Volunteers from way out west visit Mountains

Competition winners Simon Thuijs and Matt Norman, above at Winmalee Rural Fire Service Brigade on Sunday.

Competition winners Simon Thuijs and Matt Norman, above at Winmalee Rural Fire Service Brigade on Sunday.

Matt Norman and Simon Thuijs listen to Red Cross volunteers at Winmmalee on Sunday.

Matt Norman and Simon Thuijs listen to Red Cross volunteers at Winmmalee on Sunday.

Matt Norman and Simon Thuijs were on the other side of the country when the Blue Mountains bushfires struck last October but the spirit of volunteering that defined the response to the disaster brought them to Winmalee on Sunday.

The best friends from Western Australia spent the day with members of the Rural Fire Service and Red Cross as part of a whirlwind volunteering road trip around Australia. The pair scored the seven-day adventure after winning an Instagram-based competition run by Australian Red Cross and Young People Without Borders.

"The idea behind this week is to show there are so many different ways people can volunteer and so many different levels at which you can volunteer. It means that literally anyone can get involved," said Mr Norman.

The University of Western Australia students visited fire-affected areas at Buena Vista Road and St Columba's High School before enjoying a barbecue lunch at the Winmalee RFS brigade on Hawkesbury Road.

"We have so many natural disasters in Australia that unless you personally know people affected by them it can become something that's just happening somewhere else, to somebody else," said Mr Norman. "Coming here and meeting people who have lost their homes, and who were out there with the fire right in front of them, just brings a whole new aspect to the experience."

Both men were struck by the range of volunteering roles that played a part in the bushfire emergency.

"A life-saving organisation [like the RFS] relies on volunteers and the roles of those volunteers can be so diverse. It's not just the front line - everyone can help and get involved," said Mr Thuijs.

The third year psychology student said volunteers were the lifeblood of any community.

"One thing that's stuck out already [on the trip] is that behind every volunteering opportunity is a community. I've not yet seen a volunteering experience that's about the individual, that's just about 'you'. Here [at Winmalee] there is a great community."

Winmalee RFS member Ken Wade-Ferrell said the visit was a chance for the brigade to reconnect with volunteers from the Red Cross as well as throw the spotlight on volunteering in general.

"For the brigade it's part of our continued engagement with the community at large, both our local community and the volunteer community statewide... It gives us a good opportunity to get back together with the Red Cross and keep that engagement going."

Aged 20 and 21, the best friends volunteered at a community radio station in Melbourne and also searched for the endangered bird, the Hooded Plover, in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, before arriving in the Mountains. They were headed for Cairns and Darwin, when they left.

The pair had a simple message for young people thinking about volunteering.

"Don't hesitate. Volunteering's a win-win and you'll be surprised what you get out of it," said Mr Thuijs.

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