Is rural Australia being left behind? Myf Warhurst wants to find out

"Australia is very much a vibrant, multicultural place; this needs to be reflected all over."

Freedom is the main word Myf Warhurst uses to describe her childhood in the country. “Our lifestyles were pretty loose now that I think about it,” she laughs.

Born in Portland, Victoria, Myf first moved to Donald and eventually to Red Cliffs, six hours from Melbourne, where she stayed until she was 17.

Before making the transition to the city, the now 50-year-old spent her days horseback riding outdoors – the sunset being her cue to return home for dinner. 

While she “loved her country existence,” leaving Red Cliffs was a “necessity” for Myf, who was determined to further her studies at university. With no campus in her hometown, the TV personality packed her bags and headed to Melbourne, or what she calls “the big smoke”.

“I was very much a fish out of water back in those days,” the radio presenter tells The Weekly. “We weren’t as evolved as the kids are now because we didn’t have the internet.” 

Eager to embrace city living, Myf deems her teenage self equal parts “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” and “innocent and naive”. All at once surrounded by many people after living in a town of so few, the university student grasped each cultural opportunity at her fingertips, devouring art-house films and attending every live music gig at her disposal.

“I always wanted to see the world; I always wanted that for myself,” she says.

“I love to be in nature. It never leaves you,” says Myf.

While growing up, having neighbours know her business “felt stifling”, but Myf soon found herself searching for that country-life camaraderie in Melbourne. “To have the support of a local, small community, to have people looking out for me, I felt pretty secure,” she now reflects. 

Myf is hardly an anomaly when it comes to leaving rural life for city living. “The younger generation have always abandoned small towns,” she says. “They have to go to the big smoke for greater opportunities. I think small towns need to start thinking about how they can adapt in order to survive and to bring new people in.” she adds.

It’s for this reason that Myf is hosting SBS’ three-part documentary series Meet The Neighbours. The social experiment follows eight households from diverse cultural backgrounds as they leave the city to live and work in the small town of Maryborough, Victoria, for three months.

“The families that were involved in the show were just amazing,” Myf gushes. “The fact that they were prepared to uproot their lives, to give something different a go, was really inspiring. It’s so difficult to move to a place where you don’t know anyone, even if for a short period of time.

“It gave me a bit of inspiration to do it myself and make the move to another city to be with my partner. It was like ‘if these folk can do it, I can do it; let’s just give it a try and see what sticks’.”

Throughout the experiment, the families experience, first-hand, the challenges faced by regional Australia, including unaffordable housing, skilled worker shortages, lack of diversity, and under-investment in crucial services and infrastructure.

Myf is hosting SBS’ new show, Meet The Neighbours.

“We need new ways of bringing people in,” Myf says. “And giving a bit of life to the towns. There are other issues like accessible housing that need to be addressed. If they’re not, I feel like the city and country divide will get even bigger and that’s not healthy.

“Australia is very much a vibrant, multicultural place; this needs to be reflected all over, not just not just in the cities.”

Currently in Brisbane with her partner, Myf is “never opposed to going back to country living”.

Although her parents moved to a country coastal town after retiring, the Spicks & Specks alum still visits her hometown regularly.

“I feel very nostalgic and warm when I go through Red Cliffs,” Myf says. “A lot of my friends are still out there. I always feel very myself when I’m near the Murray river. It’ll always feel like home; my heart’s always in the country. And I love to be in nature; it never leaves you.”

While Red Cliffs may be, at present, too far out for the TV personality, she has recently bought a place in the semi-rural Victorian suburb of Warrandyte, which lies along the Yarra River.

“I’m always crawling towards that rural or semi rural existence. I think I’ll always go back. I don’t think I’m a person who left that life behind. It’s in my blood.”

Meet the Neighbours premieres on Wednesday 1 November at 7:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.

Related stories