Don’t be Moira Rose, get a car, shop local: what you need to know about moving to the regions | Brigid Delaney

Leaving the city is fairly easy. It’s once you get to the country that the real work begins

The most frustrating show on television is the ABC’s Escape from the City, where hopeful rural transplants view four houses in their dream location and then hopefully, you know, move there.

I’m yet to see an episode where that happens – instead before the credits roll, a line appears on the screen that reads something like: “Wendy and William didn’t buy house three, they are still living in Sydney and one day hope to find their dream home.”

One day … maybe next year … just do it! Move to the country. Don’t the participants realise the easy part is buying the house? When you get there is where the real work begins. Like figuring out why this nice town has such a toxic community Facebook page. Or why, if you know too many people, every trip to the supermarket takes two hours.

Please make that TV show.

Post-pandemic, when many of us can work from home, there has been an uptick in people looking to rent or buy property in the regions.

Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Be aware of culture wars

Local Facebook pages are great for getting tips and recommendations, sourcing a tradesperson or selling white goods. But they can also be a hellscape of that region’s version of the culture wars, which often divide people along two lines: are you a blow-in or a local?

The “real” locals are wary of gentrifiers, paying $5 for a coffee and newcomers that campaign to keep out big supermarket chains. These wars are often played out on the town’s Facebook page – along with debates about more traditional culture war topics, such as asylum seekers and marriage equality.

In regional culture wars, status is not derived from money or your job, but from how long you have been in the town. Asking “where are you from” is a particularly loaded question. You are only really from the town if your great-grandparents are buried up the road. You cannot say you are “from” the town if you have only been living there for 20 years.

Have a driving licence

Living in the regions, there are some winter weekends that feel as if they last for 20 years. The shops shut at midday on Saturday, walk anywhere and you risk windburn and frostbite, and many of the local beauty spots are a short drive away and not accessible to pedestrians.

Living in Portland in south-west Victoria without a driving licence I was unable to visit the stunning national parks and beaches, in Port Fairy I couldn’t get to my job an hour away without a car, same in Queenscliff. And in central Victoria – I need a taxi if I want to buy groceries.

Living in the country without a driving licence, without Uber, without public transportation is to be a prisoner in your own home. Get a car, get a licence before you get out of the city.

Support local businesses

It’s a big deal when your small town gets a new cafe, or a wine bar, or a deli, or a bookshop. Setting up an independent shop in their town is someone’s dream, probably their superannuation – and they’re taking a risk. So if you want nice things in your town, you need to support the town’s entire ecosystem and economy. If you can afford it, don’t drive to the big superstore on the outskirts of the larger town 45 minutes away in order to save 20c on a jar of honey – buy local. A healthy economy equals a healthy town.

Be a good neighbour

Sure, they may chop down your trees while you are away, pop in for a two-hour cup of tea and surprise you coming out of the shower because “the back door was open”. But neighbours in the country will also warn you about snakes they saw coming up your driveway, lend you lawnmowers and whipper snippers and bring in your bins.

The relationship I’ve had with my neighbours in the country towns I’ve lived in has been so much more interconnected and codependent than relationships with neighbours in the city – and as a consequence a lot more rewarding. When you move to the regions, host some drinks for your street and meet everyone.

Get involved – but not all at once

Don’t be like Moira Rose, the matriarch in Schitt’s Creek, who lands upon the small town a cappella group with all the subtlety of a grenade. Just because you’re a big shot in the city doesn’t mean all the people in your new country town are desperately waiting for you to come and be their friend, or join their group or volunteer with their organisation. Of course volunteer groups welcome new members and expertise – but be careful not to foist yourself on to people until you have assessed the lay of the land and held back for a bit.

Don’t make enemies

Give someone the bird or toot your horn loudly at them, steal their carpark, cut in front of them in the queue – chances are in the city you will never see that person again. In a small country town that person might be the parent of your kid’s best friend, or someone you share a train carriage with on your daily commute or even just someone you see every time you go to the supermarket. So you should treat everyone like they are your friend and neighbour, because an enemy in a small town can make your life hell.


Brigid Delaney

The GuardianTramp

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