‘Why would you come back?’ The stigma of returning to your regional hometown

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A sense of failure can hang around the country kids who don’t move to the bright city lights, to the land of multi-lane highways, merging and public transport.

And for those who make the choice to move back, there can be that old “couldn’t hack it in the city” feeling of judgment from others.

Or at least, that’s what many of us who grew up outside of the major cities can feel.

But choosing to stay or return to a regional town can take a lot more guts than “hacking it” in the city, as these three region-dwelling Aussies show.

‘Why would you choose to come back?’

For Jacqueline Engman, 31, her first attempt at leaving her hometown of Mount Isa, in Queensland rural north west, was a short experiment.

After graduating from high school locally and being accepted to study in Brisbane, Jacqueline says her first impressions of the city weren’t great.

“I had a bit of a panic attack in the city, moved back to Mount Isa to regroup and then tried university again and left again for Brisbane,” she says.

After finishing her degree, Jacqueline stayed on in Brisbane before moving to the Gold Coast, and then Canada.

But when she got off a plane two years ago to visit her parents in Mount Isa, she knew she wasn’t leaving.

The stigma of returning to her hometown still follows Jacqueline — but mostly from those who grew up around her.

“I still get it to this day — people see me on the street and say ‘Oh, are you back to visit?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ve been here for the last two years’,” she says.

“I think maybe people who used to live here were a bit concerned about it — like, why would you choose to come back to Mount Isa when you just got out?”

Moving back for the family farm

A young blonde girl with no make-up smiles into the camera, wearing a work shirt and western-style hat.

A young blonde girl with no make-up smiles into the camera, wearing a work shirt and western-style hat.

In the tiny town of Taroom, population 869, in rural South West Queensland, Lucy Ziesemer lives and works managing her family’s cattle property.

Lucy, 26, went to boarding school in Toowoomba, studied journalism in Toowoomba and worked in that field for a few years, before making the decision to return to her family farm.

“I definitely believe there is a lack of understanding about what returning to one’s hometown actually means,” she says.

“It is a far cry from the easy road.

A young country blonde girl laughs up at her dad who has his arm around him. They stand on a drought-stricken property.

A young country blonde girl laughs up at her dad who has his arm around him. They stand on a drought-stricken property.

Lucy said while her friends in the city may not understand her choice, she stands by her decision to live and work where she grew up.

“I have many urban friends who can’t fathom this way of life, the same as I can’t fathom theirs,” she says.

From the big smoke to the ‘pit-stop’ town

A man with a moustache and beard stands in a hospital hall with a stethoscope around his neck, smiling.

A man with a moustache and beard stands in a hospital hall with a stethoscope around his neck, smiling.

After growing up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Jay Short says by the time he had finished his nursing degree he knew he needed a change — and it involved him heading to some of Australia’s most remote areas.

Dr Short worked in the Kimberley, the Torres Strait and through Queensland’s cape as a nurse, but he knew his calling was to become a rural doctor.

Now living and working in Mount Isa, some 1,850km away from his hometown, he says the choice to work rurally and remotely came down to lifestyle.

“I guess it’s this desire to be able to work independently and get to know people and a community,” he says.

“I think in cities you don’t get to know your patients too well and they come through quickly and you see them as a snapshot.”

He says he loves living in the “pit-stop” town, where people come to work rurally or regionally for a set amount of time for their career or to earn money in the mines before returning to the city.

“We don’t see it so much in medicine, but we certainly see it in nursing and in the mines where people come and say ‘I’m going to be here for two or three years and get financially secure and then move on’,” he says.

“If I was to go somewhere smaller I would have to move, and if I went somewhere bigger I would get lost in the system.”

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