RECENTLY someone asked me if I was a local, in a context that meant local to Wonthaggi as distinct from the Bass Coast region. In this situation the simple answer was yes, I do live in Wonthaggi. But as sometimes happens when someone asks you an innocent question, it got me thinking.
I could have answered no, as I’m not third or fourth generation born and bred here. Or I could have said yes, I have lived here for over seventeen years, the longest I have lived anywhere, and feel that by now the place has interwoven with my DNA.
I adored the owners of the shop and loved working with them. But the pay rate was very low, and my efforts at being a naturopath in private practice were not proving entirely fruitful. At the time I wouldn’t have said I was dissatisfied with my life, but I wasn’t at all sure where it was heading either. I needed a better income but I couldn’t see how I was going to achieve it. I certainly didn’t want to go back to admin work; I was pleased to escape that when I finally quit to finish my naturopathic qualification.
And I had met Pauline, who lived in Wonthaggi.
When Pauline said she was from Wonthaggi I had to ask where that was. Telling me it was a bit further past Phillip Island didn’t help much. I knew the general direction but, not being an ocean beach or day-trip type person I wasn’t at all familiar with the area. And why anyone would want to live so far from the city was a mystery; I had spent my childhood and teenage years in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and the 45 minute trip to “town” was quite far enough. Being a teenager in an isolated suburb with virtually no public transport was a nightmare. Fancy anyone choosing to live nearly two hours from civilisation!
However, visiting here I discovered a magnificent coastline, interesting history and some superb views. And affordable house prices, I noticed. Pauline had just been given notice to move out of her rented accommodation, for the second time in six months, and I saw an opportunity to buy a house myself and put her in it. Buy us both some security, I thought; a reliable tenant (Pauline) renting from a sympathetic landlord (me). And it would get me into the housing market at a price even I could afford, even if it was some distance from “civilisation”.
That worked fine for several months, until we both got sick of debating whose turn it was to make the trip between residences on weekends, and I couldn’t see the sense of paying rent in Melbourne that seriously stretched my budget when I had my own house. I made arrangements to stay with someone two nights a week so I could keep my job in Carlisle Street, packed up and relocated in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2002 with Pauline here. Predictably perhaps, commuting and sleeping on someone’s study floor every week for six months also became unworkable so finally I quit the health food shop, too, and stayed put here.
I was miserable for two years.
If it had been hard getting a practice going in Melbourne I had been extremely naive imagining it would be any easier anywhere else; my marketing skills were obviously lacking and needed to be exceptional to make headway in a regional town that already had several natural therapists. Without bookkeeping or IT skills, admin work of the kind I was used to was non-existent, and I was over-qualified for most retail work. I missed the anonymity of the city, and how everything is laid on; want to see an arthouse movie, buy unique clothing or find obscure ingredients? Just down the road.
To cut the sad story short, eventually I found my way into work and connection with people and I’m still here.
I still love the city and fit right back in whenever I go there; staring straight ahead when walking, being utterly anonymous, and nonchalantly tapping my Myki on and off like a real townie. But I don’t have any reason to actually miss it. What would I have been doing if I had stayed in Melbourne? I have absolutely no idea, and can’t imagine. And by now, I don’t even care. Life is magical here…right down to our own arthouse movie club.
It’s a smaller world, but it’s a bit like Dr Who’s Tardis; once you step inside it the universe expands to the infinite. So if you are a bit shy or uncertain but want to try something new, chances are you already know someone else doing it who will give you a leg up, and from there the possibilities are endless. Because of the leg-ups I’ve had here, I can now teach group exercise anywhere in the world, can speak at a Toastmasters Club anywhere in the world, participate at a Parkrun anywhere in the world and make connections with an array of interest groups through people I know right here. All because I left the big city with everything laid on, and I thawed out enough to let people get to know me. I’m a completely different person than I was in the city, and what a blessed relief that is.
Am I a local? I’ll let others decide. Regardless, this town and this region are my home now; I can see it all even with my eyes closed.