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Volunteers welcomed to work
To celebrate National Volunteer Week (13-19 May), CFA is saying “thanks a million” to its volunteers, families and employers for everything they do. This week we will feature a series of profile stories to highlight the great work and diversity of our volunteer members.
Sovereign Hill is an iconic tourism enterprise in Victoria. Each year about 750,000 people visit the gold mining town and adjacent gold museum.
It’s also a major employer. About 360 people work at Sovereign Hill in a variety of jobs, but significantly there are an additional 250 people who work as volunteers at the museum.
And it’s the volunteer and staff employment structure at Sovereign Hill that draws comparisons to CFA.
Jeremy Johnson, the Chief Executive Officer at Sovereign Hill said the culture of both organisations is not dissimilar. He estimates about 30 of his staff are also CFA volunteers.
“We’re supportive of our people working as volunteers in the community,” he said.
“In fact, it’s now written into our staff enterprise agreement, and this enables people to take leave to undertake volunteer work. We believe this is another attractive incentive for people to work here.
“At Sovereign Hill, we’re also very open to staff that may have to leave work to attend a bushfire or other emergency. Equally we encourage our people that family and home come first, so if someone’s property is in danger of a bushfire, then that takes priority."
Mr Johnson believes that both employers and employees get mutual benefits out of the volunteer policy at Sovereign Hill.
“Our staff who are CFA volunteers bring skills here that are most valuable, particularly in emergency planning and response. The size of the museum and the number of visitors means we have to have evacuation and fire plans in place, so CFA volunteers are naturally very good at this,” Mr Johnson said.
“The very nature of volunteering is a skill in itself and the CFA volunteers who work at Sovereign Hill can influence our younger staff about the value of community service and engagement.”
The volunteers who provide their time at the tourist attraction are known as ‘Friends of Sovereign Hill”. They are mainly costumed interpreters who act out a range of roles and interactions with the visitors.
“As for our own volunteers, well they do all sorts of jobs in the outdoor museum and the gold museum, Mr Johnson said.
“We have one lady who acts out the role of the town drunk. She rolls out of the hotel and lies down on the side walk for a half hour or so. It brings a touch of reality to the harsh conditions on the gold fields of Victoria in the 1850s.
“Our volunteers also demonstrate life in the tents down in the mine camp area. But many act as welcomers to the various exhibits."
CFA has a long and productive relationship with Sovereign Hill. An underground gold mine is part of the museum’s exhibit and CFA uses this facility for training.
“We have an underground mine and major infrastructure within the outdoor museum, so the fire and emergency skills of our CFA volunteers is readily transferable to the operation of Sovereign Hill," Mr Johnson said.
Sovereign Hill is a major contributor to the economy of Ballarat and the estimate is that it pumps about $75 million a year into the local economy. Mr Johnson said Sovereign Hill is as important to the economy of Ballarat as other big enterprises like Mars, McCain’s, and IBM.
Mr Johnson said he would encourage other businesses and enterprise not to hesitate employing people who may be volunteers in CFA, SES and other community based organisations.
“Our experience at Sovereign Hill is that staff who are also volunteers in the wider community create a happy workforce," he said.
“I think people feel valued when their employer allows them to do volunteering in the community, so the rub off for businesses is that they have a satisfied worker who feels appreciated by the organisation."
CFA Regional Director for the Grampians Region, Don Kelly, said CFA considered Sovereign Hill one of its most important partnerships in Ballarat.
“This is a major tourist attraction and the safety of it is critical to the community," he said.
"In a few weeks we’ll be at Sovereign hill conducting an exercise there to practice and test our procedures in its underground mine exhibit.
“CFA has always worked very closely with the management of Sovereign Hill, in fact, they have taken the initiative to include us in planning their emergency management activities.”
The partnership between CFA and Sovereign Hill will continue with two events planned for later this year. A special display about fire service in Ballarat during the gold rush era will be staged in the Gold Museum for three months. A week-long event that will feature a re-enactment of fires in the gold rush era will be staged in the outdoor museum as part of ‘Fire Action Week’.
- Story by Darren Grevis-James