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  • alexellenward

ten days in newy

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Our days in Newcastle were spent exploring the streets by bike, dancing upon hilltops and lapping up time in the beautiful “pad” that we had acquired for the week. Between bouts of life advice, yoga classes and crazy stories from Maryann, we hung out with our new friend, Jake, or walked Lola the dog.

We drove into Newcastle from the longboard central that is Crescent Head. It felt odd to be in a city again, despite the fairly short time we’d been on the road (only one week at this point). Walls of street art greeted us. Pumping pubs that had been reimagined into groovy corner hang outs called out to us on that Friday afternoon. Everyone seemingly had knocked off work early to enjoy the sun – the sun that was in colour coordination with their golden brews.

After a small wander through the art galleries of Cook’s Hill, we met Leonie: down to earth, groovy and slightly eccentric friend of my dad's. She planned to take us along to her regular Friday gin night at a place called EARP distilleries in Carrington - a suburb which we were told, for all you Brizzos, was the West End of Newcastle. Industrial area turned alternative kind of vibe. Leonie met my dad when she was 17, on the floor of a Brisbane share house after moving up from Stanthorpe, setting the tone for the wild night we were about to have with her - now in her fifties - and her friend Maryann. A vegan cheese platter and juniper berry G&Ts were shared at the high table we had claimed, moving on to strawberry sangria as Emma, Michael and Anna filled out the remaining spots around the table, turning up on E-bikes straight from work.

We learnt of all their lives and rituals - Anna did a hiking trip every year to a new place nearby Newcastle with her girlfriends because it was important for them to have one weekend where they would “not be responsible for anyone but themselves”, having partners and children that were usually in their care. Emma and Michael were off to Tasmania the next day for a cruise with her dad and the entire family. Emma was tentative about the dynamic of the family - with whom hadn’t been in close quarters for a long time. She was worried things would go back to the way they were growing up - good or bad.

Maryann had come down from Lismore for work and to look after Emma and Michael's house. We went back there after for more nefarious activities, sitting in a circle of beanbags with a stick of incense in the middle. Lola, the dog, and Nobby, the tabby cat, joined us.

After that night, everything began falling into place. Everyone realized that there would be more space at Emma & Michael’s house for us. With Maryann preferring to keep to the self-contained upstairs level, we were offered the downstairs. It was a street away from the “best pub in Newy”, the ‘Lass O’Gowrie’ which became our regular spot. On our first night at the house, we ate blue cheese and roast veg pasta, drinking vodka sodas on the deck as we reveled in how lucky we were.

The house itself was once a warehouse that had been reimagined (by Emma) into a complete rainforest wonderland. There were barely any dividing walls, with only step downs and transparent bookshelves to separate spaces. Plants crawled across the ceiling, up balustrades in the middle of the house and made the bath feel as if it were not only outdoors, but part of a lush, forest floor. There was a yoga room and a zebra couch. A fish tank with mood lighting. For the entire ten days that we stayed there, I slept to gentle sways on the circle-shaped swinging bed.

We fell into a routine of exploring the coastline of Newcastle on bike by day and joining in with whatever activities Maryann had planned by night. Having friends over for wine and dinner was a fairly regular choice, which we would often cook to help pull our weight. The kitchen had everything from a waffle maker to homemade pickles and preserves of every sort. From a one-ring gas burner in the van to this heaven of a kitchen spurred my cooking brain into action, whipping up buckwheat & banana pancakes, mushroom arancini and a bundt-version of Persian love cake in the time that we were there.

Mornings were punctuated by Maryann's voice: “Hello Nobs, you must be hungry!” and, “Lola! Are you ready for a walk?”. Yoga classes with handstands from our own personal teacher followed with all the props we could ever need. After that, Maryann had her rooibos tea and was off to work. Cathos and I savoured our plunger coffees with cinnamon and honey dollop, taking our time to whip up waffles or toast fruit loaf that Maryann had ordered from Baked Uprising.


We were riddled by choice in that house. Doing all the mundane type things that made it feel as if we lived there - groceries from the same place, running into people we had met, same pub on Saturdays and swimming at the Merewhether baths of a morning. Without working or a uni to visit, we did feel slightly odd doing such things. By stepping away from this though, I’ve come to realise the kind of productivity-inclined mindsets that cities breed. In uni and even school holidays, I always reached a point where freedom became boredom with the inevitable return to whichever institution that I was part of at the time inching closer and closer.

For the first time in my life, I am not bound to any institution. I have forgotten that feeling of boredom, which may have really been a long-standing grudge against the systems I felt I needed to be apart of to successfully move forward in society. It's hard to deduct whether or not this is due to my purpose now being to explore, experience and live freely; but I don’t feel the pull to fit any mold of society right now. Our lives are lived completely according to intuition. We buy the food our bodies crave at the time they crave it. We head inland to the cool, shady forests when the sun’s beats become too much for our weathered skin. We feel the ache of our bodies after long days spent hiking or surfing. We listen.


The next chapter of things falling into place begins at ‘The Lass O’Gowrie’ pub. A tipsy two-street walk away from the house, we wait in line for the Mardi-Gras ‘live showing’ on that night. We make friends in the line, three girls confirming that this was the ‘place to be’ on a Saturday night in Newy. We are so ready to make connections and meet people that we take a girl’s suggestion to ask someone for a lighter, despite not having a cigarette or even wanting to smoke. (We have made all our friends this way since - apart from the time where we asked for a bottle opener - that also does the trick). We started talking and getting along really well with a group of guys who lived in Newy - a lot were carpenters or electricians or mechanics (who even offered to give us a hand if anything went awry with our van) - but their real passion was in surfing, skating or even painting.

Headphones for a silent disco came around, and a guy called Jake gave me a turn of his. We went to find another pair then shifted channels from blue to red to green. All dancing in our separate worlds. We migrated to the tables (covid rules for dancing still applied in NSW at that stage – dancing was restricted to keeping one knee on the seat in Cathos’ eyes), I met Blake and Jake’s friend, Brooklyn from the US, who was travelling in a van too. One of us would switch to another headphone DJ channel - there was techno, electronic and classics - with all the older gays and lesbians having an absolute field day with the latter - then everyone would slowly catch on and align with the new groove.

Between ‘goon-sunrises’ (an interesting drink of choice, yet the boys insisted that I tried), I learnt of Jake’s 18 months in Mexico including six months of cherry picking in Canada while living in a van with two Austrian backpackers. He obviously knew the drill of what it meant to be a traveller and we connected over that. Since our street was one over from ‘the Lass’, the three of us (Blake, Jake and I - Cathos had already headed home to walk Lola around the block and go to bed) went back to peep the van. The two of them were in awe. I was so proud.


We rode into Just Dance on bikes, zinc from the day's surf, still sticky on our cheeks. Hair and skin, salty and golden. We approached Beaumont St hall to see a barefoot guy with shirt unbuttoned and girl with long curly hair and loose clothing arrive. An older man entered in front of us in singlet and long hiking pants, with a pendant necklace. The "I'm into permaculture, regular at the Sunday organic market, warming smile" kind of guy. Fifty-odd people, mostly young and alternative, were already spread around the room. Long hugs and greetings took place before one of the organisers spoke up: "Before I pop on the playlist, there are two rules. The first is to respect the build of the music, the second is not to talk during the dancing".

Song one: an upbeat yoga kind of feel. Everyone dispersed into their own real estate circle of floor space. Some stretched while others moved to the beat.

The playlist followed a build from atmospheric ambient music to Irish jungle jigs and pumping techno raves. One track sounded like chicken and cow sounds that had been mashed with the can-can and it kept getting faster and faster.

I saw people's personalities light up through what they were wearing, their confidence levels, their aura, their association with others, and the way that they moved. Shirts were unbuttoned and then fully removed. The room evolved. I couldn't stop smiling. I'd only seen this kind of trance energy at festivals yet here we were on a Tuesday evening.

A masculine-appearing person waltzed past me in a tutu. Others lay on the ground, dancing only with their hands. A few arrived halfway through on their way home from work. Others stepped outside if it got too hot. People were on the floor, partnered up and doing handstands. We were simultaneously within our bodies and having out-of-body experiences.

Afterwards, there were announcements. The weekly dinner at Raj's Indian restaurant down the street was on straight after. Kittens found under someone's house up for adoption. Medicinal mushroom walk. Up and coming gigs and the women's march.

To connect with words after such an intense non-verbal intuition had been ignited in me felt odd and not enough. They shared with me their suburban weed foraging zines, best rockclimbing spots and pictures of pet rats but I had already constructed stories of their lives in my mind. Elaborate ones too. I could see there were strong bonds between everyone there and I longed to be a part of it. I longed for my friends back home who I knew so deeply and intricately with time.


On Wednesday, Jake invited us to check out his van at Bar Beach, where he would make us coffee and we’d go from there. We did just that, overlooking the plunging coastline, as he smoked and we all shared two mugs. Meeting up with someone after a drunk interaction could go either way but we all genuinely got along so well. We ate Monte Carlos then went for a drive in ‘the Yak’ (his van) to get togs (which we learnt was a QLD word!). We learnt that he was also vego and grew up in Belmont, near Lake Macquarie. We all said yes to everything and silences were natural.

We moseyed down the slippery rocks at Suzie Nelson Bay, listening to Jake recount the WWII-steeped history as we passed remnants of canons in the rocks. Knowing the history of places gave them more meaning, we all agreed. We did handstands on the beach “look at a spot between your hands, stay strong through he shoulders, deep breath”, then lay in Jake's van as he let us paint anything we wanted on the walls. We listened to music: everything from Videoclub to Parliament. A lyric taken from the song ‘P-funk’, “once upon a time right now” went up on the ceiling of his van. We looked at his sketch journal and chatted, admiring the view. At the end he taught us that you always need to have one last look of a place to take it all in, in case this is the last time you see it. That will stay with us for the rest of the trip.

The next night, after Jake returned from TAFE (where he studied graphic design and commuted three hours each way by train, two to three times a week)- we all danced on the hill with 360 degree views of Newy, glowing with gin spiked raspberry kombucha from Cathos’ flask. We watched our shadows dance onto the white Obelisk, bathed in spotlights, rolled down the hill and leant over the railing for a new upside-down view of the world. We talked of the last full moon and where we all were. More songs became tagged with memories - Zeitgeist by Babe Rainbow and Versprechen by Tigermilch. Cathos and I rode home in the dark. All downhill. We weaved through cars and raced the tram for as long as we could.

Learning how to connect non-verbally became a theme of the past week. Just Dance community and learning of people through movement expression. Painting peacefully for days with someone we had just met. “That was some nice lil creative time” Jake would always say after, invigorated. Seeing a world unfold without words.


Mushroom arancini on the cards for dinner. It felt like we were living there, the amount of times we had gotten groceries. So mundane, yet we knew we were only playing house. We knew it wouldn’t be our routine for long, so we soaked up the ordinariness of it all. We got stoned on the dead-on, passing the J around in a circle. Sometimes, there are moments where you don’t quite know how you get yourself into certain situations and this was one of them. Two travellers, a 50-year-old woman from Lismore and a Newy local in this fantastic house with plants everywhere and a swinging bed.

stay wild !

love alpal & cathos

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