Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work in Australia
There’s more to volunteering in Australia than taking care of bats. It is just a coincidence that two thirds of our first three listings involve nocturnal flying mammals.
Grassroots Volunteering in Australia
The organisations listed below have either got in touch with us to add their details to this or another of our websites, or we otherwise have reason to believe they are actively looking for international volunteers and charge reasonable or no fees to join in, live and work with them:
Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station
A research and conservation organisation that since 1988 has specialised in lowland tropical ecosystems, in particular those of the Daintree lowlands. During their down time volunteers can enjoy some of the finest coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. The station seeks, among others, resting writers, cooks, plumbers, gardeners and bat lovers. Volunteers will assist in research activities and the daily running and maintenance of the Research Station, the Bat House and the 25 acre grounds.
Possible activities include helping out in the Bat House, interacting with visitors and flying foxes, feeding the resident bat colony, removing invasive plants from rainforest plots, stomping grass for forest regeneration, helping with the general upkeep of the facility, and constructing Station buildings. The normal stay is 2-3 weeks but rarely refused extensions are available at the discretion of the Director. Volunteers, Interns and Students can be of any age, but preferably more than 20 yrs old. A good command of English is very important. Internships and studentships of one month’s minimum duration are also possible. Volunteers unvaccinated against rabies won’t be allowed near the bats which, as they say, would be a shame.
Where: Queensland. Three hours drive from Cairns.
Accommodation & Costs: The Research Station can accommodate up to 20 people in 4 cabin style bunkhouses. The cabins are furnished with bunk beds, 2 or 4 persons per room. Some double rooms are available for couples. All linen, pillows and blankets are provided. The facilities are basic and fairly spartan, but comfortable. Our information on the fees to volunteer is slightly old but our last information was that volunteers pay the cost of getting to the station and A$40 per day for food and accommodation. Interns pay A$50 per day. The station’s literature is Australianly blunt about the fees: “Before you bitch about costs … Don’t forget –a backpacker room is 35$ (shared room) minimum –and no food .. another $25 IF you are lucky!”
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Tolga Bat Hospital
Every year the Tolga Bat Hospital rescues, rehabilitates and releases hundreds of bats that would otherwise die. Tasks include making banana smoothies for the bats and trips to the rainforest to release or capture the bats. Volunteers must be vaccinated for rabies to handle the bats. Unvaccinated volunteers are also accepted but cannot handle the bats. Persons under the age of 22 are less likely to be considered.
Where: Near Atherton, Queensland.
Accommodation & Costs: Considering dorm accommodation in nearby Atherton can be found for AU$25 (when we wrote this), volunteering with the Tolga Bat Hospital only becomes economical and meets our criteria for cheap volunteering after staying for eight weeks. At this point the volunteer contribution falls to AU$35 per day (but AU$55 for the first four weeks of this), though this does include food and as far as we are aware you’re not allowed to handle bats at the hostel. Shorter stays, beginning at one week, can be arranged by those willing to pay higher rates for their board. Volunteers also need to pay a non-refundable deposit of $350 when their application is accepted.
Bellbunya is a demonstration centre for sustaining living set up as a small eco-village on 40 acres. They have organic food gardens, wildlife corridors, a creek and lagoon, a conference hall and restaurant and accommodation for 30 guests. The work is varied and changes according to the time of year. Some jobs are organic gardening, building maintenance and renovation, lawn mowing. There is also cooking, cleaning and other lighter projects including conference set ups, social media and website, administration. Volunteers stay a minimum of two weeks and stays longer than 28 days require an invitation from all community members. They often need trade skills (e.g. building, plumbing, electrical, house painting, carpentry etc) so if you have a trade skill that you are willing to offer and are interested in volunteering at Bellbunya but can’t spare two weeks, they invite contact anyway.
Where: Sunshine Coast.
Accommodation & Costs: On the rarely available full time programme (30 hours a week) there is no fee but part time volunteers work for 18 hours and contribute AU$100 per week. Bunk room accommodation and farm fresh vegetarian meals are provided.
Hostel Work Exchanges
Many hostels use help exchange networks (see below) to find volunteer staff but the following either advertise on their websites or are particularly noted for taking on volunteers:
We’ve seen Nomads advertising for volunteers via Gumtree but they also offer a formalised hospitality internship programme that will develop your accommodation management skills, aiming to identify the next generation of top talent, with the best performers invited to join their paid Trainee General Management programme. Nomads have about half a dozen hostels around Australia.
This Coffs Harbour hostel have a number of work for accommodation positions. These jobs come up frequently and are given to suitable guests that have expressed an interest and are already staying with them. If they have vacancies and no suitable candidate, they may give work for accommodation positions to people that are not already staying with us – so feel free to call in or phone and see if there’s anything available. Local farmers also let them know when there is work available during the blueberry picking season.
Base have several hostels in Australia. The Sydney hostel accepts people working for accommodation, if they have a valid work visa. The group also have a Nomadic Live-in’ programme, where they invite people with the right skills and experience to work in paid hostel jobs in any location within the network of 26 hostels so you can continue to explore Australia and New Zealand.
Brisbane Backpackers Resort
For selected positions, BBR will accept people on a work for accommodation basis. If you are staying in the hostel and looking for a job locally, their reception staff can look over your CV/resume and recommend places to visit.
More Hostel Work Exchanges
A browse through Gumtree revealed a few Cairns hostels looking for volunteer help. These include Lake Central Cairns (superstar cleaner wanted for two and a half hours a day) and Cairns City Motel (experienced housekeeper to work for at least one month).
French Island is 38 miles from Melbourne and on it sits French Island Eco Inn where manager Philip invites help from chefs and great cooks from around the world. General help is also sought. In return for four hour’s work a day he supplies a room overlooking the sea, all your meals, plenty of fresh, country air and hopefully lots of great memories. More recently they use Hovos to hire.
Current vacancies are listed on the Port Macquarie Backpackers website. When we looked they were looking for a duty manager, but they also say they are always looking for drivers and cleaners. Some positions receive pocket money as well as accommodation.
During the early stages of Covid, when travellers were stuck abroad, a number of hostels offered beds to backpackers in return for volunteering. In Australia these included: Big Hostel, Base Sydney (see above), Home Backpackers, The Pirates Backpackers Fremantle, and Brisbane Backpackers Resort (see above).
Backpacker hostel work for accommodation positions are also listed in Backpacker Job Board.
Help Exchange Networks in Australia
Other Ways to Travel or Stay for Free in Australia
Stay for free in return for caring for local residents’ homes or pets. Join Trusted Housesitters to live rent free as a house sitter (Americans may prefer this link). There are usually plenty of house sits going in Australia but, if not, you can also get a free Airbnb credit from us here. Transfercar provides free vehicles to travellers with a full driving license valid in Australia willing to drop off hire cars and campervans from whence they came. See www.transfercar.com.au for more details.
Work Exchange Tips: When Work Exchange Goes Wrong – Lash pays her way through Australasia with a succession of work exchanges. Most of them were good, but two not so much.
WWOOFing: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Dirty – Alison Karlene says you are barking up the wrong tree if WWOOFing makes you think of puppies.
WWOOFing, a First-Timer’s Guide – Sophie Saint had to undergo WWOOFing in order to get her second year working visa but saw a whole different side to rural Australia that wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the scheme.
That Festival Feeling: Part I – Over the summer she spent in Australia, Mimi had the chance to volunteer at multiple music festivals across the country.
That Festival Feeling: Part II – By knowing the right people Mimi lucks out in grabbing a volunteer spot for one of Australia’s more exclusive festivals.
That Festival Feeling: Part III – Mimi joins the other ‘vollies’ at Fall Fest, a festival that tours around Australia.
* not all these volunteer experiences are with grassroots NGOs or low cost organisations
Image courtesy Wildfun