Couchsurfing has traditionally been a service used by young backpackers, but older Australians are signing up to reinvigorate their lives.
The site has 50,000 Australian members with an average age of 28-years-old. But users like 65-year-old Rosa Glen owner-builder Denis Dawson are bucking the trend. Denis was ‘accidentally’ signed up as a couch surfing host four years ago by the visiting daughter of a friend, and says he was apprehensive of the lifestyle change at first.
“Building a house can be a reclusive task,” Denis says.
“It’s been a lifetime’s work, but now I’ve got people from all around the world coming to stay and help me spruce the place up. The other day, two Italian surfers painted a graffiti mural on one of the walls downstairs.
“It’s really added a splash of colour to the place.”
Denis is currently building an outhouse. His head bobs below ground level as he adds the finishing touches to a septic tank with a shovel. American couch surfer Lauren Biedel watches on, admiring the old man’s gusto.
“I don’t really want to leave this oasis,” she says.
“It’s such a unique and beautiful creative space, and creativity is a really important part of the human experience.”
“Yeah, I’m building a dunny,” Denis remarks.
Also an ex Margaret River tour guide, Denis gives tourists a glimpse into what it’s like living in the Australian bush.
“I’ve really been enjoying taking everyone out and showing them the sights around town,” he says.
“I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and all of a sudden I’m seeing everything with fresh eyes.”
A career builder, Denis has built everything on his property in his own hand time using locally sourced and recycled materials. When he first began building, Denis lived in a tent pitched in a dusty clearing.
Over the years, he has built a two storey house and numerous shacks and sheds that now house up to 14 couch surfers at a time.
Neighbour and long time friend Marnie Greep says she has seen transformational change in Denis since he signed up as a couch surfing host.
“It’s like he has a new lease on life,” Marnie says.
“These backpackers that are staying with him are like a fountain of youth, he seems 20 years younger.”
Originally from England, Denis travelled overland to Australia in the 70s via Asia. He says couch surfing has given him the inspiration to travel again, and he plans to visit Europe soon.
“Anywhere I want to go I’d have somewhere to stay now.”
“People from around the world are messaging me on this Facebook thing and asking ‘when are you coming to visit us’. As soon I’ve finished building my house, I’m going to take off around the world again.”
Couchsurfers.org is an international hospitality service, and users can stay for free with a host, or host other travellers.