Calling all Friends, young and old

Monday 20 May, 2024

People decide to join a Friends group for all sorts of reasons, whether that be giving back and caring for nature, wanting to connect with their local community, or simply just an excuse to spend more time outside.

For Loretta Beliniak, it was a combination of all three that made her want to connect with her local group, Friends of Organ Pipes National Park.

Organ Pipes National Park is Victoria’s smallest national park, protecting more than 300 acres of land at the north-west edge of Melbourne, on Wurundjeri Country.

The park straddles the tranquil Jackson Creek and sits at the edge of one of the world’s largest ancient volcanic lava flows.

Organ Pipes National Park

The vertical basalt columns of the Organ Pipes are just one of the volcanic formations found in the Organ Pipes National Park.

Swamp Wallaby at Organ Pipes National Park

All manner of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals (like this Swamp Wallaby) call Organ Pipes National Park home.

It’s these ancient lava flows that have given the park its name. On one particular bend in Jackson Creek, the lava (now cooled, of course) has become giant basalt stone columns standing vertically next to each other, looking somewhat like a church organ. 

The Friends of Organ Pipes National Park hold their regular working bee on the fourth Saturday of each month. It was one of these working bees that got Loretta hooked.  

“I sent an email off to the group back in 2018 and they said yep, just come along, we’re here the same time each month. And then once I got here, I just really loved listening to some of the older volunteers who have been here for years, I just loved what they had to say and their passion for the place, so it was an easy decision to keep coming back after that,” Loretta said.

Volunteer groups like Friends of Organ Pipes National Park play a vital part in helping Parks Victoria care for Victoria’s special places. Their working bees could be doing anything from weeding, planting, maintaining and creating new paths, installing signage, monitoring native animals, and everything in between. 

Loretta Beliniak from Friends of Organ Pipes National Park

Photo: Loretta Beliniak is the convenor for the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park. She started volunteering in 2018, learning about the park and its plants and animals from the group.

“I didn’t have a volunteering background before I started, and I definitely didn’t know anything about plants or things like that – everything I know now has come from learning from the group,” Loretta said.

“I really love that community side of things.”

It wasn’t long after joining before Loretta was asked to be on the group’s committee, and now, just a few short years later, Loretta finds herself running the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park group as its convenor.

According to “the old guard”, handing over the reins was the best thing they’ve done. Terry Lane was the group’s previous convenor, a position he’d been in since 2005.

“When I first started it was half a dozen old blokes, but nowadays the group has never been so strong. We often get so many people turning up that we’re able to split off into two groups, like we are today, and work on two different project areas at once,” Terry said, while pulling out an invasive cactus species the Friends group was tackling that morning.

Terry Lane (centre) and other members of the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park

Terry Lane (centre) and other volunteer members of the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park taking a break between weeding.

Friends of Organ Pipes National Park volunteers remove invasive weeds

The Friends of Organ Pipes National Park undertake all sorts of activities, from wildlife monitoring, planting, and removing invasive weeds, like this cactus.

“Our group has been able to find new people, and there’s one particular reason I put that down to – Loretta. She’s got youth on her side, she’s keen, and is a breath of fresh air.”

Loretta takes a more humble view as to why the group is so strong.

I think the change has come after COVID, which was a time when a lot of people came down and explored the park while looking for something to do. We’re also using technology a bit more, things like updating the website, our social media presence on Instagram, and utilising ParkConnect.

We’re also trying to be really involved with other groups and organisations like local councils, the Jackson Creek Eco Network, working with universities and getting students out here for studies and volunteering – and a lot of these little connections can be boosted when using technology.

Friends of Organ Pipes National Park is the oldest Friends group in Victoria, and last year celebrated its 50th year. According to Terry, the group will be around a lot longer thanks to the “next generation coming through”, while also encouraging people who have found themselves with a bit of spare time to come along and give volunteering a go.

“I tell people that are retiring now, don’t sit at home or go to the pokies, find a group you’ve got an interest in, whether that’s a charity or something like our little Friends group here, and you’ll find plenty of like-minded people and you’ll never be alone again – it’s a really important thing, this.”


Volunteering in your local park and joining a Friends group like the Friends of Organ Pipes National Park is a rewarding experience that allows you to connect with nature, make a positive impact on the environment, and be part of a vibrant community of like-minded individuals, with every contribution counting towards creating a sustainable future for our planet.

Click here to find out how you can volunteer in a park near you or subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest volunteering opportunities and updates straight to your inbox.

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