How Leeton Shire’s country lifestyle connects all walks of life
After a long journey fleeing his homeland and the time in processing, Ahman arrived in Melbourne. As he began the wait to be reunited with his young family, he began working and looking to settle down. But it was while Ahman was visiting his cousin over the 2013 Christmas break that he discovered Leeton.
Immediately Ahman was impressed by the area, and by early February he’d found work with JBS Riverina and made the move from Melbourne. It was a long wait until his family could join him, but late in 2017 they arrived in Australia and are now happily settled and loving life in Leeton.
Leeton Shire is a community for everyone to belong. Yes, it’s written on the town sign… but it’s also part of the unwritten fabric of this unique and diverse community. From the Mayor and Council, right through to the town’s many volunteer and community organisations, as well as the businesses that keep the wheels turning – belonging is just part of living in Leeton.
Leeton has a long and passionate history of welcoming newcomers. Mayor Paul Maytom has long been a passionate supporter of welcoming migrants and refugees into Leeton, and continues to be a strong proponent of several volunteer and local government initiatives to help settle migrants and refugees into town.
“We provide relationship, friendship, connection – filling the gaps and supporting people who have moved far from their homeland,” said Mayor Maytom, “We have people from Malaysia, the Philippines, Kiribati, The Solomon Islands, Afghanistan – and everyone is welcomed.”
Located conveniently between Sydney (six hours), Melbourne (five hours) and Canberra (four hours), Leeton is nothing if not well-connected. With three major cities within a comfortable day trip, family and friends are always close. And with two thriving regional cities just a short drive away (45 minutes to Griffith and 90 minutes to Wagga Wagga), all the facilities and services you could want are close by as well. But the real gold is in the town itself – and there’s lots to be found.
To get a firsthand account of the Leeton experience, we caught up with two country changers, each from very different backgrounds, about their experience of moving away from family and friends and making a home in Leeton. Along the way we also uncovered a diverse and strong employment and business landscape that supports the lifestyle that the Leeton locals love.
Case Study One: Ahman
Moved from: Melbourne, and previously Afghanistan
Work: JBS Riverina
Ahman reflects on what a hard time it was while he waited for his family to be able to join him.
“It was difficult to be without them. But before my family came, Paul [Mayor Paul Maytom] and the community stepped in to help. They supported with help to call the embassy and also helped with all the paperwork,” said Ahman, still obviously touched by the support he found so readily within Leeton.
For a smaller location, Leeton punches above its weight when it comes to the services on offer to support people from diverse cultural and language backgrounds. The Leeton Multicultural Support Group is a safe place of belonging for refugee and migrant families, and a space to connect with Leeton locals who offer support in the form of language lessons, home visiting, and organic social networks.
Now the family is reunited and life has found its new normal. Friends and community members stepped in to help them learn English, and provided resources and information to assist along the way.
When it comes to a choice between the city and the country, it couldn’t be more clear for Ahman who says, “Leeton is better that Melbourne or Sydney for refugees – in Leeton, everything is close… banks, post office and services [are] all here. It’s quiet, [the] people are very kind, and there is [specialised] help with the Multicultural Group”
Ahman’s employer JBS Riverina is proud of its workers, giving credit to employees who “drive and foster a culture of innovation”. The Riverina feedlot and processing plant was an attractive acquisition for the global business, who see great potential in the Leeton area due to its renown for consistent feed commodity production. According to JBS, the location also lends itself to accessible transport and logistics to support both incoming resources, and outgoing products via rail and road networks.
When it comes to doing business in regional Australia, and in Leeton particularly, JBS believes in local communities and is proud of its ability to offer employment opportunities in the Leeton area – using local inputs, contractors, services and supports from community groups along the way. In doing so, the company believes it can help provide a strong foundation for flow on effects into the local Leeton economy and services, such as health and education.
“And before you know it, you have a strong, vibrant community that is attracting people and investment,” said Taylor O’Conner from JBS Australia.
To anyone else considering a country change to Leeton, Ahman has this to say: “If you want to save money and live a life in a quiet place with kind people, you have to come to Leeton. It’s a good place to live.”
Case Study Two: George
Moved from: Sydney (Parramatta)
Work: Co-Owner, Weston & Weston Refrigeration
It’s been a while since that day, but George still remembers the rattle of the toolbox on the ground as he and his brother Lionel rolled their ute into the empty shell of the shed that would become the base for Weston & Weston, a refrigeration company they started together.
A seasoned country changer, George remains fervently passionate about country life and why it’s one of the best decisions the family ever made. Together with their wives and kids, the brothers took a punt on the chance to go full time with their refrigeration business, which was still just a part-time gig in the city.
“The local electrical authority were looking for a refrigeration firm and taking expressions of interest to service their larger clients. We had a part-time business in Sydney, but we saw Leeton’s potential and decided to just give it a go and move into the business full-time.”
Today Weston & Weston is an established, multi-generational business with Riverina-wide reach. Starting from nothing, the business now boasts clients such as wineries, SunRice, local feedlots, and large supermarkets.
Although it’s been a business decision that has paid off, George still can’t get enough of the Leeton lifestyle. With city commutes crushing travellers with an hour morning and night, he relishes the gift of the 10 hours a week he doesn’t have to travel.
“If someone gave you 10 hours a week to use how you wanted, you’d be pretty happy!” George said, “We still get to visit and enjoy the perks of the city, but we get to come back to our beautiful bush lifestyle. You can duck home at lunch time, be there easily for school activities and carnivals, and I get to see my kids and grandkids everyday. It’s a much better lifestyle.”
Looking ahead, George sees the need for more tradespeople in Leeton, saying they just can’t get enough homegrown tradies. Even putting on 1-2 apprentices per year over the years still hasn’t stemmed the flow of demand for the tradespeople that power the local agribusiness landscape. George also sees opportunities for skilled migration in order to fill the gaps of plumbers, technicians, electricians, forklift drivers and the like, in order to provide adequate support to other local businesses and residents. And the great thing is tradies in Leeton don’t spend hours a day in traffic getting from one job to the next, unlike their city counterparts.
To anyone considering a country change, George is very clear: “It’s a lifestyle – you can earn money and just enjoy life. You have more spare time to do what you want to do, and it’s livable… plus your mortgage isn’t three quarters of your pay packet!”
Leeton – your ideal country change?
Are you worried about leaving family and friends in the city? Yet the demands of everyday life – the mortgage, the commute, and the full-time taxi service getting kids to and from after-school and weekend activities is also stealing the joy from your days?
If this internal debate sounds familiar, you’re not alone. One of the biggest issues potential country changers grapple with is leaving behind established circles of extended family and friends. There’s no doubt that this is a deal breaker for many, but for the lucky tree-changers who land in the Riverina town of Leeton, the sense of community and friendship has definitely sealed the deal.
The pull towards a country change can be almost irresistible, but one of the biggest factors is not just finding a place to live – it’s finding a place to call home. And with a reputation like this, it’s more than possible that Leeton could be that place.
Why not find out? Book a trip to Leeton today, and before you arrive be sure to get in touch so that one of the friendly locals can show you around and help answer your questions about life in Leeton.