From Muriel's Wedding to childcare: Gabby Millgate's next adventure

Gabby Millgate at her book launch with one of her childcare charges, Violet Kaylock (4), and Violet's brother Teddy, six months. Picture: Jamila Toderas
Gabby Millgate at her book launch with one of her childcare charges, Violet Kaylock (4), and Violet's brother Teddy, six months. Picture: Jamila Toderas

"Accidental actor'' turned Canberra childhood educator Gabby Millgate has released her first book - ostensibly about chickens but also about celebrating children in nature and understanding that kids thrive from being given responsibility.

The delightfully-named The Book, Book, Book - the chickens helped pick the title - was "an amazing dream come true", the Muriel's Wedding star said at its launch in Canberra on Wednesday.

The book was launched on the same day Gabby received her diploma in early childhood education and care from the YWCA. She said she was able to complete her studies and the book thanks to the example set by her own mother, Kerrie Dickie, who was in the audience at the launch.

Gabby Millgate (far right) at the launch of The Book, Book, Book with her parents John and Kerrie Dickie and her sister Monica Millgate. Picture: Supplied

Gabby Millgate (far right) at the launch of The Book, Book, Book with her parents John and Kerrie Dickie and her sister Monica Millgate. Picture: Supplied

"My amazing mother had two children, worked full-time and did her bachelor's over seven years. Mum taught me how to work hard and set goals and achieve them," she said.

Best known as Joanie "You're terrible, Muriel" Heslop in the 1994 classic Muriel's Wedding, Gabby said moving into childcare had been revelatory. She had gone from a competitive environment in show business to a collaborative one in childcare. And it was in childcare she felt all her skills were put to their best use.

"I would often say to my mum [before going into childcare] that I felt like I was a pot of gold being treated like a doorstop, not being used to my full potential," she said.

Gabby Millgate as Joanie Heslop in Muriel's Wedding. Picture: Supplied

Gabby Millgate as Joanie Heslop in Muriel's Wedding. Picture: Supplied

Now Gabby is understood to be Canberra's only specialist nature pedagogy leader, and works at the Woden Valley Childcare Centre. There she encourages the children to connect with the natural world, whether it's in the gardens they grow or the five chickens they keep. She works across all ages at the centre, rather than concentrating on one room.

The Book, Book, Book tells the story about the children looking after the chickens and "how happy and capable children are when we include them in our responsibilities to care for the land, the animals and each other".

It also explains how to set up a chicken coop, mixing practical information with tales of the children's interaction with the chickens and big, beautiful photographs.

"Responsibility encourages a child's self-esteem, they can find out how capable they are," she said.

"At home, you could send out a four-year-old to look after the chooks once you've read the book together."

The book was inspired through a meeting with Sandi Phoenix, from Phoenix Support for Educators, a team of mentors and experts. Sandi told the book launch that children deserved to experience freedom and "an easy way to get freedom is to connect with nature".

Gabby Millgate believes something as simple as taking care of chickens can help a child's self-esteem. Picture: Shutterstock

Gabby Millgate believes something as simple as taking care of chickens can help a child's self-esteem. Picture: Shutterstock

Born and bred in Canberra, Gabby said she had only been inspired in her childcare career through working with the now defunct Kidlets centre in Gordon, paying tribute to it at the launch.

"When I worked in Sydney, I only worked with people in a hurry and who delivered conveyor-belt care, and Kidlets taught me about respectful care," she said.

She had found the same at the not-for-profit Woden Valley Childcare Centre, where she was Miss Gabby and happy to be.

"My mum said I needed to find a job where people were nice," she said.

"I have what my mum envisaged for me, working with people who get me and I'm so grateful and so thankful."

Kate Kaylock, president of the Woden Valley Childcare Centre's parent-run management committee, said Gabby was loved by the children.

"She is nurturing, caring. She takes advice from the kids and the parents. She grows the kids like she grows her plants," Mrs Kaylock said.

This story Gabby's so much more than a quote from Muriel's Wedding first appeared on The Canberra Times.