Monday, January 12, 2009

Blue Milk's Treechange Questions

I posted towards the end of last year about how much we're loving living where we do. As much as I miss the city at times, my heart is here for now, and even if we won tattslotto, we'd probably stay in this house (with some renovations and a nice writing retreat in Fitzroy). Anyway, Blue Milk asked some questions about the logistics of living out here, and I thought I'd post the answers for everyone.

I imagine you work from home but what about your partner? Does he have a long commute or did he change jobs to somewhere more local?
Martin is currently studying education, this year is his fourth and last year. He has a looong commute on the days he's at uni but this has never been more than 2 days a week. He has one day a week (and then later in the year a six week block) in a school. The commute to uni was always long, even when we lived in the city. Luckily he has always been able to make arrangements with local schools. The hope is that next year when he starts working he will be able to get a job close by. The beauty of living on the edge of the city is that there are plenty of schools in driving distance, and in fact some of Melbourne's so-called top tier secondary schools (Martin will be qualified for primary and secondary) are in relatively easy driving distance. The thing that always stopped us moving before (we'd often thought about moving to Tassie in the past) was Martin's work, so this was part of our motivation for giving up his income for four years while he became qualified for a job that would allow us to live in a regional area (there were other reasons he chose teaching too, including a passion for kids and literacy and learning).
I do work from home, though sometimes I work in schools conducting workshops etc. If I need to I stay at a friend's house in the city and she doesn't seem to mind. We are about 15-20 minutes drive from an express train into the city, lots of people do commute daily into the city for work.

Do friends still come out to visit you or have you had to make new friends?
Our friends still visit and we visit them. We live 45 minutes to an hour drive from most of our people. There are a few friends we see less often, but I think that would have happened anyway, as school and work commitments sank their claws into us. We have made friends around this area, we get on well with our neighbours, in fact it's the best relationships I've had with my neighbours since I was a kid. Martin and I also spend a lot of time at home, always have done. We see people most weekends, and I sometimes drive in to the city to hang with friends during the week, Martin often takes the kids to his parents house during the week too. Things will change this year when we're tied to the 9am drop off and 3.30 pick up of school.

Will you drive your girls to activities or do you see a life without too many music classes and such?

I am not that into activities, one of the things I think we get from having almost an acre and kids next door and kids across the road and living on the edge of 11 hectares of bush reserve is a release from that feeling of needing to program them into healthy outlets for all their pent up energy. I like that they have access to lots of space with lots of freedom. Instead of activities my focus is on giving Fred independence - encouraging her to walk out the front gate and around the road to the driveway (a short walk for a grown up, an adventure for her, and a good preparation for going down to the local shop on her own and buying lollies, which I can't wait for her to be able to do), or going and buying herself a drink at the local market without us with her. Having said that, there are dancing classes in the next town (Una did a great preschool class that was loose and easy, but there is proper ballet too), a ceramics class and music lessons for kids after school at the local school, horse riding in the local area... And there will be sport options no doubt, I guess we'll find out about those - and other things we don't know about yet - when Fred goes to school. The main thing we lack is a pool, the closest one is about a 20 minute drive away, though next door have put in an above ground one. The girls will learn an instrument each, hopefully we'll find a local teacher. And I imagine they'll both have their turn at horseriding or ballet or whatever.

Did you have trouble finding good schools where you moved to or were you lucky?
Not really, we actually had the opposite problem. We had three primary schools to choose from, a big one with heaps of shiny resources and a really fabulous reputation about a 10 minute drive away with a local bus service, a smaller one with an amazing principal about 8 minutes away (adjacent to Fred's really lovely kinder), and a very small one a walk away, that is in a bit of a state of flux. We chose the very small one after a lot of toing and froing, mostly because we like that it has a very strong focus on the big kids looking after the little kids and we knew Fred would like to be where everybody knows her name, and I HATED the idea of driving her to school when she could walk. My main concern is that there will be no kids in Una's year, we haven't met many in the area her age, and those we have met are going to other schools. But we'll just have to wait and see.
High schools aren't going to be a problem if we're still out here, there are two to choose from. One is a so called 'top tier' (sorry I hate that phrase), the other sounds really interesting as well.
I should say here that my main focus on school for them is that they like being there, or at least that it doesn't suck too much and that they have an opportunity to find out what they love. I am realising I don't especially desire them to graduate in the top ten percent of the state. I don't even know that I believe in 'good schools'. I went to the same school as my childhood friend Lydia and she's a vet. I so could never be a vet, and I would have said the science in my high school was absolutely substandard, but somehow it was good enough for Lydia to get into Vet Science, or my other friend and neigbour Mike to become some sort of Antarctic scientist. I have been to several unis in my time (Adelaide Uni, Flinders, Tas Uni, Monash, Uni of Melbourne - yeah I know, fickle much? Plus I've been to Tafe at RMIT) and the posh ones were absolutely no better than the others, in fact if anything the opposite is true (far and away the one I'd personally recommend over all of them is Tafe).
I don't know if we'll stay in the area when the girls are teenagers. At the moment I'd love it if we could afford to move back in to the city when the kids are in high school, not so much for the schools but to be able to give them more independence (there's no public transport here, apart from the school bus). But who knows? I might change my mind about that.


  1. Anonymous3:02 PM

    yep. i have found it true in my own experience that tafe is far less full of superior thinking twats. i spent all my schooling at small schools (except in Kyoto, the primary school had about 5 hundred kids) and many of my schoolmates have gone on to become gloriously diverse people.

    our tree/sea/free change has been worth it, although i'm desperately lonely at the moment.

  2. I am agonising about the concept of a tree change at the moment. I am completely with you on the teenager thing, because I hated being in a country town when I was a teenager. On the other hand, I have very fond memories of some aspects of it as an 8 year old.

    Thanks for all the specific answers, every experience helps fill in the unknowns.

  3. Anonymous1:41 PM

    Your insights are so interesting.

    I always thought these things would just "happen," and I wouldn't be agonizing over where to live/send to school/work. My parents just seemed to automatically have their perfect jobs in the perfect town with the perfect schools. I am constantly second-guessing what I'm doing and where I'm living and what on earth to do for school...

  4. Anonymous3:52 PM

    I love your criteria for your kids attending school!!! Kudos for choosing the tiny school, I am such a fan of small schools.

    (apologies to bluemilk) - I always find it interesting that people are so concerned that there is nothing going on in non-metropolitan areas. I grew up on the far north coast of NSW, went to a tiny, public primary school (between 18 and 35 kids enrolled during the 7 years I went there), went to a big, public high school (1500), and have done pretty well academically post-school with my dreaded povo public school education (that is tongue in cheek, I think my high school was excellent in most areas, other than its crumbling infrastructure). I took dancing lessons, piano and singing lessons, and was in two high school bands - there was no shortage of activities. Plus lots of free time.

    Sorry you probably didn't need that, but I guess I approach this topic differently to most people.

  5. Thanks Hendo.
    I find it's even a bit of a relief not to have quite so many options for activities - in the city there is such a bewildering array of circus, gymnastics, swimming, martial arts, music, various types of dancing, sport's clubs... The pressure to find the Perfect Thing! But there are plenty of clever people living out here with things to offer, I know that we'll find local activities along the way as needs arise.