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The Tyranny of Distance

The Price We Pay To Live In An Island Paradise

Moving to Kangaroo island was everything we'd hoped it would be, but its wasn't without its obstacles. The transition from inner-city living, to not just rural, but remote Island life, required many lifestyle changes that I hadn't anticipated. Aside from the obvious things we city slickers took for granted like retail shops, hair cuts and doctors - all of which our town Penneshaw lacks - it is impossible to comprehend some of the day to day issues that those in regional Australia deal with until you have actually lived it.

When we did manage to make the occasional trip off the island and over to the mainland, the shopping list was so long with items that were necessary for our growing girls. These were basic items like T-shirts, shoes and socks, the ones you would generally drop into your local Big W or Target for, however, for those living on Kangaroo Island, this is simply not an option. Add the ferry cost and fuel to the shopping bill, and thank goodness I have family in the city because if accommodation was also an outlay it may well have broken me! We quickly adapted, finding ways to survive without the retail-readiness of city life.

Rural Mum life hacks:

1. Always have a drawer full of gifts for various ages so that you don't get caught out when the girls come home with a party invitation and keep a stock of generic birthday cards

2. When buying basic clothes for the girls, buy on special and buy the next 2 sizes up as well so that they don't grow out of everything they own before you get to the mainland again

3. Buy consumables in bulk; toilet paper, paper towel, tissues, tinned food, shelf stable food items to keep the pantry well stocked

4. Have a big chest freezer and fill it!

5. Repair and re-purpose - replacement household items aren't so easily sourced when living rural

6. Learn to colour your own hair, there won't always be a hair-dresser around. As for cuts, well, how many hair cuts a year does an Island girl really need?

Needless to say, online purchases were to become a rather regular occurrence, although mail to and from Kangaroo Island takes 2-3 days. With no Next Day delivery service available, this is an inconvenience to businesses with tight timelines. Thankfully most transactions can now be done via the internet. In the early days our internet would drop in and out which made it difficult, but fortunately this service has improved over the years. Even in this day and age, however, there are still some Legislators that won't accept scanned/emailed documents, but require hard-copies in a very short time frame, with no provision made for regional Australia. Many regional areas do not have a postal delivery service so PO Boxes are used, which, depending on how remote you are, may require a lengthy drive to get to, yet another additional cost for residents of regional Australia.

When the weather is so bad that the ferry and planes can't operate, the island doesn't get its mail or supplies like milk, bread, petrol and other basics. In metro Adelaide, when shops were closed for a single public holiday, it used to be mayhem! Imagine 3 days of bad weather! Its funny, the little things I noticed, like going into the IGA to pick up - let's say - some bread, and there would be none on the shelf. When I asked shop staff if there was any out the back I would receive a funny look and they would say "breads not in til Thursday". After a few months I realised that everyone - shop staff and locals - knew what day the meat delivery came in, what day the bread came, and what day fruit and veg came! Everyone planned around these delivery days/times, I on the other hand, was so used to just going into a supermarket and buying whatever I needed, whenever I wanted it.

Up until recently a trip to the post office made banking cash and cheques possible. Now, with some bank services no longer available through post offices, it means that regional business owners need to either move their banking to an alternative bank, set up a working account with another bank and make transfers online, or drive - potentially hours - to a neighbouring town that provides the services. There are some services that are just not available on the island. Even buying an electrical appliance that is under warranty is turned into a hassle when it's near impossible to get a service call out to Penneshaw. Problems with your mobile phone? Easy, just pop into your local service provider shop. Not so easy when you have to book and pay for a ferry, and drive 100km to get to one. Oh, you can send me a replacement that will get here in 4-5 working days? No problem... I am only trying to run a business here! Residents and mainland businesses often work together to create enough work for a service provider to visit the island and do a number of jobs, making it more cost effective for everyone. Needless to say, not much happens quickly.

Islanders are very grateful for the fabulous hospital and medical centre services in Kingscote. The only downside I found was that to make an appointment with the medical centre you had to ring at 8.45am, on the day, to book. So after a sleepless night with a sick child, and upon hearing the engaged signal numerous times, when your call was answered you were almost at your wits end hoping there are some appointments left! This booking system also made planning the two hour return trip around other commitments, like children and work, difficult. Coupled with the cost of fuel, and loss of 1/2 a day, lets just say routine checkups became a thing of the past! Doctors, vets and dentists visits were all done only if absolutely necessary. This probably supports the statistics that show health in regional areas as being lower than metropolitan as early detection of health issues is prevented through inaccessibility.

It is also always fun when The Legislators roll out a new compliance requirement for business and don't factor in the logistics of those based in regional Australia, particularly on an island. For example, when the Safe Drinking Water Act was implemented, businesses who ran on rainwater were required to take a monthly water sample and have it tested at a laboratory within 24 hours. (I'll ship my water over in 24 hours when my mail starts arriving within the same time-frame, thank you very much!) The laboratories are all on the mainland so businesses have to organise the logistics of taking the sample, getting it to a freight company, having it freighted off-island, delivering it to the laboratory in opening hours and having it tested - all within 24 hours. This one gave me grey hair trying to implement a process that was simple for staff to do, while also to minimising the costs associated with the compliance. To be honest, in the end we installed an ultraviolet filter (another cost to the business) so that we could reduce samples to quarterly frequency! Funnily enough, we have lived on untested rainwater for 15 years... Just saying.

It became very real during this adventure that, while approximately a third of the Australian population live in remote or rural areas of the country, basic health, welfare and services are lacking in the regions. It is obvious that Legislators do not consider the distinct differences between regional and metropolitan Australia when formulating legislation. It always seems to be a 'one size fits all' approach which makes running a business in remote Australia even more challenging than it needs to be. If the regional business environment is to thrive then this approach needs to change.

These hurdles, just to name a few, were all part of our adventure and although at times some were a bit distressing, they were just the price we pay for the amazing quality of life we enjoy on the island. No regrets!

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