Judy Warrell has been a volunteer with Oxfam Australia (originally known as Community Aid Abroad) since 1979. Here’s a snapshot of her experience to date.
1. You first applied for be a volunteer with Oxfam Australia through an ad in the Community Aid Abroad Review. Can you share with us how many years ago that was and what it was that drew you to CAA?
I started volunteering in 1979 for Community Aid Abroad (CAA). I found out about the volunteering opportunity through an ad in the CAA Review, which I received quarterly due to my being in the Waverley CAA Group. The ad promised complete job satisfaction, great conditions, but of course – no pay! I knew of some of the work that CAA were doing in India at the time and I really felt that CAA was making a difference. When I started, CAA was based on Brunswick Street in an old terrace house that we shared with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. At that time there were only 12 staff.
I was already drawn to CAA before I started volunteering in the office, having lived in the same neighbourhood as Earle Coffey who was the founding member of the Waverley CAA Group. I first heard about CAA when Earle got all the neighbours to contribute to buying a well in India, which was the only place that CAA worked at the time. There was such a great response from the community that the Waverley Group was formed and I was one of the original members. I was a part of the Waverly Group for about 15-20 years.
2. Do you remember what your first task as a volunteer in the Community Aid Abroad office was?
My role was to provide secretarial/bookkeeping/admin assistance to Neil O’Sullivan who was the program director at the time. They sat me in front of an old electric typewriter (these were the days before computers!) and Neil used to joke with me and say that I typed so fast he could see sparks coming out of the machine! While I was working for Neil, I remember one time he came back from India and wanted me to type up a report he had put together. Well, I did this and he kept changing his mind on how he wanted the report to look. I literally had to cut and paste sections of the report into other areas. It was very time consuming!
3. Can you explain what your role is now at Oxfam Australia? Do you think you will ever leave us? (please don’t leave us!)
These days I still volunteer in the programs area (now known as International Programs Section), although I don’t only deal with program-related work. I come in every Thursday for about three hours each week and respond to general inquiries that Oxfam reception sends to me. These are emails that nobody else in the building has time to answer, or even has the answers! I do my best to respond to every single person as I believe it is important that we communicate with our supporters. I like knowing that I am doing something that makes a difference – whether it’s to Oxfam in generating more supporters, or to the supporters themselves who get an answer to a question.
4. Can you share your most memorable moment as a volunteer here at Oxfam? Is there any one thing that you are particularly proud to have achieved (other than your tenure of course!)
One of my most memorable moments and achievements at CAA was organising Graham Romanes’ farewell. Graham was such a lovely person, and had an incredibly strong sense of humanity. I wanted to ensure that his farewell would be something he would remember forever so I arranged to put him on “trial” for his inhumanity! I asked fellow co-workers to get up as “witnesses” to prove his humanity and it was amazing to hear everyone speak about all the work Graham had done and his achievements. After all the “witnesses” had spoken, the judge ruled that Graham had failed inhumanity, which of course meant that he was humane after all! Another part of Graham’s farewell was everyone signing the song I’d put together called “Working with Graham” which was to the tune of Waltzing Matilda.
5. What do you like to do when you aren’t volunteering with Oxfam?
I play tennis regularly and I love spending time in my garden. I also help out at my old school, Hungtingtower in Mt Waverley where I have lived for over 50 years. I spend time at my church and of course with family as well.
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