We are relatively new to the role of WWOOFing hosts, but have enjoyed our experience so far and are looking forward to meeting more WWOOFers.
At the outset we want to be clear about two things: First, we are not a commercial farm. We produce organic food for ourselves (often with a significant excess, depending on the season and rainfall) using permaculture approaches. So we do not do second visa documentation. Second, we prefer volunteers who have an interest in learning about permaculture and organic growing, but that does not mean we don’t accept people with no prior experience or knowlege in these fields. But if you seriously want to volunteer with us you need to give us reasons why you want to come here instead of another location. “I’d love to work on your farm”, or “I love working with children” (we don’t have any) will not cut it.
Below is some background on what WWOOFers can expect here at Black Cockatoo Ridge.
We are approximately 100km west of Brisbane, and 40km east of Toowoomba. There is a Greyhound bus service from Brisbane and Toowoomba to Gatton, which is the nearest town and is where we will pick you up. Travel by rail from Brisbane is possible, but involves changing from train to bus at Rosewood, and this usually means about a two-hour travel time from Brisbane, compared with about one hour by bus.
The house is two kilometres from a small local road (one kilometre via an easement through a neighbour’s land, and one kilometre winding up through our land). This access is an earth track and has some steep hills with loose gravel and one or two cross-drains that could prove challenging to some types of vehicles. Generally any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance and that is not too light over the driving wheels will not have any problem in the hands of a careful driver.
The surrounding environment
Our land is around 8 km from the small town of Gatton. We live on 35ha of rugged sandstone ridges and gullies, on the edge of the 9,500 ha Lockyer National Park. Almost all of our land is covered with natural bushland. The only cleared area is approximately 2ha on a narrow ridge-top where we have concentrated all of our “disturbance” (buildings, gardens, storage, water tanks, etc), so as to leave the forest as natural as possible.
Through our own efforts and with some expert help we have identified around 150 plant species on the property so far (we don’t claim to be able to recognise all of them). In addition, we have seen around 120 bird species. On most days some pretty special birdwatching can be done from a chair on the porch as a wide range of birds visits the birdbaths and nectar-providing native plants. We commonly see Red-necked Wallabies grazing around the house, and sometimes see Swamp Wallabies, Eastern Grey Kangaroos and (very occasionally) Brush-tailed Rock Wallabies on parts of the property. Brush-tailed Possums are also regularly seen in the vicinity of the house. At some times of the year we hear Koalas calling every few days (but very seldom see them – too many trees and too few Koalas). We also hear Dingos calling during their breeding season, and from time to time see an Echnida (our first WWOOFer, Patrick, saw one about 10 metres from his tent).
Our objectives and values
Our objectives in living here and managing our property are: to tread as softly on the earth as possible; to create the minimum of disturbance to wildlife; to maintain or enhance the production of ecosystem services from the land; to be as independent as possible of outside services and government; and to demonstrate sustainable land management and lifestyle approaches.
We respect the environment and the wildlife that shares that environment with us, and expect our guests to do the same. This includes not feeding or approaching wildlife (including for photography, but we have no problem with wildlife photography as long as you don’t “stalk” the animals). We do provide water for the wildlife and birdbaths, and occasionally put out food for birds. If the wildlife comes to you that is a different matter, and if you are quiet and patient you can expect to have some quite close encounters with wallabies and birds.
Our objectives in being members of the WWOOFing “family” are to share knowledge, experiences and cultures with our WWOOFer guests, and to make sure that you learn something about our approach to sustainable living.
The buildings and accommodation
The buildings on the site comprise: a small, owner-built house, the interior of which is sort of a studio arrangement, with the bathroom the only separate space, and the kitchen, living areas and our bedroom all in the main space; there is a separate “office” close to the house, where we have our desks, files, bookshelves, TV etc; and there is also a workshop.
Because the house and office are quite small we do not at present have space to accommodate guests in these buildings, though of course you will use the bathroom in the house, eat with us, and join us for watching TV in the evenings if you want to. We can provide tent accommodation and have plans to construct guest accommodation in the future. Guests are welcome to bring their own tents or use ours. Tents can be erected under awnings of the workshop or office, or if you want more privacy, in the open along the ridge.
As well as eating with us, guests will share in preparing the meals and washing up and will keep their own accommodation tidy.
Generally breakfast is a relaxed affair, and we use that time for catching up with mail and news on our laptops. This is the only meal at which we accept people using computers, tablets, mobile phones etc – otherwise we regard meals as a social occasion for sharing food, ideas and experiences and getting to know each other.
Power in our buildings is limited by the amount of sunlight per day and the capacity of our storage batteries, so we need to constantly monitor our power usage. Power is available to guests for lighting at night and for charging equipment such as computers and mobile phones during the day. Water is limited by the amount of rain that falls (this is the driest part of Southeast Queensland – average 771mm/yr) and the capacity of our tanks, so water use also needs to be monitored. We have hot water for showers, but laundry is generally done using cold water (we have a washing machine). Our toilets are composting models, and for much of the year we generally use only the outside toilet.
Food, allergies and the like
We both have some food allergies, so meals that we prepare for ourselves are gluten-free and egg-free. You are welcome to share these meals, but if you feel the need from time to time for some of the ingredients that we can’t eat we will be happy to include these in the menu. If you have any food or other allergies, or religious dietary requirements, please advise us before you arrive so we can consider whether we can meet your needs.
Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the property. Apart from the issues of health and inconvenience, there are fire risks that can be extreme at certain times of year.
Our internet access is via Broadband Satellite, but the system is easily overloaded, and data usage is rather expensive, so we can’t provide access to our wi-fi. Guests can use USB modems to access the internet via the mobile phone (cellphone) network. We can lend you a modem, but you will need to provide your own SIM card with a data allowance (we recommend Amaysim or Telstra) – but please note that you will need your own computer or tablet. Signal strength here is variable, but quite acceptable – usually faster than the satellite connection. Similarly, guests will need their own mobile phones to make routine calls, but there is a landline phone for emergency use.
The kinds of work that we need our WWOOFers to share with us
Please note that the work here is physical, involving tasks such as maintaining or improving walking / fire trails, digging out lantana (a large weedy bush), cutting up fallen trees for mulch and firewood, digging trenches for garden beds, erecting fences, and similar work. If you aren’t prepared or capable of doing this kind of work you might be happier elsewhere.
We are still in the process of re-establishing things like vegetable gardens, which were disrupted by the earthworks and general disturbance associated with the building of the house and workshop over a three-year period. So there is a lot of basic work to be done in that field, and we are keen to have suggestions from people with more experience. The “soil” is generally a mix of sand and sandstone rocks, so creative approaches to growing food are essential.
Establishment of a system of ecological management of fire in the large area of native vegetation on our land is underway, after a long period of thinking about how to achieve this. Fire is a key element in the ecological processes of Australian forests, and many of the species are fire dependent in one way or another. The creation of a network of “fire lines / walking tracks” is a current major focus of activity and is likely to dominate work programs for the next year. We are very happy to share our knowledge and ideas in relation to this, and to receive inputs to the development of the approach.
You will need sturdy shoes or preferably hiking or work boots for the work here. We do not supply footwear or work clothing, but we do provide safety equipment such as safety glasses, face protectors, sound deadening ear muffs, and similar. You will need to have your own hat capable of protecting your head, face and neck from sunburn and should have sunblock.
In the interests of safety you may not use headphones or ear buds while working with tools.
Working hours and time off
We generally don’t have a defined working week or defined days off. We have found it can be effective to work for five days, with one half-day off during that time, then go on a “day out” to explore the surrounding area. Work days are generally around seven hours, and the length of the day out will depend on the distance travelled and activities undertaken.
Interesting places in the area that we have visited with WWOOFers include Crows Nest National Park, Ravensbourne National Park, and Lake Apex Fauna Sanctuary. In addition we have many friends with interesting properties and lifestyles.
If we have reason to make other trips away from home we generally like to share these with our WWOOFers so that they have an opportunity to see the surrounding areas and get to meet some of our friends. This generally means that we work on most days when we are at home, and expect you to do the same, though of course we do frequently take advantage of our National Park “backyard” to go walking in the bush.
Generally we like WWOOFers to stay for around two weeks, after which we can discuss a longer stay. However we recognise that you cannot really make a decision as to whether you want to stay and work with us for two weeks until you have arrived and experienced the conditions and types of work. We also recognise that WWOOFing is a special relationship in which hosts and volunteers who have never met before live and work closely together. We therefore adhere to an initial three-day trial period, after which we can discuss a two-week stay. For this reason you might be wise, before you arrive, to have thought about your alternatives if you are not able to stay beyond the trial period. We sincerely hope that this will not be necessary, and we look forward to sharing our home, work, knowledge, culture and love for the Australian bush with you for an extended period.