Computer technician Jason Binder, of Gooroo Technical Services at Alstonville, prefers the relaxed country lifestyle to life in the fast lane in Sydney.
Computer technician Jason Binder, of Gooroo Technical Services at Alstonville, prefers the relaxed country lifestyle to life in the fast lane in Sydney. Doug Eaton

Lismore's priceless lifestyle

JASON Binder isn't earning anything like his former wage as a senior computer technician in Sydney – but life on the Northern Rivers has given him a lot more than money.

Mr Binder and his wife, Alison, moved to Alstonville from Sydney about seven years ago, starting Gooroo Technical Services at Alstonville – a business that has Mr Binder travelling around the region providing technical support to the region's businesses and computer owners.

“I was working in a head office position in Sydney and then I met this lovely lady and got engaged,” he said.

That relationship and the couple's plans to start a family inspired the move to Mr Binder's old stomping ground on the Northern Rivers.

“You've got to make a decision on whether you want to keep going crazy in a high-pressure environment like Sydney or make a lifestyle choice and live in a better area,” he said.

That “lifestyle choice” also meant moving to one of the most poorly paid regions in Australia.

The Australian Local Government Association's latest State of the Regions Report ranks Northern Rivers incomes 63rd out of 67 regions around the nation.

Our average income is only 44% of the nation's richest region.

Northern Rivers Social Development Council chief executive Tony Davies said lower salaries only partly explained the difference.

Broadly, the region's low ranking also fed off its high unemployment rate, its high rate of people scraping by on welfare and under-employment among those who did have a job.

On top of that, some of our dominant industries, such as retail and hospitality, are already at the low end of the pay scale.

“On average, people (on the Northern Rivers) work five hours less per week than others in the country,” he said.

He said workers were often copping a double or even triple-whammy – getting paid a lower rate than their metro colleagues while doing fewer hours in an already low-paid industry.

Mr Davies said he had spoken to people working in professional jobs on the Northern Rivers who admitted to spending time homeless and to employers who said they were embarrassed at the amounts they were able to offer people seeking jobs with them.

The resulting financial pressure was widespread.

Mr Davies said the average Northern Rivers family spent about 40% of its income to cover its mortgage – well beyond the 33% threshold that traditionally marked “housing stress”.

However, as Mr Binder has found, the flip-side to that was living in a beautiful area and a solid community.

“I used to drive up Parramatta Road every day and the aggression on the streets was shocking,” he said.

For Mr Binder, living on the Northern Rivers is not about pay – it is being able to say hello to someone walking down the street and about his children growing up in a safe, clean environment.

Some things money can't buy.



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