Volunteers to the rescue at RomaVolunteers to the rescue at Roma

Volunteers to the rescue at Roma

Q&A with Glenn Telford from Queensland Murray Darling Committee

A resilient community has the ability to work together, finding local solutions to local problems.

This is what happened earlier this year in Roma.

After experiencing yet another devastating flood in February 2012, townsfolk and farmers faced a big cleanup. Farmers in particular were confronted with large-scale challenges to repair fences, sheds and other infrastructure in order to get their livlihoods back on track.

Building on a previous project from 2011, the Queensland Murray Darling Committee (QMDC) stepped in to help. QMDC is a not-for-profit organisation providing resource management and environmental services across the Murray-Darling Basin. From their Roma office, QMDC secured funding to run an extensive volunteer cleanup operation in farms covering over 40,000 square kilometres. QMDC marshalled an army of volunteers from all over the world to give farmers a much needed hand.

We caught up with Glenn Telford, Land Liaison Officer at QMDC, who coordinated the effort.

Q: What was involved in this operation?

The project began mid-February with a large outreach effort. This involved phoning landholders, assessing damage and managing the many requests for help. After this, we setup accommodation centres in the local areas, which involved finding homes, halls or even sheds that we then stocked with basic amenities and kitchen supplies.

Q: So where did you find all the volunteers?

This was probably the most interesting and rewarding part of the project. We had dozens of backpackers arrive from all over the world. There were lots of German, English, Irish and Italians as well as some from Asia and North America.

Q: What drew them to this project?

With all the flooding, the usual work for them wasn't around, so they were all looking for a great Aussie experience and complete Pic 3athe required number of days work to fulfil their visa obligations. I think the idea of helping out people in need and seeing some of the outback was a big draw card. Of course it became quite a social experience for them, with food and accommodation provided, the overwhelming experience was that it was "fantastic". We advertised on a backpacker website, but word of mouth among the backpacker community spread very quickly.

Q: What did the volunteers do?

Mostly physical work, lots and lots of fencing! It was certainly a full day's hard work, which sometimes included a long drive from the accommodation to the worksite. For the volunteers, it was such a different experience for them, but they were all very positive and enthusiastic. One particular group were given an orphaned kangaroo joey to help look after while its carer was busy. When it came time to leave, there were quite a few tears!

Q: How did the farmers react?

This was the best thing. Farmers were just so excited about the help they got. I had grown men in tears telling me just how much it meant to them. They were down in the dumps after the flood, the emotional toll was so heavy, but all the energetic young people injected a much-needed boost to morale to the people on the land.

Q: What have been the long-term benefits of the project?

Well all the volunteer workers have come away with a unique experience of Australian life and have made a real impact on this particular community. The farmers have had a big boost in morale and are getting their farms fully functional. For us at QMDC, we've been given the opportunity to build stronger relationships with landholders for us to continue engaging with communities to protect the Murray-Darling basin.