Leaving the country for life in the city is seen as inevitable for some, but young Australians are trying to change that

A move to the mainland was a rite of passage for Eleanor McCormack.

However, while it initially afforded her the “fresh start” she’d long dreamed of, when people found out where she came from, the conversation changed, like clockwork.

“They would hear my home town and where I went to school, and they would laugh in my face,” she says.

On Tasmania’s north coast, at the mouth of the River Leven, lies the bustling seaside town of Ulverstone.

Eleanor remembers most the beauty of a childhood spent “between the mountains and the beach”, of driving through the hills and looking out to see a patchwork quilt of fields.

Ulverstone, Tasmania
Young people living in isolated regional Tasmanian towns such as Ulverstone often find themselves paying more for transport.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

But she also remembers the weight of isolation, of feeling the “pinch of petrol and public transport”, when seeing your friends meant half an hour’s drive to their town.

“It just feels like there’s not much of a world outside of the cohort and the community in which you grew up.

“And when you’ve been a gangly, typically teenager, you want to get away from that.”

It sparked a journey that would ultimately lead Eleanor back to her roots — and a determination to change the perception that young Australians have to move to a big city to make it.

‘There is an assumption that you should leave’

The struggle to retain and attract young people in regional communities is hardly a new discourse.

While country areas have more recently experienced an influx of tree-changers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, about 180,000 regional Australians aged between 20 and 35 years moved to capital cities between 2011 and 2016, according to census data.

Of those, just one-third eventually returned to a regional area.

It’s a complex issue, driven by a range of factors, and research shows that stigma plays a role.

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