Darren Schaefer had grown up in Armidale but married a city woman. Having lived away from his hometown for sometime, Darren and his wife decided that a return to Armidale would be the best opportunity for raising their young family.
When and why did you decide to settle in Armidale?
We arrived in June last year. We’d been talking about trying something different for a while, and we ended up deciding on Armidale for family reasons. I had grown up in Armidale and still had family and a few friends here, and my wife – a born and bred city girl – was keen to get a taste of country life.
What ages are your children, and what education system have you chosen for them?
We have two boys; the eldest is five and the youngest is two. We also have another one on the way, which is exciting – we’ll have to wait and see what that one is (probably another boy, I suspect). They are not at school yet, so we are in the process of choosing which school to enrol them in. You’re a bit spoilt for choice here in Armidale. From what I hear, you can’t really go wrong, as the standard of schooling here is quite high. My wife still can’t get over the number of schools here in relation to the town’s size.
The boys are currently both at the Kurrawatha Early Learning Centre for 3 days a week, and they seem to like it … probably because it has an outdoor play area bigger than the entire day care centre they attended when we were in Sydney. That, and the staff are really nice.
Where do you work?
At the Community Mutual Group – in Armidale. It’s the parent organisation for a number of regional credit unions that are spread over northern and central NSW. There are about 80 or so people working in our office, and it has a really good culture. It has good, strong values, and I think this is what makes it a great place to work.
Tell us about your wife’s work?
My wife works at the University of New England. She’s a Management Accountant and Business Analyst by profession and is working 3 days a week in their Finance Division. It’s been great for her to be able to continue in her career, particularly at the UNE. It’s also helped with integrating into the community. Until recently, we actually lived quite close to her work, and her biggest gripe was that she only got time to listen to one song on the radio while on her ‘commute’ into the office. It’s tough …(?)
Community Mutual is very ‘community’ focused. What do you like most about our community?
There always seems to be something going on in Armidale, be it sports, cultural, a charity ball, or an expo of some kind. Community is about how individuals work together, and this collaboration ensures that it remains a great place to live. That’s spirit, and Armidale seems to have it in spades. It is a bit like a big family, and I like that. By comparison, in a metropolitan environment it can sometimes feel more transient – a bit like it’s every man for himself, and it becomes easy just to focus on you and lose that sense of community. So, you could say I am feeling somewhat replenished.
Plus, it’s only about two hours from the coast, and on our doorstep are rivers, rapids, huge waterfalls, lakes, dams, and National Parks. There are plenty of things to experience if you’re into the outdoors.
What do you enjoy doing as a family unit?
We pretty much just find ways to enjoy each other’s company. We are still discovering (and in my case rediscovering) many of the local attractions. We bought a second hand camper trailer a couple of months ago, so we’ll be putting it through its paces when the weather warms up a bit.
Your advice to families living in Sydney, as to why they should move to Armidale?
That’s a tough one, as every family’s circumstances are unique. However, the commonality we all share is time, and the increasing lack of it. This becomes particularly apparent when you have family, and it remains the same no matter where you live. However, what I have found is that a regional centre offers you a bit of extra time, and if you use it effectively, that’s when you really begin to experience the benefits of relocating.
Armidale as a choice for families is terrific. It’s kind of like one big crèche – but it’s not all for the kids. This actually goes to one of the biggest fears about moving from a city, which is: forgoing opportunity and experiences. That, and the perception that everyone north of Hornsby is permanently in trackie daks, Ugg boots and walks around chewing on Spinifex! From my experience so far, this stereotype does not fit with the Armidale psyche or culture – even though at times the Ugg boots and trackies do feel terrific!
The energy and sheer volume of talent in the community ensures that the mums and dads don’t want for anything. I mean, I have been here 12 months, and I have gone to an opera, musical theatre (for which you had to remind yourself you were not in the city), ridden a mountain bike to the coast with 230 other enthusiastic locals, and dined at some top notch local restaurants, many of which stock quality New England produce and are available in an array of international cuisines. That was never here when I was growing up. There’s French, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Moroccan, and more.
We’ve even rocked out at local winery for ‘A Day on the Green’ with seven thousand other equally bad dancers – all of which took no longer than 10 minutes to get to, and parking was free!
So my advice is: move it or lose it people – and by losing it, I am referring to ‘time’.
How has your move personally satisfied you?
I am getting to invest in family and myself a bit more. Even if it’s not doing anything at all, I am all good with that. We have recently purchased some acreage with aspirations of building a home within the next 12 months, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s actually taking the steps and making the commitment towards achieving that aspiration that I find personally satisfying. It’s our little shot at building the dream, so hopefully we’ll see it become a reality soon.
This story was published in issue 63 of New England Focus