AFTER living in a rural community her whole life, Alessa Margan chased the excitement of the city after finishing high school.
She moved from Broke, in the NSW Hunter Valley, to Sydney to attend university.
But it wasn't long before the wide open spaces of wine country called her home.
"Ultimately it left me missing a large piece of my identity - that connection with nature and to the land," she said.
Now 28, Ms Margan has dived into the world of wine, a family vocation that now spans three generations.
At Margan Wines and Restaurant in Broke, she works alongside her parents, Andrew and Lisa Margan, and brother Ollie.
She works across the vineyard, winery and restaurant's kitchen garden with a keen interest in the property's environmental management.
While Ms Margan said she is mostly optimistic and hopeful about the future, the rising cost of living and increased frequency of large scale natural disasters like the fires, floods and drought they'd faced were a "significant" source of concern.
She didn't feel like enough was being done about climate change at a "really crucial" point in time, and the collective resilience of those living on the land was likely to be tested even further in years to come.
"I fear it will be a case of too little too late, and the result of inaction will be the reality of my generation and those to follow - not those currently in charge, which doesn't feel overly fair," she said.
"I can't afford to buy land in the place I grew up in. It's a bad time to be a young person."
They were still recovering from the latest record-breaking flood that swept through the Hunter Valley.
But despite these frequent, often devastating challenges, Ms Margan says she feels "significantly" less pressure living regionally than when she was in Sydney.
It comes as Australian Community Media's inaugural "Heartbeat of Australia" survey found that younger regional Australians were less anxious, stressed and pessimistic, and more hopeful, content and optimistic than young metropolitan Australians.
"From my experience living in Sydney, it is really hard to get ahead," she said. "You're constantly paying through the nose just to live - let alone enjoy a social life on top of that."
The survey, done in collaboration with the University of Canberra, found that the older you are, the more content.
About three quarters of younger Australians were less satisfied with their achievements and personal relationships - and 67 per cent were less satisfied with their financial situations - than people aged over 45.
Andrew and Lisa Margan have had their share of challenges since establishing their vineyard and winery more than 25 years ago.
But despite the fires, the floods, and years of drought - they say it has all been worth it.
"It took vision and commitment and a big bank loan to get started," Lisa Margan said. "We were also bringing up a young family of three at the same time."
She said growing their business had occasionally presented cash-flow issues that at times they feared would "break" them.
"Viticulture is farming, so you are at the mercy of the elements," she said. "COVID gave us new challenges as it cut many of our revenue streams while our costs continued."
Mrs Margan said the past few years of pivoting and business reinvention had "toughened" them, but the growing severity of the natural disasters they had experienced couldn't be ignored.
"We are feeling we can cope and manage most things now, as we have experienced most challenges over the decades," she said. "Financially we are in a stable position, so we feel we have a bit of a safety net.
"But we have just experienced the most severe flooding in our region in recorded history. Prior to that we experienced the devastating fires of 2020, and before that, three years of drought."
Mrs Margan encouraged people to live more like earlier generations who viewed resources as scarce, expensive and finite - even if they doubted the phenomena of climate change.
"I think we should all adopt a bit of that retro mindset. Either way the world will be a better place for future generations," she said.
The Heartbeat of Australia survey found that Australians over 45 tended to be more optimistic and have more life satisfaction than those under 45.
Mrs Margan, who is in her fifties, said her and Andrew were more financially stable than when they were younger, which afforded them more choices now. Their insecurities had diminished with age and with each new challenge they survived. They now place more trust in their intuition over other people's opinions.
"Wisdom is supposed to come with age, isn't it?" Mrs Margan said.
"I feel lucky to have family and friends, and the saying 'health is wealth' rings true for me.
"My Generation X cohorts often remark that we are happy to have missed the social media dependency that younger generations have, and the anxiety and insecurity it seems to bring with it. We know that the carefully curated life on Instagram is bollocks. We got to make our mistakes without them being photographed and documented on social media."
Mrs Margan's father, 82-year-old Eddy De Marco, also worries about the state of the planet, and the rising cost of living causing poverty at a time when "prosperity should prevail".
"We are the current custodians of this planet, and even though we have contributed many inventions and advancements, they have produced a selfish attitude of not caring about over-consuming our limited resources, as long as we are comfortable and satisfied," he said.
While he sees some people in younger generations "self-destructing" with drugs and hours of gaming, others have given him faith in the future of mankind.
"I have confidence in the future when I observe the young ones who are not wasting their lives," he said.
Overwhelmingly, the thing that has brought the Sydney-based great-grandfather the most pride, joy and contentment has been watching his family grow and prosper.
While having a successful career had been a goal for him in his twenties, Mr De Marco's main priority had always been to raise a family beside the woman he loved. Looking back, it remains his proudest achievement.
His biggest challenge had been the loss of his wife to cancer in 2017.
"All other setbacks pale into insignificance," he said.
"I think older people are generally happier because they cherish the time they have."
Life had not always been easy, he said, but self-belief, prudent spending and a supportive partner with common goals had smoothed the path to a fulfilled and happy life.
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