Constance traded in her bustling city life for a year in a small seaside town. Here’s what she learnt in her time away from the big smoke, nestled in Rainbow Beach.

Escape to Rainbow Beach

In a tale as old as time, I thought I’d take a year to see the world and ‘find myself’, or rather, find new spontaneous and unencumbered parts of myself. I planned to travel through Europe, Asia, and the Pacific in 2020. Big sigh, I know.

Spoiler – the trip was cancelled thanks to the virus permeating every nook and cranny of the earth. So no, I wouldn’t be diving off cliffs in Greece or exploring caves in Portugal. And however bitter I was about it, I resigned myself to this reality because there wasn’t much else I could do. And complaining that my overseas trips had been cancelled seemed a tad out of touch, given the current climate. 

The prospect, however, of being in the peak of my twenties and residing in the city I grew up in, was suffocating: the same city, the same streets, a new café here and there. Around the time I was meant to be boarding a plane to Nadi, something inside me snapped. This wouldn’t do. 

‘I think I’m going to move to Rainbow Beach’, I told my parents. 

My parents – involved, intelligent, but sometimes distracted people – nodded along in the conversation.

‘Sure Darl’, they said.

‘Probably in a couple of weeks.’ I said, and their eyes shot up from their newspapers in a comical way that only they can manage.



Three weeks later, my life was thrown in the back of my best friend’s station wagon, as she helped me lug my belongings from my family home to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, three hours north of Brisbane.

I would not waste a year lulling and plodding around Brisbane! No sir!

My year away from the big smoke, though seemingly off-the-cuff, truthfully started 21 years earlier when my parents discovered a small under-developed town where they could take their five rowdy kids on holidays. Bless your souls, Mum and Dad! 

Over the years, and with contemplative hindsight, I can pinpoint where the town was at certain stages of my life. As the town developed, and as the landscape changed from king tides and erosion, where was I at in life: six, eight, fifteen? When the ice cream shop arrived, I was around ten. Eleven years later, I worked there to pay my rent. It’s funny the pull a place can have on you. 

But holidaying in a place and living in one are two very distinct experiences. I got to peek behind the curtain and discover some fundamental differences between city and town life. And naturally, I unearthed some personal lessons too! 

So what’s it really like living out of the big smoke? 

In short: bloody phenomenal. 


A Sensory Overload: Why the hell can I hear my thoughts?

This one’s a quick one. But small towns are quiet. And I mean quiet. I grew up 700m away from a train station and ten minutes away from Brisbane airport. I’m more than accustomed to white noise at any time of day or night. 

As it wasn’t peak holiday time, during the first few nights in my rental property I found myself wondering: where’s the noise?

Simple whispers from birds and cicadas sounded. 

At first, I found it was quite an adjustment, so I eased myself in… slowly. I often wore headphones and listened to music and podcasts to have a basic chatter in the background. Until, eventually, I found comfort in the silence. And I ditched the headphones.  

The Inner Circle: Locals versus ‘Out-of-Towners’

With the same population count as my high school, a remote Queensland town can be daunting to launch into. In some ways, it’s stereotypical. Everyone knows everyone. And there’s no such thing as privacy, only the illusion of it.

With no hustle and bustle of city life, human conversation comes to the forefront as entertainment and naturally, a touch of gossip slips in there too.

As Rainbow Beach is such a tight-knit town, it was at first, intimidating for me to engross myself in the community. I knew a handful of locals already from my years of holidaying as a kid, and so, I found myself being introduced to other locals as ‘the writer from Brisbane’.

Eventually, I’d proven that it wasn’t a three-month holiday stint and I was here for a little while at least.

I had to do some learning though. I considered myself quite socially ‘ept’ – years of hospitality work deeply ingrains a strong ability to small talk. But, as a city kid, boy was I out of my league. This became apparent with what I’ve now deemed ‘the grocery shop phenomenon’. 

In Brisbane, you go to the shops, you get your groceries, you keep your head down because frankly you just don’t have the energy to interact with people you know or worse still, strangers.

My first few grocery shops in town, I was confused – why were people talking to me? Why were they asking what I was having for dinner that night? Was this normal? Horrifying, I know, that I was so surprised that people took a basic interest in the everyday happenings of my life. But I learnt to allocate chat time into my grocery shop. A five-minute dash was not possible. Prepare to dedicate at least half an hour of catch-ups when dinner planning.

Quickly, I found myself indulging in ‘small-town tropes’. When annual holiday time arrived, so too did a gaggle of ‘out-of-towners’, otherwise known as families, tourists, and exceptionally loud groups of ‘P’ platers. I, now an honorary local, felt comfortable rolling my eyes with other locals as we saw all the car parks on the main street evaporate – sardined with Land Rovers, Prados, and Troopies. 

I conveniently ignored the fact that for 21 years prior, I’d been one of these people holidaying in this very town. That narrative didn’t quite serve the superiority complex I was developing.

The town, like almost every remote town in Australia, relies on tourism to survive. So while we’d groan as the beach filled, and the street spilt with people demanding fish and chips, and ice creams, and bags of ice for their barbecues, we’d serve them politely because of course we would. 

Notably, my interactions with out-of-towners remain some of my most hilarious and positive memories of my year. I’ve since deduced it’s much like the relationship between a boss and an employee. The employee needs the boss for the job (and financial security). And the employee might very well enjoy the bosses’ company. But would the employee truly be an employee if they didn’t complain about the boss every so often? No. So whether it’s about overtime and unnecessary meetings, or car parks and too many coolbananas, the small-town trope I found myself knee-deep in, was human and in hindsight, hilarious.  


An Environmental Love Affair: The Woes and Blows of Paper Straws

Having grown up in the city, I generally feel a small amount of disdain disclosing to people that ‘yes, I grew up in the city’ and ‘no, I didn’t grow up immersed in Queensland’s natural landscape’.

Now, this isn’t to rag on cities. They have their purpose and are necessary hubs for culture and stimulation. In fact, those are the two reasons that cities came to be in the first place. But cities never captured my effervescence for nature.

So instead, I identify casually as a beach baby, constantly called to the whims of the ocean. With curly blonde hair, a smack of freckles over my cheeks, and a tan enforced by exposure to the Aussie sun, I can firmly pass as a beach baby. In an ideal world, I’d pass as a surfer – but I lack a certain finesse and skill (and am unable to look like anything but a giraffe in said surfing attempts).

Read more: Surfing Slang 101

So, from the nature perspective, the move itself was the most natural thing in the world. There was no ‘nature shock’. I wasn’t horrified by the height of waves and the flippancy of the ocean’s mood. Even in city life, I was always, one way or another, biding my time until my next ocean visit. Most of my university days were spent organising my schedule and finishing assignments early so that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my allocated beach day for the week. 

The pull of the ocean for me has always been exceedingly strong in a way that seems rather dramatic and indulgent. But my relationship with the ocean is an intense and personal one. So up-and-moving to a small beach town allowed me to dive headfirst into a natural partnership. Of course some days, we had our tumultuous rows when the ocean hadn’t slept enough due to a storm. But for the most part – both then and now – it was a love affair for the ages. 

In Rainbow Beach I grew protective over my natural life partner in a way I’d never been in the city.

Sure, as a city kid I cared about the environment, but candidly, I thought paper straws to be an abomination. They don’t work! They go soggy and I flatly refuse to hear anything to the contrary. But what about metal straws, you say? Metal straws hurt my teeth, because I’m a sook, okay. There I said it. I didn’t have a keep cup, but as a non-coffee drinker, I let myself off the hook, even though I’d often order smoothies or other bevvies to take away.

Then, I saw it. I saw the ocean every single day for a year and my protective instinct grew into a full Mama Bear rage. I saw people doing burnouts in their 4WD during turtle hatching season. I saw beer bottle lids littered along the shoreline on public holidays. Cigarette butts, chip packets, and straws too. And I was irate.

But despite the carelessness of some, Rainbow Beach remains a very clean and well-loved part of Queensland. Though I couldn’t help but wonder what the case was for more heavily-populated beaches on our beloved coastline.

Read more: Ten Years Without Plastic: Kathryn Nelson is Dedicated to Protecting The Oceans


The Chill of WinterBraving the Cold

As winter approached, some locals steered clear of the ocean, claiming it was too cold for them. Often I was met with gasps as I wandered down the main street in my togs.

‘You’re not going in, are you?’ people would ask, pointing at the goosebumps already visible on my arms.

Naturally, I’d giggle and tell them why yes, yes I’m going in. And I’d saunter away with an inflated ego because ‘I’m a tough girl who can handle the ocean in winter’.

I’d head to the beach, and for many days, I shared it with the single lifeguard who sat in his tower.

I found my sanity became inextricably linked to the number of ocean swims I’d had that day. Would I have clarity or be damned to a day of fogginess? This Queensland coastline is so alluring. It isn’t littered with skyscrapers and buildings on the horizon. Instead, all you see is nature. I’d dive under my first wave of the morning, come to the surface, and it was just me. Me and her. All very mushy, but ultimately, I found a true sense of inner peace. I’m yet to find my city equivalent, and I’m almost certain I won’t.

Read more: What Happened When I Tried to Swim Every Day of Summer


Surging Priorities

While I sometimes need the stimulation and the noise, I’ve determined that I won’t forsake my relationship with nature for anything. My year away from the big smoke informed this mindset, where nature, once a priority, is now essential to who I am, and how I understand myself. 

So when the buzz grows too much, I know what I must do. Hop in the car, a train, or a bus, and head to the beach.