a host WWOOFing abroad

Feb 26, 2016

Julia Bentley is a WWOOF host in Tasmania, Australia who spent a return trip to the UK WWOOFing with several of our hosts. She has since reflected on her experiences and agreed to share some of them us as well as describing the stark contrast with WWOOFing in her part of Australia. Thanks Julia!

In the summer of 2014 I travelled to the UK to visit the areas where I grew up. I had previously made trips home but it was always to visit relatives, with my parents now deceased I was visiting to reacquaint myself with the country. I moved to Australia in 1977 at the age of 24 and stayed raising four children. Fifteen years ago my husband and I moved to 85 acres in a remote valley of Tasmania.  There we built a straw bale home, established a vegetable garden and an orchard. The valley is off the grid and we have our own water supply and sewage. Our aim was to live as sustainably and independently as possible realising that you cannot be totally self-sufficient. We take WWOOFers on our property from all parts of the world to experience our lifestyle. So when travelling overseas I found it interesting to include WWOOFing into my holiday.

Julia's home in Lorinna
I chose WWOOF hosts who I felt had a similar philosophy, learning new skills and wishing to live a more sustainable way of life. York is my favourite city so I chose a host on the outskirts of York in suburbia. One could not have imagined the private Garden of Eden behind the suburban house front. A garden which rambled on and on and produced an enormous amount of food with chicken pens interspersed along with perennials and ornamentals. Jane and Tony also have three allotments and a small acreage. They seemed to run these areas with ease and I learnt much from them. It also gave me the opportunity to meet locals. I went to an open garden, on an outing to a nursery and bird watching with the local organic group. There was also a night learning about herbal pharmacy courtesy of the lotto and a day’s WWOOFing with someone who had built a straw bale extension.

Julia's gardenMy second host was in the lovely countryside of Pembrokeshire. The host was chosen for a number of reasons. I was interested in wool, sheep and spinning which Bettina was very experienced at. Also my ancestry is Welsh and as it turned out my grandfather was from that small village. I learnt that I didn’t really want to keep sheep but loved the goats. Bettina gave me the confidence that with practise I could learn to spin and introduced me to other spinners and knitters. I was introduced to people who foraged for a living and upcycled clothing in the most beautiful and creative way. I also learnt about the traditional building in the area.

Both WWOOF hosts were knowledgeable about their area and encouraged me to explore. Being a member of WWOOF also gave me the opportunity to visit an interesting old mill on my walk along the Dales Way and to visit another WWOOF host whose expertise was in soil chemistry.

the annual garlic crop at homeFor my husband, Dylan, and I, being WWOOF hosts encompasses many things. We enjoy meeting people from other countries and experiences. Often our environment is very different from theirs and we are happy to share the good and bad points in our choices of building and gardening. Much of the time with us is spent in the valley which has an interesting and active community with a community co-op, rural fire brigade, community hall and Buddhist retreat. There are movie nights and yoga if people wish to join in. Lorinna is an isolated area and our property is situated on a lake 15km long so WWOOFers can take the canoe out or walk in the forest and mountains. We are near to Cradle Mountain, an iconic symbol of Tasmania. Some WWOOFers find the isolation difficult with limited access to mobile coverage and internet. It gives them an opportunity to experience elements as diverse as 35°C temperatures and snow, which can at times fall in summer. There is a constant fight to grow and keep animals alongside possums, wombats, kangaroos, quolls and raptors as well as building up Australia’s ancient soils. In some parts of Australia one has to cope with drought and then floods.

Communication is very important especially with people who have never had any experience with gardening and farming; although I WWOOFed in Japan not speaking the language and in one case the host didn’t speak English but we managed to cope. Giving instructions in detail can seem insulting and unnecessary to some WWOOFers but mistakes can mean the loss of the crop for the year for the host. Much of our work in the garden and on the farm is maintenance with preparation of beds and weeding in the spring and autumn. The height of the picking and processing is in summer. The same applies to the work with the animals which often includes treating or preventing diseases. I think this at times surprises WWOOFers.

People use WWOOFing for different reasons: to experience the culture through a more intimate and practical way; to see an area whilst utilising the knowledge of the WWOOF host; or to travel cheaply. Some WWOOFers are thinking of changing their own lifestyle or learning new skills. Whatever the reason it is a wonderful way to travel, see and experience the country, make new friendships. There is nothing quite as satisfying as walking outside to gather your meal.

While compiling this newsletter I was in touch with Julia by email and was shocked to receive this news:

fires burning near Julia's homeWell it has been an odd spring/summer for us facing many different elements. We had heavy falls of snow this winter followed by a lot of frost and very little rain in our usually wet winter and spring. Consequently the land and bush is very dry and then lightning strikes have meant Tasmania seems to be burning up. There have been over 50 fires burning around Tasmania mostly in the north and west where they don’t usually burn. They are burning in very inaccessible areas notably world heritage areas of rare alpine and pencil pine.

These areas, unlike much of the Australian bush, do not regenerate and have built up over thousands of years so it is very sad.

As for us it was quite scary as we live in a heavily forested area with only one road though bush. The fire came very close and luckily the winds turned followed by some rain giving us a reprieve but Feb/March are our worst months so we are not off the hook yet. I evacuated for a week but Dylan stayed as part of the rural fire brigade.

As you are busying yourself for spring I will be planting my winter veg and looking forward to some rest and recuperation in our hopefully very wet winter.

We must all hope they stay safe and find that time for rest and recuperation. Elaine, Editor.

**** 01/03/2016: a brief note from Julia to say: things are getting easier with a good drenching in January followed up with a few more days of rain. Some of the interstate fire fighters are returning.**** Let’s hope all will be well, Elaine.

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