National Volunteer Week (16 May to 22 May) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of every volunteers’ vital dedication towards a better society. During this week, we’re sharing stories from a range of wonderful EcoCentre volunteers; exemplifying why we’re ‘Better Together’ when it comes to caring for our land, water, wildlife and wellbeing.
Continue reading for a unique take on volunteering at the EcoCentre from our Volunteer Committee President, Pam O’Neil.
If you think about volunteering at the EcoCentre what might spring to mind is joining a gardening group or helping to research plastics in the Bay — but my volunteering has been different. I’ve been volunteering at the EcoCentre for about 14 years now, most of that time as the President of the Committee of Management.
It all started when I met Neil, who was the Director at the time, in the park one day. I had stopped working formally and was studying a Diploma of Art. I have always been very interested in the environment, and love camping and walking in wild natural places. Also I have long been worried about the degradation of the environment and what was now being called climate change.
I often try to imagine what places looked like before there were permanent buildings and when people lived in harmony with the land. At the time when I first became involved, I was developing paintings for an upcoming exhibition of places around Port Phillip; how they currently look juxtaposed with other painting of what the land looked like before white people were here. Neil helped me learn about the plants and topography of those early times. And I began helping him write grant applications and teaching other staff how to write successful submissions.
Part of my work in government previously was to evaluate grant submissions that had been sent in by community organisations and as well to advise community organisations on good governance. Before that I had been a teacher so I had some experience that was useful to this volunteer work at the EcoCentre.
About a year later I was elected to the Committee of Management which is the governing body of the organisation. That means the Committee sets the directions for the organisation, ensures that the organisation is well-managed and staffed, runs smoothly and that is always financially stable. It also appoints and manages the Executive Officer. All of us on the Committee are volunteers.
Committee meets at the EcoCentre once a month to plan, evaluate and prioritise. Photos c. 2015
The 10 Committee members are elected by the members of the EcoCentre every year at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), and we have a formal meeting once a month. We work very closely with the Executive Officer and sometimes other staff.
The work is diverse covering: financial and investment management, strategic planning, human resources planning, risk management, policy development, and more. We often also represent the EcoCentre at Government meetings or local events. Being on the Committee and helping the EcoCentre flourish is a most rewarding unpaid job – definitely worthwhile doing.
Governing a growing organisation can be hard work, but there is always a feel-good, supportive atmosphere between our staff, Committee and other volunteers. In addition to contributing my own skills, I have learnt so much through sharing ideas and experience with people and community organisations in the EcoCentre network.
Volunteering as President includes meeting partner groups, community leaders and government. Pictured: (1) A planning picnic with Elsternwick Park Association co-presidents, 2021. (2) Celebrating with Boonwurrung Elder N’Arweet Carolyn Briggs PhD AM, and Aunty Joan, c. 2012. (3) Hosting Josh Burns MP and Mark Butler MP to advocate for community-led environment centres, 2018.
The EcoCentre has always been a great place to work and volunteer because of the people who work, volunteer and participate there, and because of its ethos of being part of the community. Now more than ever in these times of global climate emergency the EcoCentre’s work is critical. That makes volunteering here feel even more worthwhile.