Nicky Phillips, Alice Hogg July 19, 2012
Living and giving … Yvonne McMaster helping to clean up native bush at Ku-ring-gai, where more than a quarter of residents aged 15 and over volunteer for community work. Photo: Quentin Jones
WAHROONGA resident Yvonne McMaster became a volunteer with Ku-ring-gai council's bushcare program after she grew dissatisfied with the unkempt state of the area's native bushland.
"I was walking in the bush and I saw how the weeds were spreading and it was so sad and overwhelming … and I wanted to stop it," she said.
Ms McMaster, 72, who meets with four others to revive the native bushland each week, is not alone in her willingness to give.
The latest census data reveals more than a quarter of residents aged 15 and over in the well-heeled Ku-ring-gai local government area volunteered in the past 12 months, the highest proportion in Sydney.
Hunters Hill, where 23 per cent of people volunteered, and Lane Cove, with 22 per cent of residents helping the community, were close behind. Mosman and Blue Mountains rounded out the top five local government areas with the highest proportion of volunteers.
Residents of Auburn, Liverpool, Canterbury and Fairfield were less willing to give away their time. In these working-class areas fewer than 10 per cent of residents volunteered.
Overall more than half a million Sydneysiders aged 15 and over volunteered for an organisation in the past year, up almost 9 per cent from 2006.
Melanie Randle, a research fellow at the University of Wollongong, said her research, based on previous Australian Bureau of Statistics data, found a higher proportion of people who volunteered were employed, either full time or part time.
''The people who volunteer are the types who have all their stuff sorted and think they are in a position to give,'' said Dr Randle.
''There are time pressures, but people that earn more tend to be able to get more help and so can divert their efforts to volunteering for their kids' sporting team or school.''
People in lower socio-economic or minority groups needed to concentrate on supporting themselves, she said.
A social historian, Melanie Oppenheimer, said volunteering meant different things to different cultures and the low numbers of volunteers in Auburn, Liverpool, Canterbury and Fairfield may not be a true reflection of the region's generosity.
''I bet lots of people in those areas volunteer, they just don't see it as volunteering,'' Dr Oppenheimer, an associate professor at the University of New England, said.
''In some cultures there isn't a word for volunteering, but the practices are the same.''
This may explain why areas in Sydney with the lowest proportion of volunteers had some of the highest rates of non-reporting in the volunteer section of the census.