By Angela Catterns

It was interesting to read John McGrath’s article in Tuesday’s Switzer Daily, about the new wave of ‘Seachangers’. Instead of older folk and empty nesters heading out of Sydney, it’s now young people and their families heading north to the Central Coast or south to Wollongong.

In my day, it was called dropping out. Though the difference is today’s youngsters are taking their jobs with them or commuting big distances to the city each day.

At the beginning of my career, I worked as a copywriter in the advertising industry, and after a few years, decided to embark on my own seachange. The word had not yet been invented!

The old VW beetle was packed to the gunwales when I headed off in convoy with two other Sydney dropouts, up the Pacific Highway, bound for those green rolling hills behind Byron Bay.

We rented an old weatherboard house on a dairy farm for $10 a week. Twice a day the farmer and his wife, who lived in a newer house up the hill, would trundle past on their old grey tractor to milk their smallish herd of cows. The cream was separated off, poured into those big metal cans and trucked off to the Norco factory in Lismore. Those two never stopped working - dairying was their life and their livelihood.

The house had been built of teak, when timber was the main industry on the NSW far north coast. Once the land was cleared, it became dairy country, dotted with wooden houses and nearby cow bails.

 Ours had a wood-burning stove and an old copper in the laundry.

As a city girl born and bred I hadn’t the faintest idea how to chop wood but having been a Girl Guide, at least I knew how to start a fire.  The toilet was a can, which needed to be emptied – by us – once a week. We city-folk found that excruciating so ended up digging a huge ditch and mounting the dunny over it permanently, under a big stand of camphor laurel trees.

There was no sewerage, no TV, no phone, no microwave and no computers. But the fresh milk and cream was to die for!

None of us took our jobs with us. We all found various odd jobs waitressing, teaching and picking fruit.  I found my way into the local radio station … the start of a long and fertile career.

The seachange experience continued for me, when after several years, I left those green rolling hills and moved to Orange, in Central West NSW. There I worked at the local TV station and lived in another farmhouse. After a few years, I was lured back to the bright lights big city and the business of furthering my career and building a family.

Moving way out of your comfort zone is something I can highly recommend. The real estate is less expensive outside the big capital cities and setting up a new life in a new town is challenging and fun. My years up north and out west were some of the best years of my life and I still have friends in both places.

As John McGrath pointed out, with average Sydney apartments now more expensive than houses anywhere else in Australia, the impetus is irresistible for families to leave the big smoke altogether. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take your job with you, there’s even less reason to stay in Sydney, struggling with a massive mortgage and spending hours a day battling hellish traffic.

There’s something lovely about being welcomed into a new area and becoming part of a smaller community. Making new friends and enjoying new experiences.  

Come to think of it, I’m about ready for another seachange. This time I think I’ll head south.