Research Background

This blog is largely dedicated to my research project, dealing with identity development – looking at how working people develop their ‘inner pioneer’ when they move from a city to a regional area or make that sea change/ tree change to a ‘lifestyle destination’. This research is a Doctorate with the University of Technology, Sydney.

I live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, and the northern end, the Noosa Biosphere, is the location of my study. I’m interested in the way that places of strong environmental beauty and limited industry encourage people to develop their entrepreneurial skills because they are required to take risks and become more flexible if they are going to survive. The beauty of the natural environment carries other interesting implications on creativity and innovation that I am also exploring.

A lot of people have dual career paths in the study site, like homewares importer/pro surfer, compared to a corporate city like Sydney, and so it’s much harder for people to judge others by what they do, which is very refreshing. Also, the lack of industry networking due to the small scale means that interaction is more ‘organic’, which supports innovation. I believe that these are some of the triggers that give places like Peregian, Maleny or Eumundi, just to name a few on the Sunshine Coast, that feeling of freedom because it’s difficult to categorise people. It’s also my suspicion that the majority of people who come to these places from a city lifestyle and leave within  five years (approx. 66%) are not skilled in that risk and flexibility that is needed. My aim is that this research will help to define my observations and show how people change in adapting to this place, and show what it is that makes some relocations sustainable or else send others packing.

A recent US study on lifestyle migration (Hoey, B., 2005)  found that the main reason working people move away from the city to regional or lifestyle areas is provoked by a ‘critical incident’, often to do with employment issues like retrenchment. This failure of the American Dream is directly transferable to the Australian scenario, except that around half of our lifestyle migrants are lower on the socio economic scale compared to your ‘barefoot executive’ type, which seems to be the US focus – interesting. While my research will also explore motives behind why working people take the career and financial risks that they do in relocating to places like the study site, I am mainly interested in how people adjust to new conditions in order to survive.

There seems to be a real focus on discovering your ‘inner pioneer’ for working people who make this sort of shift where the risk factor is actually a lure for this reason. Many ‘lifestyle migrants’ look to self-employment or end up working in a field very different to that of their background as a way of gaining control over their own destinies.

The US study suggested that the people who didn’t last five years in their new place often returned because they couldn’t handle being caught between worlds – they may have been a corporate manager in the city and after the move they couldn’t accept the shift in hierarchy, dropping from being  ‘somebody’ to ‘nobody’. That’s where flexibility and risk-taking are so important.

In fact it’s these two qualities that define creativity (Georgsdottir and Getz, 2004), and I’m really interested to explore this aspect – is it true? Creativity can mean a lot of things but I’m looking at your not-so-typical ‘creatives’ but people who demonstrate considerable change, so so those who have really pioneered themselves a whole new lifestyle in tough economic conditions. The natural environment is the other key attraction where place becomes a very symbolic thing and represents unchartered territory for people to pioneer – where to live equals how to live.

I have lived on the Sunshine Coast since 2007 and was inspired to research the topic since 2005 after working at The Banff Centre for the Arts in the Rocky Mountains of Canada – a hive of creativity set in a National Park, with a high tourism component and a small population base. In fact Banff is also a Biosphere. Where I live now is just like Banff except of course that I’ve swapped the snow for the beach. Living in Banff for a year really motivated me to finally get out of Sydney and move up the coast when I returned to Australia – Banff was a blast.

The study

I undertook some heavy PR to find people to share their stories of lifestyle migration to be included in my research and I am deeply grateful that I managed to attract some intriguing stories from a great range of participants, from tradesmen to international professionals, creative industry people to self-employed businesspeople, those with financial problems and those who have done rather well. It’s a small scale study of 22 participants, each providing a detailed and indepth narrative of their transition and experiences.

At the time of interview, participants were

  • Working full-time or part-time, self-employed or an employee
  • Aged between 25-54
  • Currently living in the Noosa Biosphere area but have lived on the Sunshine Coast for at least five years; and
  • Moved to the Sunshine Coast as an adult from a long-term city base.

Interviews took around 2 hours in person and then underwent follow up in most cases.

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