A Bonza of the Finest, Noni Hazlehurst

25 / 05 / 2015

It’s hard not to descend into clichés in attempting to introduce Australian sweetheart Noni Hazlehurst. Children of the 80s and 90s grew up being read to by Noni on Playschool, diagnosis and as a result she holds a special place in many of their hearts. It must get kind of weird some days. But Noni is much else besides, ambulance and of course, clinic bonza beyond all measure.  Here she talks to Sheilas about raising boys, her children’s charity work, and that infamous reading of Go the Fcuk to Sleep.

Trish Pinto (TP): Noni, reading up about you on the font of all knowledge which is Wikipedia, it seems there are many more strings to your bow than the average punter might conclude from your long-time, much-feted acting career. Can you tell us a bit about your work on behalf of children’s charities, for example?

Noni Hazlehurst (NH): Presenting and writing for Playschool for 24 years made me realise the importance of nurture and appropriate stimulation for very young children, who are very poorly served by most of what’s described as children’s entertainment, and by society in general. I’ve acted as Patron or Ambassador for a number of child welfare organisations, and will continue to advocate for the needs and welfare of the very young.

TP: Can you name a couple of the absolute top moments of your career? Realising yours has been a career littered with accolades and awards, but what makes you the proudest of all? How does it feel to win a Logie? And we must know, where do you keep it? 

NH: Awards are nice to receive, but I’m probably most proud of being appointed to the Order of Australia for services to children and children’s television. One of my Logies is a doorstop! When I got my fourth AFI award I was hoping to use them as legs for a coffee table, but sadly the first one is shorter than the others!

TP: What’s been the lowest low, or the lowest low you’d care to share? How do you cope with the slings and arrows which seem part and parcel of being a public figure nowadays?  

NH: My lowest lows are probably no different to most people’s experiences – loss of parents, breakdown of relationships, not being able to be there for some of my sons’ special events, wondering how the hell to juggle the demands of work with the demands of parenting – the list goes on. But I have no cause to complain. I’m one of the lucky ones – paid to do something I love. My late agent, Bill Shanahan, had the right attitude – he used to say that bad publicity today is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappings. You’re never going to liked by everyone, so you just have to accept the slings and arrows.  One of the things that makes me really sad is the way artists are reviled in this country. The arts are not seen as a necessary part of a well-rounded life, and artists are often accused of being out of touch with the “real world” Well, I’m well aware of what passes for the “real world” and it doesn’t seem real to me. Being a rat on a treadmill with little or no exposure to the deep joy and fulfilment the arts provide is no way to live.

TP: You’re also a writer. Can you tell us a little about your work in this regard? How do you like the relatively solitary life of a writer after all those years in film and television, with all its colour and movement and general hurly burly? 

NH: Writing is the hardest of all – clearly – a good script is hard to find. Like many writers, I’m very good at dithering about and not very good at self-discipline. And my inner critic is a debilitating bitch! But it’s something I’ve always loved, and just one strand in a very varied career.

TP: You’re the mother of two boys. Do you have any tips for our readers about raising boys to respect women and girls? Or in general?

NH: My boys are men now – they’re 27 and 21. All you can really do is point out sexism wherever you see it or hear it. Like all members of their generation, they’ve been subjected to influences that I have no control over. But they’re well aware of my opinions on the subjects of feminism and sexism, and I’m relieved to say they believe in equality and know how to treat women. But it’s a constant battle, especially when you look at “popular culture” and the current political climate- the way women are demeaned and belittled. The dinosaurs are still in charge.

TP: You’re now a regular presenter on 774. It’s a long way from Jemima and Big Ted. Do you ever feel typecast by your long stint on Playschool? And do you think the extravaganza of cussing which is your rendition of Go the Fuck to Sleep? dinted or reinforced your reputation as Australian children’s favourite story teller?  

NH: I love radio – you get to meet so many fascinating people who are high achievers and wonderful members of the community. I don’t feel at all typecast by Playschool – what people under 35 who grew up with me don’t realize is that I was doing movies, theatre and television for adults all the time I was doing Playschool. Go the Fuck to Sleep resonated with me – my older son was two before he slept through the night. A few people didn’t think it was a wise move, but many people loved it, identified with it and appreciated it. It’s good to laugh when you have a sleepless child to the point where you dread the night time coming because you know there’s an ordeal ahead.

TP: Final question – that we ask all our Bonza Sheilas for a bit of fun – if you could invite any three people to dinner, dead or alive, who’d be your top picks? And since you’re known for your culinary skills, what would you cook them?  

I’d like to invite my father – he died in 1985, and I’d love more time with him. I miss him. Julia Gillard – one of the bonza-est sheilas ever, and how good does she look now?

Freya Stark – the adventurer and traveller – she’d have some amazing stories to tell. If you don’t know about her, look her up. Yet another woman who should be revered and remembered who’s largely forgotten.

I’d keep it simple, ‘cos I wouldn’t want to miss out on the conversation – something slow-cooked, or a roast. With loads of vegies , and for dessert, a coconut lemon syrup cake with yoghurt.

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