Diving into Management Down Under
by Dom Nemer
I was getting desperate for work after a spending binge on the East Coast heading north from Sydney. In order to travel up the coast my backpacking buddies and I had decided to buy a car. It was a Ford Falcon, old, but in good condition with no dents involved, apart from the one now in my wallet. We’d also bought a tent to live in, a mobile phone, cooking utensils, and a stereo, not to mention the splashing out on food, petrol, surfing lessons, new boardies, and large amounts of Victoria Bitter along the way.
It was a great trip but now the others wanted to go off fruit picking. With an innate fear of spiders I decided not to accompany them, and instead found myself in Brisbane, another city, with no transport and no money. I turned up at the Yellow Submarine hostel by the river, carrying my huge rucksack and a worried look.
My facial expression soon changed when I discovered that the hostel was clean and cosy with gorgeous women and, hallelujah! - A jobs board. The friendly manager noticed me looking at the ads, and, somehow weighing up my predicament and interpersonal skills at the same time, said:
"There’s a job going on Straddie – hostel and dive shop manager, you’ll love it!"
‘Straddie’ I then found out was short for ‘North Stradbroke,’ an island just off the coast of Brisbane. She pushed a leaflet into my hand advertising the Stradbroke Island Guest House and Dive Centre.
Its main draw card was – and there’s a clue in the name – the diving trips.
"Straddie has some of the best dive sites in Australia, famous for its big fish," the manager told me as I scanned the pictures.
"Do they have spiders?" I asked.
She ignored the question and went on to tell me about the pristine beaches with good surfing, the unspoiled bushland with freshwater lakes, and all the activities that were on offer, from sea kayaking to sand boarding. I was sold. If I got this job I’d be working in paradise, as opposed to working in a field picking fruit, avoiding arachnids, and getting sunstroke.
But would I get the job? I’d never managed anything in my life, and on top of that I knew nothing about diving. But what did I have to lose? Within five minutes I was on the phone talking to Wendy the owner. I must have impressed her as she offered me the job at the end of the call. I wouldn’t save much money for future travel by taking it, getting paid $200 a week, but I wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation and was told that if I worked a few extra hours I could do my PADI Open Water dive course. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity I accepted, and the following day I arrived at my new home for the next three months.
It would be three months of luxury too, having my own room with a TV, en suite bathroom, double bed, and a balcony. Better than roughing it in a tent.
The first few days were spent learning the hostel side of things; times of opening, cashing up, entertaining guests and managing staff. Then there was the dive centre side of things; selling equipment; organising the dive trips, and generally getting to know what it was all about. To begin with it was hard, not knowing any of the important terminology. One day a guy arrived wanting to dive, but had a problem.
"I don’t have a buddy," he said.
"Well I’ll be your friend," I replied, taking pity on him.
Wendy nudged me and whispered: "He wants a dive buddy – someone to dive with."
"Oh," I said and shuffled off to start learning some phrases from my PADI book.
In time I got to grips with it, especially after completing my course. It’s such a great experience, flying underwater over rocks seeing turtles, grey nurse sharks and manta rays. Better still, it was part of my job. My daily routine was as follows: 7am - 9am; open up office, tidy kitchen, wash linen, check weather conditions for the days dive, and get the cleaners – who were also travellers – to start organising the dorm rooms.
Then it was off to the ocean for a scuba session, or maybe some surfing, or perhaps whale watching from the headland – when they said big fish I didn’t think they meant that big. At 4pm I was back at the office tending to new arrivals, cashing up, and getting drunk with the guests.
Working in a hostel is a superb way of meeting fellow travellers, and it’s a rewarding experience helping others, ensuring that they have a good stay. I found that I also liked the responsibility, and having such an authority always looks good on a CV.
The experience was also a cultural one. The business was a family run concern; Wendy looked after the hostel in my absence, her husband Trevor was in charge of the diving, and their children Karl and Cassie were in charge of teaching me a thing or two about surfing. They were extremely hospitable and I learnt a lot about the Aussies that you never see on Neighbours. I often went out with them and really got to see what life was like on a small island, which helped me to reflect upon my own.
So, I’d found my feet and my fins, and had decided that hostels are an invaluable work-finding source, and also a cool place to work in themselves. And it’s a great way of avoiding fruit picking if that doesn’t appeal. I did at the end of my stay however, come face to face with the enemy – a Redback spider. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, and nor was managing a hostel with no previous experience. No worries mate.
The lesson I learnt here was to make the most of opportunities that arise, without fear. My advice to any working traveller is this: if you come to a fork in the road take it.
About the Author
Dom Nemer is presently diving into book writing.
For details of this travelogue of his Australian adventures email firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy Ocean Frontiers Diving Adventures