Writer Kirsten Craze, pictured with her partner Stephane Bouclier and their son Eliot.

WE DID IT

Back where I belong

As a teen, Kirsten Craze wanted nothing more than to leave her small hometown on the NSW north coast. But decades later, she couldn’t think of a better place to raise her child. She tells us why she returned

STORY: KIRSTEN CRAZE     PHOTOGRAPHY: SUPPLIED

I couldn’t get far away enough, fast enough when I flew my small town coop in the mid-1990s. Twenty-five years later I dropped everything to move right back where I started so my son could reap the rewards of growing up in regional Australia. My 18 year old self would be rolling her eyes right now. Coffs Harbour on the NSW Mid North Coast had been home, but by the time I’d finished high school I’d landed a scholarship to study overseas. It didn’t really matter where I went, it just had to be anywhere else. That teenage nirvana ended up being Arctic Finland, approximately 15,000kms from home. After a 35-hour journey I’d gone from a bushfire ravaged 43-degree summer to a minus 35-degree snow-drenched Scandinavian winter. I’d gotten just what I’d ordered.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

It’s a cliched sentiment, but it holds some truth. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Small towns can feel claustrophobic to some, but perhaps it’s not until you’ve lived the over-crowded high-density lifestyle of the city that you can get some perspective.

I thought I loved the anonymous nature of the ‘big smoke’ and being at the beating heart of the action. Police sirens, train noises and graffiti were all par for the course. For years I lived in London, Paris and Sydney and was a card-carrying city-slicker. I was even holding on with such a vice-like grip to the lifestyle that my one-bedroom bachelorette pad ended up being home to an overweight cat, then my partner, and then our son. I thought 60sq m in the centre of Sydney was all we needed. After all, it’s about location, location, location – right? Then I was made redundant.

An early dose of working from home

I had turned my kitchen table into an office long before any global pandemic. Within weeks of being made redundant from a mainstream media outlet as a property journalist, I was being approached to do so much freelance work that the idea of working from home just stuck. However, that’s when the old real estate adage of location beating space got turned on its head – for us at least. Before COVID-19 came knocking I had written several articles about how technology was enabling many people to quit the commute and ‘work from wherever’. I’d interviewed property gurus, social demographers and sea changers who’d all predicted that a wave of ‘telecommuting’ would be the way of the future. We’d all predicted it would happen at some point, but none of us foresaw the tsunami.

“We’d all predicted it would happen at some point, but none of us foresaw the tsunami.”

Playtime on the beach is a daily event for four-year-old Eliot.

Opportunity just so happens to knock everywhere

Just one or two generations ago regional towns felt extremely remote. As a child growing up where I did, taking a plane anywhere was prohibitively expensive and a train took eight hours (ok, it still does) to get to Sydney. A stomach-turning car trip took the best part of a day as the highway wound through tiny towns and weaved through mountain ranges. Long distance phone calls were pricey, letters took weeks to arrive from overseas and there was only one and a half television channels.

But small town Australia ain’t what it used to be. The internet not only means businesses can open themselves up to every corner of the world, but it means children growing up regionally have almost endless opportunities. And I’ve realised that sense of opportunity has a domino effect. As more people discover the lifestyle benefits of a regional lifestyle, the more diverse and sophisticated the population of these smaller centres becomes. There are small towns across the country with skilled art teachers, music academies, high achieving sports clubs and expanding universities. And for what you can’t do in person – there’s always Zoom.

Getting back the gift of time

For years I just thought I was a ‘late person’. It turns out that was the city version of me.

Since moving back to the country I’m early for most things thanks to almost no traffic and getting a parking spot just about anywhere. We’ve been gifted time and we’ve put it to good use. Add to that the bonus of a lower cost of living and we feel like we’ve hit the work-life-balance jackpot despite a drop in our household income.

Cheaper housing means less time working so my now four-year-old son goes to daycare just three days a week instead of five. No commute times (and parking everywhere) means taking him to the beach every afternoon and having a backyard means he now digs in our very own veggie patch instead of kicking the neighbours’ cigarette butts off our fifth-floor balcony.

As he grows up he’ll walk to school, we’ll walk to weekend Nippers and we might just go on holidays to big bustling cities. He’ll probably turn 18 and make a bee-line for a major metropolis, but that’s ok. One day he’ll see the light and might just bring my grandkids home to grow up.

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