Ahead of Speak Easy at Festival of Live Art, sociocreative trust members have been reflecting on the themes of gentrification, space and environments. Is there such a thing as regional gentrification? Susie Anderson interviewed Gemma Robertson on a few of the major themes of surrounding the ‘tree change’ phenomenon, particularly related to their experiences growing up and living in regional areas of Australia and New Zealand.
SA: In our conversations we were reflecting on Kyneton as a relocation hub for people from the inner north of Melbourne.. the implications of that. Art Galleries and state government investments revitalising regional towns and so forth. My home town of Horsham is facing an opportunity now its gallery has reopened after a one point something million redevelopment, which is why this is on my mind. I guess what I’m wondering is if you see yourself as being part of a ‘movement’ from city to country?
GR: Not consciously. I don’t think our move was necessarily about city versus country, it was more about having a new adventure together and this was one that was open to us. In retrospect we probably are part of a ‘movement’ but then again our neighbours [in Kyneton] did the same thing 30 years ago. I think the ‘movements’ happen in waves.
SA: I think so too. I also think it’s beautiful that you wanted to embark on a new adventure together. I think it really personalises that transition from city to country. Do property prices in metropolitan areas make this kind of thing inevitable?
GR: I guess so. The lower cost of property here means that we can live within our means which was proving difficult in the city. It’s interesting though, because prices are rising here too, so people are looking to the smaller surrounding towns and then the cycle begins again.
SA: Yeah. It seems like a natural progression. From my perspective I see transport and public transport as a big ticket item here. If people keep their jobs in the city but move to the country for the lower cost property market, there needs to be infrastructure surrounding it and I guess support from government schemes. My town, Horsham, was too far to commute and you can’t even get the Vline all the way there. So for some, the tree change still requires a certain amount of proximity. (Of course there’s the option of working in your town too.) I’m wondering, given the investment of moving two working people with a child, is country living giving your family what you wanted it to?
GR: It is actually. But I’m not sure if that’s because it’s the country, or because lots of good people are gathered in one place. Maybe a combination of both. Sometimes when I’m skipping down Piper Street, waving at every second person I meet, I feel like girl from Happy-Go-Lucky. But then sometimes you just can’t be arsed and you have to dodge people at the supermarket by hiding behind the frozen vegetable freezer. And the thing is, you have to remember that for every one of me who loves it and thinks they’ve found their place, there’s someone else who hates it. Today, in the IGA, I was served by a young man whose answer when I said “hello, how’s it going?” was “shit, it’s the same old shit everyday and I can’t stand it.” “You need to get out of here”, I said. “Fuck yes”, he replied. “Where will you go?”, said I. “Anywhere but here”, said he. And I kid you not, No Surrender by Bruce Springsteen was blaring out of the shop speakers.
SA: So funny. I think it’s really important for us to have perspective on our lot in life. Sometimes in my memories of growing up in regional Victoria all I can remember is the dust and the crunchy grass on the walk across the oval. Horsham’s quite different to Kyneton, not just because of the distance, but also its cache is not that it was on the fringes of the Goldfields and Macedon ranges. It’s got sheepfarming, canola and some mining traditions. So there’s a big grains research institute out there, which attracted people from all over to relocate. It was a good place to grow up though. Had you experience living in such a town before? Did that influence your decision to move?
GR: Yes, I grew up in a smallish regional town in New Zealand and my husband grew up in the Kyneton of Scotland. I wanted to move to the city as soon as humanly possible and swore I would never return to a small town. But I didn’t mention that to the young man from the IGA.
SA: I was the same. Going to university felt like coming up for air. I had no option like city based 18 year olds to live at home. Looking back on it now I can’t believe I did all those firsts at the same time, but it was just what I had to do. What was it like for you to set up roots in a small town?
GR: Hard, but I don’t think it’s any different from trying to settle in anywhere else. It just takes time to find your peeps.
SA: I really struggled in Melbourne trying to find new friends. I thought I would finally find ‘my people’ at university who were interested in the same weird music and art and books as me. It didn’t work out like I thought. And now I have made another move for a job. It’s kind of good to be at this point in my life where I have the flexibility to do this kind of relocating. Do you see yourself staying there for 10, 15 years?
GR: We’ve been here for over 5 years now and that’s the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere. I think we’ve got another 5 or so years in us, until my son’s finished high school, and then I’d like to go off and have another adventure. But I must admit, something tells me we might just end up back here.
Image / Victorian Places