John and Fiona Nash and their four children were living on Sydney’s leafy upper North Shore when they decided they needed a change. City life was wearing them down, and the clean air and open spaces of regional NSW beckoned. The Nashs decided to move to Armidale, where they are now ‘living the dream’.
>Tell us a little about your lifestyle before your move to Armidale.
We were living on the North Shore of Sydney in Wahroonga. Our children, Lucinda, 17, Andrew, 15, Claudia, 11, and Will, 3, were all settled and attending local well established schools and life was going pretty well.
John was the National Rural and Regional Manager in the insurance industry for Allianz Australia, having previously been a broker specialising in Agricultural insurance.
I was happily juggling, as a mother does, as well as running a small clothing business from home. John and I both come from close-knit families, and family and friends have always been important to us. Our house was the country house in the city, with a wrap around verandah, a cool relaxing garden, a cake under the dome, a cup of tea or a glass of bubbly or a meal at the ready for all our impromptu entertaining. This was helped with vast quantities of market fresh fruit and vegetables, which I bought at the Flemington markets fortnightly for 16 families, as part of a co-op that I ran with my Wahroonga friends.
> What prompted your decision to make a tree change?
We had our roots down deeply in terms of our home, our family and our friends, and then without us realising, the tide of change began. Our eldest daughter Lucinda, who was in Year 11, became sick and missed nearly two terms of school before she realised that the way forward for her (and the family) needed a quantum change.
Simultaneously, John was becoming disheartened with corporate life and couldn’t see himself hanging in there for the next 20 years. He was very keen to set up his own brokerage. Also, we felt as a family it was becoming harder to maintain family values in what was becoming an increasingly materialistic environment, with far too many pressures and expectations on our children and on us and exposure to many unsavoury incidents.
All of this and more made it an altogether challenging time. Then came the light bulb moment. Out of the blue one night Lucinda blurted, “This is no fun. I want a fresh start at a new school, and how about it’s not in Sydney. How about we move to the country?”
Instantly, we all said, “Yes, that’s the answer. Let’s do it!”
The next question was, where? We tossed around a few places: Canberra, Orange, Wagga and Armidale. We wanted somewhere that offered a good education, an established professional and family environment and the quality of life that we idealistically sought. A gentler path with more down time for our family and somewhere John could establish an insurance brokerage with growth potential. It came down to a choice between Orange and Armidale. Lots of statistics were pulled up on the Internet, but Armidale won both on stats and heart.
Importantly, John went to university at UNE, completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Economics in 1983, having attended Robb College. The alumni network with UNE is very strong, and John remains firm friends with many of his university colleagues, as well as striking an instant rapport with anyone who has been there. John also felt that the area was in a growth phase, with much business potential within the New England Region, as well as being able to tap into the development on the North Coast. It was also just a one-hour flight to Sydney, so an easy commute when required.
> Armidale’s wide range of educational choices for the children was a factor in your decision to move here, tell us more.
On the education front, Armidale won hands down. Both John and I were familiar with the Armidale schools and knew some of what Armidale offered.
My first call was to NEGS, and I spoke with Belinda Hook – who sold me the school in an instant and was so friendly and charming and natural with her responses. We chatted for ages more than a few times over the next few days!
TAS were equally as helpful and friendly, and Pip Warwick’s words are still resounding: “It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than the other way around.” Andrew was at a large school with 230 boys in his year, compared to 75 at TAS. The same for Lucinda, who had 150 in her year and now about 45 at NEGS. There are more opportunities for involvement and to excel and to be noticed in a smaller environment. The atmosphere at both schools is so welcoming and family orientated. We cannot speak highly enough of the staff at both schools, who are dedicated and in many cases go beyond the call of duty.
Lucinda could write a book on how much she loves NEGS. Her health has turned around and she enjoys the daily structure, the teachers and lessons, the shared boarder and day girl dining room experience and, most importantly, the acceptance and tolerance of each other and the resulting friendships that develop. She has embraced all that NEGS offers and is fortunate to have been one of three chosen to represent NEGS at the Round Square conference in Vancouver in October. She sees opportunities at NEGS that she would never have had at her previous school. Lucinda loves NEGS so much that at the end of first term she said: “I love school and I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t go to NEGS!”
Andrew is in Year 9 at TAS and has settled in remarkably well too. He has made new friends with both boarders and day boys and has involved himself with sport and music, as well as the fabulous outdoor program. At TAS they keep the boys very busy, especially when they are representing the school in sport, so Andrew is often away, but this is a good thing for boys. He also joined the Armidale Pipe Band, playing the bagpipes, and has played at the Anzac Service in Armidale and at TAS, as well as at the Cadet Dinner.
Claudia is in Year 5 at St John’s Junior School and again has a small class size of 18, which suits her well. She is thriving and is involved in almost too many activities, but she is loving it. It has done wonders for her confidence. She adores her riding lessons at NEGS and has also taken up horse vaulting, recently competing with the inaugural NEGS team at the State Championships.
Wee William aged 3 is at St John’s Junior School in Transition 3, two days a week and also attends Adventureland Preschool one day a week. He loves both of his schools and both are a refreshing change from the purpose built, regulated, regimented and expensive, astro-turfed Sydney alternative – and parking is a breeze!
It is so much easier for me with the children in Armidale. With no traffic and everything so close, it means that we watch more of their sport and activities than we could in Sydney. And with NEGS and TAS providing morning tea and lunch for the children, getting out the door is a breeze. The benefits to them socially, conversing at a table is far reaching, and I’m sure it breaks down the barriers between boarders and day students, as well as groups.
> Now that you are settled in Armidale, what are the things you like about the city?
We have all settled well into our new life in Armidale. We were very fortunate to be able to rent a beautiful house in town, which made us feel instantly at home, and we were welcomed at every turn by everyone’s friendliness and inclusivity.
We are loving the sense of space, clean air, lack of humidity and, so far, the excitement of the distinct seasons. It makes all the difference to drive the children to school and pass a flock of sheep and to see a frost or a beautiful crisp blue sky.
Now we rejoice at the ease of getting about and joke about how irritating it is to get caught at one of the two sets of traffic lights. From a family perspective, we have more down time and everyone is more relaxed. Shopping is great too. I was never one for the Sydney Westfield experience, but instead love the specialty shops and being able to get a park, often outside, and to get personal service.
John feels liberated running his own business. He established Oracle Insurance Solutions, an insurance brokerage offering general and life insurance. He had an official launch in May, which Richard Torbay MP kindly opened.
> What would be your advice to other people living in the city contemplating a ‘tree change’?
My advice is do it! You won’t regret it, and you will all benefit. Our lovely new neighbours are Peter and Jenny Bailey, who run Country Week. Peter said to me that most city-siders have no idea what regional Australia has to offer, as the media portrays all the negative aspects of drought and the lack of jobs and opportunities. Nearly all the people we have met are successful either as professionals or in business, and they all seem prosperous and have time for family, friends and pursuing outside interests. Our city friends say that we are ‘living the dream’, which says it all.
> Thank you Fiona.