Written by Maddy Gribbon
The team of staff at the Great Ocean Ecolodge and the Conservation Ecology Centre it supports is small and committed, giving the work environment a uniquely familial feel. When it comes to their job descriptions, each employee wears a number of hats, so they often depend on volunteers to tackle odd jobs and extra tasks when things get busy.
My partner, Colin, and I are volunteering at the Ecolodge as part of our vacation to Australia from the US. We are connected to the CEC because dear friends of mine, Karlijn and Steve, who are originally from The Netherlands, are the co-managers of the Ecolodge. Karlijn and I met close to ten years ago when we were studying abroad in Singapore. Our friendship has been mostly long distance with a few extended visits breaking up the years.
There are a wide variety of needs at the Ecolodge with which the volunteers have the opportunity to help. This ranges from outdoor activities such as working in the garden to indoor tasks like cooking. The Ecolodge provides supper for its guests and, when possible, the produce in the meals comes directly from the garden. Without a designated gardener, the lodge is often in need of assistance with weeding and other basic upkeep of the garden. During our time at the Ecolodge in the autumn, we’ve been collecting seeds for next year’s plantings, winterizing plots, and harvesting the last remaining produce. We process this harvest into things like green tomato pie, zucchini chutney, and rhubarb cakes.
One of the biggest tasks for Colin and me during our stay is rendering the mudbrick walls of the entire lodge and adjoining research office. The building was built almost 15 years ago and is primarily made of mudbricks and recycled wood. Overtime, the mudbricks are weathered by the outdoor environment and the building is at risk of leaking. Rendering is the process of applying another layer of the “mud” by mixing the powder with water and spreading it on with paintbrushes. This satisfying task serves an important purpose and the progress is easily seen, as the more natural tan color of the new mud replaces the older, yellowed layer.
Alongside the mudbrick are the wooden posts, windowsills, and porches that make up the building. Another necessary project is the oiling of all of the wood. This assists with both the wood’s longevity and weather-proofing. Building maintenance is a time-consuming and critical aspect of managing the Great Ocean Ecolodge and ensures the structure’s continued success in the future.
Besides all that, we’ve just been excited to learn about the ins-and-outs of the lodge and the ecology center. The Ecolodge provides a truly special experience to guests, and supports the important research of the ecology centre. Plus, it’s really allowed us to experience Australia in a unique way. It’s a lot easier to render mudbrick when you’re kept company by kangaroos in the field and koalas in the tree!