“I would say to anyone with a little spare time on their hands to try volunteering – there is a saying that it is far better to give than receive. I truly believe this. The joy, the fun and the friendships made over 60 years are proof of this”. Irma Bradford

I migrated to Australia in 1930 when I was eight years old with my mother and three younger sisters. My father had come out three years earlier to find work and get a home ready for us when we arrived. The home, I should mention, was actually a hut with no running water but there was a well outside. The hut had bare floors and, of course, no electricity. The hut consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and front and back verandahs. We lived in this hut for about two years before moving to a more comfortable home with electricity and water.

I started Corrimal Public School in July 1930. For six months, I sat in the class not knowing what was going on and never learning any English. After the Christmas holidays, my sisters and I enrolled in the local Catholic school and one of the nuns started to teach me English.

When I was 16, I joined the Balgownie Younger Set we had dances, picnics, played tennis and I made a lot of friends. However, when Italy entered World War II, my friends didn’t want anything to do with me because I was Italian. The irony was that my father had left Italy because of Mussolini and what he was doing. I was very upset at losing my friends but I can say my sweetheart, Johnny, did stick by me.

Shortly after, Mrs Campbell, the mine manager’s wife, visited me to say she was forming a Red Cross Younger Set. The aim of the Younger Set was to raise money for the war effort. We had garden parties, tennis tournaments and a charity ball – all the money raised was donated to the Red Cross. I was so happy knowing I was doing my share and making friends again. I married at 19 and the Red Cross Younger Set catered for my wedding. They cooked and waited on the guests and the money we paid them went to the Red Cross. This was a regular way of raising money because people couldn’t afford very much, so this helped the young couples and the Red Cross.

After the War, my children came along and when they started school I joined the Mothers’ Club and then the P&C. I also joined the tennis association committee of the Bulli Tennis Association and was treasurer of the Aloha Tennis Club for about 25 years and I looked after the junior club, too.

In 1966, there was a call to form an auxiliary committee for Bulli Hospital. I joined and have worked for it ever since. I was treasurer for 20 years but when GST came in, things became too complicated so I left my position as treasurer but remained on the committee.

In the early 1970s, I started helping my daughter with Meals on Wheels. Then when my husband retired in 1975, he joined me and we did this together until his eyesight failed in 1996 and he couldn’t drive any more. I then went back to helping my daughter and her husband when they were short of people to do the deliveries until 2005 when I wasn’t able to drive any more.

Today my only volunteer work is with the Bulli Hospital Auxiliary which is celebrating its 40th year in 2006. My friend, Jean Ronald, and I are the only members remaining from the original committee but we are still going strong.

Volunteering has enabled me to help people and this has given me a lot of satisfaction. Now that I can’t get around like I used to, I still sew, knit, cook pickles and jams and cakes to sell on stalls for the auxiliary. And yes, my childhood sweetheart, Johnny, is still there and helps me even though he is legally blind. I find volunteering very rewarding and the camaraderie means a lot to me. I have met so many good people over the years and made so many really good friends. Most of our auxiliary now live in a retirement village and are all younger than I am.

By Irma Bradford and Meryl Bradford

Read more amazing volunteer stories and all about the joy, fun and friendship that volunteering can bring on our website.