Many Australian workers are leaving the city in search of better work/life balance as NICOLA HEATH discovers
It takes Karen Timms FIML, general manager at Eaglehawk UFS Dispensary, just six minutes to get to work.
The quick commute is one of many things Timms loves about living in Bendigo, where she moved from Western Australia in 2016. “It’s a city but it’s not fast-paced like Melbourne or Sydney,” she says. “The architecture is beautiful. It’s a well-set out city, it’s very easy to get around.”
Bendigo has all the conveniences that come with living in an urban centre, “but you can be out in the country in 10 minutes,” says Timms, who left the city – her home town of Perth – 10 years ago to move 270 kilometres south to Margaret River.
Like Timms, thousands of Australians have made the move from city to country, many looking for better work/life balance.
A quick commute
The cities, particularly outer urban areas, are crippled by traffic congestion and poor public transport that create lengthy commutes, which in turn contribute to stress and makes less free time for family.
Timms’ six-minute commute is well below the marathon trips endured by commuters in Sydney, where the average work travel time is 71 minutes. In the Blacktown council area in Sydney’s west, 44,000 workers travel more than 90 minutes each day to and from work.
Timms values the extra leisure time that comes with living and working in a regional area. “I don’t have to sit in traffic or rely on public transport,” she says. “You can go for a walk after work… you can still enjoy the outdoors because you don’t have that long commute.”
Adrian Pursell FIML lives in Huonville, a small “easy-going” town 38 kilometres south of Hobart.
The smart operations consultant works from home, keeping in touch with clients in China via WeChat and QQ.
In the city work never stops, he says, but living in regional Tasmania means he can switch off on the weekends and spend more time on hobbies like fishing and camping.
“I can fly out from Sydney, come back home, hook a caravan on the car and we’re only 30 minutes from the beach,” he says.
Cost of living
While essentials like groceries can be costly in regional areas, life in the city is generally more expensive.
According to the 2015-16 Household Expenditure Survey (HES), published by the ABS, households in capital cities spend on average $321 more per week than those in regional areas. In Sydney and Melbourne, that figure jumps to $478 and $326 respectively.
A major strain on household budgets is the cost of childcare, which increased 6.8 per cent in 2016. The 2014 AMP.NATSEM Income and Wealth Report Child care affordability in Australia found the most expensive childcare in the country in the inner-city areas of Sydney and Melbourne, where it accounts for up to 9 per cent of disposable incomes.
At the other end of the spectrum, Australia’s most affordable childcare is found in regional areas away from mining hubs, in places like Warrnambool, Wangaratta and the Darling Downs.
High house prices are pushing many people out of capital cities like Sydney, where the median house price is more than $1 million. Nationwide, households in capital cities spend on average $75 more on housing each week than their regional counterparts.
Timms, who left Perth at the beginning of the mining boom as property prices were skyrocketing, says housing is much cheaper in her new home town. “If you want to get into the housing market you can certainly do so in a place like Bendigo without giving up everything about city living.”