The big dreams of growing up in a small town
Laura and Tim Campbell moved to Yinnar to get away from city life and raise a family in a more intimate setting. Sakshi Agrawal reports. Photos and video by Dilpreet Kaur.
Leander and Laura are enjoying country life.
For three-year-old Leander Campbell, playgroup is the most exciting part of the week. Clutching his mother’s hand he hops and skips to make his way to meet and play with his friends.
Mother Laura and Leander leave their house and walk past the café where people are lined up for their morning dose of coffee, then past the primary school.
Laura Campbell, president at the Possums of Yinnar Playgroup and a beauty therapist at a spa in Traralgon, says that at the beginning of her move to Yinnar four years ago, she felt lonely. She did not have friends in the town. The playgroup gave her an opportunity to interact with the community and help her baby boy.
“The playgroup is a good place to help Leander develop mental skills and make friends. It also gives me a chance to connect and catch up with other mothers,” she says
Mother and child arrive at the Yinnar Memorial hall, location of the playgroup, and Leander rushes ahead and waits for her to unlock the doors for him before running inside.
The two hours of playgroup is filled with conversations between parents, as well as laughing, crying and screaming by the toddlers. The children keep coming in with their mother or father or even both. From an 11-day-old baby to a five-year-old child, everyone is busy.
On one side of the hall, children are on the indoor slides, jumping on the mini trampoline or playing with toys. On the other side, there is a small table with crafting tools on it.
Laura greets and talks to other mothers. She sits next to Leander on the floor and plays with him.
Leander recites the name of every train in the set and gives them to his mother. After some time, he heads over to the crafting table where he picks up the crayons to make a beautiful tie for his father, Tim.
The playgroup ends with one mother reciting a short story while the others listen to her eagerly. Everyone cleans up the toys, with some kids helping before Laura locks up the playgroup and they bid goodbye to each other.
Laura and Tim Campbell moved to Yinnar after their wedding, having made the choice to raise their family in a more natural and intimate setting and to opt out of city life.
Tim had spent his life in Gippsland before the wedding and had visited Yinnar. The feel of the community of the town and his desire to raise a child in the countryside made moving to Yinnar an easy choice for him.
He says that the natural environment is a good setting for a child to grow up in. “I value the green, trees, and animals being around. I value the space to move out and about, the backyard which is big, to see cows around.”
Laura grew up on a vineyard in NSW and recalls her childhood fondly. “While growing up on a farm, I had a lot of space to play and run around. It was a quieter life and to give Leander the same life, has been a great opportunity.”
Tim works at the Hazelwood Health Centre as a psychological impact investigator and is also studying for a PhD at Monash University.
The Hazelwood Study is a government-initiated study to investigate the health outcomes of people affected by the 2014 mine fire at Morwell. Tim’s role in the company is to assess the impact of the fire on people’s mental health.
“The health study is community-wide and contains numerous health streams involving many people. My role is to assess different mental health parameters like, Did the mine fire increase stress or did the disruption impact children’s learning.”
Overall, the mine fire seems to have had a negative health impact on people who were exposed to the event, he says.
For all the benefits of country life, the couple was also keenly aware of the drawbacks – among them, that their access to the basic services they would need in coming years – health, education, and transport – is far more restricted than in a busy city.
Laura gave birth to Leander, at Traralgon Hospital, 20 kilometres from Yinnar. However, for new parents, that’s just the beginning of a whole new intimacy with the health system.
Being a first-time mother, Laura faced several challenges but the maternal health nurse, assigned to her, helped her through it. She visited once a week and provided support by “clearing doubts”, talking through her problems and settling her into motherhood.
“The hospital was very helpful and they gave me the care I needed. I got linked with a maternal health nurse and she was great towards me. She introduced and helped me along the way which made it very easy,” she says.
So far, the family has no regrets about their choice to move to the country. Laura says that they have a peaceful life in this safe and vibrant town and have close connections to the community and their neighbours, which they value the most.
“In Yinnar, you are more familiar with faces. Also, the lifestyle in the country allows us to have time for our hobbies such as working in the backyard and other things, as you are not so caught up with work. The life in the country helps people to relax and distress.”
After playgroup, Laura and Leander rest, eat and freshen up at home before heading into their garden. The Campbells love their backyard. Laura and Leander spend many afternoons cleaning out weeds to make a place for flowers. It also has a tiny house for Leander to play with his toys.
Leander takes a small gardening scissor, carefully, and follows Laura to the spot where they have to cut off the weeds. His mother holds the plant for him while he gently cuts it according to her instructions.
Yinnar may not have everything, but they have the basics like a general store, café, playgroup, park, and an art gallery, says Laura.
“There are places close by where we can access services lacking in this town and it doesn’t take long to get there, for example, a swimming pool and leisure centre. We take Leander to the nearest one, which is 10 minutes away.”
But Laura does have one substantial concern about raising her family in the country, one that she sees as a major disadvantage, and not anything that might be quickly resolved without some kind of policy initiative to change it. Her son won’t grow up within a multicultural community.
Yinnar is very much a white town, dominated by white Australians of several generations of heritage. According to the 2016 census data, 82 per cent of the people living in Yinnar are born in Australia. Further to this, 68 per cent of the people’s parents’ country of birth is also Australia.
“In the city, there are people from different backgrounds and cultures. So, you get to experience what is it like to go to Little Italy on Lygon Street or go to Chinatown,” she says..
“A multicultural society teaches you tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. You learn about life and I would like to teach Leander these things.”
Another concern for the couple is the mining industry and the employment opportunities available in the community in the near future.
Tim says that the mines have an economic importance in the community but the industry has a negative impact on the environment. The fire and the closure of mines are sources of stress among the people.
“The community faces a challenge to transition away from relying on coal mining – it is an industry that is towards the end of its lifespan,” he says.
The mining and power industry is the dominant employer in Yinnar. According to the 2016 census data, the fossil fuel electricity generation industry was the highest employer with 7.7 per cent of the people employed, which was an increase of 3.5 per cent from 2011.
“Eventually, we all have to move away from coal power due to its detrimental effects on people’s’ health, which is a common topic around here. Due to this, the mines will shut down soon enough, just like the last one,” he says.
“This would mean that the people would not have any employment opportunities around here and would eventually move out of Yinnar. Therefore, unless we have more jobs here, I am worried that the community might reduce.”
Talking about the future for her son, Laura says that they plan to send Leander to kinder and then the primary school in Yinnar. “Completing his primary school in this town will give him an opportunity to become more familiar with the environment and the community around him,” she adds.
In the evening, Laura takes out her book and gets into a comfortable spot to immerse herself in reading. On the other side, Leander quietly plays with his toys, taking out his trains. The set is identical to the one that he played with in the morning at the playgroup. He lines up the tracks and starts to place the trains on them.