I suppose it was trips with my general surgeon father to the various country towns around Albury (where I grew up) during the long lazy days of summer that really hooked me on Australian country life.
I vividly remember my father’s medical work trips – where I would sit in the back of the parked car in a little country town, with the windows down, my favourite book to hand, listening to the birds and smelling the scent of eucalyptus trees.
I would go for walks around the streets of the sunny bright and lazy country towns, admiring the comfortable red-brick bungalows while my father was busy in the local hospital. Someone would always remember to come get me from my wanderings and I would be brought into the large comfy verandahs while talks of medical procedure wafted over me in the background.
The houses always had pleasant (if sometimes, because of their busy occupants’ occupations, dishevelled) gardens – but it was the sunshine, the birds and the scent of flowers that persuaded me that one could lead a very busy, interesting and involved professional life in the country.
It was walking along the beach at Palm Cove, north of Cairns, on another holiday when I became infatuated with Far North Queensland. As I looked at the rainforest-clad hills gently dipping into the coconut-fringed beaches and coral seas, I thought: “I’d love to live here.”
I fell in love with the tropical nights, the warmth – the constant warmth and never cold – then the people. Real people.
I am sure I would have been just as happy in a NSW country town, but there was something extra-romantic about the reef, the rainforest and the wilderness beyond that made the move far away from family and friends seem more than worthwhile. In fact, the family decided to retire up here and friends seemed to visit far more often than when I lived down south.
Now, with a Supreme Court judge, two District Court judges, five magistrates and lots of barristers – from a legal point of view, the town is more than busy.
Palm trees, mangoes and avocados aside, the quality of legal work offered in provincial Australia generally is excellent.
As a regional practitioner, I have been to the High Court three times, once as the instructing solicitor in the Wik case for the Thaayorre-speaking peoples of Pormpuraaw, instructing the late Sir Maurice Byers QC.
On a later occasion, I was less successful in trying to convince the High Court that the right to drink was a human right.
The two American divers, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who disappeared off Port Douglas some years ago, resulted in the prosecution of the dive company and we represented the dive boat skipper, who was acquitted.
Work-life balance is very easy to talk about, but very hard to achieve. My suggestion for the easiest way to do so is to put yourself in a place where it is very nice to live – be that country NSW, country Victoria or tropical Far North Queensland. That gets you in the right place.
Thereafter, it is up to you: it is my strong view that pleasant homes, pleasant people and a generally relaxed existence is much more easily obtained in the country than on the 32nd floor of Grosvenor Place.
Everyone works hard, but legal professionals in regional Australia tend to all know each other so they are polite and friendly.
I am very content, and I suggest you will be too if you throw away your three-piece pinstripe suit and come out to the country.
John Bottoms is the principal of Bottoms English Lawyers in Cairns.
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