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“That’s the healthiest meal I’ve ever seen anybody cook here”. We looked in amazement at our heavily buttered white bread and the chopped steak in our frying pan. Onions, mushrooms and a few mange tout were our only concessions to “health”. Just what would we have to be cooking for it to be considered unhealthy – battered lard?

We were amongst the oldest people in the hostel, chosen because it probably had the cheapest double room in Sydney. Nearly everyone else were 18- to 20-year-old British long-term residents on one year working visas, intent on sexual and alcoholic conquests. Ironically this disreputable and unrespected group were some of Australia most important tourists. Even though they were here to work, statistics said they would not only spend every penny they earned but also an additional AU$8000, which they presumably begged off Mummy and Daddy on the basis of expanding their horizons.

The Australian government gives one-year working visas for under 30s. Our fellow hostel inmates were all ostensibly here to work. And at times they actually did work, but with each job seemingly more dismal than the last – tele-marketing, tele-sales, tele-dodgy charities and plugging credit cards on the street. The best job any of them had ever held down was fruit picking but that wasn’t in season. The visa that they had didn’t help as it only allowed them to work for three months for any given employer leaving them destined to traipse from one menial job to another. No employer would invest time, money or trust in an employee that would only stay on for a maximum of 90 days.

We were soon to find out why our dinner was such a shock. Instant noodles with the addition of a fried egg was the most complex dish we saw any other Westerner cook. The staples of life were pot noodles, fried egg sandwiches and beans on toast, with beer filling in for any absent calories.

Just because you are on a working visa it doesn’t mean you actually have to work. Many of our new friends would rise in the afternoon, smoking cigarettes on the deck until hunger forced them into the kitchen for yet another fried egg sandwich. Getting a job just seemed like too much of a bother for these people. “I got up early yesterday,” meaning around noon, “and went to the job centre and they wanted me to type up a resume … it is just too much hassle”. The excuses for not looking for a job seemed to be as endless as they were weak. “ I can’t look for a job tomorrow. I have to do my laundry and do my email” or “Given what they pay you it’s not worth even looking for a job”.

The hostel was less of the traveller’s temporary haven it was meant to be, and more of a halfway house for those who could not or would not come to terms with living in a foreign country. The hostel offered shelter from native interaction and cocooned them in the familiarity of likeminded people. It didn’t make any form of economic sense to stay there as an apartment would cost half as much, but many of these young things had been there for months.

A couple of weeks in this hostel and the young offenders become institutionised and incapable of living life outside its boundaries. Life becomes measured not in terms of the country in which they are living but in the terms of the other residents. It’s okay not to have a job and have no money if everyone around you is in the same boat. Some do try and break out by working on a farm or maybe even moving into a shared house, but they nearly end up in another hostel with the same cast of characters. The few that stay away invariably end up in an overseas visitors ghetto such as Bondi Beach.

Their limited social circle creates informational inbreeding with blatant inaccuracies being bandied about like undisputed facts. We had taken a shine to Sydney and had quickly researched what it would take to get a permanent working visa. It was difficult but not infeasible. Yet sitting in our hostel’s common room with these pre-college teens, who could shape their life anyway they willed, we were amazed that they thought that their one year in Australia was it and that they could never come back.

Maybe their attitudes were infectious, but when we moved out to our friends’ house we came down with a bad case of sofa-itus. Sydney lay just outside the front door and aside from some beautiful walks we were content to keep it shut. We were happy to confine our Australian exploration to the subtle hop variations of premium beer and Australian television.

Pictures - click to enlarge
Picutre of the harbour bridge Sydney - Australia Travelogues
Photograph of Caelen overlooking the blue mountains Sydney - Australia Travelogues
Sydney harbour as the sun sets

Caelen overlooking the blue mountains

Picture of a Ferry in the harbour Sydney - Australia Travelogues
Photograph of the gang Sydney - Australia Travelogues
A ferry in Sydney harbour

Michael, Barbara, Caelen and Nicole

Picture of the gang on the beach Sydney - Australia Travelogues
Photograph of circular quay Sydney - Australia Travelogues
Barbara, Rory, Nicole and MichaelFerry docking in Sydney harbour