Volunteer bushland care creates new bonds
  • Wednesday 13 May 2015
Volunteer Tony Ireland

Outside exercise among native trees and bushes, relaxed social banter among up to 40 fellow workers, and watched over – well, some of the time – by a koala called Nigel atop his favourite gum.

What’s not to like?

Nothing much, says Friend of Maroochy Bushland Botanic Gardens volunteer Tony Ireland.

Tony has spent most Tuesdays of the last five years rejuvenating the gardens, and the “nearly 70-year-old” retiree loves every minute.

“My role is to coordinate the volunteers, to make sure all the tools are ready to do the jobs,” he says.

It’s a long way from wheat farming in southern NSW and supply teaching IT studies at Sunshine Coast state high schools - Tony’s previous working personas.

“I was working and came (to the gardens) as a visitor; there was a fellow sweeping paths and I got talking to him about the gardens.

“I waited until I’d finished (full-time) work – I’ve been here ever since.”

Volunteering at the botanic gardens, located near to Tony’s North Buderim home, he is part of a large movement of volunteers who are transforming 35 acres (14 hectares) of the 400 total-acre (162-hectare) land.

“We are currently re-doing stuff from when the gardens first opened in 2001,” Tony said.

“For me, doing this work means I can leave something worthwhile behind when I leave (this life).

“I would like to think I have left a positive mark; to leave this better than it was.”

The friendships forged from the work count for a lot, too, and Tony recommends volunteering for everyone for the same reasons he has benefitted.

“It’s a good social circle – I’ve made good friends – well, I came 1500km to do so.

“I get a lot out of it. The Australian environment has so much to offer; people can visit here and appreciate nature.”

Nigel hasn’t moved a centimetre as we talk; he continues his sleep, wedged between two branches of a large overhead gum.

“Koalas don’t eat just any gum leaf. In fact, there are only about 25 gums out of about 700 in this area, so we see Nigel quite a lot here,” Tony observed.

“This is a beautiful place; hopefully we will get more people to appreciate it.”

Sunshine Coast Council Community Programs portfolio councillor Jenny McKay said this year’s theme was “Give Happy, Live Happy”, and acknowledged the many volunteers who gave back to the community in so many ways.

“Volunteers make an enormous difference to our community, and the nation,” Cr McKay said.

“Becoming a volunteer offers a tremendous opportunity to return something the community and perhaps learning something completely new and rewarding in your life.

“For so many people, giving is its own reward.

“And there are no age limits, with people young and old volunteering across many areas.”

Visit council’s website www.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au for more information on volunteering.