For Annetta Mallon, the choice was simple: the increasingly busy, crowded streets of the Central Coast or the clean air, beaches and relaxed lifestyle of the Apple Isle. “We looked in Queensland, we looked in parts of NSW, but we fell in love with Tasmania,” she says of her decision to relocate with her husband, Peter, and their dog, Cully.
They are not alone. Tasmania, which for many years suffered from very low population growth, has seen that trend reverse in recent years with more people now coming in than leaving for the past five years. Touting its outstanding natural beauty, fine produce and expanding employment prospects amid the work-from-home revolution, Tasmania hopes to grow its current population of around 530,000 to 650,000 by the middle of the century, an increase of 22%.
A less desirable feature of the increasing popularity of Tasmania is rising house prices. No part of Australia has seen prices soar as much as regional Tasmania in the past 12 months, according to figures released this week by the research firm CoreLogic. It reported that values rose 12.1% in regional areas of the state in the year to the end of January, while only Darwin has seen prices rise faster in the last three months.
Despite the hefty increase, buyers do not appear to be deterred, although Annetta Mallon said she had to act quickly in order to secure a property. She and Peter sold their home in Woy Woy and moved into a rental in Smithton on the north-west coast of Tasmania in order to establish a base to find a permanent home. After a short time they settled on the village of Meander, a little way inland from Devonport.
“It has a little shop, a cafe and a post office, and for bigger shops you can go into Deloraine. But it’s just so beautiful here and the people are more friendly. It’s a simple thing but people are nice. They will stop and say hello to you and have a chat,” says Mallon, who is an end-of-life practitioner who is able to do much of her work remotely.
“We’re close to the coast at the minute within 10 minutes of the ocean, where there’s a nice dog beach and a nice cafe. It’s beautiful and the food is good and a better work-life balance – I think we’re already taking better care of ourselves.”
Diane Reed moved to Tasmania from Bright in the Victorian Alps and has never looked back after swapping the mountain landscapes for ocean vistas in the town of Penguin, halfway between Devonport and Burnie.
“The clean air, an amazing house with amazing views over the ocean, the people, the produce. It’s just a totally different lifestyle,” she says. “Moving here is like going back 30 or 40 years to when people took care of each other more.”
Real estate agents say they are rushed off their feet to help find prospective homeowners their place in Tasmania’s environs.
Stephen Dullens heads up Ray White’s operations in Victoria and Tasmania and says the coronavirus lockdowns in Melbourne helped accelerate interest in moving to Tasmania. Branches report that they can’t get properties on the market quickly enough.
“We hear lots of stories about people saying they are making a lifestyle decision for their family,” he says. “Previously they might have been close to the CBD for work but companies are now saying that people can work from home and be productive.
“And if they are selling a home, say 5km from the CBD, their buying power is just so much higher in Tasmania. It’s great for families, they get more space, better lifestyle and more flexibility.”
Launceston’s mayor, Albert van Zetten, said that Tasmania had been growing in popularity as a “tree-changer” destination for many years, but the pandemic had probably added to the number of people relocating from larger cities.
“Regional Tasmania has much to offer families in terms of lifestyle, and housing is much more affordable than it is in many other Australian states,” he said, noting that the Launceston area had approved a record number of planning applications as the market adapted to growing demand.
“There are probably a few different reasons behind the increase in planning applications, from mum and dad developers having more time on their hands to plan their projects, the availability of state and federal government economic incentives like homebuilder grants, but also people choosing to relocate here from other parts of Australia.”
For Meg and Bruce Braven, a retired registered nurse and IT manager, the pandemic forced them to reevaluate their priorities and move to Tasmania from Port Douglas to be closer to two of their grandchildren.
“We never thought in our wildest dreams that we would come to live in Tasmania,” Meg says. “But with Covid, one does reevaluate things in life, and family is extraordinarily important. People said ‘you’ll be cold and you’ll hate it’, but we put our house on the market and waited to see what would happen.”
Several months later they are living in Old Beach near Hobart and relishing the challenge of a new life.
“At our age, in our 70s, we’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to live in a different place and enjoy new things. There’s such a lot on offer here with the wineries and the cultural things. You don’t get that in Port Douglas. But being close to the family is the ultimate benefit for us.”