AS he trudges across Nobbys Beach, Mahmoud Alkasim can’t feel the sand beneath his feet; he’s wearing shoes. But this place has already burrowed well and truly under his skin.
“This is the first beach we came to in Australia,” he says, squinting in the morning sun. “We had been here one week.”
Mahmoud Alkasim, his wife Aicheh Alhamad and their five children arrived in Newcastle in May 2016, half a world away from their homeland, Syria.
The Alkasims were living in Jordan, having escaped from their war-ravaged country, when they were offered places in Australia under an extension to the Federal Government’s humanitarian program. The Alkasims knew only one thing about Australia - “kangaroos” - but they held hope that it would also offer them something their home no longer could: peace.
So walking on Nobbys Beach for the first time in 2016, the Alkasims sensed their hope would be realised. What’s more, they had found somewhere they could have fun - most of the time.
The family’s second eldest daughter Safa recounts how she went into the surf.
“I was caught in a wave,” she says. “I was scared and was crying.”
The family head to the beach often, and Mahmoud Alkasim and Aicheh Alhamad often walk along the promenade during the week, after dropping the kids to school.
“It’s so beautiful and clean and different than other beaches around the world,” Mr Alkasim says. “It makes you feel better.”
Aicheh Alhamad agrees this beach is good for her, saying “I feel happy being here”.
As we talk, a couple of the children draw a heart and write “Syria” in the sand. Mahmoud shows me a photo of where he wrote “Bosra”, the family’s village in Syria, in the sand on this beach.
“It’s like bringing my home and sharing it with the new one,” he explains.
And to the Alkasims, Newcastle is now home.
“We have adapted,” says Marwa, the eldest daughter. “We don’t want to go elsewhere. We’ve made relationships, friends, and people are so good to us.”
The three oldest girls watch the waves break and froth on the shore. I ask them will they be learning to surf. “No way!,” says Marwa. “No!,” adds Safa. “Yes,” says Sham.
Mahmoud and Aicheh are watching their two youngest children, Jana and Malik, playing in the sand.
Mahmoud smiles and murmurs, “We went out of war to live these moments.”