Fiona is a tree-changer. She and her partner have moved to live in Clunes in country Victoria, while maintaining work in Melbourne. In this post, Fiona tells us about their way of life in one of the “lifestyle towns” in regional Australia.
Clunes is where the first gold was discovered in Victoria. It is coming into its own again as one of the lifestyle towns I wrote about in E-change is coming …
I have lived in Clunes for 2 years. We moved away from Melbourne, to get away from the changes that were happening where we lived. They were demographic changes – a lot of international students moving in to our neighbourhood, rental properties popping up all around, and a change in the feel of the community. So we looked for somewhere else and found Clunes.
Clunes suited us from a distance from Melbourne perspective and from a house price perspective. Living there has enabled us to maintain our house in Melbourne at the same time as moving to the country.
… commute four days a week, work from home one …
I commute to the city four days a week, and work from home one day. That’s car and train: half an hour’s drive to the station and an hour and twenty minutes on the train. I figure two hours, door to door. I usually work on the train. One of the changes I had to make was to be very disciplined about getting to work on time and leaving on time. When I lived and worked in the city I wasn’t that bothered about what time I left the office in the evening. Now I’m out the door at five o’clock, because if I’m not, I don’t get home until after eight and that’s too late.
The big change has been at the other end of the day – I now get up at five o’clock in the morning, whereas I used to get up at about seven. Once I’m in the office, the journey’s all forgotten and I just get on with my day-to-day work. I think a lot of people at work don’t even know that I do that commute. They know that I leave at five, but it doesn’t impact on anybody. The fact that I can be working by a quarter past six in the morning on the train and still working when I get in the office, is a benefit.
Working from home is good although our internet connection is not great. We survive on ten gig a month on a small mobile device, which has to be positioned against a window to work. It works but I couldn’t do things like video conferences because we don’t have the speed or the bandwidth for that.
People welcomed us …
We love the country lifestyle – it’s a great community. We’ve made some really good friends. We moved to Clunes and didn’t know anybody or much about the community. We met some local people in the shops. One Australia Day, people said there was a picnic celebration that the town does. We went and were welcomed, people introduced us to everybody and it’s just gone from there. We’ve made lots of friends. There is a wine bar that we go to on a Friday night, which is really a community gathering. We have more friends than I’ve ever had in Melbourne – like local neighbours, friends who look out for you.
One of my big reservations about making the move was that I would lose contact with my Melbourne friends and nobody would come to visit. I have been very happily surprised that we have a constant stream of visitors who don’t wait to be invited. We have plenty of room and love having guests.
Book Town happens in Clunes once a year. We volunteer – everybody does – so you get to know people. It’s hard work, and it’s lots of fun. It’s fantastic.
The country lifestyle is much more personal …
Compared to our city lifestyle, the country lifestyle is much more personal. People know you. Everybody even knows my dog. It will take me 45 minutes to walk down the street on a Saturday morning, when all I’ve gone down to do is pick up the weekend papers. People stop you to talk. They remember you. They ask about you. They’re not nosy, they’re caring. I think if I were in trouble or ill – people would actually care whereas in Melbourne no one really knew me. I know everyone in the shops. In Melbourne I didn’t know anyone in the shops. If you go down the street without your wallet it’s no big deal. Nobody minds. It’s a sort of “pay us when you’re next in”. That doesn’t happen in the city.
The other benefits? Fresh air. The quiet. The animals and the birdlife in our garden. There are corellas and rosellas, lots of little birds that seem to have vanished from the city – like little blue wrens. We have had a resident echidna living under our steps at the back door. Sunrise and sunset at our place are absolutely gorgeous. Having chooks has been an unexpected delight – although they they dig it the garden!
We miss some things …
We miss the theatre. Our Melbourne lifestyle was heavily geared around going to live performances and live theatre. If we want to go to the theatre, we choose fairly carefully what we want to see and then make a decision about whether we stay the night in Melbourne or come home. If you come home, you’re driving very late at night so that’s always a concern. We have limited the number of things that we go to see, which I miss. As for fine dining – there is not so much of it. You’ve always got to drive to Ballarat or somewhere for a fine dining restaurant. Not that we don’t have good food in Clunes – it’s just a different type of dining.
You learn to plan and save a lot of money …
You can’t just pop up to the shops to get some milk. If you run out, you have to go in the car for ten minutes to the shop. So it’s annoying if you run out of things but the upside of all of that is that you go without, you learn to plan and you save a lot of money. It’s not everything on demand all the time. In Melbourne we lived just around the corner from a 24-hour K-Mart, so we never had to plan. The other thing is health care. There’s a small medical clinic but it’s only open selective hours and it’s very hard to get in. Again, everything is a trip.
Comforts of city living that you take for granted
The house has taken a while to get the way we want it. It’s a country house with verandahs and it is very comfortable. We’ve done a lot of work on it putting in insulation and air-conditioning – that’s really helped. I’d like central heating. We’re on bottled gas though so it makes it cost prohibitive. The other thing on the downside is having a septic tank rather than being on the sewerage system. That can pose challenges when we have visitors. These are the comforts of city living that you take for granted.
Gardening has been really difficult because of the heavy clay soil and the weather can be quite extreme – colder and hotter than Melbourne.
Advice – make the move sooner
If I had my time over, I would make the move sooner. Knowing what I know now, I would not have stayed in the city while my children were at school. I would have brought them to the country. There’s a great bus service that takes the kids to really good private schools and state schools and I would have embraced the lifestyle much earlier. I think I just didn’t know that I could. I regret not doing it sooner. When I see families with young children, they are living a lifestyle that my children didn’t have. I don’t think the country kids miss out on anything that the city kids have. Schools are great and there are universities – there’s nothing that they couldn’t do. It is just a very friendly, relaxed lifestyle and I would encourage others to consider it.
Read more about the town in an earlier post: Windows on Clunes.
Do you live a flexible life? Would you be interested in sharing your story with me? I am looking for more insights on how people achieve this. Email me if you would be happy to be part of this.