Four in 10 Australians Move Every Five Years


Does this look familiar?

You were warned that FOMM would be ruminating about the not-uncommon human need to periodically pack up and move on. We are not alone. Over 40% of Australians moved house at least once between one Census and the other and the ratio is higher still for younger people.

According to the 2016 Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 43.4% of the overall population moved house between 2011 and 2016. Young people (20-29) were the most nomadic, with a third moving every year and two thirds moving within five years. These statistics are always rising, one Census after the other. Our imminent move (two weeks) will be recorded in the data collected for the 2021 Census (How did that come around so quickly?)

In a large country with six States and two Territories, it’s a fair bet the move is associated with work. I recall jamming around an outback campfire with a banjo-playing electrician who had left Rockhampton, where a contract had come to an end, hoping to get work in Darwin, where at the time there were many large construction projects.

No doubt that young fellow would belong to the cohort who rent houses. About a third of Australians rent houses or apartments, moving on average every three years. Some move because of a change of circumstance (work, a new baby, an opportunity to move to a better place), but many are forced to move because (a) the landlord is selling (b) they have been evicted for various reasons or (c) the rent went up and they need something cheaper.

Australia’s 1,100 self-storage sites do very well out of this constant moving and so do the movers who transport goods back and forth. Those forced to move at short notice have no option but to store their goods and chattels until they can find a place big enough to reclaim their stuff. A common story (from those moving from big family homes to two or three bedroom apartments), is that there will never be enough room for the piano and Mum’s antique bedroom suite. Those on a fixed income may also struggle to find an affordable home large enough to keep the possessions they have accumulated.

The rental market is controlled by people who are accumulating wealth by investing in real estate. Even without buying investment houses, many Australians have become well-off by renovating and selling their principal place of residence, on average every seven years (the period during which houses supposedly double in value).

Homeowners, too, have reasons aplenty for moving; a new job (in a new State), moving in with elderly parents to become care-givers and of course the moves brought on when one in two marriages end in divorce. Few formerly married couples manage to co-habit under the same roof ‘for the sake of the kids’, so someone has to move.  Moving adds to the stress, anxiety and sense of dislocation that comes with a marital split. It sucks, and what nobody tells you beforehand is how hard it is for a single person (the majority of divorcees are people in their 40s), to find new digs. You’re too old for a share house, a boarding house seems like the dark side of the street and there is no way you are ready to shack up with someone new, are you?

Whether your last move was five 10 or even 17 years ago, the stress and chaos of packing stays with you.

Our downstairs room is a bit like the refrain in Kelly Cork’s song: “It’s all in boxes now, ready to go.”  Even when you’re not a hoarder (we both like to keep things that might come in handy), moving after 17 years is a bit of a brain scrambler.

A reader who lives in north Queensland described moving after 30 years from the cane farm where she and her husband had raised a family. They moved to a new but smaller property in a nearby town.

“I know the time, effort and energy that go into packing after such a long time being in one place.  Vinnies was very happy with me when we moved!”

We also found this to be so, separating things into that which could be sold, given away or taken to the transfer station (2019 term for a rubbish dump). A young woman took our old canvas tent off our hands, saying her plan was to take the kids camping (to get their heads out of their devices). It was a bargain, but we figure there’s a lot of karma there.

Absolutely no-one wanted our very large entertainment unit with its small fixed space for a TV. We took it apart and drove to the aforementioned transfer station. Only later I thought “Gee, the Men’s Shed might have wanted the solid timber top.”

I had an asthma attack while sifting through old, dusty tax records.  In case you did not know, you have to keep personal tax files for five years; business files should be kept for seven years and 10 years for self-managed superannuation fund records.

So, a lot of shredding and burning later (shredded paper makes great packing material for fragile items), I pulled a huge plastic bin from under the desk labelled ‘Bob’s journalism files’. Damn, did I not go through this exercise once already? I previously scanned, printed and filed in folders the 150 or so columns I wrote for the Toowoomba Chronicle in the 1980s. The late Bert Pottinger, who wrote a weekly column into his mid-eighties, encouraged me to try my hand. Thanks for starting me on a path, Bert. It surprised me to learn that even then I referred to the other half as variations on ‘She Who Makes Her Own Yoghurt’. It’s not meant to be disrespectful, just an expansion of a catch phrase invented by John Mortimer, whose crusty old barrister Horace Rumpole was wont to refer to his wife Hilda as: ‘She who must be obeyed’.

We have complicated our tight packing deadline by performing at this week’s Maleny Music Festival (tomorrow at 11.45am), throwing a private house concert/party, driving to Brisbane for a ballet and then to the Neurum Creek Festival on September 13-15.

The majority of our cohort (people aged 70 and over), wish to ‘age in place’, particularly the 75% of older people who own their houses outright. This gives them options when it comes to downsizing to more manageable properties. In some circumstances, older people will need to sell their house to fund a move into retirement villages or aged care facilities. Sometimes the elderly and not-so elderly struck down by dementia are moved into the aforesaid ‘facilities’ without much say in the matter.

As so many people have said to us on hearing our moving-on story, it is better to do it now (at 70, fit and healthy), than have it forced upon you.

Some locals just don’t understand why we’d want to move away from the hinterland, where after 17 years we are still relative newcomers.

But as the famous Eccles said, when Neddie Seagoon asked why he was in the coal cellar: “Everybody’s gotta be somewhere”.

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Rhonda Ohlson
August 30, 2019 4:21 pm

Hi Bob
Another great article.

Where are you moving to? Goo d luck with all your packing. I’m one of those statistics who move frequently. This is the longest place I’ve stayed in for awhile -3 years now!

Madeline McGuire
Madeline McGuire
August 30, 2019 4:55 pm

Hey Bob, since you like dredging up obscure information, did you know that bubble wrap was a failed experiment to make wallpaper? Turned out quite well for them, didn’t it!