Virginia Wong See, Hamish Holley and their young daughter Dominique have recently relocated from Sydney to Armidale. This interview describes how one very proud Armadillian named Robyn Swindale convinced this family that Armidale is the place to be.
When and why did you first consider moving to Armidale?
Hamish and I had discussed moving away from Sydney once our daughter Dominique finished high school in seven years’ time, but in January things very suddenly changed.
During a ten-day horse ride through the Barrington Tops, we met Robyn Swindale, who had moved from Sydney to Armidale many years ago and never looked back.
We spent much of the ride discussing Armidale, the schools and the changes we would face if we moved. It all seemed positive, as we lamented the fact that Sydney is rapidly becoming a less enjoyable city, due to increases in population and traffic.
We had been spending every weekend for the past two years with our horses at Hidden Valley, a co-operative farm at Ourimbah on the Central Coast near Gosford. Each Sunday evening it was becoming harder to leave the bush and drive back into Sydney.
At the end of the Barrington ride, Robyn invited us to come and stay on her property west of Armidale. So, we accepted immediately and arrived the following week for a three day stay … much to the surprise of her husband, Chris!
Our first stop in Armidale was the Visitors Information Centre, where Charlie Winter and Tony Broomfield made us very welcome.
Charlie gave us a map, and Tony told us about Evocities and handed us a booklet full of useful information about Armidale!
Tell us about your family …
We are a small family of three plus a dog, a rabbit, a guinea pig and four horses.
I grew up in Canberra, then moved to Sydney for university when I was eighteen.
My parents moved back to Sydney six years ago, and we are looking forward to exploring the New England area together once the weather gets a bit warmer, as my Chinese grandfather was born in Glenn Innes!
What type of business are you involved in?
We are both architects, and Hamish is also a registered builder with twenty years’ on site experience. He has decided to concentrate on designing full-time, as there are plenty of good builders in Armidale.
My initial studies were a Visual Arts Degree in jewellery and silver-smithing at Sydney College of the Arts, while cooking part-time.
This led to a fabulous full-time job cooking for Gay Bilson at Berowra Waters Inn for a few years, before completing my architecture degree at the University of Sydney in 1996.
My architecture practice was originally established on sustainable kitchen design after researching in Italy and Germany for my 1995 thesis, entitled The EcoKitchen. These fundamental design principles have remained a focus as we have gradually moved on to larger projects.
For the past fifteen years, Hamish and I have worked together on design and construct projects, including new houses, galleries, shops and many house renovations and interiors.
We are looking forward to the challenges of designing for a different climate zone and meeting new people to work with.
Our projects are very much client driven, with a focus on longevity through sensible design and appropriate material choices.
To coincide with our move to the Tablelands, we are launching a new business named Architecture @ Altitude.
What prompted you to enrol your daughter Dominique at NEGS?
On our second morning in Armidale, we were taken on a tour of NEGS by the Director of Enrolments, Belinda Hook.
Dominique was especially impressed by the fact that she could learn Latin in Year 6 and ride her horse at school!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the Equestrian Centre, as it was a rather muddy construction site, but after the two-hour tour we got as far as the front steps – when Dominique asked if she could go to the school!
We had been impressed with what we’d seen and thought it was a good idea, so from the school car park I rang Ashley Westaway at Ray White and we went to see a house I had spotted in the local Domain that morning.
What was your house hunting experience like?
We bought the first and only house we looked at, and we love it!
It is an original 1950s timber cottage that needed some initial maintenance and repair work, but we have now moved in and are looking forward to planting a new garden in the spring.
It is currently a muddy moonscape, much to the horror of some of our neighbours, but we look forward to sharing our flowers and vegetables with them one day!
We have moved from a compact two-bedroom terrace house in the middle of Glebe to a four- bedroom house on a large corner block, so the contrast is great … and I even have a Hill’s Hoist for the washing to freeze on!
What led to you promoting Armidale on television?
At the end of June, Hamish and I were invited to appear on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight programme as part of a story on the Evocities.
This coincided with Andrew Stoner’s announcement of the $7,000 incentive to assist families who sell a house in Sydney and buy in a rural centre.
We had not heard of the Evocities Campaign before visiting Armidale, but we seem to have become accidental representatives – which we don’t mind at all, as we are happy to encourage others to make the move!
I just have to remember what the EVO stands for: Energy, Vision and Opportunity!
Virginia Wong See.