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5 Dec 2017

Thank you to the Garden’s volunteers

Every year we take the time to celebrate an occasion very close to our heart. International Volunteer Day was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 and is celebrated on 5 December becoming a special date on the calendar worldwide.

On this day and several occasions across the year we take the time to say thank you to our 750 volunteers making a difference across our three Gardens – the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

History of volunteers in the Gardens

Volunteering has been integral in supporting the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens since the early 1980s. The Gardens started to engage volunteers in 1981 with the first intake of Volunteer Guides at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. The formation of the support organisation Friends of the Gardens, now Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens, was established in 1982. It is our volunteers and their willingness to support us that ensures the environmental and social benefits of our Gardens continue to reach visitors and guests every day.

The Garden’s first volunteer group consisted of eight guides taking the public for walks around our historic site. Today the volunteers donate their time and skills to assist the programs and work covering; horticulture, science, visitor engagement and information services, herbarium specimen-mounting, bush regeneration, wildlife monitoring and asset restoration. The Garden’s charitable organisation, Foundation & Friends volunteers also assist in a variety of programs including the Growing Friends, plant sales, botanic and artisans exhibitions and events such as the New Years Eve Picnic. All of these efforts help by raising money to support the projects that otherwise would not be possible.

We are extremely lucky to have such individuals that love and respect our green spaces as much as we do. Volunteering is one of the life bloods of our organisations and has been a part of the way we work for over 36 years.

Who are our volunteers?

Now a large network, our volunteers who support us range from 18 to over 80 years of age, they bring an enormous range of professional skills plus personal passion to their volunteer positions. Our invaluable volunteers contributed over 60,000 hours last financial year to the organisation and which equates to $1.6 million worth of work.  Their time here brings them together and gives them purpose and we are so thankful that they choose to spend their time here with us.  


Key milestones for 2017

Each year our the Executive Director, Kim Ellis, hosts an annual Thank You event for all the volunteers and acknowledges their achievements and service milestones. This year the event was held at the Blue Mounts Botanic Garden Mount Tomah to help celebrate it's 30 year birthday too. Forty volunteers were acknowledged with awards ranging from 10 years with one volunteer guides, Flora Deverall, reaching 35 years of continuous service.

As a volunteer guide, Flora has showcased science, history and horticulture of the Gardens to thousands of visitors. During her tenure, Flora also served as President for the Foundation and Friends of the Gardens.
A special mention goes to Jim Nicol OAM, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to volunteering at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. In his 20 years as a guide Jim has shared his passion of the Garden on guided walks, was Head Guide for a three-year term and the convenor of the 2015 Australasian Conference of Volunteer Guides in Botanic Gardens.
During his time as a volunteer, Jim has developed many speciality walks for the Gardens including Remarkable Trees of the RBG and Fascinating Figs and was instrumental in interpreting the Wollemi Pine after its 1994 discovery. During the Garden’s 200th birthday in 2016, Jim mentored many new guides as part of the volunteer training processes and assisted with the Kaldor Art Project, which was a great success during our bicentenary year.
Although there are too many to mention in, we would like to highlight a few of our other volunteers that been with the Garden over the years. Annie Cooney from Growing Friends Sydney and Gayl Leake from the Artisans committee reached 10 years of with us. While from exhibitions Sue Paxton and Jann Wiener also reached the 10-year milestone.
At our sister garden in the Blue Mountains, volunteer guides Lesley Hullbert and Paul Hullbert reached 10 years too. A swathe of 19 people from Foundation and Friends have now been volunteering for 15 years, along with 4 Sydney guides and one faithful volunteer from Mount Tomah.
Continuing their ongoing support, Janette McDonald, Margaret Young, Jean Hobbs and Jim Nicol all reached the two-decade mark in this year, as did Lydia Bell and Carol Bentley from the NSW Herbarium. Signing off this year is, is Maraget Carrigg who is retiring after 24 wonderful years of volunteering.

Important work by volunteers

We now have over 150 Volunteer Guides that deliver engaging and informative walks and tours in the Gardens. They are the face of the Gardens and love to share their scientific, botanical, and historical stories with members of the public.

There is so much work that is completed everyday by our volunteers that it would be hard to explain just how much they assist in our day to day operations. They also work on large scale projects with our scientists and historians that help us secure grants and maintain archives.
This year marks 28 years of the Mounting Program at the National Herbarium of NSW. This group of 30 volunteers has mounted over 8,200 plant specimens, data checked 2,000 existing specimens and contribute 3,745 hours of time. Without the dedication of these volunteers it would be impossible to maintain the Herbariums 1.4 million specimens.

Our Special Project volunteer program has been running for over  7 years and is made up of university students or graduates. This team assists our Scientists in Evolutionary Ecology.

This year the volunteers have helped:

  • collect and sort samples for our Restore and Renew project,
  •  field surveys; 
  • conduct DNA extractions for various projects;
  • helped to extract over 5,000 seeds from banksia serrata seed cones to help submit our Environmental Trust research grant.

There are also volunteers that assist our Scientists with PlantBank and Plant Pathology research. These programs epitomise the benefits of volunteering where there is mutual benefit seeing that volunteers gain practical skill and our scientists get the assistance they need in conducting research.

Why become a volunteer with the Gardens?

Beyond the milestones and hours of service, 2017 is a proud moment for us because it showcased the impact people can make to one of Australia’s loved institutions. Our volunteers are thanked in various ways throughout the year and during National Volunteer Week (8-14 May) with a number of events.
We believe that our volunteers are a vital part of the pure energy and enthusiasm that maintains the vibrant environment for the public to enjoy. Most importantly volunteering reconnects the community with nature, keeps you socially active and mentally healthy.

 What are the volunteer programs?

There are 42 established volunteer programs that have long term volunteers and  corporate volunteers through our sponsorship programs across the three Gardens. Contact our team to find more information on how you can join our network of volunteers.

To find out more and get involved visit our website.

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