Is charity in our nature? A look at the rate of volunteering in Australia

Australians love to work hard and play hard. They have been gifted with some of the longest lifespans and highest wages in the entire world.  Economically Australia has survived better than most other developed nations during depression periods, it has a high rate of access to health care and education, high standards of living, high employment and low poverty, and it is considered one of the safest countries in the world.  So what’s not to love, right?

Despite this, it is not always rose tinted glasses. For some there is an under-current of doubt that seems to dwell over every-day Australians as the nation approaches complex issues like climate policy, reconciliation, foreign conflict, immigration, culture, foreign aid, investment and more. A changing of multiple Prime Ministers in short concession between 2013-2018 had Australia become the temporary laughing stock of global democracies and left trading partners looking on through furrowed brows. Indeed Australia is not perfect. A track record of the highest rate of mammal species extinction in the world, human rights violations in its off-shore detention centres, and a seeming hard-line approach to negotiating over climate deals has left somewhat of a hot bed of contention over what exactly Australia is doing, and who it is becoming as a nation. Black lives matter protests and Anti lockdown protests rocked both Sydney and Melbourne in the past few years. Border restrictions, on returning citizens, residents and students left many feeling stranded and dismayed during the COVID19 Pandemic. Sydney and Melbourne also held some of the world’s longest lockdowns and toughest lockdown restrictions. There is also the ethics of mandated vaccines and high mental health problem rates from COVID, that have left many Australian citizens in a head-spin.

But with the bad comes the good. With the rough the smooth, and with the rain the sunshine.

So what if, just briefly we took step away from all the negative and shone a light on what is apart of the Australian identity which has been unwavering, and profound throughout it all. Some organisations and institutions which have kept us safe, served us valiantly and are apart of the Australian culture, our communities and our families. Organisations that save lives, preserve nature and help others. All kept afloat by volunteers.

Unbeknown to many, Australians are some of the most charitable people in the world, according to their donations per capita and their involvement in volunteer organisations.

In fact figures gauge that 29%, or nearly one in three Australians over aged 15 participate in some form of unpaid voluntary work every year.

Examples of the Australian public’s generosity are obvious during times of crisis; such as during the harrowing 2004 Tsunami which struck Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Thailand.

Charity rates within Australia: 29% of Australians over 15 participate in unpaid volunteer work annually.

Volunteer hours contributed annually: Estimated 596.2 Million hours given to the broader community every 12 months.

Economic Value: Despite the addition of lives and property being saved, which may not hold a monetary value. It is estimated that volunteering contributes $290 billion AUD to the Australian economy annually.

Average estimated annual donation per person: $603 AUD

Australian foreign Aid budget 2021/2022:  $4.355 Billion AUD has been allocated to foreign Aid in the Governments Federal budget.

Now, a look at some organisations within Australia that are playing an active role within the community. Some are volunteer run or a combination of paid and volunteer. Here is a list of a few below, with a link to each if you wish to donate or find out more.

Australian Organisations helping the community

Surf Life Saving Australia: Volunteer Beach Life Guards

History: Surf Life Saving Australia is a non-for-profit which started volunteer patrolling in 1907. Surf Life Saving Australia is now the biggest volunteer organisation in Australia. It was the first beach-going surf life-saving organisation (lifeguards) of its type in the world and now it is a standard across many countries to have patrolled beaches.

Purpose: To patrol Australian beaches with trained volunteers who can assist struggling swimmers, attempt to save beach-goers from drowning in adverse conditions and to provide safe swimming areas for swimmers. The organisations success can be personified in the fact that almost every Australian who goes to the beach almost instantly recognises the “red and yellow flags”.

Active members: 181,603 persons

Contribution: 1.26 million hours given. Rescued 7,731 people in 2019/2020.  Performed 68,766 first aid treatments in 2019/2020. Runs the ‘West-Pac Helicopter’ which undertakes hundreds of Heli-evacuations and rescues yearly.

Links: https://sls.com.au/

Fred Hollows Foundation

History: Fred Hollows was an Australian Ophthalmologist who had a vision to create a foundation to help restore people’s eyesight from avoidable causes with an estimated 4/5 people not needing to go blind if they had the correct or affordable medical treatment. The Fred Hollows Foundation was started in 1992. Now the Fred Hollows Foundation is recognised as one of the most effective non-profits globally.

Purpose: Working towards eliminating avoidable blindness. The foundation has trained 57,000 surgeons globally.

Active members: The Fred Hollows Foundation is present in 25 countries. Its exact active members is unknown as doctors, nurses and surgeons volunteer in different intervals throughout the year

Contribution: The number of peoples Eyesight restored by the Fred Hollows Foundation is estimated to be 2.5 Million people. In 2018 the Foundation performed 929,106 eye operations and treatments and treated 24.8 million people for trachoma.

Links: https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org.au/best-charities/fred-hollows-foundation/

https://www.hollows.org/au/home

Care Flight

History: Starting out with a single helicopter in 1986 Care-flight now operates rescue flights from 6 bases throughout Australia and services NSW, WA and the Northern Territory.

Purpose: Care flight operates rescue helicopters for emergency situations. It also helps in patient care and transfer, education and training, innovation and research, and now fields turbo prop ambulances and Medi-jets (planes). Care-Flight is considered one of the most trusted organisation in Australia and has partnered with government to deliver services to Australians, with a focus on remote and regional areas.

Active members: 552 employees =  129 Doctors, 93 Nurses, 109 Pilots and engineers, 55 Drivers and Patient transport drivers,38 logistics, 128 Support Services.

Contribution: 8,800 patients in 2020.  10,900+ flight hours.

Links: https://careflight.org/

Royal Flying Doctor Service

History: A famous Aussie icon the Royal flying Doctor Service was established in 1928 by Reverend John Flynn, making it over 90 years old. In 1928 Aeroplanes were still relatively new, so the concept of the Royal Flying Doctors Service was as unique then as it is now.

Purpose: One of the largest aeromedical organisations in the world providing primary health care and 24 hour emergency service to people across 7.69 million square kilometres within Australia. The RFDS provides Emergency Aeromedical services, Primary Health Services (GP’s) Non Emergency Patient Transport, Research, Trusted Health advice and Health access. The Royal Flying Doctor service is well known for helping rural communities, in particular instances such as farm accidents or people without access to healthcare for 100’s of kilometres.

Active members: 1500 staff across 23 bases throughout Australia

Contribution: In 2020 RFDS saw 320,100 patients. Held 20,134 Nurse, GP and Dental clinics. Flew 27,250,793 Km’s.

Links: https://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/

SES – Special Emergency Services

History: Started as the National Emergency Service in February 1939 to provide Air Raid Wardens at the time during WWII. It was disbanded shortly after and became the Civil Defence Service in 1955 with similar objectives of protecting Australia from potential attacks but underwent changes in the 1970’s. This focus was to implement an emphasis on providing emergency help related to natural emergencies like floods and storms.

Purpose: The State Emergency Service (SES) is an emergency and rescue service dedicated to assisting the community. SES volunteers supports fulltime rescue services during natural disasters such as; rescue people from rising flood waters, bush-fires, assist in power-outages and downed power lines, storm and hurricanes. Also in areas such as road accident rescue, vertical rescue (search and rescue) missing persons, medical evacuations and more.

Active members: 43,000 volunteers across Australia.

Links:  (by state) example;  https://www.ses.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/

Australian Volunteer Coast Guard

History: The first volunteer Australian Coast Guard flotilla was formed in Melbourne in 1961. The organisation now has 47 flotillas across Australia

Purpose: The Australian Volunteer Coast Guard is a marine search and rescue organisation, aimed at responding to a variety of marine incidents. The organisation conducts Marine Search and Rescue, Offshore Vessel Tracking, Recreational Vessel Monitoring, Marine Radio monitoring, Education including marine licenses, coastal navigation, radio certifications and more.

Active members: 2500 regular members, 9000 associate members.

Contribution: 107 owned vessels, rescuing thousands of people each year.

Volunteer Fire Brigade Services Australia

History: Australia has many branches of volunteer fire brigade service, usually separated by state (below). Each State fire service was started at different times, but fire services have been employed in Australia as early as the 1820’s during the colonial era. In recent years traditional methods of “back-burning” have been implemented, which dates back tens of thousands of years within First Nation Australian Communities.

Victoria –  Country Fire Authority

NSW – Rural Fire Service (RFS)

QLD – Rural Fire Service (RFS)

NT – Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (NTFRS)

WA – Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES)

SA – Country Fire Service

VIC – Country Fire Authority

ACT – ACT Rural Fire Service (ACTRFS)

TAS – Tasmania Fire Service

Purpose: The purpose of volunteer fire brigades is to train recruits in fire fighting practices, burn reduction, evacuation planning and more. The volunteer fire service in Australia takes a hands-on approach to fire-fighting and does an excellent service to the public in protecting livelihoods, property and wildlife. The importance of the volunteer branch cannot be over-stated. Without the full-time employed and volunteer branch of state fire departments, much more widespread destruction would occur. Many reports highlight in-fact that Australia’s bushfire defence strategies RELY on volunteers; EG without them the process of fighting fires effectively would fail.

Active members: Astonishingly 1% of the Australian population is involved in volunteer Rural Fire Fighting or approximately 150,000 volunteer members and over 50,000 paid members. Sadly the membership for volunteer fire-fighters fell by 10% within Australia over the last 2 years and is at 10 year low. Australia’s fire fighting force remains one of the worlds largest.

Contribution: It has been estimated volunteer fire services Australia wide contribute $1.3Billion to the economy.

Links: https://volunteerfirefighters.org.au/

RSPCA:

History: RSPCA stands for “Royal Society for Prevention and Cruelty to Animals”.The RSPCA is considered Australia’s oldest and largest animal welfare organisation. The first “Society for the Prevention to Cruelty for Animals” was formed in Victoria as early as 1871. It is a community based organisation that now has branches in every state and territory in Australia, and in 1980 came under the culmination of one organisation (RSPCA Australia)

Purpose: Their organisational slogan is “For all creatures great and small”  and aims to prevent animal cruelty, promote animal welfare, nurse sick and injured animals and has taken a role in re-homing pets and animals.

Active members: 500 Paid staff and over 5000 volunteers.

Contribution: RSPCA received 121,146 animals into their shelters last year and in the last 10 years have adopted out over 730,703 animals to families.

RSPCA “Animal Ambulance” rescued 29,845 animals in the past calendar year.

Links: https://www.rspca.org.au/support-us/volunteer

Australia Red Cross Life Blood (Blood Donation)

History: Over 90 years old the Australian Red Cross dates back as early as the 1930’s and played an active role within the community during and after the World War 2 years, Great Depressions and subsequent major cultural events. The Australian Red Cross Life Blood is regarded as being a vital service to the Australian community and is very well trusted and regarded with donor satisfaction over 90% and year after year exceeding donation quotas. The Australian community “rolled up its sleeves” during the war era to help soldiers and hasn’t stopped since.

Purpose: Provision of a safe, secure and cost-effective supply of blood (blood donations) and related products to the Australian community.In 2018 the Australia Red Cross branched out into Breast Milk donation services, which saw 400 babies receive nutrient rich breast milk from donors.

Active members: There are 96 donation centres around Australia with 3500 employees and nurses receiving blood and half a million Aussies donating blood.

Contribution: In 2018 (pre pandemic) 1,427, 659 blood donations were received from over 500,000 donors. It is hard to put a single figure on blood donations in correlation to lives saved as one blood donation can be used to save up to 3 lives* according to figures, and can also be split into plasma etc. It is estimated that one in three Australians will need blood within their life.

Links: https://www.lifeblood.com.au/?https://www.lifeblood.com.au/blood/making-your-donation&gclid=Cj0KCQjwiNSLBhCPARIsAKNS4_dLfMmW9oFKJpQfuUTivT6rz1DUp1Yj21kSnZpfG-6K1_PEXcOCL2YaAoQrEALw_wcB

The Salvation Army

History: Started in England in 1865 as the Christian Revival Society, and offered a range of services for the dis-fortunate such as basic schooling, relief aid and soup kitchens. Adelaide in Australia lays claim to starting the Australian Branch of the Salvation Army in 1880, making it over 140 years old in Australia.

Purpose: The salvation Army aims to build healthier communities, fight for justice, help those in need, provide clothing and food to the vulnerable or dis-fortunate, assist after disasters and adverse events. The Salvation Army runs 330. stores for second hand discounted clothing Australia wide, and has a noticeable role within the community of helping the homeless. The Salvation Army also played a key role in assisting after major evets such as the 2019 bush-fires by feeding communities displaced, feeding fire-fighters and helping communities with shelter and resilience.

Active members: 30,000 volunteers with 330 donation centres around Australia.

Links: https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/

Make a Wish Foundation:

History: An American Organisation first, the Australian branchstarted in 1985 with a mission to grant inspirational, life-changing wished for children with critical illnesses.

Purpose: Creating life changing wishes for critically ill children.

Active members: 43,000 volunteers and members around the world help contribute to make-a-wish foundations wishes globally.

Contribution: Granted more than 10,000 wishes and still counting. Apparently meeting wrestler John Cena is the most requested wish in Make-A-Wish USA.

Links: https://www.makeawish.org.au/

Kids with Cancer Foundation Australia (Kids with Cancer)

History: Started in 1988 in Australia

Purpose: To provide families or sick children with financial assistance, and to achieve the best possible outcome and to ensure access to medical and family support they need. Funds have also been used to help train clinicians and researchers, and to build or renovate children’s cancer wards. The foundation has helped Australian families pay bills, tutoring for children, grocery vouchers and more during their time of need.

Contribution: Provided $26 million to childhood cancer services. They have donated $7.5 million to children’s hospital in Westmead, funded 2 social workers there and a paediatric Psychologist. Donated $250,000 to the John hunter Children’s Hospital.

Links: https://kidswithcancer.org.au/our-vision

Starlight Children’s Foundation

History: Although not an Australian conceived charity, it still deserves a spot on this list, as it plays an amazing role in Australian society today. A non-for-profit organisation founded in 1982,  then developing an Australian branch in 1988.

Purpose: Brightening the lives of sick kids. Starlight achieves this through volunteers being with children in hospital and in their own words “make hospitals fun”. Volunteers paint with kids, read books, watch shows, play video and board games, do arts and crafts, quizzes, help them with home-work and more. Volunteers have also played live music like guitar to kids and dressed up in outfits all to brighten the mood of sick children. Essentially all to help kids play, have fun, laugh and enjoy themselves in hospital.

Contribution: 513,623 Positive Starlight experiences

Links: https://www.starlight.org.au/about-us/who-we-are/our-performance

Land-Care Australia

History: Officially started as a non-for-profit in 1989, Landcare Australia was established. The Landcare movement brought farmers and conversationalists together to resolve environmental issues. Today it is one of the largest volunteer movements across Australia.

Purpose: To work towards sustainable land use, protect, enhance or restore areas of land on behalf of the community. Examples such as planting trees, dune-protection, re-vegetation, creation of wetlands, environmental protection, enhancement of conservation of land, enhance bio-diversity.

Active members: Over 6000 land-care and related community and farmer groups around Australia with 100,00+ volunteers.

Links: https://landcareaustralia.org.au/about/the-landcare-story/

Bob Brown

History:  Started in 1996 by Bob Brown, the then leader of the Australian Greens Party. Bob Brown was an avid conservationists and a strong advocate for increasing the size of national parks and protected wilderness areas in Tasmania and Australia at large. This vision has carried on into the Bob Brown Foundation

Purpose: In the foundations own words “ We aim to campaign activists who show real pluck and intelligence in protecting ecosystems, species and wild and scenic heritage”. The Bob Brown foundation is known for being a pro-active foundation aimed at protesting, petitioning, activism, conservation and raising awareness for protecting wildlife.

Active members:

Contribution: Tarkine wilderness protection advocacy, logging in Tasmania advocacy, Stop Adani advocacy, No Airport Antarctica advocacy, no krill fishing Antarctica advocacy, anti-protest lawsadvocacy

Links: https://www.bobbrown.org.au/

Clean Up Australia

History: Started in 1989 by the late Ian Kiernan whose vision was to protect the health of water sources and help drinking water supplies. Now it is the largest community based environmental event in Australia, and indeed it is well known by all young Australians.

Purpose: Is an annual event held on the 1st Sunday of March. On this day communities, individuals, friends and families come together across thousands of locations throughout Australia with the combined efforts of cleaning up the landscape. This is done via rubbish collection, removal of debris and so on.

Active members: 19+ million volunteers have taken part since 1989.

Contribution: 365,000 tonnes of rubbish removed Australia wide since 1989 donating an estimated 38.5 million hours

Links:

Take 3 for the Sea

History: Started in 2009 by two friends Marine Ecologist Roberta Dixon-Valk and youth educator Amanda Marechal.  The two joined forces with Tim Silversood and the trio publicaly launched Take 3 for the Sea in 2010.THREE pillars approach: Take action, Hands on, Research, Education, Ecosystem.

Purpose: To inspire beach goers to take 3 pieces of rubbish before or after they visit the beach, waterway or anywhere they can make a difference.

Active members: Take 2 has a small team of workers who run the non for profit but the active ‘members’ of take 3 for the sea are the general public who participate in cleaning up.

Contribution: 10 million pieces of rubbish removed annually. Participation in 129 counrties. 500,000 people educates.

Links: https://www.take3.org/

Beyond Blue

History: Started in 2000 by Hon. Jeff Kennett. Beyond Blue provides support and services to people in Australia struggling with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and to help prevent suicide.

Purpose: Promote mental health and wellbeing, be a trusted source of information, work together to prevent suicide.

Active members: 150 staff.

Contribution: 13 million people reach out to Beyond Blue each year. Beyond Blue says that 90% of the Australian population knowns about their organisation. Beyond Blue is pursuing open dialogue and conversation around Mental health for the Australian Population into the future.

Links: https://www.beyondblue.org.au

If you need help you can reach Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636. This service is free.

Mens Sheds

History: AMSA (Australian Mens Sheds Association) Established in 2007 by the Australian independent community based Mens Sheds. In Australia AMSA operates over 1000 men’s sheds, and the concept has grown to countries such as New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, US, Kenya and South Africa. The ‘sheds’ are equipment sheds with tools and machinery for men to be able to use make, fix, repair things.

Purpose: To provide an updated version of a ‘backyard shed’ with tools and equipment. Some sheds repair furniture, fix schools bicycles, fix lawn mowers or even make cubby houses.

Active members: estimated 150,000 individuals involved and 9 fulltime staff

Contribution:

Links: https://mensheds.org

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