‘Seachange and treechange: What it’s like adapting to new circumstances’

Nov 30, 2019
Vivienne and her husband downsized and moved to a unit complex in Canberra. Source: Getty Images

Deciding where to live in retirement is a one of life’s big decisions. We had not lived in the one place for long as a married couple and I had always moved round as a child racking up eight different schools in 12 years of schooling. Neither of us had ties to a place.

We were happily living in a small Riverina town in New South Wales on a small acreage next to the local golf course where gums and silky oaks abounded. The river town was noted for its treelined streets and shady park at the junction of main inland highways. I loved the open skies of the Riverina. However, our daughters were at the end of their schooling and would be leaving home, so we looked for an area where we could work and transition into retirement.

The Illawarra seemed perfect — employment opportunities, outdoor activities, health facilities, cultural pursuits. We settled in Kiama Downs in a four-bedroom brick home with views out to the ocean.

I travelled south to teach and made wonderful friends. There was the beach and the hinterland to explore. We loved the friendly township of Kiama with the coffee shops and bookstores and library.

The closeness of Sydney saw many trips to catch up with friends and family and to attend theatre, opera and art exhibitions. The trip was either by road or by the very scenic rail along the coast and through the Royal National Park.

Going west, up the Jamberoo Park, we could go to Bowral for independent movies, beautiful gardens and bookstores.

We made frequent visits to Canberra as first our elder daughter, then the younger lived there, though not at the same time. Our daughters married and had children, so that we now numbered 10.
On leaving full-time work, we both continued to work either part-time or in new areas. A serious car accident saw an abrupt end to my working days.

Two years ago we were in the position where we had a full social life, excellent medical care, help around the home and garden, and were in reasonable distance from our daughters and their families.

Within a short time five of our close friends died.

Our elder daughter who travelled extensively with her career, moved to Singapore when her husband was able to secure a teaching position there.

We realised that the house was too big, that there were rooms we rarely used. Our reliable cleaner retired. We had too much ‘stuff’. Many of the outdoor activities we had enjoyed we no longer did. The 4-hour return trip to Sydney was becoming more tiring. The township itself had changed with many expensive units along the beachfront and many services and businesses moving to northern centres.

We put the house on the market, and began the search for a unit in Canberra. The process of downsizing and moving is a whole other story.

But here I am, sitting in my unit in Canberra. The wind is whistling and a thin layer of grit from a recent dust storm lies over our courtyard. The magnolia trees on the common area of our 20 storey, two tower complex will soon bloom. The vegetable garden is thriving. The pool is open. The trees down the main thoroughfare, which I can see while preparing breakfast, are once again leafy green.

If cross the street west I am at the areas shopping complex, if I walk across the park I am at a complex of medical providers, then walking further at an art gallery on the shores of Lake Gininderra. If I catch the lift downstairs and go south I’m at the bus station, which will take me to my aqua centre and into Civic, with its cinema complex, theatre and specialised shopping. Short car trips take us to the nation’s galleries and museums and gardens. Did I mention local restaurants and markets?

Best of all, a short drive down the hill, sees us at the home of our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters. And the dogs. All these trips are through beautiful Australian bushland.

I miss my friends, I miss my other daughter and her family, I still haven’t found a hairdresser, and I’m still explaining my medical history to new practitioners. Weekly video links with family, social media, the good old phone call and in-person visits are greatly appreciated.

I’ve come to believe that it’s important to adapt to changing circumstances. Two years ago I could not have foreseen myself here. There will be further changes ahead, but, for now, this is my perfect place.

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Have you had a seachange or a treechange in retirement? Are you looking at downsizing?

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