New York tales of a South Australian expat

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By Amanda Smith

‘Producer’ on paper, but self-proclaimed “Jill of all trades”, South Australian expat Rebecca Gill lives, loves and learns in New York City… where hustling is a religion and apartments are smaller than most Adelaide kitchens.

It’s a small price to pay when chasing your dream – and New York has “always been it” for Rebecca. Her journey began in 2010, when she left Adelaide to fulfil her dream of working and living abroad. Bali was the first stop on her one-way ticket, having accepted a position as media manager for an NGO that had set-up there, during a recent rabies outbreak on the island.

While worlds apart from her previous roles a journalist at The Advertiser, working for an NGO in Asia set her up for the string of non-profits she’d go on to manage in New York, including Unicef and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Aside from her tiny Manhattan studio, Rebecca is “living the dream”, in every sense of the phrase. She runs a production company, ReAgency, with her BFF Jayde Lovell. Initially, the pair launched as a science-leaning PR agency but, given the administration’s anti-science agenda, they’ve unintentionally morphed into a late-night-style political talk-show, with a comedic undertone.

SA expat and NYC producer Rebecca Gill on set.

Rebecca creates branded content for universities and environmental organisations, and has just wrapped up post-production on her first documentary. She spends most of her time overseeing video production, rubbing shoulders with other content creators in Manhattan’s YouTube space.

“I feel like I’ve done a hundred different jobs and I’m a million years old. Even in New York City, I call myself a producer but I juggle lots of roles,” Rebecca laughs. The New York way, perhaps.

Adelaide remains a calm, grounding yearly refuge for a much-needed change of energy. Rebecca admits her perception of Adelaide being “mortgage, kids and bathroom renovations” has changed over the years.

“Adelaide isn’t just the suburbs,” she says. “It’s a cool city with a thriving arts scene and a great quality of life. There’s a bazillion other things going for it, too. I really just needed to look harder.

“You can live the creative life anywhere… you just have to find your people. I thought I had to get to a big city to try and be the person I wanted to be.”

Rebecca sees Adelaide as a diverse and bustling small city, similar to what her New York friends perceive it to be – “beaches, wine, cool little eateries, diverse people and the Adelaide Fringe, of course”.

As the years pass in New York, her affinity for simplicity grows – like hanging out with her folks in their backyard as relatives file through bringing different brands of sauvignon blanc. “A backyard is something I never get to enjoy in Manhattan,” Rebecca says.

Working out of NYC, Rebecca Gill rubs shoulders with other content creators in Manhattan’s YouTube space.

Regardless of how expensive it can be to fly home, Rebecca enjoys visiting home yearly. “It’s my physical release, coming home,” she says. “An undeniable surge of happiness, that goes something like, ‘oh God, thank you for this peace and space”.

Her family lives only a couple of streets (“blocks”, in Rebecca’s adopted language), from the city. Having attended Grange Primary School and Henley High School, the beach has always been symbolic of her childhood.

Rebecca says she is lucky enough to work with a tight group of Aussies.

“Jayde is constantly playing Crowded House, Matt Corby and Vance Joy, so that always triggers memories of the nearly 30 years I spent in Adelaide,” she says.

When posed the question that’s most common at family Christmas lunches for almost all SA expats, ‘will you ever return to Adelaide?’, she replies ‘hell, yeah!’ in true Aussie spirit.

Among her long list of reasons for one day returning home, a desire to raise future children in Australia is a big one.

“(In the US) Even those lucky enough to have insurance can get slapped with a $40,000 hospital bill, just for giving brith,” Rebecca says. “And who wants to raise a baby without their mum around?”

Home living space is another reason to one day make the journey home – she winces when thinking about what can get in Adelaide for the price of her monthly Manhattan rent.

“My toilet is basically on top of my kitchen,” Rebecca says. “One day, I’d love to live in those rambling old farmhouse-style homes in Adelaide, with a red brick exterior, giant old trees, a rosebush and hardwood floors.

“And of course, to be close to my parents. They’re both vegans, who kayak, cycle and are 7am joggers. And me? I’m a true New Yorker now. I eat out every night, my oven doubles as shoe storage, and ‘exercise’ is climbing subway stairs.”

The grass isn’t always greener. At least, not every season.

Today, though, Rebecca’s just enjoying the here and now… working on projects that ignite her. Like many others who leave Adelaide to embrace their opportunities, Rebecca has an important narrative to tell. Specifically, that life isn’t linear and more often than not, the real adventures are waiting for you in life’s zig-zags.

As part of Brand South Australia’s recently launched Hello From SA network, we’ll be sharing the stories of SA expats from around the world. Do you know a South Aussie living, working or learning abroad? Get in touch via the Hello From SA Facebook or LinkedIn pages.

Hello from SA is the global community for South Australians living, working and learning interstate and abroad.

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