Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Belshaw’s World: A strange deity strikes again

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 17 June 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

Back in February in The wicked wiles of a strange deity I spoke of the strain of moving. Well, it’s happening again!

We moved in February because my three girls wanted a house with more space. I could understand their position. But to achieve this, we had to go up a fair bit in rent.

Then, on top of this, were several thousand dollars in removal costs. After almost nine years, the old house had to be properly cleaned. Then there were the direct removal costs. Add to this the costs of fixing the new house – an out door setting, getting the computer connections right (we are a modern wired family) and so on.

When we took the new house we had to accept a six months lease. We checked that this was in fact a long term lease, that the lease would be rolled over. We were assured that this was the case.

That assurance was wrong. There has been a change in the owners’ circumstances and they want to move back in. So we have to move out.

Out of a sense of masochism I checked the latest Armidale rentals. As at the time of writing this post, the most expensive letting I could find in Armidale was $450 per week. This is less than we were paying in the old house – a smallish three bedroom bungalow. Our moving costs plus extra rent mean that we have paid close to this again on top of the basic rent.

Let me be clear about this. The current top Armidale rent is around $450 per week. With moving costs, our average six month rental will have been around $1,000 per week. To me, this is an almost obscene amount of money to pay on housing costs.

Now Armidale people might say why don’t you come home? You obviously love the place.

The first answer to this is to say we cannot earn as much money in Armidale.

We are a modern multi-income household in which every one is expected to earn to some degree to support our Sydney life style. My wife is CEO of a professional association, I earn as a consultant/contractor/writer, eldest works in a pub. Youngest is, so to say, between jobs. She gave up one position to try to get another closer to Macquarie University where she is studying and has yet to find this.

Okay, so three out of four are working. I am actually not happy about this. The fact that so many university students have to work to meet the cost of their university studies does not make me happy. It detracts from the university experience. Still, them’s the facts.

In reality, we don’t actually need to earn as much money in Armidale. If we were to go to Armidale, we could reduce our collective family income by post-tax $30,000 and still maintain the same living standard. Add in other things like transport time, and we would be miles in front.

Why, if this family might be better off in Armidale, have we not returned? This introduces another set of dynamics.

I have failed to sell Armidale to my family. Both daughters love Armidale and still think of it as home, but neither wants to move there.

There are family reasons for this. Youngest’s case is especially instructive.

Some years ago I argued in an email exchanges with Ingrid Moses as then VC that UNE should focus on its role as one of Australia’s few remaining real universities. This meant, among other things, creating a focus on Arts. I got no where.

Youngest chose Macquarie because she wanted to do Ancient History. I argued Armidale because this was an area where UNE was strong, very strong, compared to Macquarie. She chose Macquarie because, unlike UNE, she could get a degree in Ancient History. The name of the ticket was more important than the content. UNE had the content, but could not offer the outcome required.

As I was writing this column I got a phone call from Armidale. My caller was worried about the future and wanted to talk. I agree with her concerns.

In my next column I will set out the problems Armidale and UNE face. In my following column, just what I believe needs to be done.

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