Recognising Geelong’s volunteers

SES South Barwon Unit deputy controller and third-generation volunteer Joshua Hutton. (Ivan Kemp) 407962_06

It’s National Volunteer Week and a time to recognise the many contributions of volunteers. Jena Carr speaks with Geelong volunteers from the State Emergency Service (SES) and homelessness service Orange Sky about giving back to the community.

Whether assisting emergency services or helping people experiencing homelessness, volunteers are the lifeblood of the Geelong region.

National Volunteer Week, from May 20 to 26, recognises the many volunteers who dedicate their time and skills to the community, with this year’s theme of ‘Something for Everyone’.

Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) South Barwon Unit deputy controller Joshua Hutton was brought up with the South Barwon Unit as a third-generation SES volunteer.

“My father and my uncle were members, then both my grandparents were involved in the regional support unit in the late 70s,” he said.

“In the early days, some of their rescue trucks were built in our garage at home, so I’ve grown up around it, and it’s something that I’ve just always had that bit of passion for.

“As a younger lad, I was involved in scouting and continued my community service through the SES… I joined just before I turned 17. I’m still here and coming up to 28 years as a volunteer.

“Along with learning new skills, it’s just about helping our community in times of need, whether for a storm event, with trees down and flooding, or a road rescue.”

In October last year, Joshua was deployed as a crew leader to reports that an aircraft full of skydivers had come off the runway on Lake Connewarre’s southern edge and made an emergency landing.

The plane had crashed on the lake’s northern shore, with Joshua and his team of five volunteers working with other emergency services to assist the aircraft’s 17 passengers.

“A lot of jobs we attend are very dynamic, so you’ve always got to be prepared as things unfold to change your tactics and work out what we can do,” he said.

“Initially, it was very hard to get the correct information as to the best access for the plane, whether it was on the Connewarre or Leopold side.

“We put together a few different pieces of equipment that we’d need, thinking that we may have problems accessing the plane.

“We used a specific piece of equipment called a single-wheel mule stretcher and a basket stretcher to help transport some of the patients up the hill to the waiting ambulance.

“All the people on board were extremely lucky, there were concerns with a couple of them, but they were all relatively unscathed, which is a fantastic outcome all things considered.”

VICSES volunteers attended close to 33,000 requests for assistance (RFA) in the last 12 months, with Barwon Southwest regional volunteers supporting the community at more than 3100 RFAs.

Lara’s Margaret Francese was first introduced to Orange Sky, a charity providing laundry and shower services to people experiencing homelessness, close to six years ago.

Her mum was working at The Outpost, a food and necessary item service for people living in poor conditions, when she noticed an orange bus with washing machines in it.

“What I really like is the whole concept of the van. You can sit there and it’s not about the washing, it’s about the conversation and to connect with the guys you meet on the street,” Margaret said.

“Some of these guys might not have seen anyone for the week, and you’re the person they speak to each week, so it’s really important, and I enjoy that.

“Chatting with someone, making connections, and ensuring they’re all right for the week helps them know that they’re human and that people care. It’s just a nice feeling.

“Imagine not seeing anyone for the whole week. I can’t imagine that, and it’s so important for us to connect and not be judgmental because you don’t know their circumstances.

“It doesn’t matter what their circumstance is, they’re where they are, and you need to assist them in getting back to where they should be.”

Margaret now volunteers alongside her two daughters and said “human connection” was crucial in helping “to get people back on track”.

“We’re all like-minded people, we’re all human beings, and for another human being to care about someone for no other aspect than humanity is actually great,” she said.

“We can be so disconnected with social media and technology, so just a couple of words or a human touch is so important, and we need to keep that element going.

“It’s easy to come home and put the lights and heater on, but when you understand that some people haven’t got that, it makes you appreciate what you have got.

“This is how we make our society better; to connect with each other and stay that way. It’s the best feeling not only for the volunteers but also for the recipients.

“Something like two hours a week or a fortnight is not a lot of time in your life, but it does mean a lot to someone else in their life. So, volunteering is very important in my eyes.”

genU celebrated its volunteers on May 22, with Lynne and Laurie Hill receiving awards for 15 years of service to people who are ageing, living with disabilities or experiencing a disadvantage.

“We get satisfaction from seeing people happy, not being lonely, feeling worthwhile and reaching their full potential,” they said.

Sam Chait has just started volunteering with the not-for-profit after deciding he wanted to connect with younger people and support clients with special needs.

“It’s fabulous and I think I’ve found my people. I don’t like being idle and what better way to give back to the community,” he said.

Visit for more information about National Volunteer Week and reach out to local community groups and services about volunteering opportunities.