An Open Letter To My Future Self By Angela Zhao

The Big Lift (TBL) is a student-run volunteering organisation which works with regional Australian communities. It functions on the belief of “paying it forward” and the idea that many hands can work together to make work small. There is a general consensus that The Big Lift is just a nine day volunteering road trip like a school camp like many of my peers, I joined The Big Lift to give back to community, make a difference and expecting to make a friend or two by the end. This happened and more. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of comradery between participants through the countless shared experiences and memories throughout this trip.

To the future TBL 2016 group,

The Big Lift 2016 has passed quickly and already we have to separate. This week has been full of many great emotions, stories and moments we’ll never forget. From braving the cold, to early mornings and seeing each other’s sleepy faces we really have gotten to understand each other during our highest and our lowest.

Nothing beats the feeling of knowing that we had helped a town work on projects that they never had the opportunity to do before, bought joy to their day and bonded their community closer together.  The possibility of knowing that our actions will leave an impact in years to come may inspire us to visit again; to see the new completed look of Woodstock’s Lawn Bowling Hall, the veggie patch at Gundaroo Public School, test the benches we helped make at Bombala, catch up for a chat with locals at Orbost or how check how tall the trees we planted at Stratford have grown. Maybe some of us will chose to continue The Big Lift’s motto of “paying it forward” and get involved with other causes.

Can you believe we hardly knew each other before the trip? Starting off “well-rested” at 7:30am on Saturday morning at university, not knowing anyone apart from some people you had briefly met before on pre-departure night. Whose names you had either forgotten or your un-caffeinated brain could not recall. But see how far you’ve come going from strangers to being even able to call them your family. Working together as a team you pulled staples out of walls, cleaned and painted halls, transported timber at the Men’s Shed and of course mulching- so much mulching.  And not to forget sleeping together in halls, churches and even a football club!

And how about towns we visited? Woodstock, though not as lively as its older sister who shares the same name, has a killer of a country fair. Gundaroo with their heritage-listed monuments.  Bombala with their strong ties to the timber industry and popular Men’s Shed. Bohemian Stratford, famous for their Shakespeare on the River Festival, strong support for the arts and AFL. Not to forget the wide range of people we met possible award nominations for the best beard, the future Masterchefs and even a past UTS Alumni. Many residents had originally lived in large cities like Sydney and moved for a tree change. This opportunity to volunteer at these town enabled us to discover the background city and country folk of Australia are not opposites. However the difference lies in our sense of community, possibly due to the rush and crowdedness of the city life we don’t interact with each other as much. Many of us wouldn’t have such a strong relationship with everyone who lived on our street let alone the town as these locals can.

What we did do was we formed our own sense of community. We felt supported as the Lifters always there to help a member in need whether it’ll be food, toiletries, money or just someone to talk to. Bromances and bus crushes were present some bravely going the extra mile writing love notes and showcasing their love at our talent quest.  Heartstrings were pulled- thanks to alpacas and a lamb-, ships set sail and some relationships possibly kindled.

Do you still check out our photos and recall those moments in your spare time? Find the countless selfies from Woodstock to Melbourne and anywhere in between tucked away on your Instagram. Come across the videos of your team mates posing with statues, twerking in 7/11 or performing various other silly tasks. Break out into dance to “Can’t Stop this feeling” or look forward to the ‘good morning’ song at 6:30am.

Will we be glad we went on this trip? Reflecting back on the trip many would be more than happy to relive the same trip with same people, over and over again. A couple of us will be thanking our friends for the recommendation and getting others to sign up. The skills we have learnt from foundations in tree-planting, mulching and lawn bowls will be useful tools in developing our personal and professional identities or possible conversation starters as we depart university. But more than that the people we have met and formed friendships with have helped us see the positive change TBL has bought with it. It sews a hope that we harness a power to influence the world we live in however it is whether we take action upon it or not that makes the difference.

See you soon,

Your current selves



TBL Blue- Canowindra

Gooood morning CANOWINDRA! What a splendid township you are, giving us little grief but for your pronunciation.

We were awoken bright (actually, not so bright) and early at 7am by our wondrously cheery and onsie- clad crew. The air was at a crisp subzero temperature, but we were met by a picturesque scene outside of the sparkling of frost and the rising forms of Canowindra’s famous hot air balloons across the skyline. After a fantastic feed hosted by some lovely ladies at the local club the previous evening and a humble- yet-satisfying breakfast, we were fuelled for the morning’s activities.

Our troops split off into three platoons to to take on the day’s missions. One of these stayed on the school grounds and tackled several jobs. The big job of the morning was the erection of a chicken coop, followed by digging trenches in order to lay irrigation. The green thumb in all of them was coaxed out, planting strawberry seedlings and JC and Sheerin worked their magic with the power tools, creating some beautiful signage to be displayed around the grounds.

My group and I were met by the Costa of Canowindra, Margie Crowther, who is the coordinator of the local community garden and a certified organic farmer. We were treated to a crash course in permaculture, a modern approach to sustainable farming and gardening which is implemented in the garden. The design of the garden reflects the principles of permaculture, such as the Mandala plot which allows easy access to all plants and minimises disturbance with a honeycomb layout. Our first task was to mulch this area and then around the exterior of the entire garden. We then proceeded to turn the compost heap, shovelling and pitchforking a tonne of organic matter from one heap to another which is, apart from smelly, a critical step in creating a year’s worth of soil-enriching goodness. A local young farmer called David was passing by and jumped in to lend a hand after hearing what TBL is all about (#TBLLove). We have to send a big ‘yeah buddy’ (read: shout out) to Margie and Jenny for all their time and effort and a delicious morning tea!

The final group headed to a nearby preschool to spread the love around town even more. They jumped right in and got their hands dirty, fixing up anything and everything they were instructed. Shortly after, the fence was beautifully painted and they commenced the legwork, laying paving on the paths and continuing to make everything look pretty. After cleaning out the shed and putting the finishing touches on their work, they were absolutely stoked to be gifted with the preschool’s very own cookbook and the recipes got us all salivating!

After a good morning’s hard work, we restocked the energy supplies with a BBQ lunch, said our thank yous and goodbyes and set off on the road to Trangie. Or so we thought... A nice surprise awaited us at Parkes in the form of The Dish! The famous key site in the 1969 Apollo landing that Sam Neil etched into our memories in high school science was suddenly there in front of us! After many a cheesy photo, we got back on the road to Trangie for real this time. Jay and her team of locals were waiting at the multi- purpose sports hall to welcome us. And what a welcome it was, for although the night was bitter cold, the hospitality and the wonderful feast they cooked for us warmed our hearts and our bellies. Oh and of course the bonfire helped as well!

As Inti hinted at in yesterday’s recounts, I came into this year’s TBL as the outsider with the dream of bringing TBL to Macquarie University. So far I have been so overwhelmed with everyone’s welcoming and friendliness, both my fellow lifter’s and the townships' with which we have so far come in to contact. To see the community building that we have been able to facilitate and benefit from as well as the incredible camaraderie that is blossoming between us all reassures me that this is an absolutely worthwhile initiative that I can’t wait to share. A big thank you to TBL for bringing me on board - I am so grateful for all your help on this!

Much love. Michael

TBL White - The Road to Gulgong

We left Goologong with full stomachs from the amazing lunch provided by the locals and a sense of fulfilment from working together to help the community. As we set off on our journey we were sad to say goodbye to our first town but we were also excited to get onto the heated bus (#Goologongwascold) and to find out what we were going to do next.

On the bus to Gulgong we played emotional werewolves and enjoyed ‘fun facts with Ken’ as he educated us on various attractions such as a wheat fields and flour mills.  Much to Tim’s delight, we stopped in Parkes to see The Dish which he said was “out of this world”. While we enjoyed The Dish in all of its glory, some lovely lifters took photos while others bought pies (Andres). I spent some time taking photos of birds that sounded like monkeys and attempted to sit on a chair but failed and ended up rolling around on the grass. After an hour and half we got back on the bus and Ken commentated as he attempted to dodge kangaroos.

When we arrived in Gulgong Ken enlightened us with another round of fun facts with Ken. He told us about Gulgong’s history as a gold mining town that was once on the ten dollar note. We were all apprehensive about our stay in Gulgong because a rumour was going around that we were sleeping in a sheep shearing shed. However, we were all stoked to find out that Dave had actually organised accommodation at Red Hill Environmental Education Centre which had heating, showers and mattresses. What a champion. That night, we ate barbequed chicken and lamb cooked by Dave’s team along with delicious salads prepared by Michele, the principal of the school. Our night in Gulgong was emotional and thought provoking as we played team bonding games that involved opening up to each other.

The next day, we split into two groups to do service projects at the school, one group did gardening and the other group painted the outside of a classroom. Then we all got together to do some weeding. The gardening team were digging holes and planting new plants, we had some people digging the holes, some planting plants and others doing both. After digging a hole I foolishly announced “my hole is ready!” (for a plant to be planted in), a statement that has stuck with me for the rest of the trip. John was a tyrant when it came to the technicalities of tree planting, he closely monitored everyone’s dirt compacting techniques. He also seemed to thoroughly enjoy rounding up hoes to hose the plants. The other group managed to paint an entire classroom despite the fact that a large portion of paint ended up on people. We all weeded for an hour or so and then ate a well-deserved lunch of chicken schnitzel burgers. All in all, Gulgong was a lot of fun and Michele was incredibly grateful to have us there to help out.

Mia Nestler