Any new experience can be a bit scary and there were a lot of reassured volunteers today when Misty, Sydney Writer’s Festival Volunteer Manager looked across the rows of eager newbies and said. “You will probably be petrified when you arrive at the Vollies Green Room for the first time. Don’t worry. We’ll spot you!” And that’s my takeaway from today’s Volunteer Orientation, we are in good hands.

Experience tells and as Misty and Ashleigh, the Volunteer Co-coordinator, warmly greeted the hundreds of volunteers as we queued for orientation, they knew our names and what we were slated for. Both the old hands like some of the people around me, and novices like myself and the new queue friend I had just made.

It looked like there were equal numbers of both as we did a show of hands for the more experienced and the excitable new ones. I sort of expected older people for reasons that don’t make any sense when I think about it. We are young and old, able bodied and differently abled. My new intergenerational friend is an aspiring writer and the couple near me voracious readers. And we all seem to be ‘volunteery’ type people. RFS, SES, Red Cross, working with youth, nursing home visitor we all seem to do something and so many people look forward to giving their time on the SWF each year.

Including our team supervisors. 28 of them with 130 combined Festivals between them. As badges were given for 5, 10 years volunteer service up to an impressive 13 years, I was getting that very calming ‘we’ve got you’ vibe. And the training only served to put me even further at ease. Emergency training, weather training, anecdotes to learn from and lots of thank yous and look after yourselfs. And being of a theatrical bent, I especially loved the variety of ways one of our trainers said nearly 30 times. “Don’t go in the water!” It’s not a thing apparently!

There is no secret to how to behave when you are a volunteer. We are united by a willingness and desire to help just as the SWF crowds are united in their love of ideas and their expression. Well behaved too we are told. Our team leaders have encountered most out of norm situations and as hundreds of us were ushered around the site by helpful, friendly, knowledgeable supervisors we got a real time, best practice demonstration.

There’s homework admittedly. We need to know where the toilets are about a thousand times a day. Know what events are on during your shift. Know where the venues are and know the map intimately. Questions continue all the way home on the train if you are still wearing your T-shirt and lanyard we are told.

I will be very excited to report on my first question… hope it’s not too pedestrian. Or too hairy. Either way I am ready to go. First stop: my local library for Sandra Leigh Price and The River Sings.

Sydney Writers Festival is 22-28th May
Twitter: @SydWritersFest
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Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuCZP35tRLm6YfvB9HiS3Vg
iTunes Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/sydney-writers-festival/id985898011?mt=2