Next door strangers: one in four Australians do not know their neighbours

Next door strangers: one in four Australians do not know their neighbours

By Angela Saurine 7 November 2018, Fairfax Media

Australia may be known for a long-running soap opera centred around needing good neighbours - but in reality, the people living next door are often strangers.

New research by HSBC Bank has found that one in four Australians do not speak to their neighbours - with 19 per cent only knowing their neighbours by sight and seven per cent saying they wouldn't know their neighbours if they fell over them.

Social researcher and futurist Mark McCrindle said things were much different to when the TV series Neighbours first hit our screens three decades ago, with people now leading busier lifestyles.

"That sense of isolation in our suburbs has been a growing phenomenon," he said. "The Australia that we used to know is not as much the case, especially in the inner ring suburbs. As we become more densified and live closer to our neighbours we know them less. People bunker down a bit more. In some ways that's understandable in apartment living. People want to maintain their privacy with people next door compared to detached homes."

Mr McCrindle said there was also an increasing proportion of householders renting.  "The average renter stays 1.8 years per home, so people are moving more frequently," he said. "If people know they're moving on in a short period they're less likely to connect."

The HSBC Great Australian Dream Home survey also found that only 14 per cent of respondents met the neighbours before moving in and 45 per cent have an issue with their neighbours.

"We have lost a bit of that sense of community living and give and take and we're less tolerant than we used to be," Mr McCrindle said. "In the past we used to just solve it over the back fence but these days things are more structured – there are strata managers and rental and owner tribunals and councils get more involved with neighbour issues."

Psychologist Dr Stan Steindl, from Psychology Consultants, said humans had always had a strong desire to live in groups and tried to look after one another to fend off threats.

"It's a modern problem that has emerged whereby we still live in communities in a sense but often there can be very deeply felt feelings of isolation or disconnection," he said. "We have this funny scenario of living in close proximity to strangers – our threat system kicks in and we start to look for that in these people and start to build our defenses."

Dr Steindl said that it can be fuelled by the community and politicians. "There's a lot of fear mongering that goes on," he said. 

The survey of 2,000 people also found that the ideal home in 2018 is a Scandinavian-style single storey abode with luxury kitchens and bathrooms, no pool or spare bedroom, in a pet-friendly neighbourhood. It has high tech amenities, entertaining areas and walk-in wardrobes. Traditional features such as barbecues and Hills Hoists are also popular with the majority of people, with men preferring a wine fridge or cellar over a shed.

Two thirds of Australians are also prioritising their pets over their children when it comes to making decisions on the location of their home, with 69 per cent saying they would prefer pet-friendly accommodation to living in a school catchment zone.

One in four Australians are not proud of their current homes. The most commonly needed renovations are new bathrooms, with a 25 per cent ranking this as their top priority, followed by new kitchens at 20 per cent.

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