Newcastle & Two Degrees of Separation

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Never trash anyone behind their back – everyone is connectedThat was the best piece of advice I received when I moved to Newcastle fifteen years ago. It’s valuable advice as the longer I live in this region, the more I realise how intertwined it is.  It’s best to avoid talking about someone until you know who they know.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve mentioned someone in passing and it turns out that it’s someone’s cousin, school friend, neighbour, sister-in-law, coworker, ex-boyfriend, real estate agent or kid’s sports coach. Or when I meet someone new and it happens that they know someone else that I know.

In some cases, it’s a few people I know and I wonder why we haven’t met before. Or my favourite is when you turn up to an event like a kids birthday party or barbecue and run into friends who you didn’t even realise knew the host prompting the question “How do you know so-and-so?”

It’s my opinion that here in the Newcastle region, there’s only two degrees of separation between anyone living here. Six degrees of separation refers to the theory that everyone on earth can be connected by six introductions, through a chain of a “friend of a friend” E.g. I know Lou who knows Greg who knows Shaz who knows Asha who knows Sean.

Even though there’s over half a million of people in the Lower Hunter (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics), it feels remarkably connected. Whether it’s work, school, sport and other connections, the community seems to be more tight-knit than others I’ve lived in. When I’ve mentioned this to a few long-term residents, they remark that Newcastle’s just a big country town.

I have a few theories as to why it’s so connected. Firstly, there are lots of people with strong ties to the region having grown up here or attended school or university here. Also, there are many extended families living in the area so there are siblings, parents, cousins and in-laws all around. If you know one of them, you inevitably become introduced to their network.

Another reason is that the pace of life here is much slower, unlike the “rat race” of larger cities. This means that locals spend more time out and about in the region having the time to enjoy leisure activities with friends and family.

Also, it’s easy to travel around to different places and events around Newcastle, up at the Bay or down at the Lake or out to the Valley thus having the opportunity to meet more people. This is in stark contrast to larger centres like Sydney and Melbourne where long work hours, traffic congestion and crowds discourage people from venturing far from their homes. They instead stay in their own part of the city.

Most importantly, Newcastle is a friendly place to live so people are more likely to make personal connections with each other. In most cases, people are friendly and welcoming. Even for “newcomers” like myself, it didn’t take long to make friends through my former jobs at OneSteel and NSW Crown Lands, my husband’s job at NSW Fire and Rescue, my mums group and daycare. And now when I include my current freelance work, the school community, sport and Newy with Kids into the mix, there are even more connections.

One of the weirdest connections happened a few years ago. My husband returned from a Knights game with some other firefighters. While they were talking, one of the firies mentioned that he had been on an Air Canada flight en-route from Vancouver to Sydney in January 2006 which was forced to do an emergency landing after refuelling in Honolulu. My husband laughed at the coincidence as I was also on that flight returning back from Canada (where I’m originally from) and we were living in Sydney at that time. Seriously, it’s a small world in Newcastle!

So even though you may have to watch your mouth, think of the upside. With so many people connected to one another, this network is a great resource when you need help, assistance or information. And you’re fine to talk about someone as long as it’s positive!

Do you agree about 2 degrees of separation in this area? And what’s your theory on why it’s so interconnected here?

When I previously shared this article on Facebook, readers commented on their own examples of 2 degrees of separation. These are some of my favourites.

  • “I was at work about 7 years ago talking about school excursions gone bad, when my work colleague piped up about a school camp she had gone on in 1978, where one of the lodges had burnt down in the middle of the night and they had to come home early. She stole my story! Not only did it turn out we were at the same camp at the same time, we were also in the same lodge – the one in front of the burning one. We hadn’t gone to the same school though, she as at Woodberry and I was at New Lambton and the camp was at Broken Bay.”
  • “OMG 2 degrees of separation is spot on!!  Growing up here in a family of 7 kids and having 4 older brothers, that all played multiple sports at all different levels, I couldn’t walk into a pub or nightclub growing up and not know half the people there lol.  Love this article.”
  • “Yes this so true! I grew up in The Shire in Sydney (Cronulla /Sutherland area) and it has exactly the same feel. I have been living in Newcastle for the last 16 years and notice how the longer I am here, the more people I am connected to in that roundabout kind of way. Another degrees of separation theory could be that Newcastle employment is a very human people services based area, such as health, education and retail. All of these jobs mean that you come into contact with people you know everywhere. I had this really weird degrees of separation last year. I met a dad where I work and when I found out they had just moved here from Sydney, my natural question is to ask where. I couldn’t believe it when I found out he went to the same high school as me in the year below me. This was in The Shire and we both live in Newcastle. Definitely 2 degrees of separation in Newcastle…and possibly The Shire!”
  • “That is hilarious. I was just reading through your whole article on 2 degrees of separation, agreeing with everything you said. I get to the bottom where you have “‘You may also like’ – You’re Kidding Me Program” and its a photo of my cousin in-law and her daughter! That’s proof right there! Haha”

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