“Why’d you guys come?” I asked him and the answer, though comically elegant, wasn’t much different from why most of us have come: “My wife got offered less work for more money if we moved down here,” he said. After I was done grinning I thought to myself: yeah, that about sums it up.
I’ve only lived in Invercargill for a couple of months, but I’ve already met over a dozen other “evacuees” from other parts of New Zealand. We've all moved down here for reasons that are either to do with 1) money, 2) spare time or 3) the balance between the two. We’ve been overworked, underpaid or tired from trying to keep up, and we’ve attempted to restore balance to our personal and working lives by going down South - to Invercargill.
It’s both a testament to how well this city is doing and how wacked-out-crazy the rest of country is, because most of us - the dozen that I am referring to here - are educated, mid-thirties, married and with children. None of us are freeloaders; all of us are craving a sense of ownership in our own lives.
Who are we? I, personally, am not a good example for the sake of illustrating this story because having arrived in New Zealand only eight years ago I’m technically a recent migrant and therefore expected to encounter difficulties settling in.
The others, however, are not. They are Kiwis - either New Zealand born and bred, or have lived here since early childhood. Unlike recent arrivals with complicated backgrounds, they’re the “real deal”: people with established familial circles, continuous histories and relevant cultural upbringing. They’ve come from all over New Zealand where they’ve packed up their lives and their families, and they’ve come down South in a bid to restore balance to their lives. They’ve wanted houses that cost less, jobs that are easier to commute to, children who they can see more of.
A guy pushing shopping trolleys in my local supermarket, for example, came down from Wanaka - they’re building a house here and Wanaka’s own prices were simply too prohibitive to even attempt a build. A girl I met at a dog park is originally from Auckland - having moved to Invercargill she’s been able to buy a house at a tender age of 23 when, had she stayed in Auckland, she would’ve kept saving for another ten years before even getting a deposit together, or just continued to rent forever. A mom of three preschoolers I met at a playground a week ago is from Wellington - they are looking for a house to buy, their first-ever, very own home.
And I could go on, but it gets kind of repetitive and pointless.
I’ve been astounded by the apparent abundance of people like that and the ease with which I’ve come across them. I expected there’d be a fair amount of us, but I didn’t think it would, literally, mean that every fourth person I made an effort to chat to would say they’ve moved to Invercargill less than a year ago. I’m not even counting the people who’ve said they’ve come five, ten, fifteen years ago.
Almost all of them agree that weather sucks, almost none of them have regretted the move.
It has, on one hand, filled me with confidence to see the town grow in such a manner. Young families with children bring life and enthusiasm to where they arrive, and I think Invercargill needs that.
On the other hand, it’s made me worry. Invercargill is the last reasonably priced city in New Zealand hovering at three times annual income for an averagely priced house, and though now a homeowner, I worry for the people yet to come, and about Invercargill in general.
The dozen I’ve described in this article have come from other parts of New Zealand for a chance at owning their own home, and working less. When Invercargill becomes like those other cities in New Zealand already are, where will people go then?