Above Dedicated volunteer members of the Black Rock and Sandringham Conservation Association undertake delicate weed control in the coastal bushland along Black Rock foreshore.
The City of Bayside is a local government area in the southern suburbs of Melbourne that hugs Port Phillip Bay. It has a population of more than 97,000, many of whom are volunteers. Friends of Bayside is the council’s largest and fastest growing volunteer program, with new members joining every week.
Individuals and groups generously volunteer their time for many different reasons. We’ve had university students that are motivated by career experience, but find friendships and social bonds become their reason to continue. New members to the community who were seeking connections have found meaning and purpose in the work as they have witnessed the regeneration of local bushland. Some long term residents with expert knowledge about environmental degradation have gone on to dedicate themselves to education and advocacy to protect precious remnant sites.
The daily grind of life in the city and suburbs can make nature feel remote and start to take a toll on our health. Urban nature-based volunteering like Friends of Bayside can help to bridge this gap. Many active Friends are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s and are still strong in both body and mind.
When I went to visit 86-year-old volunteer Ken Rendell at home recently, he was on his roof clearing leaf debris. Ken first joined the Friends when he moved to Beaumaris more than 50 years ago.
“As well as the Friends, I also joined the local bushwalking club in the 1960s because I missed being in the bush. After the children grew up we found we no longer went camping and into nature. More than five decades on, I still have these friendships and connections and we still go walking together regularly in the Dandenong Ranges.”
Ken is the convenor of three Friends of Bayside groups and an active member of two others. He values exercise and walks for two hours every third day.
“I believe mental and physical health is connected. Apart from nourishing food
and minimising alcohol, exercise is the best thing for your health. I volunteer to look after the bushlands because I enjoy being in the environment and I find it nourishing for the mind,” Ken Rendell
Giving time to a meaningful and important cause can be health-giving for our minds, bodies and spirits. Betty Knight has been volunteering with Friends of Bayside for more than a decade. Betty says it’s what keeps her going.
“By working towards preserving our last remaining bushland reserves we become interested in our history and which plants and animals belonged here. Their survival is connected to our own health and wellbeing – emotionally, psychologically and physically,” Betty said.
According to Julie Valentine who works at the Bayside Community Nursery supervising volunteers and propagating plants, much vital environmental work simply would not get done without the dedicated efforts of the Friends.
“The positive flow-on effect to the broader Bayside community who maintain access to healthy local inland and coastal bushlands and greenspaces is immeasurable,” Julie said.
“And, at a time when more and more people no longer have a backyard, they still need to be able to get out in nature and to garden. It’s important to be able to fulfil that desire.”
Volunteering in local nature and greenspaces such as parklands offers an important way for people to connect with their environment – doing so is a very basic human need.
Jill Robinson-Bird is the Friends of Bayside Support Officer.
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