“You’re terrible, Muriel”
With three little words, actor Gabby Millgate’s life and career changed forever.
Delivered with a knowing smirk in the 1994 smash hit movie Muriel’s Wedding, it remains one of Australian cinema’s most enduring lines, firmly entrenched in the national vernacular.
“I think [my character] Joanie was very jealous of Muriel. I think she was glad when she got into trouble,” Gabby said.
“I guess I did it really well.”
From a childhood in suburban Weston Creek, the bit-part led to regular acting and comedy roles on television, stage and in radio.
“It’s a real privilege to already be in people’s heads, as something nice,” she said.
“They smile when they see me, even if they can’t exactly know where they’ve seen me from.”
From Muriel’s Wedding to chooks and children
Today, Gabby’s job is a world away from the bright lights of the Australian film industry – instead, she spends her time mingling with chooks and children in a Canberra childcare centre garden.
After a chance encounter with an audience member in remote Western Australia, Gabby became obsessed with sustainable gardening practices, and moved into early childhood education.
‘Miss Gabby’, as she’s now known, is the “nature pedagogy leader” at Woden Valley Child Care Centre, teaching pre-schoolers about sustainability and caring for the planet.
Under her tutelage they raise chickens and ducks, grow herbs and vegetables, and get to share in the fruits of their labour.
“I want to advocate for children’s access to nature,” she said.
“Access to chickens and dirt and finding eggs and looking after animals.”
At the early learning centre, children are encouraged to dig in the dirt, rummage for eggs, and nibble vegetables straight from the garden beds.
“I think the emotional and social wellbeing that goes with that is worth advocating for,” she says.
“Otherwise early learning centres are just correctional facilities, where we’re saying ‘stop it’ and ‘don’t’.”
Indeed, nature-based school programs and “hands-on” learning are popular throughout Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, thanks to the benefits to confidence, self-esteem and development.
But for Gabby, her nature pedagogy role has brought a sense of certainty she craved after years in an uncertain profession.
“When I was working as an actor and a creative type, you’d often put in a lot of effort but nothing would come of it,” she said.
“That’s what I love about children having access to the garden. They’re literally nourished by their efforts, and that’s a big thrill.
“I think I’ve found my calling here. Everything I’ve done in life has led to being here now.”
And for that, her well-nourished and grounded students – and no doubt the chooks – are grateful.