Ever heard of wwoofing? What about Helpx? It’s a bit like the big brother of Couchsurfing (where you stay for free with a local). Instead of staying at somebody’s house for free, you do some volunteer work and lend a hand to the landlord. This is often a good way to meet Australian locals! Note that volunteering in Australia does not count towards extending your second Working Holiday Visa anymore.
How volunteering in Australia works: Wwoofing and Helpx
WWOOF = World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
When the Wwoofing concept first appeared in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, it was primarily about helping organic farmers to start up their business. It was also about spreading the practice of organic farming, which is sustainable and more respectful of the environment. Over the years, the wwoofing concept has become internationalized and diversified. Each country operates independently, with its own lists of WWOOFers and WWOOF hosts. WWOOF was established in Australia in 1981. So that today, in Australia, it is possible to volunteer at farms (organic or conventional) as well as at hotel, or helping out individuals.
- You get the opportunity to learn Organic, Permaculture and Bio-Dynamic Farming techniques first hand from Australian Farmers.
- Wwoof offers support from Monday to Friday, with real people to assist you during your host stays.
- Host farms agree to Wwoof Guidelines, ensuring your safety.
The concept of the Help Exchange or HelpX is pretty similar. The biggest difference is the diversity of guests and variety of jobs it offers: apart from farm work, you can also do gardening, help renovate a building, cook, work on a ranch, do the cleaning of a luxury hotel, or repaint a house … The idea is, as for Wwoofing, to work between 4 to 6 hours per day in exchange for accommodation and three meals a day. Sometimes you work less than 4 hours per working day, in which case you are probably required to buy your own food and cook for yourself.
How to work in Wwoofing / HelpX Australia?
If you are interested in this kind of experience, you can choose between two main networks that list Australian hosts for volunteers.
The first option is joining the association “Wwoof“. The registration costs are $ 70/year. Your registration is valid for one year in Australia. It allows you to get the Wwoofing guide, a paper guide containing all the contacts and descriptions of the hosts, which you will receive by mail. Your annual subscription gives you a basic insurance policy that covers you during your stay (wwoof only). But be careful, it does not include civil liability.
The second option is registering on the Helpx.net site as a Premier host or helper for $ 20. The registration is valid for two years in every country of the world, for a single person or a couple. You can also register for free, but then you cannot contact hosts directly.
In the host list provided by HelpX or Wwoof, you find all available host addresses, as well as a description of their activity and hosting conditions.
Farms, hotels, private individuals… how to choose your host?
You get access to profiles of host members, including names, contact details and a description of each host property, as well as the work to be done and what kind of accommodation and meals are provided.
If there’s a host you’d like to volunteer for, contact them and offer your help. Schedule the days and hours you work with your host prior to arrival, to avoid surprises. You normally work 4 to 6 hours each day in return for all of your meals, snacks and accommodation.
Don’t hide your face, having a decent profile can definitely help you stand out in the volunteers list! To have better chances of finding a place, carefully complete your profile description, talk about yourself, what you like to do and what motivates you to volunteer. If your potential host likes your personality or interests, it will surely open doors! The whole thing is based on trust, so it is important to get along with your host and be on the same wavelength.
As you can see, volunteering in Australia is not the same as staying at a hotel. The work is often physical and outdoors, so it’s not a vacation! Before you start the adventure, take the time to contact your host, discuss housing arrangements, working conditions … Unfortunately, there are people trying to abuse the system, so be careful! Before making an appointment with your host, seek advice from previous volunteers, ask questions, and rather choose hosts who publish photos of their property. Some people also claim they would be able to renew your WHV, which is not possible anymore – so be careful!
Alicia’s experience as a Wwoofer
The type of work you are going to do depends on the hosts. At the farm or in the house, I did the house work and mowed the lawn. Luckily, they suggested a few more rewarding jobs, such as helping with the construction of enclosures, planting of seedlings, harvesting, as well as looking after and cuddling the farm animals. In hotels, you obviously expect to do more housekeeping, to welcome guests at the reception, and to fulfill administrative tasks.
Alicia’s advice for volunteering
Before “applying” to a future host, ask yourself a few questions. What kind of jobs are you really interested in? Is the property not too isolated? Do you want to gain experience with animals or plants? Or rather in the building or hotel industry? Since the work can be very physical, you have to be sure you don’t have any physical discomforts. This phase of “planning” is important for you to make sure everything is alright. One week passes by quickly, but two or three weeks…you are going to be there for a little while.
Whatever the case may be, the most important thing about volunteering in Australia is meeting people and exchanging experiences. Most of all, it is a matter of feeling good. So if it feels good, go for it!
Article written by Alicia Muñoz