The small plane shook and jolted as we flew through the clouds. It was just a short three hour flight, but the skies made sure to give us a thrilling ride. Turbulent patch after turbulent patch we pressed on, each second passing taking me one step further from New Zealand and one step closer to my new adventure, Australia.
I wasn’t sure what to expect upon my arrival, I hadn’t done much research on Australia, well, I had done none, really. I just figured if I was already down in that section of the world it would be silly not to check it out. My plane landed at the Sydney airport at nine in the morning on a Monday. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The skies cleared up nicely as the day passed, and the day became warm very quickly. I had booked 4 nights at the Balmain Backpackers hostel, but I hand’t thought to find out the address of the hostel before I arrived. I had no computer access as my phone battery had died and I had no cash to go to an internet cafe. I managed to find a map and located suburb called “Balmain”, so I assumed the hostel was there. I chatted with the man at the help site at Circular Quay who told me the hostel was on Darling Street, so I hopped on the ferry to Balmain to go in hunt of a bed.
The ferry ride was stunning, it was just a short ride, but I sailed up by the Sydney Opera House, then under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The ferry took me through Darling Harbour, then up to Balmain. I got off the ferry, my thirty kilo pack strapped to my back, and began walking. The ferry dropped me off at one end of Darling Street, so I knew I was on the right track. Apparently I was at the wrong end of the track. The building number of the hostel was number 677, as I began my walk up the street from the ferry I took a look to see what number I was currently at- number 1. It was a long walk up the road to the hostel. Well, it was actually only a three kilometre walk, but with a 30 kilo backpack, in the blazing sun, after a night without a lick of sleep, it felt like the longest walk of my life.
I had made it up to the 500’s when an Englishman appeared at my side. He stopped to ask me where I was headed as he had seen me huffing along earlier when I had walked past the library. It turns out he was living at the backpackers I was headed towards, so he helped me carry my bags, and showed me the way. Having someone to chat with made the last leg of the hike a bit more bearable.
Upon arriving at the hostel, I wasn’t sure what to think. reception was in a tiny closet in a large garage that by no means looked clean. I was checked in and a small Chinese lady, Candy, came to show me around. My room was small, with two sets of bunk-beds. To get onto my bed I had to climb onto a table then monkey my way up onto the top bunk. It was a bit of a challenge some nights, but at least it was my very own bed- a total change from sleeping on floors, couches, in cars, and in tents. It may as well have been heaven!
Everyone at the hostel was just lovely. As soon as I was settled, I left my room to check the place out. An English girl, Helena, found me in the basement and straight away introduced herself. She has to be one of the bubbliest people I have ever met. She took me around and introduced me, by name, to nearly every person in the hostel. We then went to the supermarket just down the road where I was able to buy a box of Kraft Dinner! I was so excited, I wasn’t able to buy Kraft Dinner in New Zealand, a year without it wasn’t easy!
It didn’t take me long to blend in with the crew of long termers at the hostel. My first night I was fed a constant stream of goon. Wondering what goon is? Goon is the putrid boxed wine you get five litres of for ten dollars. You can barely consider it wine. Often the boxes will have a disclaimer stating “May contain traces of fish eyes”. It tastes like a mix between stale urine and battery acid. But, as horrendous as it is, it gets you drunk, it’s cheap, and after you can turn the empty bag into a pillow. A backpacker’s dream. It is often said the name “Goon” was the aboriginal word for “pillow”. You see, inside the cardboard box the goon is actually in a large silver bag which, when empty, can be inflated with air then used as a pillow. This however, is just an Australian urban legend. The word actually derives from “flagon”, which is a large vessel in which drink is served.
The next morning everyone greeted me with smiles as I dragged myself to the lounge in attempt to be social. I was handed some painkillers for my head as everyone understood how I felt. They all had a good chuckle over my antics of the night. Drinking good was a different kind of drinking than I was used to. At least it was a good way to start conversations and build new friendships.
I spent the next few days out in town setting up a phone, a bank account, a tax number, and applying for jobs. My second night I went for dinner with a friend I met in Queenstown. We went to Pancakes on the Rocks, such an amazing meal. Highly recommend going there if you’re ever in Sydney. I had only come to Australia with $400 NZD, which was much less in Australian dollars, so I needed to find job straight away. It wasn’t hard, I was offered four jobs in my first week, and I took the highest paying one.
I began working for 2Evolve exactly one week after arriving in the country. I held a position as a telefundraiser, making warm calls to past supporters on behalf of the Red Cross. It’s not exactly a dream job, but it paid the bills and I made a good lot of friends from that job.
My free time in Sydney was spent wandering the streets of the city, sitting by the harbour bridge gazing at the iconic Opera House, or basting like a turkey on one of the many beautiful beaches. I became closer with the new people at the hostel I met, and I spent more time with my past New Zealand flatmate, Audrey, who now lies in Manly.
Before I knew it Christmas was here. The days were long and hot and I was given two and a half weeks of work for the holiday season. Over my first couple weeks at the hostel I switched rooms a few times before finally settling in a fourteen bed dorm. The first section of the room hold two bunk-beds which are occupied by Helena, Megan, and Louise, three English girls, and myself. The four of us over the past couple months have become inseparable, we spend nearly all our time together. Megan is working ass the hostel manager, Helena is a singer at bars and restaurants in the evenings, and Louise works at the bowling alley. I was the only one who was away during the daytime at work, so it was awesome to finally all be able to spend days doing whatever the four of us pleased. We decorated our room, built forts, played pranks on other people in the hostel, and just generally goofed off.
Christmas day around thirty of us got together at the house of a few of the past hostel gang. A group of five people had moved out a while before Christmas, so they invited everyone around to theirs for the day. Everyone made a dish and a gift. We spent the day eating excessively, playing gift exchange games, drinking, and just enjoying the day together. Unfortunately it rained on Christmas day, so we all spent the day indoors, but it was still a wonderful time had by all.
Boxing day is a whole other story. I woke up around noon and headed up to the balcony for our boxing day barbecue that was happening. Everyone was sat round eating sausages and drinking beer. When the beer ran out though, panic set in. The decision was made that everyone who wanted to drink would pitch in ten dollars and we would make a big punch. I’m still undecided if that was a great decision or a terrible one.
An entire bottle of absinthe ended up being poured into the punch, and things just got messy after that. A giant twister board was drawn out on the tiles of the deck, no one’s skin escaped the permanent marker, beer pong was played, and there was no shortage of people singing obnoxiously while dancing on tables. Everyone took many stories and laughs away with them that day- if they could remember the day. We all took away brutal hangovers too.
A few days later we all grouped up together again and claimed a spot in a grassy park to watch the New Year’s fireworks. we had a perfect spot facing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. the sun was out, we had food to go around and everyone was in a great mood. The new year was rung in with many cheers and fireworks being set off at every angle you look. The display was by far the best I have ever seen.
New Years day was another great day in my books. I headed over to Manly Beach for the day with a couple work friends, and Phil. It was super warm and sunny, the perfect day for the beach. Most times we would have gone to Coogee or Bondi, but I had gotten a very exciting message from a friend saying she would be in Manly. Liz was a Korean exchange student who had been in my grade six class in Nova Scotia. The last time we saw each other was at your Elementary school graduation. I was eleven the last time we saw each other, and now, eight and a half years later, we’re in the same place again. We met up in Manly and we were able to pick each other out of the crowd right away. It was great to see her, we chatted for ages, me updating her on the lives of all our old friends over the past years.
My holidays quickly came to an end and it was back to work I went. After having such a great time over the break, getting up to go back to work each day got harder. Work dragged on and each phone call I made became a bit more painful. I wanted out. I decided it was time to pull the plug on the job one day after forgetting my ID badge at home. The receptionists at my work were rather rude as they told me I had to return home to get my pass before I could work. As I walked back out to the bus stop to grab my ID, I got a phone call from my team leader. He accused me of lying about forgetting my badge and doubted that I was actually planning to return home. I really don’t appreciate people accusing me of lying when I have done nothing to deserve that. I returned to work later that day, with my badge, but I just had no motivation. Sales were down that week and I was getting an earful about it as I was the senior person on my team. I travel to enjoy myself, not deal with stresses of a job, so I handed in my badge and headset and walked out.
It wasn’t a bad day to quit my job. It was, after all, forty-six degrees out that day, a record breaking temperature for Sydney. Coming from bitterly cold Canada, it was a bit of a change for sure. I returned home and stepped out onto the balcony to tell everyone the news and was greeted with a bucket of water dumped on my head. It was so hot out I was one hundred percent thankful for it.
That night I went out for drinks with workmates. Everyone wanted to hear the story of me quitting. It’s always a fun time hanging out with them all, goofing around over a beer and plate of nachos. This night, however, had a slightly different end than most. I was in the middle of a game of pool with one of my workmates and was chatting with another girl while waiting for my shot. One of the team leaders, who’s team always sat next to mine, came over to dance around my pool cue. He was just goofing around, pretending my cue was a pole. I didn’t realize he was actually putting any weight on the cue, so I let go. That was a mistake. The wooden stick pulled back and caught him under the chin. I laughed at first, thinking it was a bit funny that he’d hit himself, then he pulled his hand away from his neck and I saw the blood dripping down his fingers.
So calmly, he turned and walked to the bar where he asked for an ambulance to be called before laying down on the floor. Everyone gathered around to see what had happened and to do what they could to help until the ambulance arrived. He took the whole thing lightly, considering he tasted the chalk from the cue. While laying on the floor he said more than once “This did not happen by a Canadian and a pool cue! I definitely knocked out two guys to get this!”. Five and a half days later he was released from hospital with three stitches on the inside of his mouth, and four stitches under his chin. How an object so blunt so easily drove through the bottom of my mouth, I will never understand. At least I have a good quitting story to tell, and Anthony will never forget that crazy Canadian chick.
I have spent the past weeks since I quit hanging out with the girls some more and looking for a new job. I made a visit to Darling Harbour while the giant duck was there. I went to see The Killers for free with Phil, an American guy from the hostel, he got us on the guest list, it was awesome. I saw Kimbo Slice at The Star Casino one night. I even lost my shoes overboard while on a boat party on Australia Day.
It has been a great time here in Sydney, and even though I am not a huge city person, I have loved my time here. It’s hard to believe three months have already passed since I left New Zealand. Time goes by so quickly, there are never enough hours in a day. I have just been offered a job in the outback of Australia, working at a little roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. I accepted the job and am looking forward to experiencing the real Australia, but it will be hard to leave this hostel. It’s become my home over the past three months, and the people here have become my family. Everyone has just been so accepting and always willing to offer a helping hand with anything. We all look out for each other. In saying that, my time here is limited, and there’s a big country out there to see and explore. I suppose it’s time to move on and to see some kangaroos out in the wild. Friday, another chapter begins.