Places in the heart: Gary Mehigan

Celebrity chef and TV host Gary Mehigan came to Australia on a working holiday and stayed. Australia has transformed him, he says.

I arrived in Melbourne from London in 1991 with my wife, Mandy. I'd hit my mid-20s and wanted a sea change. We'd travelled through North America and Asia before arriving in Australia. We fell in love with Melbourne instantly - beautiful, green, clean, modern and easy to get around, yet it had this cool, urban feel. I got a job at Burnham Beaches in the Dandenongs.

We arrived in April, so I'd be on my motorcycle every day during this wonderful last hurrah of summer with beautiful, 28-degree days, the smell of eucalypt and the sound of bellbirds. I thought I'd landed in paradise.

I'd expected Australia to be like Sydney, with the harbour and the beaches. But there I was on the edge of the Yarra Valley with vineyards, strawberry fields and plum trees on my doorstep. Mandy and I went out every day off that we had. We went to Daylesford, Clunes and Kyneton, to Lorne, Apollo Bay and Warrnambool - you name it.

I remember driving into Daylesford, this wonderful historic spa town with its quaint old stone in the streets and the mineral springs, and we kept looking at each other, thinking: "This is beautiful, amazing, and all on our doorstep."

Australia has made me more liberal and optimistic. When I first came here, one of my friends said, "Australians hate authority." And I still think that rings true, our contempt for authority. I also fell in love with Australian optimism. I think that has changed me. Australia has also given me a much better work-life balance.

When Mum and Dad came to visit, we were driving on the NSW coast, through Eden, Narooma and Nowra, past beautiful rocky outcrops, blue water, sand and trees upon trees, and Mum turned to me and said: "You're not coming home, are you?" I said, "No, probably not."

Interview by Nina Karnikowski.

This series of articles produced with support from Tourism Australia.

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