Two Degrees of Separation – A Newcastle phenomenon

Never trash anyone behind their back – That was the best piece of advice I received when I moved to Newcastle ten 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 or kid’s sports coach. Or when I meet someone new and it so 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 BBQ and run into friends who you didn’t realise knew the host prompting the question “How do you know?…”

It’s my opinion that here in the Newcastle area, 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 Jill who knows Pierre who knows Asha who knows Tomoko.

Even though there’s over 562,500 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’s lots of people with strong ties to the region having grown up here or attended school or university here. Also, there’s many extended families living in the area so there’s siblings, parents, cousins and in-laws all around. If you know one of them, you inevitably become introduced to their network.

Another reason is the pace of life up 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 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 part of the cities.

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 job at OneSteel, my husband’s job at NSW Fire and Rescue, my mothers group and daycare. And now when I include my current job with state government, the school community and my blog The Mummy Project into the mix, there’s even more connections.

One of the weirdest connections happened a couple of 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 a Air Canada flight en-route from Vancouver to Sydney in January 2006 which was forced to do an emergency landing after refueling in Honolulu. My husband laughed at the coincidence as I was also on that flight returning back from a holiday in Canada 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?