Cathy Nolan’s ten-year plan to move out of Sydney came true this year when she moved to Mollymook on the NSW south coast.
WE DID IT
The road to Mollymook
Physiotherapist Cathy Nolan is an inspiration for those of us who have ever considered a mid-life adventure
STORY: JANET BOND PHOTOGRAPHY: CHRISTA DRYSDALE
Sitting in the picturesque town of Mollymook on NSW’s south coast, Cathy Nolan is amazed at how her escape from Sydney 18-months ago has transformed her life. It was a plan ten years in the making and the joy of having actually made it, lights up her conversation.
“Now that I’m here, after all this time, I think, `My gosh I’ve actually done it – and I don’t need a plan now!’ It’s fantastic and I love it. It’s where I want to be.”
In her mid-fifties with a successful physiotherapy practice, Cathy devised an escape plan that was not only thorough, but based on a conviction that regional NSW would provide a better life than her hectic, disconnected existence in Sydney.
“I was working long hours and I couldn’t see that changing,” she recalls. “And I was getting older, thinking `I can’t keep this pace up.’
“The other aspect is I didn’t feel a sense of community anymore. Everybody’s busy, nobody had time and I didn’t feel connected I guess with anything in particular in Sydney. I’d lost a lot of that.”
The road to Mollymook began when Cathy was in her early forties. Working in the corporate sector in a city office tower, she felt the weight of a meaningless job. She feared if she stayed, the road out would be blocked until she retired.
So, ever the practical person, she sought the advice of a career transition advisor to identify the skills that would enable her to live and work in a regional town one day. Studying physiotherapy and establishing her own practice was the result.
“I look back in amazement, because I went through that process with vision and hope. I thought, if it doesn’t work out, there was nothing lost, but at least I’d been brave enough to make the change.”
“I look back in amazement because I went through that process with vision and hope. I thought, if it doesn’t work out, there was nothing lost, but at least I’d been brave enough to make the change. The funny thing is, it was always about moving out of Sydney eventually.
Today, Cathy runs her physiotherapy business in Milton (a six minute drive from Mollymook) and enjoys an enviable work-life balance. She’s booked out a week and a half ahead, but there’s still time for an art class on Tuesday, a surf on Thursday mornings and fun with her outrigger buddies on the weekend.
“I’ve got this every other day routine and leisure activities to balance things out. I finish at 5 o’clock – sometimes I might work late till 5.30,” she laughs.
While Cathy readily admits there was a lot of stress with the relocation of both her home and her business – and the COVID-19 pandemic threw in some extra, unexpected challenges – she feels more “grounded” and “deeply connected”. When the COVID restrictions reduced activity at the practice by 70 percent, she seized the opportunity to explore a lot of the nearby coastal walks and continued to enjoy outdoor activities with new friends, albeit at a safe social distance.
“I’m really enjoying having company and going out and doing things. I love the surfing group that’s run for all the girls. A message will go out saying, `We’re going to the beach, who wants to come?’ So I just take my board down, surf and go for a coffee or brunch afterwards.
“No-one’s ever rushed, no-one has to be at such and such a place at a certain time. That’s the big thing I notice here is that everyone has time to socialise and everyone is very inclusive, so if you’re new, you’re included.”
“That’s the big thing I notice here is that everyone has time to socialise and everyone is very inclusive, so if you’re new, you’re included.”
It quickly became obvious to Cathy that in this part of the world if you had a special interest there was a club to match it. In addition to the art class and the Beyond the Swell surfing group, she’s also joined the camera club. Cathy happily reports that in a town of 10,000 there are 13 book clubs and they are all full.
The value of community cohesion hit home during the horrific fires in January. Cathy became acutely aware of the risks to people living in this beautiful part of the country and the toll it took upon them.
“The bushfires were horrendous. We were encircled by fire – it was only two kilometres away from us and 500 metres from the practice,” she recalls, as if images of red-hot flames and the smell of thick smoke are flooding her thoughts.
“That awful day on the 31st (of January) I was down at the beach in the morning and as I was driving back I could see big plumes of smoke. It was at Little Forest, and I knew people there – that’s the terrible part, you know people in those locations
“And then all our power went out and we couldn’t contact anyone, and we heard Conjola, which was just across from us, was on fire. It was awful.
The cataclysmic event has influenced her decision on where to buy in the area. Deeply forested areas and rolling acreages have lost their lure.
“Seeing what happened to people’s homes and livelihoods has definitely made me reconsider where I’ll buy here. It made me realise that I couldn’t protect my home or stand up against a bushfire, I would be too frightened,” says Cathy, adding she would most likely buy in the township.
Deciding to rent and not buy a property straight away, is one of the key pieces of advice Cathy has for others considering a move to the country.
“When I first came down, I still had my Sydney head on,” she explains. “And as I’ve been here longer, I’m actually changing a bit – for the better. Now I have my Milton/Mollymook headspace and I see things differently.’’
“When you buy straight away, you may only see a property for ten minutes, you don’t know the area, don’t know how your lifestyle is going to develop – you may get involved in different groups and gravitate to an area because you have more friends there, or you may get a job further out. Things change.”
Cathy advises people looking to move to the country to live in a town for 12 to 18 months before buying so they can make a well-informed decision.
For her that time is up, and she will shortly start what she calls her “targeted real estate strategy”.
“Finding the right property is the last piece of the puzzle,” she says, almost wistfully.
Cathy’s top tip: Research it well, in terms of identifying what it is that you are looking for. If it’s lifestyle, or a lifestyle and a good job – whatever it is you are looking for, whatever prompted the change, research it.
That means doing some online research, but also spending time in the place you’re interested in. I’d go for weekend visits and then in different seasons. If there was a community event, I would go to get a feel of what the community spirit was like.
So, take some time and explore it really well first and make sure it’s a good fit.
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