By Kelum Wijewardena (Corporate Volunteer with NAB)
The sun was out in a cloudless sky as we made our way towards Brunswick, we were all meeting up for a group volunteer day at the CERES Community Centre in Brunswick East. Some of us had an idea of what they were getting into while the others were quite green about what lay ahead.
CERES – pronounced Series – is a Centre for Education and Research for Environmental Studies. Set in urban Brunswick East in what used to be an abandoned bluestone quarry and a municipal tip, it is perhaps justice that the land is now used in the forefront of sustainability and environmental research.
Our congregation gathered outside the visitor area, Judy, the relationship manager for NAB, took us through a tour of the centre and its brief history in time. Formed in 1982 they have been in the forefront of resource sustainability and environmental health even before the hipster movement caught on to it. She was very informative and took a sense of pride in guiding us through the CERES journey. The story of the overzealous NAB IT department volunteers who single handedly uplifted the centre IT facilities so that no one would ever experience below par internet connectivity was indeed, very special.
The first stop was the Organic Grocery, once just a shack with an identity crisis now it’s a fully-fledged organic food and produce store boasting of cafe style hot food as well as communal gathering area. From there we moved to the propagation greenhouse, the Merri creek section, to the big open air community area and finally to the bike repair shack, where we eagerly waited, like fresh faces out of Quantico, for our assignments. Judy handed the group over to Martin Johansson a coordinator at CERES, while also asking for a few volunteers to help with the garden beds. Adrian, Ana and Danny volunteered for this, thus the first group of fresh recruits quickly moved on to their new assignment.
Martin gathered our group along with a couple of work placement students and slowly broke down the task at hand. We were to build an aesthetically pleasing reinforcement that would also provide a visual aid for drivers to mark a tricky corner. This would reduce the risk of anyone running off the road down the slope into the rainwater overfill. Maybe he wasn’t confident of the average driver’s level of ‘SISU’ the gritty Scandinavian courage that enables them to take corners at high speed with the ease of drinking a cup of tea while having a stroll in the park.
The agreed upon design involved erecting railroad sleepers along the slopey bend, so drivers could see the peril that lay on the side. It was hard work, and blessed though were we as the weather kindly offered to be mildly warm and rainless, the digging was tiresome. However with good humour and profound enthusiasm to be outdoors instead of staring at a screen full of Excel spreadsheets or running to and from multiple meetings, we set about it at a steady pace. The water soaked sleepers were heavy but with great gusto we were up for the task of lifting and placing them at the most appropriate angle. Slowly but surely, mud stained and sweaty, we were making progress. With a great sense of empowerment the first of the sleepers went in and it looked brilliant. After some necessary adjustments and further digging one by one the sleepers went in. Once they were aligned to the correct degree the holes got filled with dirt and cement and after some rigorous pounding they stood up like guardians warning weary travellers of the perils that lay ahead.
We gathered at the in-house café for lunch. The menu consisted of the usual suspects you would expect to see on any café menu. And as we hoped the offerings were prepared with enthusiasm & love using organic produce sourced in house or from local suppliers. Unexpectedly though the food got slightly late, and while the tummy trolls were audibly grumbling any annoyance over the delay was soon forgotten as the food almost tasted magical. There is indeed much value in the use of good quality cooking ingredients. The mood was light though and the disappearing sun brought forth a chill in the air. Weary from the earlier work we lazily and heartily polished off our offering with some polite conversation, coffee, organic cola & house made chocolate brownies. It was shaping up to be a good day.
The afternoon session was slightly less physical but no less painless. We were tasked to clean up a few citrus plantations with weeding, composting and re-mulching. To our surprise it seemed more tedious than the heavy digging in the morning. It could have also been a result of the marginal satisfaction of being outdoors slowly diminishing and coming to a point where it was unbearable. Though I would prefer to simply say we were just tired. Slowly but surely just as the weeds kept disappearing and time also got ahead of us we managed to come on top and finish our work. After a small trip to feed some chickens with the collected weeds we were sitting back admiring our handy work and despite the delirious mud stained exhaustion there was indeed a sense of pride that was swelling within.
For most of us, it was a day way left field of our comfort zone, especially as someone so eloquently put it “I don’t even garden”, to some it was like their regular weekend. Yet at the end, though physically drained none could really complain for there was a real sense of calm and weightlessness, something that we rarely experience everyday as we commute to and from home, as we sit on our couches surfing through NETFLIX or while getting familiar with our PS4 controllers. The day got us closer to nature, empowered us to create and introduced us to a community at the forefront of sustainable enterprise. CERES is a great volunteer activity, a good escape from daily routine and if you are around the area a highly recommended weekend excursion with the family.
CERES is shaping a sustainable future. You and your fellow workmates can be part of that journey by participating in team corporate volunteering at CERES. You can contribute to urban regeneration and to the development of resources and teaching spaces for students of all ages. Find out more here.