Physiotherapists Andrew Preston and Leanna Clarke have found new work opportunities, community connections and rewarding lifestyles with their ‘country change’
There are many things to love about the Riverina and Murray region. Some come for the idyllic scenery and diverse landscapes, others for the walking trails and thermal pools, or perhaps farm-fresh produce and local wineries.
But Andrew Preston and Leanna Clarke found themselves independently drawn to the Riverina’s Wagga Wagga for its thriving business ecosystem, community-driven ethos and collaborative professional environment. Not to mention the fantastic work-life balance both now enjoy.
But though Andrew and Leanna are both physiotherapists and co-workers at Active Health Riverina, it was through two very different paths that they came to join the Wagga Wagga team.
For Andrew, it was about coming full circle
Andrew cherished his childhood in Wagga Wagga but left home soon after school to pursue his tertiary studies on the Gold Coast. After spending 17 years studying and pursuing his career across Queensland and in Sydney, Andrew recently made the decision to return to his hometown with his young family.
The decision to return to Wagga Wagga came shortly after the birth of his first daughter. The family was living in Sydney in an Eastern Suburbs apartment just ‘4 minutes and 53 seconds’ from the water’s edge at Bondi Beach, with Andrew working his dream job as the director of a physiotherapy clinic in Sydney’s CBD. But life’s stresses began to mount.
After bringing their newborn home from a health scare in hospital and feeling the isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrew and his wife yearned for the support of family and a simpler way of life.
A phone call sealed their fate. Andrew got in touch with Active Physio director Paul Heffernan and was won over by the dynamic business’s strong leadership and emphasis on work-life balance. While Andrew was sad to leave his tight-knit group of friends and the Bondi buzz, he knew Wagga Wagga would ultimately offer a better way of life for his growing family.
And he was absolutely right. Now living just a few minutes from both sets of grandparents, close to friends and in a spacious four-bedroom house with a backyard and a pool (a far cry from the cramped Bondi unit), the family has no regrets.
They have since welcomed daughter number two and are more grateful than ever that they made the tree change to Wagga. Andrew says, ‘Start with your “why”. For me, my “why” is family – and being able to spend extra time with family is priceless.’
A change of scenery
For fellow physiotherapist Leanna Clarke, it was the personal challenge of a big life change and a desire to explore new places that landed her in Wagga Wagga.
Leanna was born and raised in Townsville. But she wanted to break out of her hometown bubble and experience fresh surroundings. After visiting some friends in the region, she found that she absolutely loved its laid-back feel. And she was already enquiring about job opportunities before she even returned home.
While the move has brought its challenges – particularly the distance now from family and friends – Leanna says she would do it all again in a heartbeat. She has been welcomed by the friendly community and has loved broadening her horizons and getting out of her comfort zone.
Leanna’s advice for others considering a tree change would be to sign up for classes and explore personal interests to help integrate yourself into the local community. She says, ‘I would encourage anyone who is thinking of making a move to do it. It will probably be a really big and scary decision, but I don’t think anyone would look back and regret it.’
Her move has given her the opportunity for personal growth. ‘There are lots of challenges that come with moving cities and moving away from what you know. In my experience, every little challenge along the way has produced a bigger and better outcome.’
Working life in the Riverina and Murray region
The Riverina and Murray regions boast a thriving business ecosystem and a dynamic network of allied health professionals, making it a fantastic place to work – and be a patient! This community-driven environment encourages professionals to collaborate with and support each other. Being in a regional location, workers are also given unique opportunities for leadership and career advancement.
Andrew and Leanna have loved working as lead physiotherapists with Active Health Riverina. Team members are encouraged to pursue their ‘avatar’ or niche passion area, with Andrew focusing on golf injury and performance alongside business development, and Leanna exploring her growing interest in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Andrew says the cutting-edge strategies implemented at Active Health would compete with any clinic in Sydney, while Leanna has appreciated the wide variety of conditions and client presentations workers are exposed to in a regional health setting. ‘The last 10 months have been a really exciting learning curve for me,’ she says.
The ability to genuinely embrace work-life balance when you’re not commuting 90 minutes a day, as Andrew was in Sydney, is second to none in Wagga Wagga and across the regions in general. Now, Andrew is home in time each night to read his daughters a story and tuck them into bed, as well as play golf with mates one afternoon a week.
Much to do in the Riverina and Murray region
The Riverina and Murray region offers far more than just work opportunities. It also has a thriving sports scene, including the Borambola Sport & Recreation Centre, and cultural and dining scene. The area’s 152,000-plus residents are spoiled for choice with a busy events calendar, wineries on their doorstep, such as the stunning Borambola Wines and the beautiful natural Wollundry Lagoon.
Check out the art deco architecture and historic streetscapes in towns such as Leeton, Albury and Temora, mosey through the fresh food at the Riverina Producer’s Market, or cheer on a local team at one of the region’s great sports venues. Whatever you choose, this regional area of southern NSW certainly turns the idea of a ‘country town’ on its head.