Who would have thought that this inner-city Sydney tragic would leave her family, friends and well-established networks to start a new life, across the border, almost a thousand kilometers away on the Gold Coast (The Goldie) in South East Queensland, Australia.
This was the place that I’d fled from almost forty years ago with a suitcase of clothes and my precious 10-month-old babe in arms. I swore when I left that day that I would never return, and apart from a few compulsory (i.e. read dragged screaming!) breaks over the years I had honoured that promise.
That all changed at the beginning of 2014, when on a whim I bought an apartment on “The Goldie” on a day trip from Sydney. I’d like to think that this purchase was part of a well thought out strategy for this next phase of my life and that’s certainly what I told those near and dear to me. In fact, this was far from the truth.
This next phase of my life would be like all the others, on a wing and a prayer, intuition, opportunism, certainly not well planned. Whatever had driven me in the past had not let me down. Life had not always been perky to say the least, but I'd managed to survive and indeed, sometimes thrived. What did I have to lose?
My highly successful career had finished earlier than expected. The newly appointed scatty and ratty narcissistic CEO was the last straw. My son, my only child, was settled. A burgeoning, highly successful advertising creative, he’d married a clever journalist and my first precious and adorable granddaughter for whom I’d been regularly caring, would be in full-time day-care by year’s end.
I’d sold my Sydney harbour side apartment and was footloose and fancy free.
I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do next. I knew in my heart of hearts that Sydney and I would part company in the not too distant future. Outrageously expensive and ridiculously frenetic, this gorgeous and great city that I was born, raised and spent most of my life in was quickly becoming inaccessible to anyone over fifty.
Like the marketer that I am, I had spent some time researching possible havens close to Sydney, my family and friends, but they all had issues. Too hot, too cold, bushfire friendly, hopeless transport and healthcare services. I even fancied the expat lifestyle and had visions of swanning in Bali and Malaysia, but the distance from family and friends put paid to those.
I was fast running out of ideas and determined that if I was going to leave Sydney for a new beginning, I wanted this to happen sooner rather than later at an age when I could still maintain my valued networks and friendships at a distance, and also develop new relationships and make some kind of valued contribution to my community. Talk about serendipity. It took less than three months to make the decision that would completely change my life.
At the end of 2013, a family Christmas holiday on “The Goldie” was the catalyst for change. I was seriously impressed and pleasantly surprised by my experience. The Goldie had changed dramatically. This place that I would never, ever had considered in my search for my new home was now on my “to do” list. I returned to Sydney and so began the journey.
“The Goldie” had a number of bonus points as a possible destination for this next stage of my life. A healthy and relaxed lifestyle combined with a plethora of indoor and outdoor activities could easily satisfy the physical requirements of a new life, but how would I feed my soul? I was pleasantly surprised to discover a new Arts Precinct in the making with an already well established visual and performing arts scene and with three university campuses, buckets of educational opportunities for new learnings.
So, with the physical and intellectual sorted, then began the hunt for somewhere to live. I knew I didn’t want to live on the beach, I’d experienced cyclonic winds and rain in the past, but having lived on Sydney harbour, I also knew that being on or near a body of water was essential. I wanted to be part of the hustle and bustle but not necessarily in the thick of it and I needed to be close to transport including the airport.
I finally decided to focus my search on an island, surrounded by the main river connecting the tourist beachfront strip to the rest of the coast and its hinterland. The island is well known for its close community and village atmosphere. From my Sydney base, I searched real estate sites and made a long short list of suitable properties.
A close friend from my past life on The Goldie, who also happened to be a real estate agent, was my “on the ground” foot soldier. She and her husband painstakingly inspected all the prospects and narrowed the list to five. Now I had to bite the bullet, so without alerting my Sydney based friends and family I hopped on a plane to The Goldie feeling quite excited about the day ahead. Property number 3 stopped me in my tracks. A sub penthouse in a boutique building on the river with views to die for, I had included it but never believed I could afford it.
The rest of the day is a complete blur. All I remember is making a ridiculous offer and finally after a few hours of toing and froing I signed the contract on the bonnet of the real estate agent’s car on my way back to the airport. I was stunned. After the purchase I still had change from the sale of my one-bedroom waterfront Sydney property.
I was excited about the future and the change, but my family and friends were shocked when I told them. Why there? This was the question on everyone’s lips. I shared my research with them, about the physical and the intellectual support systems, but their concern of course, was about removing myself from the loving networks of friends and family. I had this under control or, so I thought!
The Goldie was well serviced in terms of airlines and flights and I would be making frequent flights to Sydney. In return, my apartment was large, centrally positioned and welcoming to accommodate any and all who wanted to have that perfect Gold Coast holiday, or just to escape for a few days.
I also reminded them that I had maintained those networks from my time on The Goldie all those years ago when my son’s father and I ran a successful and very popular beachfront restaurant. They, and my son’s father’s Brisbane based relatives were just an hour up the highway and were looking forward to my move and reconnecting. In fact, one of my besties and long-time travel buddy also lived only an hour away. Emotional support was well within reach. I’d ticked all the boxes.
The sale was completed in March 2014, and as I was committed to caring for my granddaughter until the end of 2014, the year was spent travelling between Sydney and The Goldie. The family was spending Christmas 2014 with me, so my focus was very much on packing up Sydney and prepping the new apartment for their arrival.
Busy, busy, busy kept me from thinking too much about my departure from Sydney and the aftermath. The move from Sydney was, even though well organised, traumatic. As I unpacked my last box I swore that this would be my last move.
2015 flew past. Birthdays, multiple trips to Sydney, a fantastic six-week trip to Northern Italy, the south of France and some down time with a bestie in Canada. The birth of my second grandchild, another beautiful baby girl, capped the year. My feet had hardly touched the ground and the time spent in my new environ was minimal. It felt like I was permanently on holiday, flitting backwards and forwards, returning briefly to this glamorous apartment and location, before setting off again.
2016 landed with a thud. The sudden, devastating loss of a good friend and mentor started what was to be a watershed year. On the advice of this good friend I had enrolled in a course in January in Sydney to teach English to non-English speakers. She believed that I would be perfectly suited to the profession and I could fund my wish to travel the world teaching and living in exotic locations.
The course was an unmitigated disaster and so was I. I retreated to my new home feeling like a failure. Of course, I wasn’t a failure, a master’s degree in Communication completed under the most difficult of circumstances, stints at both Harvard and Stanford Business Schools attested to my capability.
Those next few months were possibly the worst I’ve ever experienced. I just couldn’t settle, and my misery was apparent to all around me, but me. Busyness wasn’t doing it for me anymore. The yawning chasm of endless days of apparent nothingness was wreaking havoc and the ache in my heart was palpable. Nothing relieved it. I came dangerously close to selling up and moving back to Sydney. I was numb with grief - for my mentor, for my old life and for my family and friends. Wallowing in self-pity has never really been my style, but boy, did I give it a really good go, so much so that I began to bore myself. Then suddenly, kind of out of the blue, conversations started to happen, and new opportunities and challenges began to present themselves.
One of the joys I have to say of making the change has been reviving old friendships, but also making new ones and it has been from these connections that reinvention was possible. Nothing can ever replace the love of and for family and long established and valued friendships, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about absolutely treasuring those, but also being open to new beginnings. I initially made friends with a couple of like-minded neighbours in my building. Coffee, lunches, movies, drinks and road trips with them to new destinations was me putting one foot in front of the other.
A proposed new small business venture with my long-term bestie and travel buddy also presented itself. Markets based and specialising in handcrafts and homewares, it would highlight her creativity and my marketing and communication skills. And so, Miner Birds was born. Miner Birds was my lifesaver. I had an actual project that I could focus on and focus I did. The business was to be based in Ipswich, an old mining town, west of Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane. Perfectly positioned in relation to some of Queensland’s most beautiful and prosperous regions, the Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim and the Darling Downs, I felt extremely positive about the future of the business.
Miner Birds was launched at a handmade market in Toowoomba in June 2016 on the Darling Downs and we were both hooked. We loved the hustle and bustle of the market and the interaction with our customers and other stall holders. For the remainder of 2016 we trialled and tested markets and our products throughout the region and by the beginning of 2017 we knew where our best markets and customers were and what they liked.
The revival of an old friendship was instrumental in satisfying my other passions - the visual and performing arts and education. I had struck up a friendship when I was teaching in Sydney in the early 70s. The teaching job only lasted a year, but the friendship remained and over the years our paths crossed many times.
Finally, we reunited in mid 2016 here on the coast where she had settled many years before and had raised her three children - all adults now of course. She was on the board of an Arts organisation and asked whether I’d be interested in nominating as a Director and board member. I was, I did, I was elected and committed and so excited.
Busy with a purpose now replaced busy-ness. I was starting to feel my feet. My son, sensing how deeply I was missing the fam combined my trips to Sydney in 2016 with two separate longer trips to me bringing my munchkins with him. While the bond with my eldest munchkin remained strong and deep, the youngest hardly knew me at all save for fleeting moments and FaceTime. Thank God for technology, but real hugs and kisses and those precious quiet moments when they doze off in your arms or touch your face lovingly can’t ever be replaced.
If 2016 was my watershed, then 2017 became my year for reinvention. Miner Birds was progressing well, and I was loving my board work. Now I felt that I had the space and the time to finally discover whether I could write. I had always wanted to be a writer. Writing had been integral to my profession, but I wanted to write real stuff, stuff from my heart and my experience. I had completed a creative writing course in Sydney prior to my leaving and was encouraged by my tutor who has since become my mentor. Funnily enough, having to enter the world of social media for Miner Birds was like tentatively putting myself in the writing space. But the real test will be whether my writing can extend to the book that I have always wanted to write. I guess time will tell.
As I sit writing this piece, the second week of 2018 is well under way. The next few weeks will be hectic: We’ll be business planning for Miner Birds including some exciting new collaborations and hopefully an online shop. I’ll be celebrating family birthdays in Sydney and first days at school.
The most exciting upcoming event is a Sicily and Southern Italy adventure. Easter in Sicily, The Amalfi, Napoli and Roma will provide me with buckets of opportunities for writing and social media postings. A personal blog is in the planning and hoping to tackle that famous book.
Have I settled? Has this been a successful change and reinvention? To be absolutely honest I have no idea, but you know what, it’s been a challenging and rollicking time, just like other parts of my life, and I don’t believe I would have had it any other way. I’m not saying that the ache in my heart has gone, but like in any grieving process, it has just become a little easier.
Written by Patricia Ruzzene
Patricia is a 60-something blogger and writer. After a thirty-plus-year career in marketing communications and fundraising in Australian Universities, she is now reinventing herself for this next phase of her life. Having left her beloved Sydney, family and a strong network of professionals and friends, she currently resides on the beautiful Gold Coast in South East Queensland, Australia. As the first female in her family to hold both undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, Patricia is passionate about the empowering nature of education for all, but particularly for women and girls and for those from a disadvantaged background. Leadership programs at both Stanford and Harvard Business Schools focused Patricia’s interest in the nonprofit sector and in Board roles within the sector. She is also passionate about politics and the visual and performing arts. She is certainly challenged by her new life and inspired by those who share it.
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