospital wings are donated by benefactors  so their names can hang over the doorway and they can self direct money that would otherwise have gone into consolidated revenue as taxes. Generous to be sure,  but nevertheless self serving and not as generous an act as benefactors of old. 
A blatant sign of this is the generosity of gambling institutions. Their charter says they should give back to their community but almost always that gift is given as an improvement to their own  facilities in the name of,  community service. Those who “benefit” are the few compulsive gamblers addicted to chasing ever growing losses in the hope they can leave the place for good. The bulk of the community know they run a scam in the name of. ….Who would have guessed? Big business.
If we haven’t seen the end of volunteers we can at least see they are no longer freely giving to the group of their choice without someone looking over their shoulder to monitor their behaviour. Few groups operate today without the supervision of someone in the employ of the group itself. This is partly because, as a community, we have become litigations if things go wrong. It is always someone’s fault even if an accident has at its cause thoughtlessness.

Nevertheless I urge people to volunteer with generous hearts because in giving the rewards are great. Great, even if at the end of day it only means you sleep well because you are worn out.

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