When Your Holiday Destination Becomes Your Hometown

Blog Post
March 27, 2024
March 28, 2024

Having spent most of her life in the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, a regional tree change seemed like an impossible dream for Julia Cornwell McKean. Now, not only is she lucky enough to call Barooga home, but she is also helping to shape its future.

If you’re a city-dweller, chances are, at some point, you’ve caught yourself daydreaming about leaving it all behind… moving to the country and inhaling that fresh air- quiet enough to hear the birds, clear enough to see the stars.

For most, this will remain a pipedream. But for Julia Cornwell McKean and her husband, it became their reality.


‘For years and years, my husband and I would travel to towns along the Murray [River] for holidays, primarily because of the wonderful weather and fresh air,’ Julia explains. ‘We particularly liked Barooga and Tocumwal, as they were a good deal more peaceful than some of the other tourist towns.’

One Sunday night, after spending yet another weekend in Barooga, Julia began browsing local real estate opportunities online. ‘And the rest is history,’ she says.

The pair decided to buy a small unit in beautiful Berrigan Shire. ‘We thought we would come up once a month, but eventually, we found we were here every weekend and holiday. After a few years, we decided to downsize in Melbourne and upsize in Barooga, with the plan to eventually retire in Barooga.’

But the move came a lot sooner than Julia expected.  

Summers in Berrigan Shire are perfectly spent by the river. IMAGE: Berrigan Shire Council.


As a business owner, Julia felt that a full-time life in the country may not be a realistic possibility for her. She needed services such as high-speed internet and mobile coverage and was required to attend regular in-person business meetings.

‘Internet and mobile coverage were a real challenge when we first bought our unit in Barooga and were only here on weekends,’ says Julia. ‘As both have improved immensely, it is now a real option to run a business like mine from home in Barooga.’

The pandemic also changed the way many of us do business. In the past, there was little flexibility around face-to-face meetings and working from home was considered a temporary solution, rather than a permanent state of affairs. ‘Before the pandemic, I would attend business meetings in Melbourne during the week and come back to Barooga on a Thursday or Friday to spend the weekend. Since the pandemic, I have been able to run my business full-time from my home in Barooga, with nearly all of my meetings being virtual. It’s what I always dreamed of doing but would never imagine it happening in the way that it did.’


Julia has always loved driving change and serving others. She has spent decades working with, in, and for the government, including the Australian Public Service and several international committees. Seven years ago, she made the move to become a public sector consultant.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Julia reached out to various local community groups to volunteer her help where needed. ‘As the pandemic progressed, being a border town, Barooga really had a hard time,’ she says. ‘I got braver and started writing to Ministers about the impacts the border closures were having on our community.’

In May of that year, some local Berrigan Shire news spurred her into action. ‘It was announced that the Barooga swimming pool would close for good,’ explains Julia. ‘I was devastated, as an avid swimmer and advocate of water safety. I sent out emails seeing if I could be of any help. I then led a campaign that successfully campaigned for Berrigan Shire and Moira Shire Councils to co-fund the operating loss of the pool with Sporties Barooga, the owners of the facility, for two years.’

That same year, Julia was asked if she would be interested in running for Council. She initially declined. ‘However, when I was asked again in 2021, my answer changed, and I decided to run at the elections.’

After securing a position on the local Council, Julia decided she wouldn’t stop there. In September 2023, Julia decided to run for Mayor. ‘[I] am very grateful that my fellow Councillors saw fit to elect me to that role,’ she says.

‘Being Mayor of a regional Council certainly has its challenges. Firstly, there is the inequity: health, education, infrastructure, digital connectivity. And then there is the issue of the cities making decisions without considering how they impact on small communities such as ours.’

Julia, the first Indigenous mayor in Berrigan Shire, and a Wiradjuri woman, has been advocating loudly for the community. ‘And I believe that we have already made progress on some issues as a result,’ she says. ‘At a minimum, people are starting to ask who this pushy woman is!’ she jokes.

Julia with Sussan Ley MP, Deputy Opposition Leader and Craig Adkins at the new Barooga tennis courts.


Berrigan Shire is certainly worth advocating for. Located north of the Murray River, it sits in the Southern Riverina of NSW, close to the Victorian border.

The area boasts stunning weather, impressive natural features and, of course, that famous country warmth and hospitality. ‘The community has been great,’ says Julia. ‘Every morning I go to the swimming pool and gym, and then I walk to the coffee shop. Every person I pass says “Good morning”, whether I know them or not. I think that is just lovely.’

Perhaps it’s true what they say about sunshine boosting serotonin levels. Berrigan Shire, in combination with Moira Shire, is known as ‘Sun Country on the Murray’, thanks to its surplus of sunshine year-round.

Of course, the sunshine is also a blessing for the crops, sheep, and cattle that inhabit a significant portion of the area’s irrigated farmland. A day on the Murray Farm Gate Trail will give you all the delicious evidence you need.

The great outdoors beckons here – from river activities and water sports to birdwatching, golf (the Tocumwal Golf & Bowls Club will even host the PGA Associates Championship through 2037!) and nature trails for bushwalks and mountain bike adventures.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s all about nature. The Shire is dotted with charming historic buildings, and cafes, like The Café Berrigan and Berrigan Bakehouse, working their magic on farm-fresh produce and premium wineries.

Julia with 2024 Webex Players Series Murray River winner Kazuma Kobori at Cobram Barooga Golf Club.

Advice for anyone considering a tree change

  • Think you’d miss city life? ‘When I return to Melbourne from time to time, I wonder for a minute or two why I left. But it doesn’t take long when I encounter traffic, crowds and allergies that I realise where my heart is.’
  • Get involved: ‘I have met most of my local friends through my involvement in community activities,’ says Julia. ‘My friends are a mix of lifetime locals and tree-changers. It is really great how welcoming the community is to new people.’

If you’re considering a tree change, contact us for more information. We can help you to find the right regional destination for your family.

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