Tree Change

Australians pack up life in the city and head for an inland escape.


If yet another traffic jam on the way home from a killer work-day has got you wondering if there’s a better way of living, you’re not alone. Since the late nineties many Australians have been packing up life in the city and making the “tree change” inland to escape urban pressures and to slow down.  

The 90s exodus was largely retirees but it’s now Generation X – people in their late 30s and early 40s - choosing to make a change.    

The most common is to relocate to picturesque places one or two hours from the urban fringe. As social commentator Bernard Salt puts it, “No one tree changes to a dry, flat wheat-belt town.”   

Although people continue the move inland, numbers slowed down during the GFC. They have increased again since, but on the flip side, many return to the city because of unrealistic expectations for country living.   

Property prices are cheaper and more spacious, but tree changers can face increased isolation, much greater distances to travel, expensive petrol, higher cost of living, a comparative lack of services, the effects of drought, difficulty in making new friends, less work opportunities, lack of entertainment, lower pay and of course a very real risk of natural disaster, such as bushfire.  

According to researcher Dr Angela Ragusa, who published a study on tree change in 2010, just two per cent of participants researched their new locale before relocating from the city.

That’s a lot of people not doing their homework.

For anyone contemplating a move, there are plenty of positives like more affordable property prices and better work life balance but also potential challenges in quality of health care, schooling, employment prospects and so on, which should be assessed.    

Also as climate change brings about drier, warmer weather and more frequent extreme weather events like fires and flooding, tree changers need to be prepared to take more responsibility for their safety and that of the family, as well as contribute to the community effort. Emergency services can often be too overworked to help everyone.  

People need to have a bushfire survival plan ready to draw on and also keep their homes prepared to best maximise the chance of keeping it safe. Many people readily acknowledge bushfires are a threat but never really think it will directly affect them and so don’t bother taking preventative measures.   

There are many steps that can be taken, or be taken into account when deciding on moving into a certain new house. For example where the house sits (a house on flat ground is safer than slopes; the bottom of a slope is safer then the top); house design and construction (eg, concrete slabs can reduce embers getting under the house and setting it alight) and fuel reduction. Fire can’t burn without fuel so clear or reducing dry grass, dead branches and fallen leaves reduces the threat.

Tree change might sound like an ideal way to start life afresh, but being aware of what it really entails can help alleviate new stresses far greater than just a city traffic jam.