Australians have always been good at volunteering in all walks of life, but the manifestation of it at the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games was a watershed moment.
Perhaps prior to that the ethos had been all about service.
In Sydney it oozed something else - pride.
In this instance it was not a case of pride going before a fall, for this provided a legacy not just for Australia but for the Olympic movement worldwide thereafter.
The delivery of major events of all kinds has long relied on volunteers for two things - making them financially viable and for providing positive experiences and memories for the participants.
In 2000, Sydney was a massive winner on both counts.
Just how the volunteers came to be the centrepiece of both Games - after the athletes of course - remains partially a mystery but some factors are very clear.
Games organisers recruited carefully but even more importantly prepared the teams of volunteers better than any organiser had done before.
This was crucial.
Every attendee at a major event has had a failed volunteer interaction.
Many an eager helper has willingly put up their hand and been allocated an operational space, only to be provided with little or no training or information to be useful to others and fulfilled in themselves.
For Sydney there were essentially two categories of volunteers - general and sports specific.
In terms of general training, uniforming and support both groups were treated as one.
They were well uniformed, adequately supplied with meals and drinks, and most importantly of all with training and information.
Understanding how the organising committee SOCOG worked was part of the initiation - perhaps boring for some but really important in ensuring everyone in the volunteer cohort was as one.
There was all the standard OH&S stuff and plenty on risk mitigation, even if only some had a clue about those things. For those who didn't pay attention there was an excellent training manual to take away from their first session.
And yes, you didn't turn up just the once.
The base thereby provided, the recipe for success was then revealed - real information and direction as to how the task assigned to each volunteer was to be executed.
It was almost certainly this particular aspect that empowered the volunteers of Sydney 2000 to be the exceptional gift to the Games that they became.
And it was not simply a reflection of the late Juan Antonio Samaranch in his closing remarks.
The unique contribution of the Sydney Games volunteers was obvious from the first day any of them provided their service, and for many that was well before the day of the Opening Ceremony.
In many sports the volunteer cohort included the technical officials who were also unpaid contributors to the success of the Games.
They may have been dressed differently during night sessions but very much from and in the same mould.
One of the most appreciated gestures from SOCOG was the decision to engrave the name of every volunteer and technical official on a Forest of Poles inside Sydney Olympic Park.
It has since provided a meeting point or photo opportunity for volunteers and the friends and families whenever they get the chance to be at Homebush.
The Sydney experience and legacy should be benchmark for any organisation engaging with or reliant on volunteers.
Way too many offers of help come to nought because the volunteer does not return after day one.
In a healthier ageing population the number of those capable and potentially willing to make a voluntary contribution is rising every week.
Not that it is only that age group from which volunteers might be attracted.
Amazingly there are barriers preventing many from volunteering in the manner that they are willing and capable.
Putting the challenges of COVID-19 aside for the moment, there is silly red tape and way too many imagined "insurance" issues.
And then there are simple things like the cost and availability of car parking or transport to take on the role.
It's not important for every volunteer but sometimes it is more about convenience than cost.
No one should end up with a parking ticket for generously giving an unscheduled extra hour of service.
Too many organisations these days also fall into the trap of seizing on grant monies to employ paid staff to undertake roles which volunteers are happy to do. When the grant ends, the staff have to go but the volunteers are already somewhere else.
It's not always the organisation's fault. Often it's the conditions of the grant.
We need to be smarter about all these things if we want to get the best bang for our volunteer buck.
Preparing them for the assigned task and appreciating the contribution must be high on the list of considerations.
- Brian Roe, sports administrator