Five months ago, Michael and I moved ourselves (and a new business) from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. With our little girl’s due date fast approaching, I was particularly keen to “just find somewhere” and get the move done, which is probably how we ended up where we are. A clean, family-friendly townhouse complex, which really is quite a nice place to live. But since Esther and I have been spending a relatively large portion of time at home, I’ve realised that what this uber-suburban area lacks is anything other than houses. Lots of little houses.
The particular area we are in is virtually all rentals (not owner-occupier), meaning it’s a very transient population and there’s no great sense of “get to know your neighbour”. Admittedly I could start a one-woman campaign to change this, one delivery of home-baked brownies at a time, but with our lease coming up for renewal I started thinking about what it was that was missing for me here (aside from friends and family – that was something we had already accepted, but being 45 minutes from Brisbane we’ve had, and made, plenty of visits!).
In chatting with a very wise friend, I was finally able to put a finger on it. The issue for me has been that I can’t walk anywhere. If I want to go anywhere, I need to jump in the car. The nearest set of shops (a Westfield, mind you) is a few kms away, but the walk is along an 80k/hour road, next to the local wetlands (aka “the swamp”), and I reckon I could get the whole way there without passing another pedestrian soul. In the other direction, it’s just houses, houses, houses, and during the day there’s not many signs of life.
Thinking back to where I’ve previously lived, I’ve always been able to walk to the shops (local delis, bakeries, butchers, independent grocers), or wander down the road to the local cafe. I could walk to the gym or pilates classes, walk to a physio, even walk to the doctor if I was in a fit state to do so! I’d know and recognise people at each of these places, and along the way I’d be greeted by other people getting around on foot or just enjoying the day.
Without realising it, I’d been experiencing the joys of being part of a sort of community. Not the traditional, tightly-knit, living-in-each-other’s-houses type communities (which some people would prefer, others may find too much, but most would find difficult to identify with in modern day urban Australia) – but at least the type of community where I felt I belonged and I wasn’t shut away in my car, just me and the radio, when I wanted to leave my own four walls.
In order to experience community here, I’ve needed to jump in the car (which is made slightly more challenging by the fact we’ve chosen to only have one car, and Esther is still far too little to throw on the back of a bike. We manage, largely because Michael therefore rides to work!). However I have still managed, in the short time we’ve been here, to get my ‘community fix’ in various ways. The best way has been to find a local church (still a fair drive, back up the highway), and we’ve been very lucky to have been welcomed into a beautiful community here. I’ve met some genuinely beautiful souls and I hope to continue to build those relationships.
However I realised recently that I’ve also been greatly enjoying the experience of familiarity (community-lite, perhaps?) that comes from shopping at local independent stores, rather than large supermarkets. I feel a great loyalty to Richard the butcher, who is about as friendly as they come, and would be hard pressed to shop anywhere else. The guys at the fish shop next door are always helping me, a seafood novice, figure out what to do with the latest selection of local, line-caught produce. (We’re on good terms – when I walked in yesterday with my hair in a fairly large, boofy windswept state, all I got was a “wow!” and a wide-eyed stare at my head). The girls at the cafe are always watching how fast Esther is growing (babies are an excellent way to get conversations started), and I feel comfortable and familiar when I go there. Not to mention that they make an excellent coffee and an even better hot chocolate!
So it hasn’t been impossible, but it’s still not ideal. I think we’ll be looking to move to a slightly less isolated area sometime soon. But it’s certainly been an excellent experience for me and helped me to identify a need I never knew I had, because I’d been so lucky to always have it filled!