Backpackers needed as volunteers

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Backpackers could be the key to volunteer shortages during Broome’s dry season.
Camera IconBackpackers could be the key to volunteer shortages during Broome’s dry season. Credit: Getty

Backpackers working in Broome could be the key to preventing a volunteer shortage crisis in the town, a leading university expert has claimed.

A new report released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre last week, titled The Social and Economic Sustainability of WA’s Rural Workforce, revealed the number of volunteers in WA’s regions was continuing to decline, with some 40 per cent of organisations reporting shortages.

Although the study showed about 50 per cent of rural West Australians gave up their free time to help local groups, most recent Census data reported only 21 per cent of Broome’s adult population volunteered.

However, the report’s author Curtin University Professor Kirsten Holmes said Broome needed to engage the backpacker community to address the issue during the peak season, when the population boomed but volunteer numbers remained the same.

“Broome has a small population and is in a sparsely populated area, meaning it can be harder to recruit volunteers for organisations,” she said.

“The population increases dramatically during the tourism season, which places additional pressure on volunteer-run services such as ambulances.

“The challenge is to find a way to involve the transient backpacker community in volunteering if they are working in the area. Volunteer-involving organisations will benefit from finding ways to engage this group, perhaps in discrete projects or by giving their regular volunteers a break.”

Associate Professor Amanda Davies said she believed there were more volunteers in the Kimberley town than the 2016 Census showed.

“We don’t think the Census data fully captures the variety of regular and occasional volunteer activities that people do in the community, including emergency services, events, festivals, environmental activities, aged care services, schools and clubs,” she said.

The report found people in rural communities were more likely to volunteer when starting a family and entering retirement and the most common reason people became involved in volunteering was because they believed it was integral to the survival of the community.”

It showed the biggest risk to volunteer supply was outmigration, an ageing population, and burnout.

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