Susan Murphy : WWOOF is an acronym. What does it stand for?
Garry Ainsworth: Originally it stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms. That’s when it first started in the UK. As the concept grew people said, Does that mean we can only do it on weekends? Then it was changed to Willing Workers on Organic Farms. In Australia we still call it that. Most of the overseas WWOOF groups have changed it to Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. They wanted to get rid of the word ‘work’ in the name because they have trouble with their immigration departments.
How did the concept of WWOOF begin?
The person who first started it was a woman named Sue Coppard who was a secretary in London. That was in 1971. She wanted to get out into the country-side and enjoy being on a farm so she put a little ad in an alternative magazine in Soho and that’s how it first started.
And what about in Australia?
Lionel Pollard started it in Australia. He was one of the founding members of the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture (NASA) which was one of the original organic certifying bodies. He is originally from Yorkshire in the UK. He went back to the UK for a visit and heard about it and thought, “Well, why isn’t this happening in Australia?” so he started a WWOOF group in Australia.
How did you get involved with him?
WWOOF was starting to grow gradually in Australia. It was probably 10 per cent of the size it is now. It was at a time when it needed someone to work in the office. Lionel knew I had an interest in organics and because we’d done a computer course together he knew I was OK with computers. At that point in my life I’d been un-employed for 12 months so Lionel was able to get a wage subsidy for me for six months. That was 16 years ago.
How did WWOOF end up in W-tree?
Lionel moved here from Melbourne and WWOOF moved with him. In the old days all they used was a sheet of A4 paper with a list of the host names. They used to run it off on a mimeograph machine at the end of their bed. Lionel and his wife Valerie were involved in the Murrindal co-op up the road. He worked in the Latrobe Valley and came up here on the weekends. He’s a keen gardener and he kept a large organic vegetable patch up here. They liked the idea of an alternate lifestyle which you can have in W Tree.
W-tree is very remote with a small population. What benefit has WWOOF had for your local community?
50 people live in W-tree and we employ six people. When I first moved up here there was no employment. Most of the income WWOOF generates gets spent locally including $70,000 per year at the local post office. There probably wouldn’t be a postal service in the near-by town of Buchan any more without WWOOF. That benefits everyone in the whole district. We get our printing done locally too. There is another $100,000 that’s injected into the local community. We do everything we possibly can to shop as locally as we can. Supporting local business is part of the ethos of WWOOF.