This new local has opened his heart to Gundagai – and it has welcomed him with open arms
Sometimes, if you’re lucky enough, you visit a place that instantly feels like ‘home’. For Andrew Bullen, this special place was Gundagai.
‘I don’t believe I ever chose Gundagai. It was much more a case of it chose me,’ he explains. ‘I’d never really even driven through The Riverina… but the scenery as I drove through the first time I came to explore the region simply felt like I’d come home. It was just so beautiful with its natural undulations and the scale of the vista with its stunning landscape and unique palette of colour excited the “artist” inside me.’
Andrew spent his childhood on a semi-rural property in the Hills District of Sydney. So at the age of 16 he was like a moth to the flame, being drawn hard and fast to the bright lights and energising buzz of the big city.
He spent the next 35 years soaking up the exciting urban lifestyle, working in fashion, publishing and advertising and, most recently, his dream job as restaurant manager of high-profile Sydney venue, Bloodwood.
The seed for Andrew’s country change was first planted when ruminating on the next stage of his life. He thought an acreage out of the city might allow him to explore the regions, while also designing and creating his dream home and garden. The non-negotiable? A superb view.
In late 2019, Andrew stumbled across an old church for sale online, and drove out to Coolac in Cootamundra-Gundagai to take a look. While the church sale may not have worked out, that serendipitous drive led him to discover the beauty of Gundagai.
It was love at first sight.
A gracious real estate agent showed him around town and guided him to a block of land that boasted a view and a ‘fantastic though all-but-derelict shack’. After another look around Gundagai, Andrew returned to the property and called the agent to make an offer while staring at his new view.
Not wanting to leave his dream job, Andrew spent the next two years splitting his weeks between Gundagai and Sydney. But like so many of the gems in The Riverina, Gundagai has worked its way into Andrew’s heart and he has now made the decision to make the country change permanent.
Moving to a new town where you don’t know anybody may feel like an overwhelming prospect, but Andrew says he has been welcomed with open arms.
‘I’ve been blown away by how quickly I now have the most wonderful growing circle of friends in Gundagai and its immediate surrounds. Some of these friendships are with other “newbies” like myself but the vast majority and the closest friendships have been formed with people I refer to affectionately as “Gundagai Royalty” – locals who seem to know everyone and can point you in the perfect direction for anyone you need to help you with getting anything done.’
Andrew says that while his sexuality certainly doesn’t determine who he is, as an openly confident gay man he was aware that moving to life in a smaller regional town could have been confrontational for some. But his welcome to the town couldn’t have been warmer.
‘People talk about diversity, but it only works when we all accept everyone for who we are and what we bring to the table,’ he says. ‘Gundagai is an amazing place, town and community.’
Cootamundra-Gundagai is a jewel of The Riverina region, boasting proximity to major cities, a passion for arts, culture and sports, and a strong sense of community. Industrial and residential land is still available in Cootamundra and there is a current need for more agritourism businesses.
With experience running restaurants, festivals and events, and a passion for the arts and good food, Andrew is excited about the opportunities that exist in the region – and how he can leave his mark on Gundagai.
‘I’m incredibly excited to come to a new region and really get to know what’s missing, what people would like to see and what we can create to generate Gundagai’s visibility and economy in a positive way, while maintaining everything that currently makes Gundagai as magical as it is,’ he explains.
For now, Andrew’s head is buzzing with ideas for good eating opportunities and new community-focused events encompassing his many interests. While the locals are hoping he’ll open a restaurant, he’s busy envisioning intimate dining affairs: ‘I can see a long table on a hill with a group of 15 or so people enjoying a banquet of food, washed down with some great wine as we all enjoy the views and new company.’
So after making such a bold life pivot, does Andrew have any advice to offer others? ‘Just get in the car, go for a drive, open your eyes to the incredible opportunities that are around you and follow your heart.’