A different side of Aussie life: River barge adventure with a creative community

With over 50,000 opportunities in more than 170 countries worldwide, there are endless volunteering possibilities out there. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ blog shines a light on outstanding and often original projects which have inspired Workawayers and provoked glowing feedback. This host is no exception.

Today, we are going to meet Sam, an inspirational man who throughout his life has very creatively and skilfully managed to dodge the rat race, or the Matrix as he calls it. Over the past decade he has dedicated his time to creating  a sacred space which enables people to communicate and connect in a profound, creative and cathartic way. This haven is in the shape of a huge barge, moored on Hawkesbury River north of Sydney at a stunning location. From here, the “crew” can take off along the river for adventures as the mood takes them. Operating without the convenience of mains water, electricity and other services and facilities brings its own challenges and responsibilities, but with it comes freedom from the mundane and a chance to interact with people from across the globe, to learn and to grow.

Portrait of host driving Barge

Sam has really created something special... a space for people to come and open themselves up and feel safe doing so. He has really cultivated a creative, collaborative space that sets the scene for connection and community. My time here was something I'll never forget.

Workawayer Kristen (from the USA)

Your creativity has inspired me to consider how I can be more creative in my own life, as I see the joy it gives to you and others.

Workawayer Finn (from Australia)
Group picture on the Barge
Hello there Sam! Could you tell me a bit about yourself, where you are from and how you became involved in this project?

Yes, well I am originally from Adelaide in South Australia. At the early age of 12 I began street performance which catapulted me into a lifestyle driven by creativity and learning how to fend for myself and make a living.
As for the barge project, it was something that I came across in the most extraordinary way. About 13 years ago, after I had been performing in York in England, I was having a coffee with a friend and she asked me about my dreams for the future. I came up with the idea of a barge, thinking along the lines of a houseboat, as I realized that I would need something much bigger to accommodate the project I envisaged. Whilst we talked, she ran a search on her phone for barges in Sydney and a 100 ton concrete military barge came up for sale . I couldn’t believe it, immediately seeing it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I sprang into action and asked a friend from Sydney to take a look at it. He was blown away at the potential it had and so I flew back to buy it. The agents took me out to the barge, only to realize that it was moored at a place in the river that had long been a favourite safe space of mine when I had lived near the river years before and had used my very first speed boat to explore the area. The sheer beauty of synchronicity, the barge was calling me and I responded, paying all the money I had at that time to make the purchase. 

Barge seasview
Destiny! So, how did you start getting Workawayers involved?
I had never heard of Workaway at that point. I had had couchsurfers staying over on the barge from time to time, but I realized I needed help more than anything else. Then while I was on a trip to Thailand, someone recommended Workaway to me. I thought it was such a brilliant idea that I decided to fly straight back to Australia, sign up to Workaway and start moving forward on the barge project.

A result for you, but what a fantastic opportunity for volunteers too. Most Workawayers expect to head to a host at a fixed address, but yours doesn’t exactly fit into that category.
No, to be honest I don’t think any of them have a clue what to expect,  they arrive and just go with it , it is part of the adventure I think. They know it’s a barge, but most of them assume it is attached to the land. I usually pick them up from the station (a short ride from Sydney) and we get into one of my boats nicknamed “the taxi” with all their bags and belongings. Then we head around the bay until we arrive at the barge, which is still situated at that stunning sacred location which never fails to impress. The barge itself looks quite compact from the outside, but there is much more to it than what you see from above. It is built like a bath-tub, so when you descend below deck everyone is amazed to discover how spacious it is. There are seven double beds, a commercial-size kitchen in the center and a huge shower room. 

It is rare these days to find people so certain of their path, and so open and joyful in helping you. You will leave this place more certain of yourself, and full of inspiration. The land alone is inspirational with a beautiful river, with wide skies full of stars at night. If you want to reconnect with nature - with the sun and the water, which together make almost everything here possible - this is the place.

Workawayer Sezgi (from Turkey)
Workawayer meal on Barge
Selfie of host and workawayers
How do you power the barge and where does your water supply come from?
IWe have a really good solar system which supports our 4 fridges, we use gas for heating and have a water desalination system which does a great job of providing us with fresh water for drinking and washing with. 

What kind of helpers are you looking for?
For me it’s all about having the right attitude. I look for people who are proactive, who have the initiative to see what needs doing and take on tasks without needing to be asked. I usually try to find out where people’s interests and skills lie and then think of how best they could contribute, or perhaps embark on something that they could learn from. There are so many projects, so each person needs to invest time and effort in what they are doing and be enthusiastic and autonomous in the process. As each person’s complete focus and participation is required, it is not compatible with doing other part-time online work for example. Although the main volunteering activities normally take place from 10am to 4pm with lunch-break, we might start earlier depending on the group and our plan for the day. There are other domestic duties which need to be done as well as prioritizing the highly valued time we spend together. 
Some people may believe that this level of commitment would be better suited to an older volunteer, but in my experience the young people who have left their homes far behind and made the leap to come here are very special people with a willingness to learn and a wisdom that defies their age.

The barge is a place full of wonders and working with Sam was new and very cool! Also, living with people from all over the world made us more open-minded and Sam doesn't choose anyone randomly! Everyone has a chance to tap into their creativity and come up with ideas.

Workawayers Louanne and Ryan (from France)

Once you live on the Barge it comes to life and beauty is found in everything. The fairly light sparkle illuminating the dormitory. The embers into the fire flicker into the night. The dots in the sky becomes the freckles of the world. The morning shine warms your face. The imperfections are the perfection.

Workawayer  Marie-Axelle (from Belgium)
Workawayers working on Barge
Barge illuminating at night
Do you have any anecdotes of any magical moments you have shared? 
Literally there are so many, I cannot think of one. However, what springs to mind as the common thread is friendship . Although the maintenance of the barge is the focus, in all honesty what I value most about our time on the barge is the connection that we make between us and the scope we create for personal growth and transformation. This is where the magic happens. This video produced by Workawayers probably says more than words anyway!
We live in a world where we may meet people we have a connection with and call them our friends, but in reality everyone lives such busy lives that being a friend with someone is often just going out for a drink or a meal with them from time to time. Workaway means that you open your doors to strangers, (albeit from a certain demographic group) and yet you learn to live, work and breathe alongside them and create amazing, and often even life-long bonds, in the process. You discover the magic and beauty of people that you would normally never have. 

A magical project developed by a magical person. Visit Sam is the best thing you can do if you want to have a different and cool experience. We are super grateful for you sharing your house, stories and time with us. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to develop our creativity in the barge.

Workawayers Chiari and Jordi (from Spain)
Those who stay here often feel a transformation and take many memories away with them, but at the same time I feel that each person leaves their own little gems of wisdom or treasures behind too:

One of my favourite things about this place is seeing all of the footprints left behind by those before me. The carved skull, the sweet messages, every project is a trail left behind. It’s comforting. A piece, a memory of you is stored here with so many others

Workawayer  Marie-Axelle (from Belgium)
If you were trying to convince someone to sign up as a host, what would you say? 
I think a lot would depend upon the host. A person who is looking for free labour should not become a host. For me the beauty of Workaway is that it is not tied to monetization, instead it is all about acts of generosity and giving from the heart, both from the host and the volunteer's side. People take part in the interaction because they want to, not motivated solely by what they are getting back in return. Literally the more energy you invest in something, the more you will get back in return. In the context of today’s world it is a gift to be able to share in this way, the non-monetary focus is very rare and yet this is precisely what we should be focussing on. For us to survive as a race we need to learn to reconnect, to form a community based on mutual support and interaction.

It seems that you have inspired many people with your philosophy of life. Could you tell us a little more about that and whether you live by any particular motto? 
Ha ha! Yes I do, but I don’t like clichés…I suppose my lifestyle is my motto, as it embodies many! I have spent a lot of time in nature, in the jungle and travelling searching my soul and looking for answers. It has taught me that everything is happening exactly as it should be and that there are no mistakes in life. We live and have the opportunity to learn and grow, expanding our consciousness and understanding the nature of love in its purest form. This requires self-awareness and reveals our vulnerability. Another motto is that in vulnerability lies our strength!

Tell us a little about your own shows that you mention in your profile and the robot you have been working on.
I continued working as a street performer until the start of the pandemic. When I first started out it was back in the era of breakdance and movies such as Star Wars and Robocop - I combined my performance acts with a love for creating special effect makeup and costumes, a form of theatrical construction. My most recent project was creating a robot for a short film. 
As well as the barge, I also have a workshop and film studio space. I get many of my supplies from a local scrap metal dealer and then using my tools, welding equipment and 3D printers I have been able to continue with my creative projects.

Do you have any further plans and schemes for the near future?
I hope that the community that I am creating here continues to grow and like the idea of putting on a festival here, to celebrate life, creativity and art…all on or beside the waterfront with elaborate water features.

Thank you so much for taking time out from your very busy day to share some of your insights and visions with us. From Workaway we would all like to congratulate you on your outstanding feedback and for being so deserving of the Host of the Month award. The words of those who have responded to the call of the barge say it all.

Volunteer smiling on Barge in the middle of the sea

Thanks for making me feel welcome and comfortable, and for sharing your beautiful space and spirit with me. The barge demonstrates that we all have the freedom to create a life that aligns with who we are, and I feel empowered by this example you have created. I am leaving here with a broadened perspective, new ideas and a fantastic friend, and for that I am truly grateful.

Workawayer Finn (from Australia)

This was definitely one of the most unique Workaway experiences I've had. Sam has his own little self-sufficient kingdom on his two barges and I really admire what he has accomplished so far. I also appreciate his outlook on life and society at large.

Workawayer Rasmus (from Estonia)
Group selfie with Wrokawayers and host on boat
Group selfie of host and Workawayers

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