David Aitken has made the ultimate city change to Armidale . He has moved from Hong Kong, where he was working with the most advanced mobile telecommunications network in the world. We catch up with him to find out WHY ARMIDALE?
When did you first live in Armidale?
I first lived in Armidale in 1990, after moving from Narrabri to study at UNE. I had previously been at school in Sydney and was really looking forward to living full-time in the country again. I lived in St Albert’s College in my first year at university, which was a great introduction to university life and also the city. In second year, I lived in town with college friends and then was lucky enough to be employed at TAS as a Duty Master. I stayed at TAS for a number of years, and then took up a position as a residential law tutor in Robb College.
What did you achieve while studying at UNE?
I received degrees in Arts and Law, which set the foundation for my working life. I’ve had an interesting career to date, and I owe much of this to the things that I learnt during my time at UNE. I also made some great friends here in Armidale, so it was great to come back and catch up with them again.
Why have you decided to return to Armidale?
My wife, Megan, and I were living in Hong Kong with our children, Charlie and Campbell. We had been there for six years and both had interesting careers, but we wanted the kids to be raised in Australia and have a country upbringing. I had always retained very fond memories of Armidale, and we began to discuss the possibility of moving back to this region. We found a place that we love just outside of town and moved here in December last year.
The decision to choose Armidale for us was, I guess, a very similar one that brings other people to Armidale. Education has always been important to us, and Armidale has exceptionally good schools. Beyond that, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position with Wilson & Co Lawyers, who had similar ideas to me about providing legal services to clients both locally and further afield.
Our kids were very enthusiastic about coming to Armidale. They’ve been riding horses since they were three years old, and the opportunity to have their own horses was too good to miss. They enjoy the open space and the outdoors, which is a big change after life in Hong Kong.
What part of law do you specialise in?
My family’s background is in agriculture, and I continue to maintain an interest in that industry, raising a few cattle myself as well as the horses. I have always considered myself a ‘country boy’ – even when I was sitting in a high rise in the middle of the city, so now I specialise in the law as it relates to rural people and businesses. I act for landholders throughout NSW who have found themselves negotiating with coal miners and CSG companies wanting to either access or acquire their land. I also specialise in Local Government and planning law and have acted for a number of Councils in New South Wales. I also act for large agri-corporates, as well as undertaking farm succession planning work. Effectively I am a business and commercial lawyer, but I have also run many commercial litigation matters during the 15 years since I was admitted as a solicitor.
Your greatest achievements while working in Asia, Europe and North America?
While in Hong Kong, I was part of a team that designed, built and implemented what was then the most advanced mobile telecommunications network in the world. It was a complex and difficult project, but the end result was extremely satisfying. I looked after the regulatory side of the project and got to meet and deal with some very high profile representatives of the Chinese government.
I also found the time to undertake more studies and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Corporate Governance and Directorship and a Master of Science.
I think that the greatest achievement while working overseas was not something that I achieved personally, but rather something that is inherent in almost every Australian: that is an ability to adapt, create and ‘have a go’, which is why Australians are highly valued employees in many countries around the world.
Would you say Armidale is suited to running big business and why?
Any business owner will tell you that their business is only as good as its people. Armidale is fortunate to have a highly competent and educated workforce (thanks in part to UNE), which means that it is a great place to build a business.
Many people relocate here but their work (or in my case – clients) are from much further afield. With technology, the tyranny of distance becomes meaningless, so that you can be based here but effectively and easily work with businesses and colleagues from around the world. Added to that the NBN, which is already a reality in New England (I have the NBN connected at my house) will further facilitate opportunities for existing Armidale businesses or new ones looking to set up shop.
What do you do in Armidale for enjoyment?
Most of my spare time is spent with our wonderful kids. We all ride horses, so that takes up most of our leisure time. Aside from that, I enjoy catching up with friends at Armidale’s great restaurants, following the Rugby and reading.
This story was published in issue 63 of the New England Focus