New TBS writer Georgia Hitch has escaped the small town she was born in, and now living in Sydney; she sees similarities between the two.
Canberra is a hard place to describe. It’s too big to be a town, too small and quiet to be a city and so it sits uncomfortably in a grey area where you feel it’s sometimes one, the other or both. As someone who was born, raised and then escaped the ‘bush capital’, I have often wondered what it is about towns – be they small, large or indefinable – and the grips they pull us in with.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a city person. It’s why I left home at the earliest available opportunity to move across the world to the largest apple on the tree, NYC. After my gap year I came back down under and took up residence in the biggest, crowded and busiest place I could find. Sydney is bright and exciting and despite the odd homesickness pang, I haven’t regretted it one inch.
Instead, over the last few years I’ve thought many times about why those who stayed in good old Canby and, even more curious to me, why people I knew from Sydney would willingly choose to move and take up life in the country’s smallest territory. In the end, it seems like the reasons some people leave are also the ones that make people stick around.
One of the most obvious attractions to the small town life is the familiarity – this applies to residents both old and new. For the newbies, those who give up their lives in the big-smokes (see what I did there?) it’s easy to become familiar with somewhere small. There’s no doubt that regardless of where you live you discover, and become comfortable with, your pocket. In Melbourne, it might be a block on Lygon St, for Sydney, a suburb in the Inner West. You become well acquainted with a particular restaurant, you know the best places to get dessert and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a barista whose coffee is always spot on and they remember your order.
The difference is that when you live in a small town, particularly for places that are truly small, sometimes your pocket is the whole town itself. It’s a community that feels more like kinship.
If you’ve been there all your life the familiarity knots and twines itself with comfort. For some, the allure of the unfamiliar is enough to pull us away from what we know best, however, if familiar’s what you want, then why venture anywhere else? When I moved away I watched a substantial portion of my high school year move straight to University. The result, seemingly, was everything stayed more or less the same. Sure, there were some extra people cropping up in photos on Facebook during uni lunch dates or other gatherings, but by and large the same people were doing the same things with the same people we did in high school.
Next to familiarity, the opportunities that present themselves in smaller places can sometimes have far greater benefits than in a big city – stick with me on this one. Why be a teeny tiny fish in the biggest pond in Australia, when you could be a good sized Cod in a backyard puddle? Put simply, smaller towns mean less people going for the same positions. It can sometimes also mean there might not be people with enough skills to meet the criteria and they have to look outward. If you’re from a small town (however, after living in a big city I now see there are more similarities here than I originally thought), you’ll know where the opportunities are and how to get them.
It’s also worth mentioning that whether you’re from a small town or you move there for the opportunities it holds, they’re training grounds for bigger and better things. Medicine students or those starting out in media are often sent to remote towns to find their feet and as is often the case, end up getting better hands on experience and education than they would have in an over-crowded hospitals or a metropolitan news desk. Not only can small towns be pragmatic job options, the achievements you make are somehow exaggerated than they would ever be elsewhere.
The promise of simplicity is also a difficult temptation to refuse. Stripping back busy, city lives to focus on family, health, ‘the serenity’ is the romantic narrative that most, if not everyone, living or moving to a small town plays out in their head. (I blame SeaChange) Lying in wait, however, is boredom. Be sure to watch out for that. This is where I should make an important point – some people are just small town people.
I must concede that small towns do spoil you to a certain degree. For starters, the house prices usually aren’t at a median of $1 million, there is space, and you can legitimately see the stars (something I hadn’t realised had disappeared from my Sydney night sky until a few years in).
Nothing, however, will beat what it’s like breathing in a living city, who has restaurants open later than 10pm, where you can see world renowned icons you previously only saw on excursions and where, if you’re prepared to work hard enough, the options are pretty much limitless.
While I have vowed, sworn and crossed my heart that I will never move back to Canberra. Like any small town, it feels like you are always breathing in recycled air. You can never be a stranger and you never get the opportunity to truly start afresh. It also wasn’t until I left Canberra that I realised how misguided my idea of ‘the future’ was. Leaving year 12 it felt like there were only certain professions that I would be able to pursue or that I should pursue given my ATAR. They were in the realms of scientist, lawyer, academic, actuary, none of which I was particularly fond of. The problem was, there was no alternative. It took me moving to Manhattan to realise there were whole jobs and industries I had never heard of before. When I moved to Sydney I had zero idea of how to get a leg up in the media industry and was bowled over when people offered me opportunities – with zero experience to my name – that I had never thought were even a possibility.
Although, I am most definitely not immune from the small town pull, and the more I run, one day it may drag me back.
But not just yet.