Off the Grid

Lion-owned wilderness camp helps children and the environment.

After a week at Lions’ Licola Wilderness Village in the high country of Victoria, Australia, campers go home with more than increased confidence and fun memories with new friends. They also take with them a feeling of pride from living off the grid and helping the environment. But that wasn’t always the case.

The township of Licola, about 250 miles (254 km) east of Melbourne, is owned entirely by the Lions Clubs of Victoria and southern New South Wales. Occupying most of the land is the Licola Wilderness Village, where Lions have run summer camps for special needs, refugees and disadvantaged children ages 8 to 11 since 1973.

In 2019, the Lions invested AU$860,000 to switch the camp from diesel generators to solar power. Six hundred solar panels now harvest sunlight from the roof of the stadium and the side of a hill, and two large shipping containers hold the batteries. It’s the only town in the state that generates its own power, pumps and treats its own water, and handles its own waste management.

“It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” says Licola Board Chairman Lion Denis Carruthers. The camp saves roughly 135,000 Australian dollars a year in fuel costs and the Lions expect to recoup their initial investment after eight years. More importantly, the camp has cut carbon emissions — a primary cause of global climate change — by 65%.

The township has come a long way, not only in the past few years, but in the past half century. The 34-acre property was originally a bush village with a sawmill operation. Workers lived in the 16 washboard houses that are now cabins for campers, and there was a small general store, post office and gas station. In 1966, the mill burned down, and the town was put up for sale. Despite marketing the sale worldwide, the land sat idle, and its only visitors were vandals and a few roaming sheep.

Two Lions saw the beauty in the land and the opportunities it offered and shared their vision with their fellow Lions. In 1969, they bought the town for AU$20,000 to establish a wilderness camp for kids. Lions from all over Victoria spent weekends rehabbing and building the camp, and in 1973, it opened.

Today, Lions sponsor children, covering all costs and transportation. Individual Lions clubs in Victoria also sponsor the cabins, hosting “working bees,” or club workdays followed by a cookout to help with maintenance and show pride in their piece of Licola.

With a small staff and an acute shortage of volunteers since the coronavirus pandemic, life at camp is still challenging at times, says camp manager Trevor Carstein. But now they appreciate reliable power. Campers no longer fall asleep to the hum of generators, and instead awaken to the songs of the birds.

“The camp is a life changer for the children,” says Lion Cynthia Sederino, a dedicated camp volunteer. “It gives them all the confidence in the world.”

Visit to learn more about the camp.