I was planning a two week visit upon arriving at the hostel. I didn’t expect to stay six months | australian way of life


Lured by the scenery and the inspiration it offered, I was planning a two-week visit upon arriving at the hostel in the mountains. I planned to work remotely, finish the degree I was working on part-time, and go backpacking.

I did not expect to stay six months. But since the international borders were closed, putting aside my plans to return abroad, I had found myself in limbo in my small hometown. As a longtime expat, I was now catching up on time away from my loved family. But all my school friends had moved away years ago, and after several months it became isolating. Where to go that wasn’t locked?

A former Art Nouveau ballroom in a mountain hostel has become the unexpected response, the setting of my life for much of the pandemic. In a year when so many people were alone, I accidentally moved into the biggest share house I’ve ever lived in.

By the time I left last year, I had made friendships with people from all walks of life, from all over Australia and around the world, that I would never have met under normal circumstances.

I had next to nothing in common with my first and closest friend, a local government worker in his fifties, who moved in because he didn’t want to be cooped up alone. He was now working remotely. At night, I saw him in front of his laptop in the common area of ​​the building transformed into a coworking space and I joked: “It’s not council hours!”

We quickly became friends. I kept rambling on to him as he was immersed in working on things I knew he had no interest in. He always listened politely.

His tolerance towards me was not the only peacekeeping lesson. Another resident was a Canadian Trump supporter and handyman. In theory, we disagreed on absolutely everything, but it never led to an argument. When he spotted me, I was greeted with comments such as “Guess who’s going broke – CNN!” He was harmless, more talkative than anything else. The day another guest called me a latte guy from town, saying he “despises everything about me,” the Canadian came up to me to see if I was okay.

The place had great secrets. A woman, in her sixties with beautiful dark skin, was still impeccably groomed but wore a slightly pained expression.

It was weeks before we started talking and I found out that, despite her polish, she was receiving treatment for a debilitating brain injury. The hostel was a base for her to get closer to medical facilities. We started bringing each other pastries and coffees, and she invited me to her house “when things got back to normal.”

But when would it be? With life so unpredictable now, some people would book accommodation ‘week by week’. Every day you wondered who would show up, and many guests would leave only to come back later.

There were “hostel hoppers”, there for company, who spent most of their time sitting in the common area. I met homeless women who I knew could be me in another life. A former prisoner who had completely reformed his life joked that these searches were worse than prison. I became very fond of them.

There was a town professional who, seeming to poll everyone, was dubbed “the consultant in reality” by another resident. He was waiting for his apartment to be renovated, but I knew he secretly liked the social aspect of the hostel.

Young teachers and hospitality workers who were struggling to find suitable accommodation had also moved in. Meanwhile, the people you’d normally expect to meet – backpackers – were rare on the ground.

Pizza night at the hostel that became Amy Fallon’s home for part of 2020 and 2021. Photograph: Amy Fallon/The Guardian

As I was working on my college studies, it occurred to me that this time was like an unintended anthropology lesson or a huge social experiment. While some days were exciting, living with so many different people meant other days were difficult.

Sometimes, very late, I would go down to what was once a ballroom and sit there alone, reveling in the space and the silence, but comforted in knowing that there were people not far away.

Most afternoons after work I took a long walk in the bush, but interactions in the kitchen were always a bigger adventure. This was especially true during dinner, when everyone gathered.

Some of the “longtime residents” joked about the name of the place. It has been compared to a spaceship. Others called it a rest home. “Kind of like a cruise liner with activities every day – but going nowhere!” This one destroyed the house.

Yes, it was like all those things. But for all of us, during what could have been a time of dark isolation, it was also a lifeline. A house.


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