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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Life at City Centre Backpackers

Updated: May 31, 2022

Oh, how many times we went in and out of this building... and onto those buses.

BEST time of the day was getting back to the hostel after a long day of picking tomatoes... this place was our refuge... our welcoming site.

This is Peter and Ethel.

My parents away from home

... two people of which I always had the utmost respect for.

Unfortunately Peter passed away in 2019, but I recently found Ethel on Facebook and words cannot express how grateful I was for that reconnection.

Peter and Ethel ran City Centre Backpackers for a number of years... and not only did we consider them our parents away from home, but somehow they had a soft spot for each one of us... even when we drank too much and were ridiculously loud & disrespectful.

They scolded us as we often deserved, but they also encouraged us to save and see this massive country we had journeyed to explore, they helped us as much as they could when we needed it and offered more than a shoulder when times got rough.

Ethel and I

These two embodied everything kind, tolerant, wise and generous.

How they managed to put up with the lot of us for so many years, is unfathomable.

Cross Dressing Party

Every once in awhile, we liked to throw a bit of fun into our nightly indulgence routine.

What's better than a hostel cross-dressing party to spice things up?

Back in 1994, it was exactly what we needed after a long day in the field...

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles... wherever I go, I tend to involve myself, somehow, with sea turtles. Australia was no exception... although it (unknowingly) marked the beginning of the craze...

One evening, we ventured out of Bundaberg, on a field trip, to the local seaside conservation park and turtle centre.

We must have stood in that centre and waited for at least 4 hours... until we were finally permitted out on the beaches. We then proceeded to stand in darkness for an additional hour, quiet as, waiting... with bated breath... as a female loggerhead made her way out of the ocean and up the beach to dig a hole and lay her eggs.

I was bored beyond tears, and had I the foresight, I would have opted out of the excursion and stayed home. Little did I know that the Loggerhead Sea Turtle would go on to play a significant part in my life...

... in only a couple more years...

Ethel's Homemade Dinners

Every once in awhile, we got really lucky and Ethel would cook an enormous, homemade meal for everyone at City Centre Backpackers.

These were GOOD nights and we all looked forward to it. Everyone would gather in the courtyard and we would feast!

I was a vegetarian at the time, and remember how Ethel would go out of her way to cook something I would enjoy.

At this particular party, she made the most heavenly vegetarian lasagna I had ever tasted in my entire life. I think it must have been a foot high!

To this day, 27+ years later... it still has yet to be beat.

Pool Tournaments

There were a LOT of big nights and theme events at our little backpacking oasis... but probably the most exciting (besides Ethel's home cooked meals), were the weekly Pool Tournaments.

First Prize was cash. Second Prize was dinner with Peter and Ethel - which was often BETTER than first prize, because the food was delicious and most of us were in desperate need of a good, nutritious meal.

... and if you had dinner with them, you got to have a glass of wine with your meal, which was a BIG, BIG deal, considering they ran a dry hostel.

It was like being given permission to cross over to the dark side, albeit very temporarily...

... I won first prize once and second prize twice... if memory serves.


First time ever Ten Pin Bowling this night.

I got the "Tourist Special."

I came in last...

Donna trailing right behind me for 2nd last.

My luck seemed to repeat itself in the second round...

Perhaps, had we not drank so much, we might have done better.

At least I scored on some stuffed animals.


Helping to clean the backpackers on Sunday afternoons was a good way to supplement accommodation. Donna and I got the task of cleaning the upstairs bathrooms and showers.

NOT an easy job scrubbing up after 60+ dirty tomato pickers...

NOT. Easy. At. All.

... but... we had to fuel our beergarden addiction... and somehow, the money we saved in rent justified more rounds, longer hours and extra evenings perfecting our over-indulgence.

Sundays were the best though.

After our cleaning, it was our day to be completely lazy.

Usually, we just hung around the hostel, did laundry, watched movies and drove Peter & Ethel nuts.

At the time, the big VHS repeat request was "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves."

Probably the reason why I can't stand it, to this day. It was always on...


Someone once accused us, in quite an inappropriate manner, that "you backpackers" only came to Australia to ruin it.



We came to drink rum... and as a result, had to pick fruit to fuel this amusement.

We were a pretty cool bunch, if you ask me.

... and funny. Pretty damn funny.

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