Country Change popular, still presenting hurdles

The idea of a ‘tree change’ or ‘country change’ has been growing in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic began, with fewer people, cleaner air and more affordable property prices in the bush. 

However, access to jobs still provides a barrier for some ‘tree changers’ or ‘returners’.

A new ‘Country Change’ magazine, launched last spring by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, is helping urge city folk to consider relocating to the Riverina, highlighting local case studies and statistics as reasons to make the move.

The magazine includes interviews with Courabyra Winery co-owner Cathy Gairn, David Bray and Louise Freckleton’s Highfield Farm and Woodland, the Tumut Golf Course and more.

The magazine describes itself as ‘your guide to the ultimate country change’, especially focussing on the affordability of living in the Riverina.

Pulling statistics from the 2011 and 2016 census, 39 per cent of Australians change their address every five years – well above the international average of 21 per cent. Over the 2011-16 time period, the census data showed 1.2 million Australians moved to and around regional Australia, with millennials more likely to choose the regions because of housing affordability, the opportunity for rapid career advancement and better lifestyle choices. 

According to the data, from 2011-16, one in three millennials returned ‘home’ to the regions after living in a metropolitan area. 

Those sentiments hold true with current and former Snowy Valleys residents.

In 2005, Stephen Edwards was awarded an impressive University Admissions Index (now known as an ATAR) of 98.5. The score earned Mr Edwards admission into an actuarial studies course at the Australian National University and a career as an actuary (similar to an investment analyst, calculating prospects and risks for companies). 

Mr Edwards now lives in Sydney with his wife, Jessica, who is also a former Tumut resident. The couple said they don’t currently have any plans to return to the region, but Mr Edwards didn’t rule it out entirely.

“Being closer to family is probably the most likely reason if we ever did decide to come back,” he added.

“That, or retirement (cheaper housing, pretty scenery, etc etc).”

Mr Edwards said that if he was planning to return to the Snowy Valleys, it would require an “understanding employer”, better broadband in town and “my willingness to drive back to Sydney every now and again” in order to maintain his career.

In a report released by the National Skills Commission, the Riverina was ranked one of the lowest in the state for attracting workers with a Bachelor degree or higher education, with just 17 per cent of the local workforce qualifying in that category. 

The national average is 33 per cent, with the highest concentration of university graduates in NSW found in Greater Sydney, at 42 per cent.

However, with 41 per cent of workers holding a Cert III or higher VET qualification, the Riverina was among the top-ranked in NSW for that category, just a few points behind the Mid North Coast (44 per cent). The national average was 30 per cent.