So here it is, my first post on a crowd-sourced topic! Last months poll showed a clear winner, the people want to know about what Tree Changing is really like. With real-estate porn like Escape to The Country eternally popular among people who are exhausted from putting kids to bed it’s a topical question. The show focusses on finding the right spot. Then on finding the right house in that spot. Then on finding the right price for the right house in the right spot. There we go. Job done.

But, what happens afterwards? We never see these British families (whinging poms as The Mamanator and I are wont to call the more malcontented among them) afterwards. How do they cope? How do they manage? Is it a move to Eden? To a place with big backyards, where kids play outside, where everyone leaves their door unlocked and where everyone knits together into a tight and caring community? Is it really a cheaper way to live? Is it closer to nature? I’ll explore some of these questions in this post.

There is more to moving to the country to it than this:

Where we came from

We’re not going back by the way….

The Mamanator and I are a pair who met while studying at Melbourne University. For a long time our lives revolved around Carlton, Brunswick and later North Melbourne. We were inner-suburbanite beer swilling uni-goers for a significant chunk of our lives. We shacked up in 2008, living in Ascot Vale before moving into a townhouse in Kensington. It was a 2 bedroom place and had a paved courtyard at the back. Not a blade of grass on the block, and it was about the size of a lounge room.

We dreamed of open space, of veggie patches, chooks and self-sufficiency. We also dreamed of a house we could actually buy on teacher money. So we dreamed, we gazed at real estate listings, took weekends in Olinda, Castlemaine, The Grampians and others. We had a baby, and suddenly I got a job in Maryborough. The chance was there. We could finally do it. Make the leap, get into the housing market…..

So off we went. We rented for the first year to sample the life, and while the house truly sucked, the lifestyle did not we loved our new neighbourhood. We made plans, went to open inspections, and around July 2012 wandered into the little town of Guildford. We ended up buying there, and just over a year ago we moved into our first home together.

That’s it right? Job done. Escape to The Country achieved. Well obviously it isn’t. Getting here is one thing, making it work is another…

Myth 1: life is slower, so you will find yourself with loads of free time.

What tree-changers can spend some of their time doing.

Free time? Wood pile says no……

This is actually hard to quantify, mostly because we went and had another baby since we moved out here. She’s meant less free time for all of us, so it’s hard to compare. In some ways life is slower out here. There’s less people, less going on, less crowds and less traffic. Much much much less traffic. It’s nice, the commute from here to Castlemaine is 12km and it takes less than 15 minutes most days. We could (and used to) spend that amount of time in the city driving 3 blocks.

But do you get more free time? Well not really. There is still work to do; one still has to make some kind of living out here. I wish I had a ‘tree-changer’ card that they accepted at the IGA in Castlemaine that gave us free food, but we don’t. You spend less time crawling along in your car or pushing against Tye thronging mass at Melbourne Central Station, but there is plenty to keep you busy. Suddenly we have 3/4 of an acre of lawn to mow every other week (less now the sun as burnt the crap out of it). We got chickens, which are low maintenance but not “no-maintenance”. We are chopping fire wood. Splitting fire wood. Stacking firewood (firewood is a biggish part of my life right now). We make plans for the garden. We prune things. We maintain the house and yard.

But wait! Surely that’s all part of the country living dream, right? Yes it is, but it still takes time. Time well spent maybe, but time nonetheless. Oh and remember, it’s the 21st century. All your little city time-leeches (facebook, blogs (ahem….) etc…) are all around in the country too. There’s actually no escaping it anymore.

So, my verdict:

Yep

Myth 2:You’ll have the BEST GARDEN EVA!!!!

How our plants see me....

How our plants see me….

As someone who never gardened I always thought gardening was easy. You know, you dig, plant and water. Right? RIGHT? MINT? ROSEMARY? TOMATOES? TALK TO ME!

OH WHY WON’T YOU LIVE DAMMIT! *sobs*…

That’s our gardening experience in a nutshell. Organising and getting a garden (any garden) up and running is a massive investment of time, effort and money. We never quite appreciated that until we moved onto this block and let the grass grow to about waist high before finally getting it cut. There’s whipper-snippering, weeding, compost to be turned, digging, watering etc… And we haven’t even started doing our ‘real’ garden yet, its just lawn and a few gum trees.

It’s not as easy as we thought it would be, and it’s not as easy as certain TV gardeners (I’m looking at you Costa!) make it look with their time lapse photography and careful editing. Of course we could get it landscaped, pay someone to come in and do it all. But we won’t because:A.) we are not made of money and B.) what the hell is the point of moving so you can be closer to nature only to get someone else in to do all the close to nature stuff for you?

So yes, gardening. The move out here has NOT made us better at it. But we will get there.

In the meantime:

Busted

Myth 3:Everyone knows everyone.

This myth goes something like this: Country folk stick together. Country folk know who’s just had a baby, who got engaged, who got divorced, who just won tatslotto, and who just go retrenched in their own town. They don’t need social media, they have the “bush telegraph” the original information super highway…

It’s not quite so simple. Living in a regional area can be quite an isolating experience. You’re a long way from anywhere (and you can really feel it some days), you HAVE to use a car to go places, we have very bad mobile reception, so we miss text messages all the time and we didn’t know anyone around the place when we first moved in.

Let me put it this way, people are friendly very friendly, but they’re not obliged to take you into their existing social circles just because you live nearby. You’re not automatically best mates with your neighbours because they are your neighbours. It requires some effort and some outgoingness on your part. It also requires a bit of time.

We’ve been here a year, and I feel more connected to Guildford than I ever did to Kensington, Ascot Vale or Brunswick. There are great opportunities to participate in things and “make a difference”, as the saying goes. I’m in the local County Fire Authority brigade, The Mamanator has joined the CWA and the local Toy Library committee (just realised how 1950s that sounds when I write it down…) among a swag of other groups. Meanwhile The Lad has a growing little network of play-mates of his own. I think we’ve established ourselves, but that’s the thing we had to establish ourselves and make connections, it wasn’t done for us.

Of course I must also add that when The Lass was born we had 4 different ladies (no blokes though, get it together fellas!) we know drop around various bits of cooking for us, which was awesome. So given that, I’m calling this one:

plausible

Myth 4:Country life is better for kids

This is a big one. For many tree changers it’s THE big one. Country living is better for families. More time outdoors, less Play Stations, cleaner air, closer to the earth, you can trust the neighbours etc etc etc. Sounds great. But I did a little research.

If you don’t want to read the full report, here are some of the graphs that really surprised me.

Country kids don't actually spend much more time outdoors.

Country kids don’t actually spend much more time outdoors.

This one actually stunned me a bit. Where we are is “Inner Regional”, where on average boys spend slightly less time outdoors compared to their city counterparts. I did not expect that….

This one is a concern too:

Kids don't think they have adequate space or parks in regional areas

Kids in regional areas don’t think they have adequate space or parks in regional areas

And it’s probably linked to the first one….

So Country kids are not automatically more likely to play outdoors. Its up to parents to foster and encourage those kinds of habits.There are other concerns too around the quality of education locally; you don’t have as many choices or options for school around here.

Having said all that, for us some tenants of the myth hold true. Our kids will know where food comes from (hint, it’s not from the supermarket). They will swim in dams and lakes, they will fish, they will camp, they will probably ride dirt bikes (not looking forward to that…).

My underlying point is this: Taking kids to the country doesn’t make you automatic parent of the century; you still have to work at this whole parenting gig you find yourself in. So all up:

plausible

 

 

Myth 5:Its cheaper

The median house price in the Mount Alexander Local Government Area (our local shire) is $346,000 (Source www.homepriceguide.com.au)

The median house price for metropolitan Melbourne is $643,000 (source the REIV).

That’s it right? End of story, no need to go into it further.

Wrong. Some of the things we have had to do since moving out here include:

  • Buying a second car – which is a big one, including all ongoing expenses associated with it.
  • Buying a trailer
  • Buying gardening gear (not just secateurs, two mowers and a chainsaw among other stuff)
  • Petrol expenses – no public transport here, we drive EVERYWHERE, including on average a trip to Melbourne every 6 weeks or so

In addition we have also noticed prices are generally higher out here; both for basic household goods in the supermarket, and for services and the like. There are even little piddly things; we have to rent a post box for our mail as we do not get a delivery in our area. We have to pay to maintain our septic system, no way I’m letting that go to shit (pun intended). Insurance is also dearer because of risks of flood and fire etc. etc. etc.

It adds up. We’re probably no worse off than we would be in the city, but if we are any better off it’s not by much. So I’m calling this:

Busted

 

SUMMARY:

So there you have it, most of the myths I believed about moving to the country didn’t quite stack up with our experience. Let me be clear though; no way we’d go back. We love it here, we love the folk, we love the scenery, we love having land and we even love the banjoes. We have made great friends, and when our boy runs out into his own back yard and chases chooks around I look at him with a smile and know we’ve done the right thing. Then I bolt over to the chicken run to stop him picking up the poo….

I guess my point is this. The tree change is not the destination but the start of the journey. Like marriage, like child birth, like getting into your career etc…

And one last thing, because this is a Myth busters quote, we need some explosions…..