City slickers who moved to outback Australia on a coin flip urge young people to embrace the 'land of opportunity'

© Provided by ABC NEWS Annette and Tim Moes initially planned on staying in rural Queensland temporarily. They’re leaving 32 years later. (Supplied: Annette Moes)

A coin toss in 1989 decided where Sunshine Coast teachers Annette and Tim Moes would begin the next phase of their careers.

The Moes, then aged in their twenties, were choosing between the tropical rainforests of Cairns, in Far North Queensland, or the dusty, red plains of Mount Isa, in the north-west.

“We couldn’t decide. We said, ‘God, you decide where we go’ and we went outside and flipped a coin,” Mrs Moe said.

“Mount Isa came up and we haven’t looked back since.”

It turns out the Moes were way ahead of their time.

2020 saw a record number of people trading in the big smoke for regional life.

It’s a move the couple is encouraging more people to embrace.

“If you just have that attitude and are open to trying something, people in the country will embrace you,” Mrs Moes said.

“Just say yes.”

The ‘land of opportunity’

With no knowledge of the faraway land they were about to call home and no accommodation planned, the starry-eyed couple flew to Mount Isa 32 years ago, only a day after their fateful coin toss.

The 47-degree heat struck them as they stepped off the plane, but it could not stifle their excitement.

“It was the people. We were with an amazing group of people who brought us here and it’s the people of Mount Isa that have kept us here,” Mrs Moes said.

Initially planning to stay temporarily, the Moes never expected to fall in love with life in an outback city.

“We felt it was going to be a great adventure for two or three years,” Mr Moes said.

“We had even built a house on the Sunshine Coast which we thought would be our forever house and we’d return to have children.

“We never went back.”

As teachers at distance education provider School of the Air, the couple spent years travelling around rural Australia.  

The land, the lifestyle, and the people got under their skin.

“Places like the Gregory river and Lawn Hill, they’re not places you forget easily. There’s nothing like those places anywhere else,” Mrs Moes said.

“I know several people who left the region years ago but return for birthdays or anniversaries and you have people converging to celebrate at the Gregory river.”

Flocking to regional Australia

In 2020, a net 43,000 Australians moved to regional areas from capital cities, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

That is more than double the number in 2019.

The ABS data also shows a substantial number of people are moving from other states to regional parts of Queensland. 

“This is the land of opportunity. It’s a great place to start out a career. I’d urge any young person to come and hang out here,” Mr Moes said.

Full circle

Annette and Tim Moe, now in their 50s, are saying goodbye to the red-dirt land as family commitments draw them back to the coast.

“We are really grateful for our time here. Tim often says that whatever we contributed we got back ten-fold just from being here,” Mrs Moes said.

“I’m so glad that that coin flipped up with the Mount Isa side.”

While they’ve seen the physical face of the city change over the past three decades, one thing remained constant.

“It’s still the people that keep people here,’ Mrs Moes said.

‘One of the things we love about Mount Isa people is that they’re optimistic and they’re always up for a good idea.

“Whereas in some other places, people aren’t perhaps as open to new ideas.”

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