Photo by Jono Roe - a helpful sign letting us know we really are in the middle of nowhere.

I’m in Bourke at the moment.  We had a wedding in the Hunter Valley last weekend, so we decided to keep going west to Dubbo and then Bourke in outback New South Wales.  Every time I come out to the country I’m confronted with the fact that I’m raising my child in the city.  As cities go, Sydney’s got a lot to offer, but I always thought I’d bring up my kids in the country.

My earliest memories are of life on a big irrigated cropping property on the Hay Plains. Later, when I was about seven, we moved to a quiet little river town in the Riverina, with a population of 650.  I loved growing up with all that space.  As kids, we spent a lot of time down in the bush building bridges and cubby houses, yabbying or swimming in the river.  A lot of kids I knew had motorbikes, or old cars, or lots of different animals.  There was always something to do.

We didn’t have McDonalds, we couldn’t hang out at the mall, and I only ever went to the movies once, but I certainly never felt that I was missing out on anything.  But I know there aren’t as many educational (or medical) opportunities in a small town.  For example, I wanted to learn the guitar but for a long time there just wasn’t anyone who could teach me.  Just the other day, as we drove through some of the smaller towns out west, I got the sense that a lot of the teenagers in the towns are bored.  Most of the playgrounds had been really badly vandalised and grafittied.  So I’m guessing that the older kids hang out in the parks and set fire to the slides because there’s nowhere else to go and nothing much to do.  Here in Bourke, there seems to be a lot of alcohol and drug use among the school kids, and also a lot of youth unemployment.  A lot of kids here move away or travel long distances to finish school, go to Uni, get a job, or to take their sport to the next level, which means that often the talented kids end up leaving town.

So maybe country life isn’t quite as idyllic as I remember it, but I still like the idea of being able to take the kids to Saturday sport without sitting in a traffic jam on the way.  Or to be able to take a picnic out without having to fight for a parking spot or reserve a barbeque three weeks in advance.  Or to live in a town where my kids could ride a bike to school without having to cross any six lane highways…  I’ll keep dreaming, but for the meantime, I get my fresh-air fix by escaping the city every month or two.  And for now, that will have to do.

Did you grow up in the country or the city?  What would you wish for for your kids?  The freedom of the country?  The opportunities of the city?  Or somewhere in between? Where is the best place to raise kids?  What choices have you made for your family?

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