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Volunteering: Learning from Indigenous Australians

Volunteering has played a crucial role for the world's oldest living culture in maintaining networks of kin, and forming connections between people and places.

In our report Helping and caring, not only our family we highlight how volunteering is an important part of Indigenous cultures in the Top End, and how ancestral practices of care and concern strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

We partnered with Charles Darwin University to explore the volunteering views and practices in place in three Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory; Darwin, Wurrumiyanga on the Tiwi Islands and Galiwink'u in Arnhem Land.

The act of volunteering was seen to be central to building a sense of community, with study participants giving examples from the specific role of each hunter collecting food for the community, to people looking after children and the elderly outside of their immediate families.

Download the full report

Report highlights

• Volunteering is an important part of Indigenous culture, although it often goes by another name.

• The perception of volunteering differed between the three Northern Territory communities that took part in the research, but all emphasised that people within the community have a role to play in looking after each other that extends beyond immediate family. 

• Volunteering is seen as a pathway to help young people gain employment.

• Liaising with Elders is critical for organisations to effectively engage volunteers.

• Each community is different and organisations need to avoid a 'one size fits all' approach when working with them.

• Organisations like Red Cross have a significant role to play in building vibrant communities through volunteering.

• When community members come together to address local issues, the solutions they find could be strengthened through support from organisations like Red Cross.

Jane Garrutju Gandanu
Golpa Clan Group Elder

"Räl-manapanmirr means working together hand in hand. Black hand holding white hand and walking together to achieve what is there for this community and for our people. Work together, walk together, talk together with one vision."

Teddy Portaminni
Tiwi Elder

"The word 'Ngaruwanajirri' means that as Tiwi we all help each other. With the family we all help each other, with the food, and when we bring everybody together to get ceremony, how we make sure that we've got the right order. So that is where Ngaruwanajirri is helping and caring for people. Not only our family, but everyone."

James Gaykamanu
Yolnu Elder, Bagot Community

"Volunteering is about helping people to gain discipline, responsibility, respect and education."

Learn more about volunteering with us.