THE coronavirus pandemic is leading city dwellers to choose the country lifestyle.
Central Victoria has seen an influx of new residents in the past six months as people move from Melbourne to rural areas as they work their metropolitan jobs from home.
Matthew Gordon and his family arrived at their half-acre property in Maldon from a two-bedroom apartment in Fairfield almost a month ago.
Their new property features an old miner's cottage and heritage outbuildings that they plan to restore.
"We love the heritage and cultural value of it," Mr Gordon said. "We have also got a six-year-old son who is high voltage and needs some space.
"(This year), you value open space in a new way. I grew up on a one-acre hobby farm in Gisborne and had the rural experience and I want to give my boy a similar kind of experience."
The decision to switch city for country came after a weekend away between the two lockdowns.
It was the easy access to Melbourne from the Calder Freeway that sealed central Victoria as the Gordons' new home.
It's a different lifestyle... In particular I have loved just going outside and seeing a clear view of the stars and being woken by kookaburras instead of trains. It's been a relief...to get out and exercise, enjoy our space, see the horizon and catch the sunsetMatthew Gordon
"We came up to Bendigo for weekend holiday and saw this place," he said. "We were also looking at south Gippsland but what attracted us was the straight road up the Calder to Melbourne and the size of the property we could get.
"This particular property is very charming with old heritage outbuildings that are over 100 years old (including) a forge, a tool shed with all the original tooling. It's quite an attractive little wonderland.
"We now have sheep running on property thanks to a local farmer, the neighbours are taking us in. We miss a bit of the pan-Asian takeaway food and varieties but it's a different lifestyle.
"In particular I have loved just going outside and seeing a clear view of the stars and being woken by kookaburras instead of trains."
After moving from Brunswick, Sally Taylor and her partner are two of the Chewton's newest residents.
"We realised we both could work very successfully from home," she said. "My partner has done a lot of that over the years but I was in a very office bound job.
"Suddenly we had to work from home (but were) in a pretty cramped situation in Brunswick. I was in the kitchen, he was in the lounge room and my step-son was in his bedroom for university. It was quite cramped in a small place.
"We also had plans to move overseas and travel and do an extended journey (and) realised we couldn't do that for quite some time.
"Rather than continue to pay rent, we looked for real estate and found for the same prices as small units, flats or apartments in the inner suburbs, we could get a reasonable size block with a garden, close to the bush and with more bedrooms.
"It was a no brainer when the light bulb went off. Between lockdowns we came up and viewed properties. It was kind of a snap decision, the first stage three lockdown was over, and we were all sighing a sigh of relief and having time out of city."
Ms Taylor and her partner have connections in the Mount Alexander Shire. Both are musicians and have played at a number of central Victorian events including Newstead live, Maldon Folk and the Bendigo Blues and Roots festivals.
"We have a lot of friends here and I have family in Bendigo," she said. "We like the feel of the place and are both musicians as well. There are lots of festivals up here we have performed at over the years.
"We've always felt welcomed here. The people are friendly. I've gone to post office and got the run down from (the owner) and met his dog. It's been lovely."
Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said feedback from real estate agents in the past six months suggested moves to the country from Melbourne were increasing.
"COVID has introduced that idea of a tree change," she said.
"People have reviewed their affordability, positions and the lifestyle aspects that comes with regional Victoria.
Data for the June, 2020, quarter on the REIV website shows the median house price in metropolitan Melbourne is $864,000 compared to $420,000 for houses in regional Victoria.
Ms Calnan said it was not surprising to see metropolitan residents choosing the regional lifestyle.
"We have seen that activity happen through the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas over the last 10 years," she said. "Small towns have also always been very attractive (to tree changers).
"What COVID has done to us as society is allowed us to see we can have a greater balance from where we live to where we work..
"We don't necessarily need to live 30 minutes from our place of employment. You can live two hours away and commute two days a week."
Ms Calnan said reliable access to public transport was important for people making the witch to the country from the city.
"The biggest challenge for anyone moving to regional Victoria is the public transport and reliability from the likes of Bendigo and Ballarat into metropolitan areas," she said. "That's the continual feedback we have had for many years.
"A lot of infrastructure has gone into regional towns and we have seen an increase in activity there. People are looking to transfer businesses from metropolitan Melbourne to regional Victoria because there is lot of attraction there."
Continuing their careers from their new homes has been easy for Mr Gordon and Ms Taylor.
Mr Gordon is the non-executive director and co-founder of Our Say. He also works with Capire Consulting. Both organisations are focused on helping clients with community engagement.
"Our Say is a technology company, so the shift to remote working was effortless," he said "Capire has also shifted online and I expect our lives going forward will be a couple days in the office and days at home. That can now be anywhere.
"There is an opportunity for a regional renaissance, where people have the space and rural lifestyle and come into town a few days a week to press the flesh before coming back for the long weekend. We're excited by that future.
"There is a great opportunity for regions to tap in to that if there is good internet, coffee and bread available locally."
Ms Taylor said a convenient train line will allow her and her partner to visit Melbourne when they need to.
"My partner is an academic and I'm a public servant," Ms Taylor said. "The train is a big attraction. Being able to go into city easily on when we want to. I may only need to go once a month or even less for my work.
"My husband does a bit of lecturing and will go in (to the city) when that format is open again.
"We are just really delighted to be living here with a national park at end of our street. It has brought our stress levels down to no end."
As well as a more comfortable work life, the shift to Maldon has allowed Mr Gordon to improve his mental health.
"It's 1000 times better, literally overnight," he said. "We got here and the six-year-old and I went to the back property and did a bonfire.
"We barely saw him and he never asked for an iPad or wanted TV. He was always just outside kicking around and would come back at end of the day, covered in dirt and soot, for a big serve of dinner and fall asleep without fuss.
"It's been a relief, particularly for him, and for me to get out and exercise, enjoy our space, see the horizon and catch the sunset."