Why are so many Australians relocating to the country, and what’s COVID got to do with it?



Escape to the country.

As I sit typing, I gaze upon a mass of boxes – a heaving, uncomfortable and confronting mess of all the belongings I have amassed. This is because I am bound for the coast. The town that was once a quarterly holiday destination is now to be my home. I am escaping to the country.

While the move seems bold and potentially outrageous to some, I’m not alone. A small but significant number of friends have left the city for a quieter place in recent years, as have countless influencers and celebrities (aka the Hemsworth effect). In fact, the Regional Australia Institute reports significant growth in regional areas: between 2011 and 2016 their populations grew by more than 10 per cent, gaining more people than they lost to capital cities.

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Then COVID-19 struck, prompting those who could to reevaluate their living situation, undoubtedly resulting in inflated figures. We realised we could work from home, in pyjamas or not, and that ‘home’ could essentially be anywhere we choose.

Such was the case for model, presenter and journalist Elfy Scott, and her partner. Facing the end of their Sydney lease, the pair made the jump and relocated to a coastal town. “Between lockdown, with the shuttering of businesses and social lives, and the constant pressure of outrageous rental costs, it just seemed like a great opportunity to take the leap,” she tells me. With the beach just a stone’s-throw away and the ability to WFH, relentless commutes quickly became a thing of the past.

Similarly, influencer and personal growth coach Cassie Cameron took steps to relocate to NSW’s Central Coast during this time. “Living in Sydney is great, and it’s a wonderful city, but we’ve got to a stage where we’re yearning for more space and stillness,” Cassie explains. Whether perfect timing or not, a pandemic seems the opportune moment to get out and take in some fresh air.

An escape to the country comes with the inevitable change in terms of the lives we live, and its impact on the areas we relocate to (or leave). There are far fewer bougie meals (if any), a new community to navigate, and the possibility of a quieter social life.

One friend, Jen, escaped first to her family’s farm and then to Canberra a couple of years back with her partner. After working relentlessly at a major law firm, she started to play with the idea of relocating to somewhere she could breathe – a place that would help her feel relaxed and less claustrophobic. To Jen, Sydney began to feel like a constant competition, whether it be for a parking space or a table for dinner. “Who wants to live their life like this?” was her resounding question.

How has her life changed post-move? Not only does Jen have a superior apartment with lower rent, but she applauds the community as well. Everyone knows everyone. It’s also cheaper to see your mates (more dinner parties and the like) and easier and more convenient when you aren’t competing with widespread commutes and off-the-chart schedules or work hours.

For Cassie, the new prospects moving out of the city provides are potentially endless. With Sydney just an hour away, she can venture back and forth when required, while most of her work is based online. “We’re setting up a herb and veggie garden, I’m learning how to cook properly, and we’ve set up spaces to work out and practice meditation and yoga at home,” Cassie says of her new lifestyle.

In popular culture, we often hear about the ‘creative escape’. Supposedly, being isolated amongst nature provides inspiration, peace, and the quiet required to tap into your creativity. Bon Iver wrote For Emma, Forever during the three months he spent in his father’s solitary hunting cabin in Wisconsin; Georgia O’Keeffe relocated to the arid landscape of New Mexico after falling in love with its austere surrounds.

Local Australian artist Adam Oste initially moved from Sydney with his wife to be nearer to family and pursue a quieter lifestyle. And while it’s more difficult to source materials and gallery visits have cut back, Adam notes the change has “Allow[ed] me to make more considered and honest work without as many external pressures… there’s a clarity of vision that comes with working in solitude.”

Another creative pal has hopes that her recent move to inland NSW will reignite her creative spark and appreciation of beautiful things. Taking the time to notice and slow down, instead of quickly moving to the next thing, is one of her assumed perks. “I hope this country change allows new eyes and less ‘want’ and more simplicity, recycling and appreciation of what we already have,” she notes.

In a similar vein, I’ve been considering how we dress and the impact a relocation may have on this outlet. As someone likewise affiliated with the fashion industry, I asked Elfy her thoughts. “My standards of my own appearance have dropped, significantly,” she admits. “I’ve taken on more comfortable styles, I rarely wear anything other than Birkenstocks, and I don’t tend to buy as much as I maybe would have in the city.” But, as Elfy notes, “maybe that’s coastal living as much as it is the damn global pandemic”.

Will living a few hours out of Sydney completely transform my wardrobe? Will my habitual blazer wearing become a thing of the past? The answer won’t be evident for some time, but I envision that both working from home and having a beach at my doorstep will alter my daily outfits. Practicality and comfort may reign supreme, but my love for dressing up will remain. I might be the only girl wearing suit pants around town, but I’ll still give it a go from time to time.

For all the upsides of freedom and creative bliss, there is at least one notable downfall though. Elfy touched on this briefly. “As a person of colour who appreciates cultural diversity, moving to quite a culturally homogenous, White, upper-middle-class area has come with a lot of frustrations.” (She has also published a piece detailing more on this subject here).

Let’s not forget: the privilege to move freely between areas, with hardly the batting of an eyelid, is one not warranted to all. It’s something that I hope will change – regional towns are missing out on the benefits diversity has to offer – but there is no easy fix. It’s challenging to be the first and pave the way, particularly when our cities are more accepting and provide cultural hubs.

To be clear, I’m not leaving the big city life to escape from the throes of mask-wearing and travel restrictions. These reasons are almost the antithesis of our seachange. We aren’t running away from the world – we are very much still in it – but we are choosing a slower pace. It’s a move that we hope will inspire more creativity, more peace, and more time outdoors. Here’s to the future and a different kind of me.

Considering a move to the country? Head here to figure out if its right for you.

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