The distinct impression you get when talking to mother of two Michelle Hemming is her sense of immense relief at having found the perfect setting for her and husband Andrew to bring up their young family.
> How long have you lived in Armidale?
Well, this is actually only our second week in Armidale, so we are still very much surrounded by boxes and in the throes of unpacking. We have only just arrived back in Australia, having spent five weeks visiting Andrew’s family in Europe.
So, the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind. Andrew’s Mum lives in the Cotswolds in England and his brother lives in the south west of France, where he is renovating a small hotel. The kids had a ball and picked up a little bit of French – hopefully they will remember some of it, as we intend to go back in twelve or so months. Andrew is very close to his elderly mum and brother, so we have been over twice in the last 18 months.
For the past three and a half years we had been living up in Darwin, and then last year we picked up and moved to Sydney, where we lived for 9 months. We knew it wasn’t to be a long term choice, because both Andrew and I wanted a more relaxed lifestyle than Sydney could offer.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t stand the relentless, zapping heat and humidity of Darwin any longer, so for the moment Andrew will remain in Darwin working and will be back and forth visiting us until his tenure in Darwin finishes.
> Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
Andrew grew up in England, but moved to Australia in 1976 and lived in Melbourne with his first wife for 20 years, then moved to Coober Pedy for 3 years, before moving to Darwin in 1999. We met when I was on holidays in Armidale, and I moved here in 2005.
Andrew is a Law lecturer at Charles Darwin University and is currently designing on-line course content and assessment systems, as well as completing his PhD.
Obviously while missing us, he is also getting a huge amount of personal enjoyment from his work so, for the moment, we have just had to strike a balance where he will see us every six weeks or so.
I also spent my formative childhood years in Europe, living in Cortina D’Ampezzo in the Italian Alps until I was eight. My father was Italian and my mother is Australian. We moved to Australia in 1976, but I have always loved the cold and being up high. It’s great to be wearing jumpers and jackets again!
I am completing my Law degree through Charles Darwin University, which I am keen to finish as soon as I can. I don’t want work at the moment, because my priority is my kids. Quality of life and time is so precious to me, and both are so obtainable living in the country. They talk about slow food … well, I am about slow living!
> And your children?
I have a daughter Grace, who is ten, and Andrew and I have a son Liam, who is three. Gracie is starting at St John’s Junior School at NEGS next term.
> What attracted you to NEGS?
The minute we set eyes on NEGS, we instinctively felt that it was the right place for Grace. We initially looked at all the schools in the area and while we couldn’t fault any of them, we just felt that NEGS was the right nurturing environment for Grace.
NEGS is a beautiful school with beautiful grounds, and even though Grace has changed schools twice in the past year, she feels really comfortable about starting there next term.
The other factor that sealed the deal for us was the fantastic music and art departments. For me, this was just one of many signs that Armidale was the right place for our family – just another thing that really fell into place for us.
I was also really impressed by the standard of academic excellence and felt that the teachers will really guide her and focus her goals.
> What is it about Armidale that makes it so different to other country towns you considered?
Although I still yearn for England and the beautiful countryside, Armidale goes a long way to filling the gap. For me, this is as close to living in Europe as I will ever get! It is also only 5.5 hours from Sydney and 4.5 from Brisbane, and after living somewhere as remote as Darwin, this is a lovely change.
I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like Armidale – people seem to rave about the place; there is something very uplifting about the town. Also, having lived in the Northern Territory, I have developed a real affinity for Aboriginal culture and history ,and Armidale has an interesting continuation of that.
While I saw a lot of dysfunctional stuff on a day to day basis, I also saw a lot of pride and beauty – particularly in Kakadu. I have such respect for the indigenous culture of Australia, and I think it is important that we maintain a connection with the Aboriginal people.
They have lived in harmony with their environment for thousands of years, and I think there is so much that we can learn from them.
> What are your plans for the future?
The plan is to buy in Armidale after we get our bearings a bit. Armidale is a long term move for us. We really want to explore the option of either living in or out of town. I love vegie gardening and the kids loving being outdoors, so either way we will have to have a fairly big backyard.
Eventually, once the kids are a bit older, I hope to practice family law, but for the moment I am just happy to sit back and smell the roses.
> Thank you Michelle.
Interview by Georgie Scott.