Engineering a life in Shepparton

For Melbourne-engineer, Angela Durston-Ryan, a move to the Goulburn Valley hub of Shepparton wasn’t on the cards, but two years on she has not only turned her back on city living but wants to move further out, onto acreage in the local area.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Angela says while she was very “Melbourne-centric”, her family’s regular road trips to the snow and camping holidays not only got her out into the regions, instilling a “natural curiosity to try new things”, but also lay the foundations for her career as an engineer.

“Whenever we were going on a road trip, Dad would say ‘hold on, can we just pull in and have a look at some kerbs or drainage infrastructure?’, or whatever he was doing for a residential subdivision”, Angela laughs.

“So I have grown up on road trips talking about superelevation and curves and all that kind of thing.”

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This saw Angela travel abroad to pursue her studies in civil engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida as the recipient of a soccer and academic scholarship.

Playing for college, and upon returning home for some of Melbourne’s top-tier clubs, Angela says she had to make the difficult decision to hang up her jersey to “prioritise work”.

‘It’s (soccer) a really big commitment. It was three trainings a week plus a game on the weekend. Around the same time, work was getting really busy, so I needed to prioritise. And work came first, unfortunately, because women don’t get paid like men do for the same level.”

Angela says this is all changing, however, with her “heart exploding” with the recognition and support the Matilda’s received during the recent World Cup.

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“They are more of a professional athlete, rather than when I was growing up, there wasn’t that at all. There wasn’t even really that pathway to be a full-time football (soccer) athlete.

“And now you look at Matilda’s and you see kids going to the game, it makes my heart explode. Seeing how many people are supporting it, but also those bums on seats, equals dollars. Down to supporting the program, supporting the women who are playing.”

While Angela’s no longer on the field – remaining an avid supporter travelling to New Zealand to watch some of the games – her career has skyrocketed since moving to Shepparton as the engineering team lead at Spiire, a land development consulting firm.

Moving to Shepparton in April 2021 to be with her then partner, Angela attributes her job and purchase of her house as the “anchor” to Shepparton when the relationship ended.

“I decided to stay and give it a red-hot crack rather than running back to the comfort of Melbourne. And, I really love it.”

The community has also been integral in her decision to stay, she says.

“If you get ingrained in the community, then you want to stay. It does make a big difference. And I have embraced that.”

Angela says that community spirit really came to the fore during last year’s floods, which devastated the region.

“When we had the floods in October last year, the neighbours were looking out for you. The community just totally rallied around each other, everyone checking on each other, sandbagging before the floods – and just helping out where they could.”

While the region is still grappling in the aftermath, with the clean-up continuing, Angela says Shepparton is “booming”.

“After COVID especially, it was booming. Previously, an average housing estate used to sell, on average, say two or three lots per month, per stage. Then we had one development, that had 77 lots, and it pretty much sold out in a weekend after it was released.”

With the town’s infrastructure, its location and community all playing a role in this strong growth, Angela says housing affordability is also key.

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“My mortgage repayments are close to what I was paying before in rent in Melbourne,” she explains. While Angela says she bought her house at a good time and it needs some work, it has taken some financial pressure off, compared to what she would be facing if still in Melbourne.

“I was mentally and financially preparing for something in Melbourne,” she says, but when you then go and buy something for say, a third of the price, it helps a lot.”

Angela says this affordability has also fed into greater work-life balance, as has living close to work.

“In Shepparton everything is within 10 minutes’ drive,” she says. “In Melbourne, I used to take two trains and 45 minutes to get to work. Now it’s a seven-minute drive. It’s so easy.

“That time I used to spend travelling to the Melbourne office, I now go to the gym. You just have more time in your day.”

Now “ingrained in the community”, Angela says she has no plans to leave the local area, with her and her partner – who she met at “the pub” late last year – hoping to move onto acreage within 20 minutes of Shepparton.

“We were driving out of Shepparton a couple of months ago at sunset. It was so beautiful and so relaxing. And I was like, ‘can we move out here?’

“To which he replied, ‘I was just going to say the same thing to you’.

“It’s just so nice. There is tranquillity in the air.”

In the meantime, the couple will continue to embrace all that Shepparton and the region has to offer, with Angela saying, “it’s fun to explore a new place, create new memories and embrace country, regional culture”.

“Seeing how much it has grown in the last two years, it’s awesome. We didn’t have a Vietnamese store when I first got here, and now we have two.

“The food scene is coming up from Melbourne, and that’s what I missed a lot. But now it’s good, we have a lot of options, everything is gentrifying. But you still have the roots of the Goulburn Valley and country living.”

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