From the Himalayan mountains to the Riverina Plains

The move from the Himalayas in northern India to Wagga Wagga in the New South Wales’ Riverina is vast, but for Harry Bhangu, a sense of familiarity in terms of being part of a farming community and surrounded by the food source, made it home.

Moving initially to Sydney in 2007 for tertiary education, it wasn’t long before Harry moved out into the regions – first to Beckom, a town of just 50 people, 100 kilometres from Wagga – and then to Wagga, which he now calls home.

“When I moved to Beckom and Wagga, I was friends with a lot of the farming community and the conversations were similar conversations to what we had growing up about the weather, soil and what kind of year we are going to have,” Harry says.

“So that felt very familiar to me. And when you are away thousands and thousands of miles away from home and familiar conversation starts, you are like I am part of this, I am one of you.”

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While Harry says he was made to feel welcome, with everyone being so “kind and generous”, there were also some stark contrasts to his old life in India.

“When I moved to Beckom they were going through a drought,” he says. “Everything was dry, and it didn’t feel very real to me.

“It was so different to anything I had ever experienced. I come from India, which is very highly populated, so we never had a town of 50 people. It was something out of the movies.”

Working at the service station and later, starting his own business supplying bulk fuel to farmers, Harry says Beckom became home for more than eight years.

“I was able to make a home there and it is one of the best times I have had in my life living there,” he says.

Returning to Sydney to advance his career, which saw Harry work at a restaurant in Mosman on Sydney’s north shore, became the catalyst, he says, for realising city-life wasn’t for him.

“I felt lonely in Sydney,” he explains.

“I remember someone in Beckom told me years ago that when we lived in Beckom you could go for a walk and not see a person for 50 kilometres, but you don’t feel alone.

“But being in Sydney on George Street or in Newtown you see thousands of people, but no one knows you and you actually feel alone.”

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Wanting to work in food and hospitality, but live “in a town big enough where I could follow my creative sides”, Harry says Wagga fit the bill with its food and cultural scene.

But it was the opportunity to work as the venue manager at Mates Gully, a boutique restaurant and guesthouse in the heart of Wagga, that was the key drawcard.

Meeting the proprietors, Paul and Marcia, ten years ago as a patron of their restaurant, Harry says it all started over a conversation about the apple cider they were serving.

Asking Paul if he made the cider, Harry says, “he said yes, I am making some more tomorrow on my farm.

“So, I said, I will be there. And that was the first day I spent on the farm.”

A chance encounter, which would then become a firm friendship and later, see them working in business, has also been a meeting of minds, Harry says, with their shared values and ethos.

“My dad was a farmer, I grew up on a farm so after that first day I spent on the farm it was like, this is home, this is where I need to be,” he says.

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Growing their own produce, to run their paddock to plate restaurant, Harry says it brought back memories of his childhood growing up on a farm and with his Mum’s vegetable garden.

“When I met Paul, he was farming like my Mum did it, and I was like oh my goodness, you can actually do that too and be careful of our soil, what goes into it and soil management.

“And then that kind of clicked on with me and I was like this is what I would like to make my career out of.”

With the Mates Gully menu crafted around the seasonal produce available, Harry says they start each day discussing what is growing in the vegetable garden and how they can incorporate it into the menu.

“It starts with whatever Paul is growing on farm,” he says. “Even just now, I was talking to Paul, and he asked what I was going to do with the artichokes that he was going to bring in.

“And I said we will put on a pizza tonight and make a soup.”

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With anything not grown on the farm, sourced locally, Harry says Mates Gully is also about community, with the venue recently incorporating a gallery space that will see local year 12 students hang their artworks.

“We just want to give back to the community and go back to those values, and that is what Paul and Marcia’s values are, always trying to give back as much as you can,” he says.

While a far cry from where he grew up, Harry says his lifestyle, fulfilment from his job, and community have made Wagga his “forever home”.

“This move has taken me out of my comfort zone but made me a lot happier,” he says.

And in five years’ time, Harry says, we will find him still in Wagga – but possibly behind the bar of his own coffee and wine bar.

“I think that’s a dream and that’s been my dream from day one, that I will own my own place,” he says. “There are things I want to do and work for myself. “

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