Newtown to Moss Vale Jan Campbell talks Tree Change

Jan Campbell a resident of Newtown for over 30 years takes us on her Tree Change to Moss Vale © Lorrie Graham

This is a repost I first published this interview with Jan in 2017 and its probably time to catch up and find out how the move has worked out.

Two and Half years ago my friend Jan Campbell moved from her love ” Newtown” and Tree Changed to Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands.

I caught up with her to find out how the move has worked out for her and husband Pete. The good and I would say essential news ……she has found a wonderful hairdresser, Patrick of United Culture in Bowral.



So you moved from being a very inner city person – which is where we met – to living in a regional town…just tell me how that came about and how it’s working out?

Well we found ourselves in the front line of a challenge we thought we couldn’t overcome in the city – WestConnex. We fought many battles over more than 30 years for King Street and its arterial life and the community around it. Having rejuvenated a commercial building for home and business in King St south, but still with a mortgage, we were in the frontline and too exposed financially for people of our ages.

Pete and I are closely aligned in our thinking so we can read a situation and make a decision quickly. We jumped in the car one Saturday afternoon in January 2015, drove to Moss Vale and saw a house that looked like it ‘had our name on it’. We made an offer that week then faced the challenge of selling Newtown. We moved to Moss Vale in the May.

So you were very involved in Newtown in the inner city life, known by everyone.
That’s a pretty big thing to leave…

I still feel teary thinking about it because it wasn’t planned and I feel we didn’t have a choice. I was 23 when I moved to Newtown; I became an adult there, learned my politics and became entrenched in that community. Global and local issues were workshopped in the Newtown backyard – we lived through the waves of migrants; experiencing difference, tolerance, new foods and cultures. We had a sharing economy in the 80s and 90s that people forget about now. I learned a lot, it made me who I am; and I miss the place and its people. But it was still the right decision to come here – ‘evicted’ to paradise!

Newtown has changed anyway and I don’t know that it would be my place of choice now. In fact Moss Vale reminded us of Newtown 25 years ago in terms of a renewing mainstreet with previously empty shops attracting new and vibrant retailers over the past two years. We seem to have a canny knack for finding a place that feels right for us. Yes, we remain mainstreet people living 5 minutes away; but on 1300 square metres of land with additional ‘borrowed landscape’ of the Council reserve at the back. We are elevated at the back and looking into treetops – extending our focal distance beyond a computer and phone.

The most obvious difference has been a reduction in the constant ‘hum’ of anxiety we always felt in the city. We still have worries of course, but it’s not a feeling that we live with every day. I work part time in Campbelltown and am still surprised some days at turning left instead of right onto the freeway. Being mortgage free now, the baseline has shifted dramatically; we’re off the financial treadmill and approaching a level that is sustainable. That said it is a small region with a vulnerable local economy so we are still facing the challenge to earn a living here. While in our sixties, we need to work for many more years to provide for our non-working years ahead.

But… we are not poor. My definition of poverty is loss of choice – in financial or emotional terms. While you still have a choice, you are wealthy. We could decide tomorrow not to continue working and could shuffle things around to make do.like moving into a smaller place, we’re not ready to do that yet; so we work.

What are the things that have surprised you about moving down here?

Finding people like us. For example, meeting John at the cheese counter at IGA. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and initially thought I knew him. He must have felt something too as he just bowled up to me and introduced himself. John and I talk about how lucky we are to have found like-minded people in the highlands.

. It is challenging moving to a new community later in life. We don’t experience the traditional friendship-starters through children at school, sport, church, club membership; and being self-employed, workplace colleagues.

We’re of an age where we don’t have time for pleasantries so we have to sum up pretty quickly if there is a potential relationship there or not. This sounds bloody minded and it’s not as obvious as that but I guess we’re all aware that it happens like this…

The other interesting thing you said to me in Newtown…..is that I’m not a garden person, I did try to convince you to join the Community Garden and now you’ve got this huge garden and you are growing vegetables?

Yes I am. I still struggle with it because it does take time and my whole life has been working constantly to put food on the table and so it’s been a huge adjustment to spend an hour just digging a hole and putting a plant in it; but that’s also been part of the slowing down. Pete is more committed than me as a re-design of spaces and plantings is giving him great satisfaction. I’m into the vegetables which of course is putting food on the table!

My professional life has been in areas that are hard to measure – start, progress, finish… When you put a lettuce in the garden, watch it grow day by day and then eat it – it’s amazing.

There is a sense of self satisfaction that you have living in the city. I guess we’ve been a bit snobby about anything that was less than a kilometre from Newtown – like Stanmore was too far away; and I feel very chastened.> I thought Newtown was my ‘forever place’ but clearly there was more for me to learn; to develop better as a person and to appreciate the natural environment which is hard to do in the city; to slow down to be at a better pace to reduce that ‘hum’ of anxiety.

In Newtown we pride ourselves on being tolerant and enjoying a diverse community but you can still have tunnel vision there…. The city is only an hour and a half down the road, but there was beauty waiting here for me and space; and I just feel more well inside.


Share this Post

Comments 3

  1. What a lovely surprise this morning especially as I’ve recently secured the final missing piece for a perfectly happy life here. One downside of regional living is the reduced job opportunities and has been my experience. I have just been appointed Economic Development Coordinator for Wingecarribbee Shire Council – a perfect fit for my skills and experience. Not only am I now fully engaged professionally, with social networking side benefits; but I get to work on strategies to improve job opportunities in the Shire and work with colleagues to promote the Southern Highlands as a great place to live, work, learn and be happy. Please contact me if anyone is thinking about moving here… Jan

    1. Post
  2. Thanks to Jan for her great honesty. Loved reading this as I am at that stage where I would love to “hear” silence and that’s very hard to do in Sydney.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *