Sophia Antoncic’s commute to work used to be a drive through one of Australia’s most industrious towns.

Now, it is a mere 200 metre walk down to the pristine water and coconut palms that line the beaches of Great Keppel (Woppa) Island.

She sets herself up at the beachfront bar and begins mixing cocktails and pouring glasses of chardonnay to satiate the tourists who are enjoying a small reprieve in this slice of paradise, off the coast of Yeppoon in central Queensland.

But for her this paradise is home.

woman smiles as she puts blue drink on bench

Ms Antoncic works at a beachfront bar on the island. (ABC Capricornia: Scout Wallen)

The 20-year-old swapped the central Queensland town of Gladstone for the island life about six months ago. She hasn’t looked back.

Ms Antoncic said witnessing a traumatic car accident and the stress of the final year of high school had affected her mental health.

“Working a nine-to-five job in a small town was stressing me out,” she said.

“My dad actually sent me the job advertisement [for this job] and I just thought ‘wow, it is my dream to work on an island’.”

girl smiles in a beach front bar

Ms Antoncic says she loves the view from her work.(ABC Capricornia: Scout Wallen)

She said moving away from a traditional work environment had improved her mental health.

“I was really glum and coming here has changed me so much as a person,” she said.

“If I’m having a bad day I just go down to the beach, the crystal-clear waters and snorkel with some turtles.”

island and blue water

Great Keppel (Woppa) Island is a 30 to 40 minute ferry trip from Yeppoon.(ABC Capricornia: Scout Wallen)

TELUS Health Australia vice-president Jamie McLennan’s company has been conducting research since the start of 2020 to provide an empirical measure of the mental health of employed Australians.

Mr McLennan said he has seen a trend of people ditching the traditional corporate grind for a slower lifestyle developing for years.

“At the end of 2020, a lot of people generally were trying to reassess life and what they were wanting out of it … [we saw] higher rates of staff movements and resignations,” he said.

man smiles at camera in formal wear with black background

Jamie McLennan says younger workers are more burnt out and stressed.(Supplied: TELUS Health)

He said it had manifested more significantly in younger workers because they were questioning what they wanted to achieve in life.

“[Younger workers] want to feel a sense of meaning in terms of their role, and they certainly want their wellbeing to be factored in,” he said.

Island life or van life?

When Cass Jovanovic wakes up each morning, the main decision she must make is where to today?

“I was recently at Carnarvon Gorge where there is a lot of hikes, so [my day] was laid out in front of me,” she said.

“But other times I might be in the mood to drive a couple of hours, or go to a new city I have never been to.”

Woman crouches down next to a gorge

Cass Jovanovic quit her job in January 2023.(Supplied: Cass Jovanovic)

The 23-year-old had just finished studying youth work when she decided the cookie-cutter work life wasn’t for her.

She saved up $30,000 in a year and a half, bought a van and took off around Australia at the start of 2023.

A white van with a chair set up

Ms Jovanovic has been travelling around Australia in her van.(Supplied: Cass Jovanovic)

“I have kind of escaped the hustle culture,” she said.

Ms Jovanovic said people her age felt pressure to live the way their parents did – school, university, work.

“You don’t really give yourself a break to experience these amazing things life has to offer,” she said.

“I’ve kind of escaped it by finding a way to do both.”

woman stands at lookout with sunset in background

Ms Jovanovic spends her days working on the road.(Supplied: Cass Jovanovic)

More prone to burnout

Mr McLennan said younger workers had high levels of anxiety and stress, and in TELUS Health’s most recent research released a fortnight ago, 47 per cent of younger workers said they were burnt out.



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