real life

The three things that made a mum move her whole family out of the city and into a new life.

Three key memories come to mind when asked why we opted to move an hour south of Sydney after establishing Quirky Kid, a child psychology clinic in Woollahra 10 years ago.

The first is a visual of me hanging out the washing while looking up at the underbelly of a 747 as it roared over the Inner West towards Mascot. With our newborn baby, Olivia, on a blanket close by, I was well and truly ready to start searching for a cleaner environment to raise a family.

The second was standing on a whale-watching platform at a small coastal school between Stanwell Park and Thirroul. I remember hatching a plan to meet the principal and see if they were taking new enrolments.

Spotting a great space for a clinic in Austinmer is the last. Everything started to line-up and it was then just a case of taking the plunge. So, we opted for fresher air, more space and a better value home, backing onto the bush with ocean views.

Image supplied.

It felt like our quality of life had improved, except on those days when I needed to be in the city. At the time, I was very thankful for ‘quiet carriages, WI-FI and express trains’. I’d jump on, whip open my laptop and write for an hour and a half each way. That’s how I finished writing my 80,000 word PhD thesis in 2016.

Since then I’ve worked on doing less commuting by growing a very special team of psychologists, graphic designers, illustrators and support staff. Now I see the bulk of my clients in Austinmer – a small beach-side village, 20 minutes North of Wollongong.


Christie Hayes on why she tree changed. (Post continues below.)

In true Quirky Kid style, the clinic is designed to help children feel comfortable, with blackboard paint, big wooden workbenches and glass jars full of brightly coloured craft supplies. We see local families as well as those who have travelled from Canberra, Bateman’s Bay and even Darwin to access our psychometric assessments and school holiday programs.

Between clients, Quirky Kid creates resources for classrooms and clinics to help children overcome anxiety (Basecamp), and to teach social and emotional wellbeing (The Best of Friends). We’ve recently partnered with the University of Wollongong (UOW) to research the efficacy of our programs and we joined iAccelerate, a business accelerator in the Illawarra designed to help scale social enterprises, like Quirky Kid, to generate more jobs in the local community.

I thought it would take longer establish to expand our business outside of Sydney but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the support. Most parents are happy to access local services for their children, so it was easy enough to establish a client base.

Last summer, we backpacked as a family through Japan, Vietnam, Laos, India and Sri Lanka for three months. I was anticipating a big challenge, but it was an absolute delight having copious amounts of unscheduled time and no commitments.


It’s something we’d love to do every year for a stint of uninterrupted family time in a stimulating environment. Technology allows me to support the QK clinical team from afar and most of our administration is automated.

I’m always looking to work more remotely, and to spend less time rushing. It felt like a leap into the unknown when we first decided to move, but now I’m starting to dream up the next big adventure, which allows us to scale the business and see more of the world as a family.

A family bushwalk. Image: supplied.

The move south has meant spending more time with our own children (Benji, six, and Olivia, 10). Most days we go for a bushwalk with our dog or bike ride along the coast, depending on what activities we have planned for the afternoon. With home, school and work all within a 10-minute radius, we can drop into sports carnivals or assemblies without too much planning.

I’m no longer coming home in the dark and in the warmer months I love to take a swim during my lunch break as Austinmer beach is a five minute walk from the clinic. It’s a peaceful place for parents to wander while their children are in session.

The move has also meant I find myself with much more time to pursue things which will benefit my career and at the moment I’m preparing to pitch at the Impact Investment conference featuring Tim Flannery and Al Gore. This will give me the opportunity to form partnerships with potential investors to help Quirky Kid deliver our evidence-based programs in schools.

As a social entrepreneur and child psychologist, I’ve co-founded an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change in Australian primary schools which I find endlessly rewarding.

Have you ever had a sea change? What made you do it?