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There’s no place like home (in regional Australia)

18 December 2013

Regional Returners

This holiday period, city-dwelling Australians from all across the country will make the trip back to their home-town to spend time with family and friends. For many, it will spark feelings of childhood nostalgia and daydreams of a more permanent relocation to familiar ground.

But according to trends in internal migration, turning these fantasies into reality may be much more common than we think. Dubbed ‘the Returners’ by research and policy body the Regional Australia Institute, an influx of Australians in their 30s and 40s into regional areas make up an important trend in population mobility that is often overlooked.

Returners are classified by the RAI as Australians who, after growing up in a regional area, have left in search of new experiences in their late teens and early twenties. As they approach their middle age, however, many have relocated back to their home-towns or other regional areas.

According to the RAI, the influx of Australians aged 25-44 into regional areas actually outweighs those that leave in their younger years. This signifies the increasing value of lifestyle, close proximity to friends and family – the ‘granny’ factor -  and access to schools, childcare and health services. Affordability is also key, with the reduced cost of living and housing a definite drawcard.

For Kerry Grace, a local from Macksville, New South Wales, it was the pull of bringing her three children up in a familiar place, and owning her own home, that first led to the decision. Now 39 and having returned over 10 years ago, Kerry is running her own strategic planning and coaching company, and says she hasn’t looked back.

“With the city only a short flight away and access to online work, so many opportunities have been opened up to regional Australians,” she says. “I’ve made so many new and beautiful friendships, my business is flourishing, my kids go to a good school.”

“There’s an authenticity, trust and warmth amongst regional folk that I never really found in the city. I wouldn’t want any other environment for my children and I can see the country values shine within them,” she says. “The richness and diversity of culture is something I really treasure”.

According to the RAI’s General Manager of Research and Policy Jack Archer, while there’s a lot of focus in Australia on how to retain young people in regional areas, strategies should instead be focused in catering to these natural drawcards for people in their later years.

“The pull of regional Australia is obviously already there for many people, for a variety of reasons”, he said. “The next step is for regions and regional development initiatives to invest in the assets that are important factors for Returners”.

For example, the RAI has found that one of the biggest concerns for Returners is the perceived, or real, lack of job opportunities in the region. Creating a nurturing environment for small-business, self-employment and entrepreneurialism, and promoting this outside of local networks, should be an essential factor of regional development strategies.   

Most importantly, however, the RAI says that Returning should be celebrated as a positive phenomenon, transitioning it from a holiday fantasy into a real, achievable and rewarding life-choice that many Returners have discovered already.

Just ask Kerry what she would say to people who are thinking about returning to regional Australia. “Don’t stop and think, just do it,” she says. “The quality of life, affordability, environment and lifestyle really make it a no brainer”.

You can download a copy of Talking point: returning to regional Australia here. The paper shares the experiences of current and potential regional Returners, and identifies where the driving forces of making the transition back to regional Australia lie.

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