Tweed local Tassie Duff is celebrating 40 years at the Murwillumbah YHA, and it’s a world record – the longest continual management of a single YHA property anywhere in the world!
Built in 1910 and set high overlooking the Tweed River, the Murwillumbah YHA has become an iconic spot and a magnet for global travellers who love its quirky feel, ideal location and warm and friendly host.
Tassie is passionate about where he lives and what he does and, to applaud his remarkable 40 years at the helm of this incredible hostel, we find out how he made his true home in the Tweed, what he loves about his job and how ‘being social’ has changed over the years.
Tassie cut his teeth in Tasmania as a carpenter, which has come in handy since temporarily closing the doors of his beloved home and hostel, the Murwillumbah YHA, due to COVID-19.
“I’ve spent the past 6 weeks on the tools, levelling the deck and replacing stumps, as well as tending the garden and painting – I’ve got to keep pressure on myself and keep busy to stop eating too much!” Tassie jokes.
In actual fact, Tassie, 70 years young, is a vegetarian and keeps fit with regular rock ‘n’ roll dancing.
“Murwillumbah is a lovely town and as a vegetarian you can eat anywhere, I especially love New Leaf Cafe, it’s all vegetarian food. Rock ‘n’ roll dancing is a passion – pre-COVID I was dancing socially 5 nights a week and sometimes for 6 hours straight – only stopping when the music did!”
This indomitable spirit, along with a declared allergy to the cold, is what set Tassie on a course to mainland Australia in search of warmer climes.
“Tasmania was too cold for me, so in 1970 I headed for the sun in north Queensland, which was too hot! After some time in Sydney and travelling around, I came upon Murwillumbah and found the perfect climate.”
Tassie found this warmth in the people and ambience too and felt he’d arrived home.
“There’s something special about the place, it’s hard to describe. It’s a stunning location here on the Tweed River with Wollumbin Mount Warning in view; the people are so welcoming and everything is in easy reach.”
Settling in to the river town vibe, Tassie felt a contentment and was compelled to put down roots, finding his future home in a piece of history.
Captain Frank Lowes lived riverside in the early 1900s, a partner with the Skinner brothers in the prosperous riverboat business, Skinners, Lowes & Co Ltd, that ferried mail and passengers across the Tweed River and upstream to the coast.
Lowes’ home was built in 1910 and set high, an ideal watch-house for the moored fleet below, and he lived there until 1932 when roads were laid, putting an end to the ferry business.
Fast forward to 1980 and Tassie had bought the old riverboat captain’s house and converted it into a colourful and quirky travellers’ hostel.
“It was too nice to keep to myself! I’d had such great experiences staying in YHA hostels that I decided to start one myself; the YHA team has been very helpful through the years in supporting me.”
And it’s not just the friendly folk at YHA who love Tassie!
“At last count, over the years I’ve greeted more than 50,000 people from across 30 different nations. Many are regular visitors and they’re more friends now than guests.”
Over these years, Tassie has also seen a lot of change in how travellers travel, with ‘social’ taking on a whole different meaning.
In a time before Wifi, Tassie brought travellers together not only through his warm and upbeat ways, but also with free ice-cream, board games galore in common areas, a gorgeous courtyard to while away days with new friends and helpful advice on what to see and do in the region.
This warm welcome still draws travellers today, though Tassie laments the loss of human connectedness at the hands of technology.
“Before social media, guests would talk with each other, now they’re Facetiming family, or posting photos of their day rather than having conversations or playing board games. Our free ice-cream time used to be big and would bring people together – but now, it’s too hard to cater for all the dietary needs!”
Taking a break from ‘the tools’ to rest up in the morning light, overlooking the Tweed River and happily distracted by Wollumbin views, Tassie’s thinking about how he can help to reconnect people once COVID is a memory and the Murwillumbah YHA throws open its doors once more.
Perhaps yoga or meditation in the riverside courtyard, maybe an appeal to the ever-growing eco-conscience – or could there be a call for rock ‘n’ roll classes!
Whatever he decides to do, it’s bound to be something that makes local and global nomads alike feel right at home here in the Tweed.
Congratulations Tassie on four decades of welcoming world travellers, being such an incredible ambassador for the Tweed and giving so many people memories for life!