In the autumn that followed my twenty-fifth birthday, I did something people in their mid-twenties don’t usually do: I moved away from the city to a small coastal town. And it wasn’t just any coastal town – it was one where around half the population is over 50.
I didn’t move for work, or to start a family, or to run away from someone I owed money to. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing or how long I’d be gone. I just knew that I had to go.
My friends thought I was crazy. What work opportunities would there be for me? Wouldn’t I get insanely bored? While my peers were partying or focusing on career progression, I was winding down.
I moved in with my elder sister, who’d made the change at the start of the year. At first I drove the 90 minutes back to Melbourne every weekend, eager to get my city fix. But gradually I slowed down, drove to Melbourne less, and began to take the time to stop and smell the roses. I’d saved up enough money from my crappy retail job in Melbourne to go a couple of months without working. I began to spend my days walking through the bush or along the cliff tops, marvelling at nature, reading, painting or generally pottering around. I joked that I was retired. Life was sweet.
I didn’t know exactly what I was doing or how long I’d be gone. I just knew that I had to go. Photo: Jane Hone
What work opportunities would there be for me? Wouldn’t I get insanely bored?
Then winter hit. If the town felt quiet before, it was a ghost town now. I found a job working in a store two days a week, and wondered how my boss paid my wages on the days when only one customer came in. At home we had no heating apart from a kinara fireplace, which was hard for two city girls to maintain. I started to get chilblains. I realised how isolated my sister and I were. My parents filled the spare room at their place in the city, which meant I couldn’t go running back to Melbourne, even if I wanted to. I felt like I was on a desert island and someone had taken away my rowboat.
When spring came, I started working at a health spa – the second biggest employer in the region – and suddenly my world opened up. I now had 250 workmates. Every time I walked past someone at work, they smiled and said hello, and I wondered if I had inadvertently joined some kind of cult. Then I realised it was a small town thing called “community”. I made friends. I went to social events. I got into yoga and began learning to surf. I fell in love. On trips to Melbourne I found myself resenting the traffic, the queues for restaurants and the rapidly changing trends. Even though the city isn’t that far away, most of the things considered cool or fashionable in Melbourne don’t make it down here, and it’s strangely liberating.
While my peers were partying or focusing on career progression, I was winding down. Photo: Jane Hone
And perhaps best of all, I finally started using my university degree and got work writing for a local magazine, which opened up the door for more writing work. What was that about no opportunities?
A friend once told me that you need to live somewhere for 1000 days before it becomes your home. Right now I’m at 993 days. I miss the city for its colour and variety: the amazing food options, the never-ending festivals and events; the arts scene. I wish my local supermarket was open past 8pm. But when I come home in the evenings there is the starry, starry night above me and the sound of ocean waves crashing in the distance, and I know I’m in the right place for now. Slowing down and taking stock is one of the best things this twentysomething ever did.