Sick of traipsing from place to place, only to find that everyone has done it before? Interested in doing different things, like hanging out with turtles in Broome, or picking weeds on Queensland’s tropical islands, stuff that will really give you something to write home about? Then try your hand atvolunteer work.

Volunteering is a very popular activity in Australia with a wide variety of venues and tasks available. Not only does it benefit both the community and the environment, volunterring often takes you to places you wouldn’t normally visit.

Nineteen-year-old Alan Brydon, from Leeds, has found his backpacking experience to be a little different than most. A few weeks ago he was counting penguins.
”I was staying in youth hostels and talking to the backpackers I met and they all had the same stories: Alice Springs, Sydney… they’d all pretty much been doing the same thing. I don’t have the same story as everybody else’s. I was working from eight to 10 at night counting penguins walking up the beach,”says Alan.

Now he’s ripping up weeds at Port Arthur’s Point Peur, which, coincidentally, is the place where English convict boys were sent to be rehabilitated. 
“Some pretty bad stuff happened here, it’s weird thinking that this is where the boys were tortured,” he says.


Alan belongs to the Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) group and so far he’s worked on two CVA projects, and has just signed up for more. So why does he do it? Money is one reason, he says. 
“It saves a lot of cash. I was staying at a hostel during a break and I realised how much money I would be spending if I was actually backpacking around.”
You pay $30 per night while you volunteer with CVA, and for that they put you up and feed you. Even the accommodation sounds interesting: “They’ve put us up in shearers” quarters and tents, but that’s all experience,” he says.


WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) offers a good opportunity to stay with Australian families and help out in exchange for food and somewhere to rest your weary head.

Ann and David Craber have been hosting wwoofers for three years. “Our first wwoofers, an English couple, arrived three Christmases ago. They’ve invited us to their wedding in England,” says Ann.

Talking to Ann, you get the feeling that wwoofing can sometimes be much more than just “workfor board”. She absolutely loves her wwoofers. “The longest stay so far was Yang, a remarkable 24-year-old South Korean. He stayed for eight months. He was my baby…” 
So what exactly do wwoofers do? 
”It’s varied,” says Ann, who lives in rural Victoria. “We’re not a real farm, just 3.5 acres in the Dandenongs. We grow herbs, fruit and veggies. There are 20 chooks, 15 ducks, a couple of geese and a turkey. Wwoofers clean out the duck coup and feed the chooks. We’ve also got three alpacas, so they might need to move them. Because the alpacas nip, it can be intimidating at first, but it’s fun.”

Family affair

Wwoofers “live as family” in Ann’s house. There are two bedrooms with double beds. Ann, a restaurant reviewer and preserve-maker, cooks and says that backpackers who’ve been scrimping on food during their travels usually leave her house fatter than when they arrived. For Ann, hosting “is like having family from all around the world,” and some of their previous wwoofers obviously feel the same; they returned to spend last Christmas at the Craber’s. Is that a better deal than drinking a keg of beer on Bondi? It just might be.

Volunteering is also a good way to pick up work experience that can lead to much greater things. Annette Schneider was a teacher who saw a brochure about International Volunteers For Peace’s (IVP) Workcamps.

IVP is the Australian version of Service Civil International (SCI), which was established in 1920.

Good job

Annette forked out for the plane trip from Sydney to Townsville and the IVP registration in order to spend two weeks of her school holidays volunteering at Shalom Aboriginal College. “I really enjoyed Shalom. I was basically renovating; did a lot of painting, and during the second week I was in the classrooms, helping out with remedial teaching,” she says.

Annette lead further workcamps in Australia before going overseas as a volunteer. “After a couple of workcamps in England, I spent a year at the Glencree Centre of Reconciliation in Ireland,” she says.

She then became an Australian Youth Ambassador in Sri Lanka (you’ve got to be an Australian for that one), but gave it up when a job she applied for came through. Not just any job, mind you.

A year-and-a-half of volunteering has earned her a five-year, exceptionally well-paid position as the Educational Advisor at the Council of Europe youth centre in Budapest.

Contact info

Volunteering Australia have a recruitment service called “Go Volunteer”, which lists many not-for-profit organisations looking for volunteers. 

WWOOF has a book, which costs $55 for one, or $65 for two people, which gives you access to over 1,500 host properties throughout Australia.

Conservation Volunteers Australia completes more than 2,000 conservation projects across Australia each year. For information, freecall 1800 032 501, or visit

International Volunteers for Peace help poor communities around the world through volunteerwork. Membership is $35 (concession $25). Australian workcamps cost $250 and each additional workcamp in the same year is $200. Workcamp fees include food and basic accommodation but not travel. Ph: (02) 9699 1129 or visit

VISA info

According to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) website, for those visitors who have a student visa “’work’ includes both paid and unpaid/voluntary work and any other activity which would normally attract remuneration.” 
Therefore, you need to follow the same rules as if you were doing paid work. According to the Volunteering Australia website, if you are on a tourist visa, you can do voluntary work provided that your main purpose for visiting Australia is tourism. Also, you must not do work voluntarily that would normally be done as paid work by an Australian citizen or resident. The workactivities you do should also be genuinely voluntary – that is, you must not be paid for it. You can, however, receive board in exchange for work. For details go to