Ever wondered how the hostels you stay at on your travels were born? Settle in kids, we’re about to share the origin story of Bells Beach Backpackers. And it’s a good one I swear - it’s got puppies and parties!
Featured: Guest Mitch Cowan enjoying a tune in the sun at BBB
1990s - 2000s
Twenty five years ago, a budget BnB (yep, this is before the days of AirBnB!) called Bells Beach Lodge sprung up in the seaside holiday resort that was mid-90s Torquay. Back then Torquay was filled with travellers and holiday makers, seeking surf and sun. Okay, so it wasn’t all that different to today. But still, cast your mind back to a simpler time (seriously, they didn’t even have a computer to take reservations - it was all done on paper!)
Looks familiar, right?
After the Lodge came Home@Bells, a backpackers hostel that laid the groundwork for the BBB we know and love today. If you’ve stayed at BBB, strip back all the groovy new additions and pristine rooms and that’s Home. It had the bones and the heart but it was a little decrepit and crumbling. Let’s just say it didn’t have the best rating.
Eight years ago, the owners decided to put it on the market and give it a new life. Our very own Sean Kershaw and two of his mates, Jeff and Prue, quickly snapped up the business. Sean was filled with trepidation, knowing the behemoth task ahead of him. But, Jeff and Prue had managed a hostel before (they now run Surfside Backpackers in Apollo Bay and Warrnambool Beach Backpackers) and Sean had seen it all in his time as a tour bus driver. So after a few shots of vodka the lease was signed and the three old friends threw themselves into this new project with gusto.
The first big job was cleaning up the rubble. And, boy oh boy OH BOY was there some CRAP. Years worth of bottle caps and ciggy butts down behind the couch, old pizza boxes on top of the fridge (‘didn’t that pizza joint close years back?’) and the backyard wasn’t much better either. The outdoor furniture was legit rotting, the crusty old barbecue had to be chucked out and the tangled vines hid more than a little bit of rubbish... the team even found an old bike obscured by the wild, overgrown garden. What!?
It took a lot of cleaning but this was the result.
Sean was an absolute novice and the learning curve was steep. Other than staying in a ton of hostels over the years, he had no idea what it took to run a backpackers, but, he persevered, learning quickly until his first 'Schoolies' Week almost broke him. Two words summed it up - "Fucking. Nightmare.". After a few days of 40 odd 18-year-olds getting pissed and trashing the joint, he was ready to kill. Luckily for all of us, it got easier and he stuck it out.
Sean threw himself into creative projects around the hostel, with new additions made every winter. There was the outdoor kitchen and pergola, the paving and decking, the fire pit and the storage container for the surfboards, just to name a few.
Featured: Hostel artwork project by Crew Member Jess Boucher
But then along came the best addition of all… little miss Bella. Sean had spent his entire adult life travelling with no solid home to bring a pet into. But, now he was around everyday! Could it work, having a dog in a hostel? Or, would it be a disaster? Should he get a pit bull?
But, Bella fit perfectly into the BBB family and suddenly Sean had a partner in crime. If you’ve had cuddles with Bella the black Labrador before, you’ll know that a hostel dog is the best mascot imaginable. For all those travellers who had left their beloved pets back home, the joyous energy of a puppy would fill their hearts. She’s certainly had her naughty moments, but hasn’t every hostel guest? I know I’d rather clean up after a Bella accident than a too-many-beers accident.
Featured: Sean and Bella
Eventually, Jeff and Prue decided it was time to sell up and buy their next business. Not ready to leave the home he had built for himself and Bella, Sean was able to scrape the finances together to buy out his pals and soon BBB became just his.
In 2019, Bella and Sean were joined by two new friends - Court and Cindy. Court Jeremiah who was a long-time content creator and brand builder for travel companies, came in with her get-shit-done energy, and was soon helping manage BBB and take some of the load off. Cindy - the blonde golden retriever - just came along to play on the beach and wreak some HAVOC with Bella.
2020s and beyond
After joining the family, Court worked closely with Sean to provide a new perspective on what was working and what wasn’t. Together, Sean and Court have grown the hostel beyond just a place to stay. They’ve turned it into a creative, fun and welcoming home for travelers to connect and share rad adventures.
In the past year, BBB has rebranded its look, covered every surface with bright murals and gorgeous art, collaborated hard with the community and local business, introduced fun things to do such as games, events and activities, introduced surf board hire (you’ve got no excuse not to hit the waves now) and offer more great content for our travelers - like this blog you’re reading right now!
Featured: Court and Sean with Bella and Cindy
Like everyone else, the team struggled with COVID and two serious-lockdowns. With international travel on hold and Melbourne in suspension, Sean thought it might be time to pull the pin. But, it’s December now and we’re still kicking - it’s going to take more than a virus to keep this place down!
Looking to the future, BBB plans to… well, paint some more murals. BUT ON A BIGGER SCALE - our hearts are also set on continuing to offer the brilliant experience for guests that Sean and team have created over the past eight years. To keep offering a great adventure on the Surf Coast where you can create memories and connect with likeminded people. To be the shameless-enablers of your surfing addiction. And, to simply make sure you never forget your stay in Torquay.
We couldn’t be prouder of this home away from home we’ve created and we can't wait to see what comes next.
If you’ve stayed at BBB (or Home@Bells or Bells Beach Lodge) come reminisce with us! We’re feeling a bit nostalgic and want to hear your stories. We bet you’ve got some crackers.
Rachel Wagner is a freelance producer who writes about the good things in life - travel, culture, creativity and how to tread lightly on our Earth along the way.
She previously flexed her creative muscles as a Podcast Producer for the Mamamia Women’s Network before she gave up the desk life to travel the world. Over the past three years Rachel has found her home in Melbourne, Scotland, England, Mount Buller and the Bellarine Peninsula. And now? Torquay baby!
Her top travel tip is not to be afraid of exploring a new place alone. You’ll be amazed at how many locals and other travellers you meet along the way, plus you’ll never have to say no to a spur of the moment adventure.