A Tree Change

My name is Christian Phoenix, and I used to be a graphic designer living modestly in the western suburbs of Brisbane.

My wife and I decided we'd had enough of traffic, queues, tolls, and huge living costs. We decided to take a chance, pack it all up, and make a simpler life for ourselves and our family.

We decided to make a tree change.
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Summer in Townsville

Wow. It was hot. Just shy of 40°c during the day, and lucky to get under 30°c at night.

It reduced working on the caravan to short spurts broken up by large breaks hiding in air-conditioning during the days.

Before long the hot summer brought with it Cyclone Yasi, a category 5 monster that had the threat of plowing straight over the top of us.

We braced ourselves for the worst, and as Yasi rolled in we spent the night on a mattress under the house. Yasi came in great howling gusts, like waves on a rising tide. Every wave was more powerful than the last, every ease was less relaxed than before.

By now we’d been without power for nearly 8 hours, and were blind to news and position updates of Yasi.

Huge crashes told us of the destruction that was going on outside, and we were genuinely worried that flying debris would knock the house down at any moment.

It was an odd combination of excitement, fear, and awe that we felt. And it just kept going. The power, I cannot express the sheer power that we witnessed.

Needless to say, it was a very restless night.

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.
Heading North
Our trip began by traveling north to Townsville, where we’d made plans to spend the summer of 2010. As many will remember, that summer was the wettest summer we’d had in Queensland (and indeed all of Australia) for decades.
It rained.
It poured.
It poured some more.
And then, just for a switch, it kept on pouring.
By the time we’d left Brisbane, the Wivenhoe Dam was already at 110% capacity (how exactly does that work, anyway?) and the rain was only getting more and more frequent.
By the time we reached Rockhampton, the flood waters were already causing evacuations, and had blocked all roads behind us.  It was a mad dash for the finish line or we were likely to be stranded halfway to Townsville in who-knows-where.
We abandoned the idea of a leasurely trip north and put our foot to the floor, stopping outside Mackay to pick up a cheap pop-up caravan Jaclyn’s dad had seen advertised on his way through recently. It was a bargain, but very old and needed a lot of work to make it liveable.
Our dash continued, with a brief trip down memory lane in the Whitsundays, where my wife and I had lived some years before and where we very nearly broke up over incompatible directions in life… I can’t express enough how glad I am those cards fell the way they did, instead of the way they almost did.
After a week of traveling we made it to Townsville, rocked up to Jaclyn’s dad’s place, and unpacked our bags.
It was raining harder than ever, and the news was showing pictures of Rockhampton going under water, and Brisbane’s Wivenhoe dam talking about releasing flood waters because they didn’t have any more space to absorb it.  If we’d sold just one or two weeks later than we did, the sale may well have fallen through and we’d still be there right now, picking up the flood-damaged pieces of our lives.
Craziest road trip. Ever.

Heading North

Our trip began by traveling north to Townsville, where we’d made plans to spend the summer of 2010. As many will remember, that summer was the wettest summer we’d had in Queensland (and indeed all of Australia) for decades.

It rained.

It poured.

It poured some more.

And then, just for a switch, it kept on pouring.

By the time we’d left Brisbane, the Wivenhoe Dam was already at 110% capacity (how exactly does that work, anyway?) and the rain was only getting more and more frequent.

By the time we reached Rockhampton, the flood waters were already causing evacuations, and had blocked all roads behind us.  It was a mad dash for the finish line or we were likely to be stranded halfway to Townsville in who-knows-where.

We abandoned the idea of a leasurely trip north and put our foot to the floor, stopping outside Mackay to pick up a cheap pop-up caravan Jaclyn’s dad had seen advertised on his way through recently. It was a bargain, but very old and needed a lot of work to make it liveable.

Our dash continued, with a brief trip down memory lane in the Whitsundays, where my wife and I had lived some years before and where we very nearly broke up over incompatible directions in life… I can’t express enough how glad I am those cards fell the way they did, instead of the way they almost did.

After a week of traveling we made it to Townsville, rocked up to Jaclyn’s dad’s place, and unpacked our bags.

It was raining harder than ever, and the news was showing pictures of Rockhampton going under water, and Brisbane’s Wivenhoe dam talking about releasing flood waters because they didn’t have any more space to absorb it.  If we’d sold just one or two weeks later than we did, the sale may well have fallen through and we’d still be there right now, picking up the flood-damaged pieces of our lives.

Craziest road trip. Ever.

We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Native American Song

The only thing left to do now to start our new direction in life was to sell our existing Brisbane home and make the actual move.

We listed our home (which we’d made some nice renovations to during our time there) with a local agent who said that properties were selling within weeks, and that ours would be sold in 1 to 5 weeks, tops.  Max.  No probs.

In my excitement I informed my employer that I had listed my home and was moving to Tasmania, and would give them 4 weeks notice once my contract was unconditional and I knew it was definitely going ahead… a risky move but I’m a fan of being upfront with people. A trait that has gotten me into a lot more trouble than not, unfortunately.

So three months later we listed with another agent in a more populous suburb, and hoped that it would have a better chance of selling.

Six months after that we listed with another agent, a very “vibrant” guy that had a very approachable, un-stuffy nature that appealed to us and we figured would probably appeal to buyers too.

One of the first open houses attracted a young woman with her dad, and she put in an offer that was $50,000 less than the price we had on the house (which had already dropped $50,000 during the course of the last nearly year of listing it).  We rejected it outright, and over the next two or three months she repeatedly made slightly higher bids for the house, until eventually I was so tired of the process that I contacted her directly and explained that we’d listed the house much lower than when we originally listed it and that she was getting a great house for a great price.  She must have also been tired of the negotiations, and obviously really liked the house, so the end result of the process was that we agreed on a price that was $5,000 less than our asking price.  Pocket money to us at that point in time - we wanted it all to be over.

During this time we were paying two mortgages, and the Global Financial Crysis was in full swing, so we had no choice but to have a tenant move into our Tasmanian property - something we really didn’t want to do.

The property inspection of our Brisbane property uncovered some very petty things which caused the buyer to negotiate our price down a further $560 (we laughed) and the sale went through. Unreal. We danced like wild people around a tribal bonfire, it was a shock to us that it was finally over after all this waiting.

We organised a removalist, and shipped our stuff down south into storage.

The timing was crappy though. We still had tenants in our Tasmanian house, with a tenancy agreement that wouldn’t end for another 6 months.  We made arrangements to stay with family in Townsville over the summer, followed by a casual driving holiday to arrive down south in time for the tenants to move out.

A leisurely summer with nothing much to do but wait for half a year. It’s not often you get an opportunity like that. We were really looking forward to it!

During the previous year and now during the much more specific Tasmanian hunt the internet was our best friend. Any property not advertised online in this day and age has automatically ruled out a massive part of their market. We were totally and completely unaware of any property for sale that was using local advertising only.

We hunted for any property that had a kennel, cattery or shed on it that could be converted, and even for properties that didn’t have any out-buildings but had the potential to have one built on it. The key drive at this point in our hunt was to end up with a property that had a viable business or at the very least the potential to rapidly and inexpensively set one up on it, and all our searching was geared to this end.

We organised a trip to Tasmania to visit my mother and her second husband, and on this trip lined up around 20 properties scattered all around Hobart to view in a week. It was a crazy and very disappointing week. The thing we learned very quickly was that the internet was the perfect hiding place for every dump and hovel imaginable.  It’s very, very easy to make something totally unlivable look like it was the Taj Mahal. The trip was invaluable though, because it taught us to really thoroughly look into things, make phone calls, and ask some very pertinent questions. A trip to Tasmania was not only pricey, it was difficult to line up with time off work too… so it wasn’t something we could just do every couple of months, or even once a year.

We were very fortunate to be able to ask my mother and step-father to investigate properties that we unearthed from the ocean of rubbish properties being advertised.

And finally, after another 18 months or so, we found one that we were happy to make an offer on.

So we did.

We couldn’t replace crowds, traffic, delays and stress with green, space, nature and calm while remaining where we were.

We had to move. We needed to find a place that offered us as many of the things we wanted as possible, as few of the things we didn’t want as possible, and was within our small budget.

Jaclyn (my wife) suggested that we would be able to make money if we owned a small property that could be used as a cat and dog boarding kennel. I liked the idea, even though I could imagine I would spend many mornings hosing poo off concrete.

So we spent the next 12 months looking around for places we could buy either in addition to our existing home, our by selling it. Nowhere near our Brisbane home had any kind of property that was suitable. They were all either too far out to have a good customer base, or way stupidly out of our price range.

So we started looking outside of Brisbane, with the view to having a place close enough to civilisation that we could attract enough customers to survive, while being far enough away that we could actually afford the land in the first place.

We quickly discovered that the best place to find affordable land near populated areas and with a great environment of mountainous vistas, harbours, forests, and all things wild was Tasmania… Australia’s southern-most state.

The hunt was on.

The Inspiration

My wife and I are both lovers of all things living and natural.  We complimented each other with my love of plants, vegetables, fruit, trees, mosses, fungi and wild things, and her love of animals and pets and all things with little wet, wiggly noses.

Our poison was crowds, and our antidote was green space.

Traffic was our Yang, while our Yin was wind in trees and birds whistling.

I’m betting that the odds are good that you feel exactly the same way.

We needed to find a way to remove the things in our life that caused us grief, stress, pain, and anguish, and replace them with things that made us smile, gave us pleasure, and filled our life with calm and joy.

How could we achieve this?

Surely life was geared so that you had to work in a 9-5, you needed to have a car to get there, you must have a mortgage to afford the house to avoid paying the rent that kept a roof over your head.  You were forced to line up at the bank, or required wait in queues on the phone if you were tired of the queues for the counter.  You had no choice but to buy fuel on a particular day of the week when it was cheapest, and budget your car usage accordingly.

All these requirements, needs, musts, forcing you into having no choice but to conform and be part of the gears of the machine that didn’t even know you existed. Fear of losing the only things you’d known is a big force to overcome.

We found a way.

There’s nothing stopping you.

The Problem.

Crowds.

Queues for everything from ATMs to check outs, phone service desks to toll booths. Everywhere we went there were dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people who were there before you and you had to wait for.

Traffic made a 40 minute drive take nearly two hours… Our entire lives were spent being delayed by other people.

It lead to us being stressed, tired, frustrated, and rediculous amounts of our short lives utterly wasted, never to get it back.

This was no way to live.

Something had to change.

My wife, me, and our beautiful daughter Rheya (our only child at the time) made a life for ourself in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

I worked as the graphic artist manning the sign writing department of Australia’s largest Suzuki dealership. In this role I was responsible for producing an approximate monthly average of $35,000 worth of signage single-handedly. This included website work, shop signage, sale promotions, external billboard signage, motocross bike kits, vehicle fleet signage, and a diverse range of other work. It was tough work, but very stimulating and satisfying work.

My wife worked nights as a house-keeper for a nearby business, allowing us to swap shifts so as to share care for our daughter without having to put her in daycare… something we couldn’t afford and also had a lot of doubts about.

Rheya was quick to build a love for gardening and being outside. Both in our tiny backyard and in the nearby park that we’d visit from time to time.

It was a typical young family’s lifestyle, one that is reflected Australia-wide…

But there was a problem… one that is probably also experienced by many city-living families worldwide.