• Nick

Exodus to the countryside – it isn’t as cute as it appears.

In later 2020, on the back of the first year of severe lockdowns, Australian farmers began to cry loudly about the lack of cheap harvesting labourers (usually accounted for in bulk by backpackers). No backpackers were allowed into the country, much less to work, at that point in time. The Western Australian government, recognising the extraordinary set of circumstances, were set to significantly interrupt the food chain and the agricultural industry by continuing their lockdowns, thus decided to put into place the Work and Wander our Yonder advertising campaign. This campaign sought to attract young city-based workers to take up the shortfall in the harvesting jobs.

Having worked several years through harvests in fruit picking jobs, I recall decent pay for back-breaking hard work. Enduring forty-degree days and long hours, being covered in fruit juice and flies, and working shoulder to shoulder with mad British backpackers, who ended up redder than a cooked lobster and often suffering crippling heatstroke. You will understand why I was disapprobative when I was presented with the (above) image from the forementioned advertising campaign.

This rose-tinted perspective on country life irks me. There has been (depending where you reside) a 20-30% increase in house prices in Australia’s regions, in large part because of an exodus of previously city-based workers (who are able to work-from-home) moving to the countryside. It results in an inflation of a previously cheaper way of life occasioned by the vapid whim of a class of well-paid individuals whom will inevitably and consistently lose heart of their lifestyle the countryside. The results will consequentially be an equally strong deflation.

As you like it

Shakespeare’s As you like it tells the story of several French nobles who (for varying reasons) find themselves living in the Arden Forest. The play features of a mix of characters who come from the city, some who come from the countryside, and complex love arrangements across classes where some of the nobility fall in love with the countryside its self. I recall reading this play in high school and reading about it’s history and recognition of the cyclical interest in the countryside which is held from time to time in the minds of the court (city dwellers).

It portrays (at some points) an idealised view of the country where there are merry bands and love befalls the players at unexpected points. I believe it is the same naïve view of the countryside (as held by some of Shakespeare’s characters) that underpins the Australian movement to the countryside by so many until-recently-metropolitan-residents.

What we can tell from a play, that is now over 400 years old, is that this type of interest rears its head occasionally throughout the world. I have probably put too much of a disapproving slant on this so far; there are some benefits to this (particularly economic) where a sustainable growth and disbursal of money through the country, and increase of skilled workers can have a marked positive effect. What has a negative impact, contrastingly, is where there is an influx of fake money that doesn’t directly benefit the community. To explain, I recently lived in a regional area that (within the course of three years) created around 1,500 public service jobs that provided national or state-wide services. As I have stated in previous articles, an average Australian public servant earns on average 25% more than the national average. Accordingly, when a small town grows with that much income, and the public service is not locally focused, it artificially inflates the price of almost everything (it was not alone in its rental affordability crisis) and leaves the longstanding locals with a degree of inability to afford the cost of living.

Foraging, baskets & out of focus produce

Despite contrary belief, countrysiders don’t forage for their food. They purchase it at supermarkets, often cheaply. They certainly don’t walk to their local markets with well-worn cane baskets, nor do they compile their locally obtained produce in quaint looking rustic kitchen settings and take Instagram level images with out of focus backgrounds. Typically, the cheaply bought supermarket fruit and veg is stored in the fridge.

Again, I am being a bit of a grinch, however, some myths are better slayed to save the country from more overpaid-flexi-time-fedora&vest-wearing metropolitan types from clogging up an already inflated rural housing market.

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