Venessa Paech is a clever clogs. First came success as a performer in New York after attending Tisch School of the Arts at NYU (the first Aussie to attend the music theatre program back then). Then she helped build one of Australia’s first start-ups, Arts Hub. Next up, she became manager of legendary travel community, the Thorn Tree for Lonely Planet. Melbourne’s cool cat company Envato recently nabbed her communication management prowess. Venessa’s curiosity, early adoption of technology and common sense mark her as a communications and community management expert. Today she exports her smarts from digs in East Geelong, to Melbourne’s Green Hat agency.
Venessa is also an industry giver, generously sharing her expertise by creating Australia’s first and only conference for community builders and managers (SWARM), giving masterclasses, consulting, and sharing her insights and stories at events all over. In fact, Venessa and her husband Stuart (who she met in an X-Files online forum in the early 90s) are pin-ups for the professional mobile workforce Geelong needs to storm the digital economy.
Back in 2005, following a long period of house-hunting in Melbourne, Venessa and Stuart were “sick of looking.” After missing out on a number of properties, it was time to change tact. Looking beyond the weekly competitive scrum at Melbourne auctions, they fixed their gaze west. A gorgeous period home in East Geelong “ticked all the boxes. We didn’t want to waste time, so we moved pretty quickly,” says Venessa.
With a sold sticker finally in place, so began Venessa’s life as a commuter, which she’s “constantly surprised by. Because I do travel for work – interstate and overseas as well – it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here 10 years at all!” Commuting from Geelong hasn’t been a career barrier for Venessa, “but I’ve certainly had employers ask upfront ‘are sure you’re OK with this? That’s a lot of travel.’ ”
Venessa’s tips on building community connections in a new place
Venessa and Stuart came in cold to Geelong from Melbourne. Neither had any local connections to speak of. Venessa leaned on her arts background to form an initial support network, immersing herself in various GPAC productions as a choreographer. “I have lovely relationships with the theatre community. To Victoria’s credit, its arts network is tight knit. So it’s easy to hook up colleagues and connections between Melbourne and Geelong, which promotes our intra-city relationship. Every show I’ve worked on in Geelong has had a composite cast of people from Geelong and Melbourne. People who hadn’t spent much time in Geelong come down for rehearsals, Geelong talent gets opportunities back in Melbourne. Cultural experiences help someone settle in. When you put on a show, you interact with your fellow creative teams, cast and crew, and your audiences.” “You also meet and befriend your train posse, and I’ve made some good friends commuting – people I may not have met any other way.”
Venessa’s routine is getting more flexible, not less. Employers are increasingly offering full flexibility, meaning working from anywhere, as long as you’re delivering the goods. This new world of work is the way of the future, and Geelong is well poised to entice more of those driving it.
Meantime, Venessa warns commuting is not without challenges. “The strain on the system is immense and the faults and delays often feel unrelenting,” she says. “Geelong is growing, and right now the system, even with the Regional Rail Link, doesn’t seem fit to accommodate that growth, let alone incentivise more people to join us.” The extended bus replacement service following excessive wheel wear on brand new Velocity trains is another source of frustration. “It was adding up to an hour to the journey depending on traffic. Commuting two hours each way is pretty extreme over such a short actual distance.”
Venessa’s ideas to make Geelong better
“There’s some essentials we need for Geelong to become a true 21st century city and compete with our peers around the country and the world. Wifi on our trains would be a logical start. Tactual investment in transport and sustainability is another – we need to think beyond election cycles. How can Geelong become a world leader in alternative energy markets, which are rapidly become mainstream in other nations? How can we show up the capitals?”
“Working flexibly demands great internet connectivity. As much as we love Geelong, the kind of thing that does make us discuss moving is the lack of NBN in Geelong. And that’s not a Geelong conversation, it’s a whole of Australia conversation. We’re just not taking this type of infrastructure seriously, which is a big economic risk. This is about the future of enterprise, hospitals, agriculture and everything in between. Not just watching Netflix – which some would have you believe.”
As mobile highly skilled professionals, international stints in creative cities remain on the table. Venessa’s short-list includes favourites like Berlin, Istanbul, Bali and Chang Mai: “digital-nomad havens, where there are co-working spaces, affordable, proliferating wifi and internet, and usually a cheaper cost of living.”
Venessa is quick to add, “I would love to stay based in Geelong, which is why I’d love us to improve our game! For example, how about we turn dormant or closed industrial sites into start-up and digital business incubators. We need more of those, and it could have a massive impact offering co-working spaces to others too. It’s perfect for bloggers, small businesses and people who want to grow ideas amidst a network of talent. It drives the growth and innovation our leaders claim is a priority. That type of investment does create jobs.”
Venessa is also passionate about street art and would love to see even more of it in the CBD. “I can see the creative opportunities if artists were invited to let loose even more.” Insights from her former employer realestate.com.au (where she managed content and social media) tell Venessa that Geelong’s increasing hipster influx is a marker of property price increases.
Hipster appeal to trigger real estate price growth
“When you start to see foodies, trendy coffee shops, pop-up stores and new bars, you know there’s youthful revitalisation. There’s an appealing energy I’m seeing that is great for our city. I was thrilled when we recently walked down Little Malop Street of an evening and there was a rolling foodie and arts festival. I told Stuart, ‘this is the most alive I’ve felt this street since we moved here.”
Venessa and Stuart are also evidence that non-sporting types can find a way to thrive in Geelong. “We’re not big sporting fans, which can feel a bit odd living in such a sporting centre. Stuart and I love technology, we love board games (we game with friends at GUF Games in the city), and Stuart also runs a trivia team at the Elephant and Castle. You’ll find us in second hand bookshops, funky cafes, parks, at the theatre, outdoor markets, concerts and movies.”
Whatever comes next, Venessa isn’t giving up her Geelong home. “That’s my little house and we plan to hold onto it. Maybe one day a lucky buyer can prise it away.” If Geelong can move with the internet times, and better accommodate the extra 271 sole traders who have registered in Geelong since 2012, hopefully we won’t lose Venessa and Stuart anytime soon.
- Pistol Petes
- Little Creatures
- Pako Festa
- Transport issues
- Lack of NBN
- Lack of energy choice
Learn about the delights on offer in East Geelong and see if it’s the right move for you.