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Why we volunteer…

For me, walking through our natural environment is important. I feel I have a better connection with the land around me when I wander slowly through the landscape. The gradual change in the geology, flora and fauna is not something everyone has the privilege to experience. Walking is such a personal activity too. We can doddle along or climb a mountain depending on how our mood takes us. There is no pressure to meet deadlines or break records.

I really enjoy taking a break away from man-made sounds. Over time we learn to tune them out, but the abundance of everyday noises become apparent when we experience the stillness of the natural environment. Like many other people, I like to rise early and watch the night give way to the dawn. So many of us live in the city and miss out on seeing the colours change. I am always happy when the moon is still above the horizon as the sun comes up. I get to watch the moon transition from a luminous pearl, become almost translucent, then disappear, fading like a soap bubble. It’s fun to listen to the bush come alive in the morning too; it’s almost possible to tell the time by the different birds’ songs.

Over the years I have mostly enjoyed day hikes. Personally, I love looking up at a peak, picnic in hand, knowing that a panoramic view awaits. In January last year the idea of a multi-day hike began to play on my mind. I was living on the east coast when I stumbled upon the Bibbulmun Track website. I had to pass the idea over though because at the time I didn’t have any through hike experience. Instead, I went to France and walked the Camino from Le Puy en Velay to Compostela. After a few days rest in Santiago I caught a bus north and walked the Camiño dos Faros, the Lighthouse way, from Malpica to Finisterre. The two hikes were vastly different and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do both.

The idea of hiking the Bibbulmun Track in its entirety kept tumbling over and over in my mind, so I upped sticks and moved to Perth. I’m normally a rational person, so moving across the country to go for a walk seems a bit extreme but it was the only way I could really get to know the trail. I feel it’s incredibly important to have some bush skills and a firm understanding of the challenges that can come with multi-day through hikes. The adage ‘if you don’t know what could go wrong, you shouldn’t go’ is absolutely true. Volunteering on the track has given me the opportunity to meet some incredibly knowledgeable people. So many people here live and breathe the Bibbulmun and are happy to impart their wisdom to a newbie. Also, being able to learn about the work that has gone into and continues to go in to making the Track as successful as it is has been invaluable. I have to admit that in the past I have meandered along trails without a thought for why the trail I was on was so good. I wasn’t conscious of the monumental effort involved in creating and maintaining these paths. I’m happy to say I now have a better understanding and feel it’s my turn to contribute. I want other people to enjoy that same harmony that I have felt over the years.

Previously an assistant in community pharmacy, I am now studying a Diploma of Tourism Management at North Metro Tafe in Northbridge. I think hiking and health go hand in hand so it’s a good transition to be now learning how to promote our great outdoors.

My section is 3 ½ hours from home. Initially it felt a bit daunting but now I actually look forward to my little road trip. I have a routine of putting on some good music and packing a generous supply of snacks and I happily cruise along. Once I turn off the main roads the music is off, the windows are down, and I take in the smell and sounds of the tall timbers.

The timeless feeling of the forest grabs me every time. The way it is silent but alive, powerful but nurturing. It has an enduring feeling that is missing from the man-made world that I exist in. I think all the volunteers have other hikers in mind when they do the maintenance work. After clearing the debris off the track I particularly like the idea that tired hikers don’t have an obstacle course to manoeuvre through in their last few kilometres. It’s a good feeling to know they can arrive safely with their heavy feet and weary bodies into their nights’ camp.

Boarding House Camp is tucked away in amongst beautiful old forest. It feels very secluded and sheltered. There are lots of little places to sit beside the river and enjoy the afternoon. It’s relaxing to have the sound of the water bubbling past. A little further upstream the river widens slightly and tumbles over the boulders to create a small section of rapids before it slows again to become almost still reflective pools.

I don’t think there’s a simply answer to why we volunteer. There are as many different reasons as there are different hikers. Regardless of why we started, the outcome is still the same, we all have a better environment to enjoy. I would highly recommend to anyone who has thought about volunteering to jump on board. There is something for everyone and it’s easier to get involved than you think. Being able to boast that you help out on a world-renowned trail is pretty cool too!

Author Elisa Robinson’s Bibbulmun Track Foundation Maintenance volunteer