Your living choice to make

Posted on May 23rd, 2011 in Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Back in early 2009 I wrote a blog post that created a lot of rancorous feedback. On the basis of objectively measurable criteria like air pollution, house prices and traffic congestion, I said I was amazed that Sydney continued to grow when pretty everyone who lives there could move somewhere else and so enjoy a potentially better quality of life.

The yells of outrage were massive. People variably stated that:

– they had to remain in Sydney because of their job (must be an incredible job if it is available nowhere else)

– they had to remain in Sydney for medical care (what level of care is needed that is available in Sydney and nowhere else?)

– my suggesting that people would have a better quality of life in places with less pollution, less traffic congestion AND at a lower living cost was somehow elitist (the logic escaped me)

– my sampling of Sydney suburbs was too small (but in fact in the 10 years prior to writing the blog, I had stayed in many different areas of Sydney and had visited dozens upon dozens of Sydney suburbs)

– moving was impossible as people wanted to stay near families (I guess that’s so for many, but on that basis no one would ever have moved anywhere!)

There was also a strong suggestion that it was all very well for me to talk about living elsewhere: my editing and writing job for AutoSpeed could be done electronically, and I lived at Tamborine Mountain in the Gold Coast hinterland – as someone said, an almost idyllic location.

“Ah the joys of writing [for a living]!” said one correspondent. “Delivering the work only an email away, researching only a click away and angry car companies media departments a comfortable distance away.”

So my views were apparently framed within the reference of my unique job, one that allowed me to live anywhere. OK for you, went the implication, but what about the rest of us?

Well, today my job primarily consists in the face-to-face training of people in business writing and reading. (Something , incidentally, I am very happy with: I enjoyed being a teacher before I became an automotive journalist.)

With the change in my vocation, we chose to move from Tamborine Mountain.  And to where did we move? I’ll tell you in a moment.

I see that at the time of writing, the median house price in Sydney has just clicked over AUD$650,000 – a house in Sydney is one of the most expensive of any city in the world.

As a Sydney resident, aged in his early thirties and living in a small unit, said to me the other day:  “I am now realising that, in terms of housing, I will never achieve the quality of life that my parents had.”

And it’s not just Sydney.

In Melbourne the average house price is over $550,000. Australia-wide, the average mortgage is just under $350,000.

My mind boggles at the monthly repayments on houses so expensive.

But there is a different world….and it’s accessible to nearly anyone who lives in Australia.

The location to which we chose to move is in a hamlet in the countryside near Canberra.  The house that we’ve bought cost us vastly less than a typical Sydney home.

And as it happens, it’s a house that’s on a little over an acre of land – so how big a shed do you want for your work on cars?

It’s not a brand new house; neither is it one that is immaculate. Sometime in the next year or so, we’ll probably redo the kitchen, toilets and bathroom.  Right now, we’re doing fencing and painting and floor coverings.

But compared to the average house in a major Australian city, the mortgage repayments are so low that a couple on average incomes could work part-time and still meet living costs. Or one person could choose not to work at all. (Are you old enough to remember those days when typically only one person in a couple had to work?)

From the location it’s a drive of a couple of hours to some great beaches; in winter it’s about the same distance to the snowfields. That makes weekends at the beach or snow dead-easy. It’s about an hour to work – 60 minutes of driving in which I typically pass through just two or three sets of traffic lights and the rest is an enjoyable free-flow on empty country roads. Sometimes, I see only three cars in the first 50 kilometres.

And it’s not just this location that has cleaner air, no traffic congestion, lower house prices, demonstrably lower crime rates, and access to a job. There are literally hundreds of such places around Australia that have those benefits.

Look, if you live in a major Australian city and like it – great. Wonderful. I am genuinely happy for you – it’s good to be happy in your life.

And you’re also in a majority: most Australians live in a handful of relatively large cities.

But if you don’t like how much you pay each month for your mortgage (or rent), or how long you spend each day stuck in traffic breathing fumes, look more widely. It’s not your job or money that is preventing a move: it’s you.

6 Responses to 'Your living choice to make'

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  1. Marty said,

    on May 23rd, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Shhh, stop telling people! There’ll be a flood of people moving out!

    We’re currently looking to get out of a big city – the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks…

  2. dan said,

    on May 23rd, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    don’t you think you are clever!!
    spending two hours per day commuting is not exactly everyone’s idea of a good lifestyle.. to me it sounds like hell. and you must agree that the career opportunities in the ACT are very limited if you don’t enjoy the public sector. and finally, your social life in a small town is going to be a lot more boring than if you lived in a big city.

  3. countrypreferred said,

    on May 24th, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I’m looking out my office window right now at a forest with kangaroos grazing in the foreground.

    I currently work in the middle of the Darling Downs in Queensland. My commute is about 20 traffic free minutes from the nearby town. There is work aplenty here for most technical trades and professionals too. A house can be built for half what it costs in Sydney or less.

    Yet it is difficult to find people who are willing to escape the city pollution and drudgery and come and work out here.

    They’d rather commute from the outer suburbs for 2 hours, and pay half their income to the bank.

  4. Marty said,

    on May 24th, 2011 at 10:28 am

    2 hours a day commuting, that’s as much, or less, than an average commute in Sydney (unless you live in a $2m plus place near the city, or a s**thole near the city/place of work) and i’d MUCH prefer 2 hours “commuting” on a highway doing 80-100, than sitting on the M5/M4 etc doing between 8 and 10km/h

  5. Ford Man said,

    on May 26th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Great post Julian. Even the Vic government agrees.

    Traffic congestion and high housing prices are killing Melbourne.

    The real losers from the current circumstances are the outer suburban familys who commute to the city for work. The inbound traffic jams in Cranbourne, Altona, and Calder start before 7am. Sitting stationary on the freeway every morning must be soul destroying.

    Clive Hamilton explores this and related topics in Affulenza, its worth reading.

  6. Ford Man said,

    on May 28th, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    On a more personal note, now that we have started a family we are looking at making a tree change. However, there are benefits of staying in an urban environment. Being able to walk to schools and shops is great. Also we know that it will be harder for our local friends to drop in and we will see less of them if we move. It is easy to under rate social connections. No right answer, just a case of balancing the different trade offs.