2016 – a round up.

NYE 2016 from the YHA rooftop

2016 was an odd year for me. The two defining facets of the year were polar opposites. Good and Bad. Happy and Sad. Uplifting and Depressing.


And they began one day after the other in January.


I came home to Sydney on the 9th of Jan this year after having been away for 21 months, for the most part in Europe. I had zero intentions of sticking around for more than a few months – my plan was just to work to get enough money for an Irish visa and then fly over to spend a year with friends there. I was only applying for simple jobs that I wouldn’t get attached to. One of my biggest fears was that I would get a job that I would love so much that it would make me want to stay in Australia (a strange fear, I know). But one day a job popped up that was so perfect for me, I couldn’t NOT give it a shot.

I got the job!

Well, I got that job, and on Jan 25th when they rang to say I was starting on Feb 1st I was conflicted. The position as Activities Coordinator at Sydney Harbour YHA sounded so amazing, but I was only planning to stay for 3 months… ‘Oh well, dive in to it and have a good time before you leave’ I thought.


The next day was Australia Day and my brother and sister and I went around to Mum’s to celebrate. With all of us together, Mum took the opportunity to tell us that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and very quickly my world was turned upside down.

A family portrait on Mothers Day

Whilst I changed my plans and Ireland was put on the back burner for maybe next January, Mum insisted that Daniel still continue with his exchange program to Glasgow that was lined up for June. This conflicted him quite a bit but eventually her insisting won out.


I often make snap plans in my head and now that I had decided that I was staying in Sydney until Mum was better, I also made quick plans to move in with my brother in Erskineville and to make this a year where I took the time to travel in Australia and discover more of my home country.

A grueling 40km hike in the Royal National Park

In the first half of the year Mum had her double mastectomy, multiple rounds of tests and discussions about the best form of treatment (Mum had previously had cancer before, that in fact led to this one, and because of the previous treatment, they were limited on what they could do to her this time) and started on chemo treatments in March. Work gave me time off to go to her wig fittings when she began losing her hair.


In the first half of the year I learnt the basics of my job, running and organising the activities for the hostel, coordinating volunteers and grappling with the reservations system that is still my biggest weakness. I got to know my team and formed some very fast and strong bonds and had so many life changing interactions with guests and volunteers that I could have never have guessed would impact me in the ways that they did. The busyness of work took my mind off worrying about mum.

Activities board at the hostel

I took a couple of little trips in the first 6 months. My Dad had moved up to Ballina, just next to Byron Bay, in February and my sister and I visited him in his beachside apartment. We dolphin watched and lighthouse walked and explored the lush green hinterlands which I had last visited about 10 years ago.

I ran in two fun runs with Kamila!


In May I went on a week’s trip down to Melbourne. Having barely visited the city before, this was a tourist venture, but more than that, it was a chance to catch up with friends. I stayed with Bec down in Geelong and drove out to the 12 Apostles. I stayed with Burnsy in Melbourne city and had a huge night catching up with 20 plus Topdeckers. That was a crazy night, one of the best of the year. I went out to Bendigo to visit family and then back in to Melbs to see old school friends and to be reminded yet again that the oldest friendships just pick up from where you left them.


In the second half of the year, Mum got really sick. She was hospitalised for a week in July when something knocked her around and they didn’t know what it was. It was a worrying few days whilst the doctors threw lots of different drugs at her until something finally worked. Her energy was at an all time low- the family didn’t eat dinner at the dinner table (a very strange thing for our family) for months because she didn’t have the energy for sitting upright in a chair. Walking the stairs up to her room was a huge effort and she didn’t leave the house for days and weeks.


By September her Chemo rounds were finished and her energy was starting to come back. Other side effects of the drugs (like loss of fingernails) still persist but for the most part her health is fully restored and she is working on gaining her strength back. Just this weekend I introduced her to Acro-yoga and slacklining and she gave both her best!


She had another operation to re-instate her breasts, which she is pretty proud of and her hair is on the way back in – right now she is sporting a pretty cool little natural Mohawk.


In the second half of the year I stepped in up in my role, changing and adding to what the hostel was offering, we started planning our big event of the year – New Years Eve, and I spent some time working in head office to cover for someone else’s holiday. I tried the position of activities coordinator for multiple of the hostels for a month or two, in the end finding that it really was a job for two people, but the experience was fun whilst it lasted and the faith from my managers was a beautiful thing.

New activities in the hostel!

I met yet MORE amazing people every day in my job, people with whom I thought I was just having a fleeting interaction with, but who have turned in to friends I can rely on.


Kathleen moved in with me and has been my favourite person to boss around, care for, bounce ideas off, be silly with and have pick me up.

My Girl – Kathleen

I started and ended a relationship, that although it was short, intense and ended badly, introduced me to a crazy amount of new things that I can now say I love and continue to do. I count that as a success.

Camping in Nowra

And now I am gearing up to go on holidays again! After a short trip to the snow in Thredbo with work in July, I have been still. But in the first week of January I am flying off to Europe to meet with my brother for a month of backpacking around. Finishing in Ireland of course- I could not be more excited.

So many ways to have fun with work!

Some good things that have come out of Mum’s sickness – One is that now she is on the other side and looking forward to moving to a country escape in Berry in the new year. Two is that anyone who knows my mum knows that she is a powerhouse of a woman, running her own business, always busy and always pushing her children to be the best they can be (not a soft or soppy woman, there is always a way in which we can improve!) Her illness made her much quieter and gave me the chance to have slow days with her when we just sat and drank tea. She wasn’t at work and on the occasions that I came home I could care for her, caring is always a good feeling. Three, her partner Kevin moved in with her in February and has been her primary carer. I don’t think my family would have got by this year without him. If he hadn’t been there I wouldn’t have moved in to the city to be closer to work, my brother possibly wouldn’t have gone to Glasgow and everybody would have been much more tired. That he was prepared to move in and give a year to caring constantly to my Mum (and of course my sister Jasmine was a constant and very important carer as well) shows a deep and selfless love that he knows all of Mum’s family appreciate and value.

Kevin, Mum and Jas down in Berry after buying a house!

And I ended up facing my fear. I have a job in a company that makes me want to stay in Australia to continue and grow it. The YHA has been a fantastic company to work with and my direct managers have been the best I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I have never felt so valued in a job and that is a HUGE thing. I have freedom in my position which comes with the trust they give me. I get to do so many fun things, beach walks and pub crawls, burger nights and beer pong and if ever I want to come up with something new, I just do!

Christmas Day at the hostel

Wine and Cheese night on the rooftop

Pub Crawl!

So can you see how in one year I have had both ups and downs?  One of the reasons I haven’t written very much on here all year is because it felt hard to write only happy things when things weren’t always only happy. But on the other side of 2016 I have to say that the overwhelming feeling of the year is success. 2017 is still a mystery to me, options are everywhere, and I feel privileged and excited to see where those options will take me.

My city of Sydney

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3 thoughts on “2016 – a round up.

  • Maria Reyes

    Love you Gemma! Really enjoyed reading about your 2016. It’s strange how life has a funny way of working itself out. Thank you for reminding me that there is always a silver lining no matter how extreme the circumstance.

  • Doreen Jones

    Wow, Gem 2016 certainly was a big year for you… I sat here with tears dribbling down my face as I read your blog. Thank you for sharing what has been happening and I’m glad the outcomes for all has been positive. I love that with all that you experienced, that you could take the benefits in what might otherwise been seen as a negative time. Take care beautiful lady and please accept my love, to you and your lovely family, and may you continue to get the most out of life, just as you have always done XOX

  • Auds

    Gemma you legend!! This is so emotionally very good – thank you for sharing your story. My goodness, what a journey it has been BUT here is to a wonderful 2017.

    P.s your momma is a power woman after all she went through yet she came across very positive when I met her just before Christmas – what a pleasure!