"What have we done with this child?"
That was the question Maria and Andrew Chatfield stopped to ask themselves as they approached their oldest son's 14th birthday.
With three of their four children suffering from chronic health conditions, the Kiama family had yet to enjoy even a single holiday together.
"We just wanted to get some life back," said Maria, who was working as a head teacher at Kiama High at the time.
Deciding drastic change was needed, Maria successfully applied for a school transfer to Far North Queensland, taking a pay cut and a step down in the process.
Meantime, Andrew took a leap of faith by giving up his job as youth services manager at Kiama council without another one to go to.
But with the proceeds of the sale of their coastal home, the couple bought into the cheaper Cairns housing market and are now mortgage free, with a disposable income for the first time since having kids.
"We would pay all our bills and have everything paid for, lived in a beautiful home and all that but had no leftover money just to go on a day trip somewhere," Maria said.
"Like right now we can go somewhere and spend up to $200, $300 if we have to and it's not going to kill us.
"We didn't have that in Kiama. I remember not being able to afford to even take the kids to see a movie because I was just always paying to live."
Maria looks back at the move as a "massive risk" that has ultimately paid off her family, despite the challenges.
"There's been hard times, there's been sad times when you grieve home and you grieve your family and friends.
"It was hard watching the kids go through that but at no point did we ever turn around and go 'this isn't worth it', even when Andrew was job-hopping before he found the position he's been in for a little while now.
"We've made the decision, we've stuck with the plan and certainly the positives outweigh the negatives."
(It) doesn't mean we will ever barrack for the Maroons. We will never, ever ever.
A fan of regional Queensland's friendly people and relaxed vibe, Maria said the family will never return to NSW.
"I miss my family and friends, but you make connections all the time that fill your cup, and the world is definitely smaller with technology," Maria said.
"Being up here and having no-one else but each other has really made us a very close-knit family and the kids have flourished.
"They have very fond memories of Kiama but I can't see any of them moving back.
"I think they're complete and utter converts, but that doesn't mean we will ever barrack for the Maroons. We will never, ever ever."
What she misses: "The bush, landscape and, on hot summer days, the milder climate. Obviously family and friends."
What she doesn't miss: "All the over-regulation and the 'business of life'."
By the time the Johansens were in a position to start thinking about home ownership, a quick scan of property listings made it clear their dream of buying on the outskirts of the Illawarra was beyond reach.
"We wanted more of a country lifestyle with a small and caring community, however we didn't have the millions to afford it near Wollongong," Jessica said.
The couple approached their national search for a new home with a spirit of adventure and three wishes: It had to be affordable, rural but also close enough to the city to commute.
Tasmania's Huon Valley - not far from Hobart with an "excellent" community vibe - ticked two of the boxes.
While Tasmania was also in the thick of a housing crisis, they decided it was where they wanted to raise their two kids.
"We were lucky to find a rental," Jessica said. "Like, really lucky."
"As far as buying, our neighbours just sold their three-bed highway property for $950,000 - in the arse end of Tassie!
"But we aren't paying an exorbitant amount of rent for a crumbly old building.
"Things are more expensive, however we don't spend as much money on stuff we don't need because the lifestyle is amazing."
While Jessica had four job offers in the first month of arrival and her husband had secured employment before leaving, the move has not been without its rocky moments.
"The challenge my husband and I found was relying on each other more, without the support network of family and friends," Jessica said.
"We really put ourselves out there and made new friends and our marriage was put through the wringer.
"However, I'd say it has become rock solid by doing this.
"We are more of a family unit and have a greater sense that our family comes first.
"We have no obligations, other than that which we make for ourselves."
What she misses: "Sometimes I wish someone would bring a pizza to my house, but we have become good at making them from scratch at home."
What she doesn't miss: "I miss Wollongong from the 1980s, but time changes and progress happens. Which is fine, but not what we wanted."
For the first six months, Emma Spillett had one foot out the door of her new country life.
When her partner, Owen Kearns, accepted a job transfer to Mudgee in 2017, the self-proclaimed city girl held onto her media job in Westmead, living in a unit near work during the week and escaping back to Wollongong to visit family and friends whenever she could.
"I knew one other person in Mudgee but not overly well and it was really hard because I was always really social in Wollongong," she said.
"I had a lot of friends, so suddenly moving out here where I didn't know anyone was difficult."
It wasn't until they had their first child, Reuben, a year later that she began to warm to the wine town.
"Once I had Reu, things changed, you just meet people through your kid," she said.
"I've found my tribe here, I've got a really beautiful group of friends."
No longer keen to return to her city job after maternity leave, Emma launched her own communications business from home while her baby slept, starting with a single client.
Three years on, her marketing, social and digital media company employs three people and serves a range of clients across Mudgee, Bowral and Sydney.
"I've got a really solid client base here, so Mudgee's home for us now," she said.
"We've been here five years and I would definitely never go back.
"I love that there's no traffic lights, no escalators, it's quiet, and life is just a much slower pace.
"It's also a hell of a lot cheaper to live here too."
What she misses? "I miss my family, the retail and being able to go for a walk at the beach."
What she doesn't miss? "I just always felt like it was a more frantic pace of life and I don't miss that at all. It's the people I miss, not the lifestyle."
Back in 2013, Ryan* and his wife were in their mid-30s and living in a comfortably renovated house in Mangerton with their two-year-old son and another on the way.
He had a full-time job in Wollongong and would hit the surf during his lunch break; her Sydney-based job allowed her to work from home part of the week.
They both had family nearby and life was good, so Ryan wasn't entirely sure what compelled him to start scanning the national job ads.
"I think we just felt like we'd set down our roots too early and maybe life was too easy."
You could be away from Wollongong for a week or 10 years, the feeling you get when driving down Mount Ousley never gets old.
Before long he was offered a job in Brisbane and the couple thought "yeah let's do it".
Wellington Point, a seaside suburb 25kms south-east of Brisbane, became home for the next five-and-a-half years, a time they look back on fondly.
"Brisbane's a very easy lifestyle, very slow paced," Ryan said.
"We were very lucky to be living in a lovely area.
"Our kind neighbours allowed us to leave our boat moored in their yard, which was Moreton Bay, so I enjoyed the ease of getting out on the water."
In the beginning, they relished the independence of living away from loved ones.
"We felt really liberated not knowing anyone, not having any commitments, and just having ourselves to answer to," Ryan said.
"Then we became pregnant with our third son, so it was just our little family and we could be quite selfish with our time.
"We probably didn't realise that's what we were wanting when we were in Wollongong, but when we moved up to Brisbane we were like 'wow, this is great'.
"But slowly, slowly that sort of changes and when you come back to Wollongong to see family and friends, getting back on the plane to return to Brisbane became a little bit harder each time I think."
Then Ryan's father-in-law suffered a major health scare, making the decision to move back to their hometown an easy one.
"Coming back to Wollongong, that's when you realise 'wow, this is everything we'd hoped for, everything seemed brighter and fresher and greener and yeah we haven't looked back."
If they have one regret, it would be selling their Mangerton home to buy in Queensland.
"Once you sell out of a market, trying to buy back in is hard."
They've since managed to get back on the local property ladder and are content to stay put for the foreseeable future.
"Our children are very happy around the family, loving the environment, loving everything," he said.
"We've got no desire to leave again, but we're also not closed to the concept."
What he misses? "Coming down the escarpment, the leaves on the gum trees here are a deeper green - Wollongong is a lot more vibrant compared to sun-drenched Brisbane. There's a scene from the movie Black Panther when King T'Challa re-enters Wakanda and says 'this never gets old'. You could be away from Wollongong for a week or 10 years, the feeling you get when driving down Mount Ousley never gets old."
*Not his real name
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