Away from it all … Veronica and John Hutson with their horses on their property.There is a growing band of Sydneysiders who are fed up with the rat race and are after a quieter and more rural life, but want to remain within commuting distance of the city.

Many of these ”urban refugees” are not looking to do anything with their rural land – just having space around them is enough, some agents say. But there are others who want the full farm experience of keeping animals and growing vegetables, of having to close the gate behind them and strain to hear their neighbours.

These properties are generally less than five hectares, although there are many farms around Sydney that are hundreds of hectares. Despite the city’s growth, which is gobbling up a lot of rural land for urban development, there are still more than 125,000 hectares of open land in Sydney’s metropolitan area, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

In 2010-11, it found there were more than 44,000 cattle and 23,000 sheep on several thousand farms in the metropolitan area. Most of these are on the western edges, an hour or more from the city. But it’s possible to find sheep and horses grazing on land 20 kilometres north of the harbour, in Oxford Falls.

The exodus is being encouraged by improved infrastructure, such as shopping centres, roads and train lines. Camden, on the south-eastern fringe, 65 kilometres from the city centre, is one. The ABS found it had the second-highest population growth of any area in Sydney.

”We’re certainly seeing people moving out looking for that larger plot of land,” says an agent at Ray White Camden, Stuart Davies.

”As the infrastructure continues to develop to support the growth that’s going on out here, you’re likely to see more people choose it as an alternative lifestyle.”

Agents in others areas, such as the Hawkesbury, say new train lines and better roads are not expected to make much difference to travelling times. But despite commute times of about 90 minutes, rural-minded buyers are still coming. Elizabeth and Roy Ansted are one such couple. With their 10-month-old son, Archer, they have just moved from a two-bedroom house in Carlingford, which they sold for $650,000, to a 4.5-hectare property in Kurrajong, which they bought for $775,000.

”We just wanted Archer to have a better life than suburbia can offer,” Elizabeth says.

”We wanted a huge place where he could run around, and where we could be part of a community.” In their old house they could hear the ping of the neighbours’ microwave and the whir of the airconditioners. On the farm they can’t hear anyone. They’ve started an organic garden, and plan to have a ”menagerie” of animals, she says.

Both still work in Sydney – he at Meadowbank and she as a sales rep based in Cammeray – but the extra time spent travelling is worth it, Elizabeth says.

”Once you head over the Hawkesbury River, all your stress and worries just wash away. And we are lucky enough to live there.”

Ron Coleman, from Richardson and Wrench Windsor, says the demand for properties in the area rose in the second half of last year. ”If you’d asked me six months ago how many acreage properties I’d sold, I could probably tell you straight away – one or two,” Coleman says. ”But in the past six months we’ve probably sold six or seven, and that’s unusual – we’re a small office.”

Rural buying Median priceYoY changeKurrajong$845,000+15.2%Dural$1.55m-10.9%Oakville$945,000-10%Arcadia$1.32m+18.9%Bringelly$990,000+1.5%Kenthurst $1,245,000+ 3.1%Breath of fresh air in Kurrajong

John and Veronica Hutson moved to Kurrajong, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, just over 15 years ago in search of the freedom and fresh air they had when they were growing up.

Both had lived on the land in Africa and were keen to have that life again. So with only one of their three children still at home, they decided to leave Denistone, in Sydney’s north, for a more rural existence.

”We always cherished the open air and freedom and were keen to get that lifestyle again,” John says.

They finally found it on a nine-hectare farm, with an 1860s weatherboard farmhouse, workshop, sheds and stables, perched on a hill with fine views from the mountains to the plains.

”Initially we drove past it thinking it would be beyond our financial ability, until a real estate agent suggested we look at it,” John says.

It was in a central spot for John’s work, which was based in Parramatta but took him all over the state. And it had everything they were looking for – large enough for the animals they wanted but without too much upkeep. The couple have horses and chickens and a vegetable patch. But now, with all their children living interstate or overseas, the Hutsons have decided to sell up and move to Queensland to be closer to two of them.

The farm – on 4.5 hectares – is for sale at more than $849,000. The other 4.5-hectare lot is for sale for $595,000, or together at $1.39 million.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.