Why I traded in the London job for a Tasmanian-based career change

10 Sep 2012

It's Sunday morning and the line of cars is snaking its way up to the church on the hill behind me. The swallow pair has dismantled last year's nest and started to build a new one with muddy straw and bits of twig that somehow seem to set as strong as concrete on the weatherboard wall. I'm sitting in the sun on the veranda, glancing up from my regular weekly task, writing labels for our hilbarn fresh produce boxes that will get packed tonight in the shed outside. Barn stamps each label on one side, then passes them to me to hand-write each customer's name in black felt-tip pen, along with the address, on the other. A piece of string gets threaded through each punch hole and then the label is put aside ready to be tied, carefully, on to each customer's box. These are now the gentle and repetitive tasks that feed my soul, like knitting, baking, or packing boxes of Spreyton button mushrooms into 100 brown paper bags and turning the corners over like ears.

I used to be a London-based women's magazine journalist. I got to interview famous people like Kylie Minogue in London, Bridget Fonda in Rome or Elle MacPherson in Paris. I travelled to glamorous cities and wore designer labels. In the end I was living someone else's life and writing about other people's stories – but what of my own? We are all born with one. But I didn't want to continue living without trying to find my own version of a life well lived, lit from within.

The path between these two very different lives was neither straight nor easy: one, a fast track, "portfolio career", launching magazines and celebrating celebrity. The other, this one, I call "my patchwork career". I decided where I wanted to be – living in rural Tasmania in an old convent school – and, now, for the past seven years, this has determined what I do. They are little jobs, definitely nothing full-time no matter how seductive, and busy-ness that grows a life that is in tune with the seasons.

I think when you start your life from scratch again you have to be prepared to lose everything you worked for as if it meant nothing or it no longer mattered. Once I understood this, I began to hear the sounds of the outside world more than the thoughts in my own head. Living in the country ten minutes' drive from the nearest grocer, helped me to find my seasonal senses – the ones that were teaching me to see, smell, and taste my own garden rather than drive to the nearest shop. In following the day – in opening the doors onto the morning sun – I knew there would be always be too much to learn.

Stepping outside to smell the dew before it dries, and doing what needs to be done, every day I feel connected to what turns the world. In a train underground, up stairways and lifts, at desks behind windows, at seats in front of TVs, in meetings in front of whiteboards, little of this was ever seen or appreciated. Everyone was too busy. Here I am appreciating how you need time to watch a seed you planted unfurl in to life. And time, too, to look after it and care that it lives and offers you something in return. And if things don't survive, there's always tomorrow. The seasons are our tomorrows.

This is an edited extract from Hilary Burden's new book, A Story of Seven Summers.

Hilary Burden

Hilary Burden is the author of A Story Of Seven Summers, published by Allen & Unwin, and co-owner of hilbarn fresh produce, Karoola, Tasmania.

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