Why I volunteer: or how to avoid housework

Words by Irene Kearsley

Superstar volunteer, Irene Kearsey

After a life of full-time employment, I faced retirement in 2003. I had no family in Australia except for my husband, so no grand-parenting was required. I could spend more time cleaning the house, but that didn’t appeal at all. Instead, I’d go on working, just without pay, developing my interests in history and art.

Since then, for one day a week at the Public Record Office (the Victorian government’s archive), I’ve indexed records, including La Trobe’s internal correspondence from 1839. A spin-off from one project has been doing local research for a man in the US; he is writing a biography of his artist grandfather who painted with the Australian impressionists.

For some years after retirement, I was secretary for the editorial board of my professional journal. For a while I volunteered at the National Gallery of Victoria.

More recently, for a half-day a week, I index and transcribe at the Eltham District Historical Society and I’m on the committee. I also serve in two roles at a women’s club: convening a play reading group and working on the club’s archives.

Until Covid-19, I did the refreshments at Melbourne General Cemetery’s full moon tours and helped there during open house weekends. For three open house weekends, I helped at Hamer Hall. I also volunteer at the Yarra Yarra Australian Plant Society’s annual plant expos and I work front of house at Heidelberg Theatre.

For the National Trust, I’ve written reports on public art for an expert committee, and I guide at two trust properties: at La Trobe’s Cottage once a month, and at Gulf Station Historic Farm in Yarra Glen. For this, I studied the respective histories. One day a week, I work generally at Gulf Station and produce its newsletter. Researching the Bell family, who owned Gulf Station for two generations, led to investigating the other passengers on their 1839 voyage to Melbourne. That in turn resulted in organising two reunions of descendants of those passengers.

Several times, these various roles have led to writing articles and presenting illustrated talks.

Apart from keeping me feeling younger than my years, all these activities provide me with like-minded friends and with work I find interesting, which comes with flexible hours and appreciative supervisors. So, still, very little time for housework.