While much is made of the positive economic impact that grey nomads have on regional Australia, less attention is paid to the incredible contribution that they make to the social fabric of so many rural communities.
The most striking example of this is the work done by the thousands of travellers who volunteer their time and skills to help out in the places they pass through.
From small museums to giant cattle stations, and from struggling wildlife sanctuaries to national park campsites, the endless convoy of grey nomad volunteers is making a difference to people’s lives across the country as they decide to ‘give something back’.
Nowhere is this contribution more appreciated than in areas that have been afflicted by natural disaster. The Blaze Aid organisation – which is currently helping out at Queensland farms devastated by Cyclone Marcia, and at bushfire-affected properties in South Australia and Western Australia – says 90% of its volunteers are grey nomads.
“They are typically people in their 60 as and 70s who are travelling around Australia and who want to be productive,” said Blaze Aid founder, Kevin Butler. “They want to help communities that are hurting and, as they do so, they often find camaraderie and form friendships that will be with them forever.”
On any given day, there are 100-200 Blaze Aid volunteers in action and they receive free food and a free place to camp.
“Volunteers can work at their own pace, and come for as long or as short a time as they want,” said Mr Butler. “There are always jobs for everyone … it might be helping to put up fencing, or just looking to see what needs to be done, or helping out with the cooking.”
And they make a difference.
“The gratitude from communities which thought they were on their own when disaster struck is enormous,” said Mr Butler. “These grey nomad volunteers are revered, and there are often tears shed when it’s time to say goodbye.”
Through another organisation, Lorraine recently spent time at a drought-affected cattle property near Charters Towers.
“The little we did, checking the water each day and helping around the house and yard, gave the owner time to do more pressing jobs,” she said. “Our help, friendship and companionship in their time of need was also important to their mental wellbeing.”
But as much as they give, it seems grey nomad volunteers also get much in return.
Demographer, Bernard Salt, says volunteering makes a vital contribution to society.
“I think it builds self-esteem, contributes to social cohesion and gives meaning to many people’s lives,” he said.
Grey nomads make up around 90% of Blaze Aid’s volunteers