Creativity sparked at Glen Innes

For creative spirits Jim A. Barker and Jamie-Lee Garner, the move to the New England region in northern New South Wales has given them the freedom to not only pursue their passions but turn them into a career.

When Jim and Jamie-Lee decided to move seven hours from their inner-city life in Sydney, to a sprawling mudbrick, off-grid home on 100 acres of bush outside Glen Innes, their family and friends were apprehensive.

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But the couple say their “niche skillset” and “lower cost of living” has given them the freedom to work for themselves in their creative fields – Jim with his photography business,  Twelve Points Photography and Jamie-Lee as an artist specialising in oils, ceramics and photography. “Moving out to a place like this has enabled a much greater work-life balance,” Jim explains.

“There are less overheads, so we have been able to minimise the amount of time we spend working for someone else. I am now working fully for myself, and Jamie’s been building up her portfolio of artworks.”

While their move was accelerated by COVID, “the seed” was planted well before, with COVID just the “trigger of a gun that was already loaded”.

“When COVID happened and everyone was working from home, we asked if it would be ok if we lived further away,” Jamie-Lee says.

With the original impetus to “practice our own art and have more time and space to do that” as well as live more sustainably, the couple say they stumbled across Glen Innes and their home by accident.
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“We were on a road trip out towards Broken Hill and were going to go south but the road was closed, so we came up to Glen Innes instead and had a look,” Jamie-Lee says.

“But we weren’t thinking about moving yet – or even buying a house – but then maybe six months later we started looking to purchase our house. And we saw some up here and remembered there was a really nice bookstore and cafe and that we had liked the way it felt.”

Jim says they hadn’t inspected any houses before they cast their net to Glen Innes.

“We had been looking for three to six months and hadn’t found anything we wanted to look at in person,” he says. “So we kept on looking further and further afield until we got this far north, and we came here and were just blown away by it.

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“It is one of those houses that takes your breath away.”

Jamie-Lee says it also ticked their box of living more self-sustainably.

“I remember writing down a list of what we wanted and if we could find an earth building – like a mudbrick house – fully off-grid with solar, that was the goal,” she says. “As there is just not many of them.”

Making the move in late-2021, the couple have not only held their wedding at the property – a huge undertaking with 120 guests – but have adjusted to a new way of life and community. “Our apartment in Surry Hills was a third of the size of our entire living room here,” Jim laughs.

But with it, has come a degree of isolation, he says.

“We are twenty minutes out of town, so we are not considered ‘townies’ by any stretch. We have to get into the car to drive into town so just getting that human connection element can be trickier.”

Jamie-Lee concurs, saying “there are no accidental interactions, you have to go somewhere to be around other people”. While they are more geographically isolated, Jamie-Lee says it is different to the sense of loneliness they experienced in the city. “Even though there were more people around, it felt like we were living in a little bubble,” she says. “It felt like it was just our house, and we weren’t very happy. It’s kind of why we moved.

“Now it is physically lonely because we are here alone, but it doesn’t feel sad. It feels beautiful.”

For Jim, the move has also seen them become part of a community – one he is working to document as part of his current photography work. “That was one of the things that really shocked me moving out here was just how friendly everyone in the country is,” he says. “You always hear it but don’t get to experience it in the cities. “Now that I’ve experienced it, I can’t go back to what we were seeing in Sydney.” There are also a lot of fellow creatives in the area, he says, which has seen him work on “trying to sell the secret of how many creative people live in the New England region”.

“We didn’t realise that we were moving somewhere that had the oldest arts council in Australia and lots of artists and artisans,” he says.

“So the project is aiming to document 100 artists in the area, in situ, and to tell the rest of the country of their seemingly secret existence”, with plans to feature all in a book and exhibition.

“I would like to get a book printed up that can be offered throughout the New England region, as both an artistic piece and a tourism piece, to attract more people to the region.”

Jim, who specialises in portraiture and was behind Doortraits, a series of highly-acclaimed photographs of Sydneysiders in front of their homes during the early stage of COVID, says he now has “greater and more varied opportunities for photography out here”, with his work including events, weddings, portraits, product and video.

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For Jamie-Lee, who also works for a podcasting company, the move has not only given her the physical space to pursue her art, but the mental space to “envelop myself in the experience of painting”.

“There is this sort of certain feeling of inner peace, I would say, that has helped me with creating work out here,” she says.

“It’s almost like you have the physical space outside but it’s also created a lot of internal space where I can actually think and not feel worried about whether the painting is good or not.

“I can just have fun. It has actually become enjoyable.”

With Jim working towards the launch of his exhibition and book in 2024, and Jamie-Lee developing her body of artwork, the couple say they have found their calling.

“The move has really enabled us to focus on our creative pursuits and creative learnings,” Jim says.

“We live a much more creative life now.”

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