Art & Design


Confessions of a Melbourne Hostel Worker

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When you have a job that is widely considered to be cool, all of a sudden you want to be asked what you do for a crust. The arbitrary ‘getting to know you’ question turns serious and people want details. For about a year I worked on the front desk of a Melbourne Hostel, and I often couldn’t believe some of the things happening around me.

In any job you will likely pick up new skills and knowledge, and in my case I learned how to communicate via hand gestures, how to evict abusive guests unscathed, how to assist in police investigations, how to act natural when a suicide attempt from the 3rd floor occurred an hour earlier, how to explain to a child that the man face-down in the hallway isn’t dead but sleeping, and of course how to tell a bedbug bite apart from a mosquito bite. Anyone in this industry will, no doubt, have a similar set of strange and questionably transferable skills to their name.

One tends to pick up on the norms and language of one’s workplace, which explains my sudden adoption of Australian slang in daily conversation- my favourites being “G’day mate”, “No worries” and “She’ll be right”. Perhaps I was just trying to give the people what they wanted and was willing to compromise the integrity of all Australians in order to do so – is it really such a crime?

It was always in your best interest, at the start of each shift, to get a briefing on backpacker social affairs so you wouldn’t accidentally ask the British girl why she and her boyfriend were now in separate rooms, or so you could be prepared for when the elderly Korean man came out dressed as a clown for a day of busking. For every cool guest, there was always a loopy one. I still recall one lady perpetually dressed in a grey tracksuit with her hood drawstrings pulled so tight that only her eyes, nose and mouth were visible. She wheeled a granny trolley (reportedly full of plastic bags) around the city all day and once told me that the high pitched ringing in her room was dangerous for people as high-strung as her, also that ‘somebody’ defecated in her bed and also that she was afraid that she might not wake up (at all) on check-out day. Sometimes it was hard to know what to say in response, and it’s amazing to think these people could somehow travel the world.

Each season produced different work climates; adrenaline kept you going in the summertime, in spring and autumn you would find yourself explaining how Melbourne’s weather is famously unpredictable in a good way, then in winter you would have time to socialise with the guests and in no time you were letting an Italian chef cook pasta for you and inviting backpackers to your birthday party.

One thing I really loved about working in a hostel was that my sense of patriotism was heightened. It did me proud to see the backpackers fall in love with Melbourne and look for share houses, and then get genuinely distressed when they had to return home. I knew they had Melbourne figured out when they would tell me about some new basement bar that had just opened and had no name, was accessible via a dirty alley and that they were already friends with the owner and got the password.

As far as jobs go, it can be a stressful and confronting one at times, but one of those experiences you are ultimately glad for. I’ve always wanted to be one of those old people who have a repertoire of near-unbelievable true stories to tell, and I guess I’m well on my way now. Who needs to write fiction when you’ve worked in a hostel?

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