Local, Independant and Effective

From youth council chambers to Canberra

Posted July 31, 2014




When offered a chance to volunteer for a week in the Indi office in Parliament House, I naturally leapt at the opportunity. I’d been a player in the Voice4Indi crusade which had helped drive the great McGowan campaign and claim victory at the election, in addition to continuing my services as a volunteer during the Budget Impact Tour and again in the Wangaratta office, so why not?

Cathy’s volunteer guidebook for Canberra pointed out a few practical hints and tips and included an outline of several roles a volunteer may play during their time. More interestingly, it stressed that no matter how well planned a day may be, its schedule was subject to change at a moment’s notice, so keep on your toes!

Venturing to Canberra with Cathy on the Sunday before the last sitting week before the mid-winter break, I quizzed her on how to go about certain things. Her answers seemed to revolve around the theme of ‘ask if you need to, but first observe, note, emulate; make your own judgements and come to your own conclusions’.

Our week kicked off bright and early, as weeks do, on Monday morning. We tended to begin days at 7.30am; 8am if we’d been allowed to sleep in. So far as usual proceedings go, we’d have a team meeting first thing in the morning and a team meeting last thing in the evening. The intervening time usually (at least for the week I was there) proceeded more or less according to plan, but we all had to expect the unexpected perchance it should arise unexpectedly. Fortunately, with such a great team supporting each other, the unexpected was never something regarded with consternation or askance.

I soon discovered that the worst and most morbid peril I was likely to encounter was misreading the map or missing a turn and thus taking a scenic route to a destination, arriving either late, or sometimes not at all. For the most part, getting where you wanted to go was simple; other times, not quite so. Sometimes you would arrive quite near, assume to be on the wrong side of the building completely, stride off purposefully in perceived direction, and never arrive at the destination, sometimes for days. No matter though, with almost 10km of corridor and 2,500 clocks, chances of losing track of the time or running out of scenic routes were slight to impossible. What’s more, if you had comfortable footwear (which I didn’t), you could go on indefinitely, and then some more. Still, exploring is good because you never know what you’re going to discover that may come in useful. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to establish that green carpet = left side of building; red carpet = right side of building; blue carpet = middle of building. With this knowledge and a glance skyward out of any window to locate the 81-metre flag pole at the building’s centre, you could usually locate yourself fairly accurately.

Throughout the week, we were reminded of the importance of taking initiative. To be able to look around for things we could do or how we could add value (before asking), was a great advantage in the working environment. If we had a desire to attend something or be part of anything, we were encouraged from the start to speak up and go along without waiting to be asked. Part of what made the week rewarding as a volunteer was that the assignments we undertook were significant and consequential. You got the feeling that these pursuits were important to the development and advancement of the greater cause; not simply tokenistic tasks dreamed up to keep a young and enthusiastic volunteer happy whilst the rest of the team focussed on ‘real’ work.

The week I spent volunteering in the Indi office at Parliament House taught me many things. To seize opportunities as you never know when (or indeed if) they’ll pop up again; to observe first but to also ask, because if it’s advice (or directions!) you’re after, it will usually be given gladly; and if it’s only a fancy, the worst you can be told is no; and, to take things seriously, but not too seriously (because those Question Times can be absolutely hilarious) and to have fun whilst doing them.

In conclusion (for this part, at least), allow me to say that so much more goes into the running of things than we might realise. Behind every well-organised front, there needs to be a functional, confident team of affable heart, resilient nerve, tireless sinew and devoted spirit. And in this respect at least, I will certainly vouch for the Indi team.

IMAGE: Volunteer Angus Goodman, Reachout.com service development coordinator Kate Fagan and Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO, at the Parliamentary Friends of Youth Mental Health event, which launched a Reach Out social media and online campaign to assist youth.


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