a guide to life after you’ve been priced out of sydney and melbourne

Realising your creative dreams might not come with white picket fences? Don't worry, the sweet salvation to your pricey urban living might just be a few hours away.

by Wendy Syfret
04 August 2016, 3:45am

Image via MONA FOMA

Last year Australia was named the most expensive country in the world to live. Of all nations surveyed, the Deutsche Bank reported that on average Australians pay more for food, services and housing. Considering this, it's no surprise many young people are finding themselves priced out of the Australian dream their parents and grandparents subscribed to. White picket fences now come with million dollar mortgages; and if you're pursuing a career in the infamously underfunded and underpaid arts, things are even more difficult.

But it's not all bad news. As city living becomes prohibitively expensive, regional areas (once the domain of day-trips and retirement plans) are emerging as creative hubs. The dreamy salvation to your pricey urban living might be just a few hours away.

The benefits are obvious—cheaper housing, fresh air, and probably a better view than you currently have—but the reality is moving away can also be isolating. It's important to choose your tree (or sea) change carefully, to assure your new hometown is both socially and culturally inspiring. With a handful of destinations emerging as guiding stars for those looking for something new, we check in on the cities and towns that could hold your (affordable) future.

The Blue Mountains, New South Wales

The Blue Mountains has fostered a creative community for decades, but unlike artistic havens like Byron Bay the cool factor hasn't left it totally unaffordable. Perhaps more than any other area, the local government is committed to supporting and growing creative industries and protecting the arts scene. The region's Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise (BMEE) actively works to connect creative professionals and support them in their practice and businesses.

Last year they launched MTNS MADE, an online hub that champions the area's local creative industries and helps them attract workers, clients and investors. Speaking to i-D Kelly Blainey from the BMEE explains, "One of our areas of strategic importance for economic development is the creative industries. With so many creative businesses here, and low cost barriers to entry, it's a great place to be a creative worker." Their efforts are paying off: the BMEE reports that eight percent of local jobs are in creative industries—more than double the national average.

Castlemaine, Victoria

Back in 2013, at the University of Melbourne's Festival of Ideas, Kirsten Larsen took the stage and predicted the state's rural areas would soon begin to see an influx of urban escapists. A research fellow at the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, Kirsten suggested a significant proportion of these individuals would come from Melbourne's inner north. As their home suburbs evolved from affordable artists haunts to expensive development hot spots they'd seek out new areas that were rich in the arts with an additional focus on sustainable living.

Three years later, Castlemaine seems to have emerged as Kirsten's predicted hipster utopia. A few hours out of Melbourne, a decade ago most millennials knew the town as where their bacon came from. But today Castlemaine's literary festivals and network of community focused bookshops have drawn an influx of young writers.

Author Lynne Kelly moved there five years ago. She told i-D, "There are so many writers and artists and other creatives that the town is always buzzing with festivals and events." Local Christie Nieman is more direct: "You can't spit without hitting a writer." The town has hardly groaned under the weight of its new residents, boasting several writing collectives that host workshops, events and festivals.

Canberra, ACT

Australia's capital city gets a bad rap. Sure, there are a lot of public servants, but it's not the place you remember from those boring school trips. Over the past few years Canberra has come into its own: new venues and galleries appeared as a generation of young creatives came of age. The city's inner suburbs are miniature — and cheaper — versions of your favourite haunts in Sydney and Melbourne. Try Braddon for a Collingwood vibe, or Lyneham for a Newtown feeling. Plus, Canberra is less than a day's travel from Sydney or Melbourne so it's easy to maintain creative networks in both.

The town is especially welcoming of musicians: some of Australia's most promising record labels operate out of Canberra — Moontown and Lackluster are mainstays of the city's scene. The community is tight, and very proud. Artists that live there would never think of Canberra as a fallback option, to them, it's the best place in the country. 

Hobart, Tasmania

When art collector David Walsh spent $170 million building MONA in 2011, he threw Hobart under the art world's spotlight. The super gallery attracts thousands of tourists a year, but a lot of people wondered if it would have a trickle-down impact on the rest of the community. Could it create more than a fly-in-fly out scene?

Recent funding cuts and gallery closures have come as blows to Tasmania's burgeoning creative community, but all is not lost. Festivals like Electrona 7054 — that utilises neglected public spaces and exists without government funding — are asking people to look beyond MONA and engage more deeply with local arts. Individuals are making the most of the city's comparative affordability to start projects and ventures that would be prohibitively expensive on the mainland. Nathan Savage took advantage and began Rose Quartz Music Festival. He reflects "Tasmania is a really inspiring environment for events because of its beauty and isolation. As a result we're seeing this boom in cultural opportunity, hosting this festival compliments what's happening here."

Alice Springs, The Northern Territory

The previous suggestions largely assume that when venturing from Australia's largest cities, you're not looking to stray too far. But for anyone really serious about their creative migration, Alice Springs could be a good fit. In recent years the country's least populated state has attracted a new wave of young creatives, drawn to the duality of a growing scene and the area's dramatic landscapes and isolation. Yo Bell moved to Alice Springs two years ago to work in creative production and writing, she reflects, "If you can handle the sweat, it's possibly Australia's best place to reinvent yourself."

But there is more here than the setting for an exile, it's flush with arts outlets. Occasional resident Elspeth Blunt was also drawn to Alice for its creative scene that crosses theatre, visual and performing arts, film, literature and poetry. "There's a constant transient cycle of creative peeps from 'the south' who contribute and learn. The legends who stick it out beyond a few years make art with loads of integrity and quality," she enthuses.

The city hosts several annual arts festivals, including the Alice Desert Festival, attracting tens of thousands of cultural tourists a year. So anything you do make while up there will have no trouble finding an audience. The area is also popularly known as Australian Aboriginal art capital; local galleries hold some of the country's most celebrated and comprehensive collections of Indigenous work. 


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via MONA FOMA

Alice Springs
the arts
the blue mountains