My first Australian home, Newcastle. When I pulled up on my motorbike, just before Christmas 2000, I would never have believed what an impact this place would have on my life. Damo & Nick, Mel & Shell, Courtney & Tina, Cam & Mat & Kate. Names that bring back some of the best memories of my life. Please don’t be offended if your name is not on that list, there were too many amazing people to list them all.

It is incredible how random choices can affect our lives. Staying at the Newcastle YHA (Youth Hostels Association) was the first random choice I made, which seemed to then lead to a chain of happy events in my life. My planned three month trip took on a new dimension here and turned into a major part of my life. That part of my life, in turn, led to where I am now, happily living in the Czech Republic with my Czech wife and children.

Newcastle is known as an industrial city with a large port which exports coal and has very busy shipping lanes. Maybe that doesn’t sound so attractive but, believe me, that is only one small part of the city. And it makes for a very memorable sight; watching surfers lined up waiting for the next wave as tankers bob in the ocean.

But there is far more than that to the place. It has great, clean beaches which seem to be unaffected by industry. Only a short trip to Port Stephens(pictured) to do some whale watching. Like most big cities, there are different areas to suit different tastes. Some are historical, with beautiful houses from another era. Some are gastronomic, with a wide variety of cuisines on offer. And some are artistic, with a rich and varied music scene.

The hostel itself will forever hold a place in my heart. Most of the people have, of course, moved on. But not all, Damo(Damian) Parkhouse is still the manager and, I am sure, still the beating heart of the hostel.

When I think back I remember the backpacker nights at the local pubs. Free sausage sangas(sandwiches) and a beer, given in the vague hope that you would by more. But did any of us impoverished backpackers ever buy another? I really can’t recall. Pizza nights, $5 “All You Can Eat”. Thank goodness the girls had small appetites! Weekly trips with the gang to the video shop, yes it was that long ago, to select the next week’s entertainment. Evenings watching the Simpsons with friends.

It is, of course, always the people that make for a truly magical experience and this was no exception. When I think back about those people, the first thoughts that come to my mind are. Borrowing books from, and playing lawn bowls over a beer with Damo. The ever patient Nick, trying his best to teach me to surf. Mel’s smile and Shell’s voice. The crazy Canadian girls Courtney and Tina. The very cool and funny American surfer dudes Cam and Mat. And Mat’s eventual wife the happy, smiling Aussie Kate.

But weren’t we all happy and smiling then. Young(ish), on the holiday of a life time. What wasn’t there to smile about?

Text © Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish

Image courtesy of http://freeaussiestock.com

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