Russell, 69, has been one of the go-to volunteers for anything that requires a bit more than just enthusiasm and energy during Habitat NSW’s bushfire recovery assistance programme. So far, he’s worked on building new chook pens, a large external safe cat run, and a shower block for a couple who lost everything when fire swept through the Southern Highlands and are currently living in a caravan, waiting for re-building to begin.
“Being a bit of handyman is in the genes,” he says. “My father’s father, and his father, were both master builders; my mother’s father was also pretty handy. My father? Not handy at all. For me, it’s more than an interest, more of a strong hobby.
“I trained as a geologist and spent my career exploring for oil and gas. All over the world.”
Since retiring he turned to volunteering and has spent coming up to three years with Habitat’s Australia’s domestic programmes, first with Brush with Kindness, and now as a regular on the bushfire recovery programme.
So what was the biggest reason for volunteering? “I think giving back to the community”, he says, “particularly in Australia where there are a lot of people who are struggling, hard up. I prefer if I can, to give something to them, to the community here.
“When you live in the inner city in Sydney you feel like you’ve hardly been touched by disasters such as these bushfires.
“I like the variety of the bushfire programme. And being outdoors is a real advantage, particularly during COVID. It’s great just going to different places and meeting different people and being able to give practical help to people who really need it.
“It’s also always fun being with a nice group of people. When you’re retired, your group is much smaller so it is really great to be able to go out and meet new people.”