MANY Australians have fond memories of growing up in the bush, but growing old in the country is not always so carefree.As rural Australia continues to lose its young people to the city for work and education, it is attracting urban retirees lured by cheaper housing and the dream of a life in the country.
For some it heralds a return to their family roots, but for others it is fulfilling an ambition to call a place where they have been so happy on holidays, home.
But retiring in the bush is not all clean air and bird song.
The voice of senior Australians - Council on the Ageing - says country towns are great places with a strong sense of community, but there are often fewer health services, minimal public transport and slower internet speeds, which can affect how many keep in touch with children and grandchildren.
While difficulties posed by the nation's greying population - a smaller tax base and shrinking pool of younger workers - are well documented, the impact in regional areas is likely to be greater and solutions more expensive.
Country areas face a relative shortage of aged care services, and in more remote areas where the demand is low facilities for the small number of people who need them are unprofitable, according to the National Rural Health Alliance, a group of 32 bodies committed to serving the bush.
Sadly, there are instances of elderly couples being forced to part when not enough aged care places are available in the same facility, or the deteriorating health of one of them means moving not just to a different aged care home, but another town.
"Then, there is the dilemma that the transport between town A and town B, is not regular, so then where do you stay (during the visit)?" COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said.
"In many parts of Australia non-metropolitan transport is minimal or non-existent or hugely time consuming. So there may be transport to take you to the next town, but it will take you the whole day."
To add to the family stress, the adult children of many rural seniors live in the city with their own family and are faced with long drives on weekends to check on their parents.
Retirees, especially those from the city, are being urged to finesse a plan before heading bush.
"Anecdotally, cheaper housing and weather are the reasons why people move to country areas," Mr Yates said.
"(But) people need to check out services and not assume government will pop them in."
Access to health services in major regional centres may be good, but the further away you get from those big hospitals, the options will become limited.
"That may be OK for stable conditions, but for urgent matters the specialist might only come once a month - that is not a criticism, but the volume of treatment (for a more regular service) just isn't there," Mr Yates said.
Retirees need to take account of potential health issues and the reality of treatment options in the bush and squirrel away savings for a rainy day.
"None of these things are saying don't move to the country. It is just to say have a plan," Mr Yates said.
These concerns are echoed by Professor Jeni Warburton, chair of the John Richards Research Initiative into Aged Care in Rural Communities at La Trobe University.
The country and the coast may offer a great lifestyle for older people, but Prof Warburton says such a move is not without risks, especially when a partner dies or becomes sick.
She warns once retirees have sold their city home, bought a smaller house in the country and perhaps a new car, they often can't afford to go back to the big smoke, even if they need to.
"You see this on the Murray River. It is popular because people have had holidays there so they retire there," she said.
"It is OK when they go with their partner and they are healthy, but they are vulnerable to certain risks, like their partner getting sick or dying.
"They might want and need to be close to family, but they can't afford to go back."
Of the some 2.9 million Australians aged 65 and older, about 35 per cent live outside the major cities.
Prof Warburton said there are more opportunities to be involved in a small, rather than large community and high levels of volunteering often compensates for a lack of services.
While many country areas are crying out for young people and there are government incentives to move to the bush, Prof Warburton says the older demographic should not necessarily be seen as a problem.
"Some rural areas have a very high proportion of older people and that can lead to issues around making sure there is enough economic base in the community, but it is not necessarily a problem, it (just) needs to be planned for.
"There is a tendency to focus on 'we want young people, we want young people' but a good mix is important," Prof Warburton said.
National Rural Health Alliance executive director Gordon Gregory acknowledges that governments have a finite number of resources, but his organisation believes people in pastoral areas should be able to grow old and die in a place of their choosing.
Mr Gregory says in general, people in regional areas are older, sicker, poorer and have less access to services compared with those in the cities.
Despite government efforts not only to entice medical workers to the bush, but encourage students in regional areas to study in the health field, there continue to be shortages.
And the younger generation of doctors is less likely to want to follow in the footsteps of the older "bush doctor heroes" who worked long hours and were often on call, Mr Gregory said.
COTA says providing enough medical and aged care workers for the bush is a continuous challenge, but people also need to realise there is a limit to the services the taxpayer can provide.
Some who have spent most of their lives in the country wouldn't move anywhere else.
At 85 Margaret Hyde, from Leongatha in Victoria's Gippsland, still drives and can walk into town, but she feels for those who have not been blessed with such good health in their senior years.
"If I didn't drive I could walk into town, but those who live further out their only means of getting into the town is by taxi. (It is subsidised) but it is still expensive, so it limits how often you can do it."
A member of the Country Women's Association, Mrs Hyde knows many people across the state, has family close and is never short of company, but says it is harder for those who move to the bush.
"Some people (go to the country) and expect to have as many social facilities as the city, like going to the pictures around the corner or going for coffee and it is not there," she said.
Like Mrs Hyde, Margaret Murphy has spent most of her life in a small country town - Minyip in Victoria's Wimmera region which has one of the highest proportions of seniors in Australia.
Mrs Murphy, 69, says there hasn't been a fulltime doctor service in Minyip for about 20 years, but she has nothing but praise for the local community health centre and aged care hostel.
"If you have lived here all your life you would be content. We've gone through droughts and tough times, but you learn to live the life because it is a very free life and a good life," she said.
"Everybody looks after everybody else."