How Australia changed McConaughey’s life
Slipping easily into the Aussie accent he picked up on his gap year back in 1988 - even ordering a burger with beetroot for his lunch - Hollywood superstar Matthew McConaughey is right at home in the country he credits with setting him on the path to fame and fortune.
The 50-year-old actor and part-time film professor swapped his comfortable life as an 18-year-old high school graduate with good grades, a girlfriend and "a car that was paid for" to spend a year on cultural exchange on the NSW Central Coast - picking peas on a Narrandera farm and learning to surf.
"I came here and I was put back in school, had no car, had no girlfriend, had no job making money and all of a sudden, I didn't have anyone to rely on either. I made some friends who I came to rely on, but it was a real point as a young man to go, 'what matters to me?' And I had no one to ask, other than myself. Over that year, I really grew up a lot and I really think I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't have that year."
The True Detective and Dallas Buyers Club actor compared the bubble he was in back then, to the solitude local holiday-makers can enjoy by staying in the off-the-grid cabin he launched and helped create with local entrepreneurs, Cam and Chris Grant of eco tourism venture, Unyoked.
The rental cabin will be relocated to the Central Coast hinterland - as a nod to McConaughey's previous experience living locally and loving it.
"My trip to Australia was like coming to a cabin for a year, meaning I didn't have all the options that I had just left behind. I had very few, everything was brand new and I had to navigate a way without any of the stuff I had built up and relied on back home. They were all stripped from me and that was a good thing. Not just for an 18-year-old … it's good for all of us to do, a lot of times."
The Texan has fitted out the tiny house with personal touches - including a custom Wild Turkey bar, and his favourite books and music, including Bob Dylan and Sturgill Simpson.
Just no bongo, he joked - a cheeky reference to his arrest 20 years ago for cannabis possession, when Austin police responded to a noise complaint and found him playing the instrument and dancing naked in his backyard.
"The whole thing's a bongo," he told News Corp Australia laughing, "bang on it!"
"Pick a wall, any desk, the roof. Go climb a tree and bang on that too," he enthused.
Travelling with his 11-year-old son, Levi, who spent the time his famous dad was being interviewed throwing around a footy with event crew, he was expected to fly out Wednesday afternoon - in a whirlwind 24-hour turnaround.
McConaughey said he would "absolutely" urge his three kids, including daughter Ada and youngest son, Livingston, to venture to Australia the way he did.
"Wherever I go to work, and I work around the world, my wife and I take the whole family with us. A full passport is one of the best badges a man or woman can have," he said.
"You look at someone's passport and you see a whole lot of stamps, you've got a damn good chance you can trust that person with your kids."
The world travel had made his children appreciate the luxe life they live, he added.
"They've seen the differences, they've found the likenesses. They've seen real poverty, they've seen real struggle. They've seen beauty, they've been awed and they've seen how tiny a planet it is that we live on which makes it much more intimate and helps us see each other as brothers and sisters."
He said: "there's no better way to learn about where you're from than to go away and have a look from the outside, back in."
So what did his Aussie adventure teach him about us? We've come a long way, baby.
"I was here in '88 when World Expo came, which I was reminded yesterday, did a lot to kick off Sydney and kick off Australia [internationally]. Back then, when I first arrived, it seemed like Australia was a few decades behind America … but that's not the case anymore, not at all. One, because of the internet and not having to physically be here; but two, Australia is a happening place and it's very current. You guys don't have many frills … you call it as it is and you have a great sense of humour. But you also take responsibility with how to go about things … that's something that our country, we can still keep on learning from each other."