Noni speaks out

Leading the busy life that she does, Noni Hazlehurst takes the time to tell us what’s important to her

Noni Hazlehurst describes herself as having a low boredom threshold.

So it’s a good thing her work projects are so diverse, including theatre, radio, hosting concerts with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, her role as Commander of Crime, Bernice Waverly, on Channel 7’s City Homicide, as well as occasional public speaking and teaching gigs.

“I get twitchy when I’m not working – and tend to cause dramas at home,” she laughs.

Home is shared with her partner of eight years, Ian Marden, and her 16-year-old son, William. Her other son, Charlie, lives nearby.

After nearly 40 years in “the business”, with just three months out of work, she has no single favourite project.

“My life is completely unpredictable. My children have lived a gypsy-like existence which has brought amazing opportunities but also a lack of routine. It’s a constant juggle. But guilt is a condition of parenting. When the children were younger I made a conscious decision to cut back on theatre and films, which resulted in 10 years of life-style TV. I face the same challenges as many other modern parents, except that I’m fortunate that I don’t have to work from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm five days a week.”

Noni’s favourite maxim comes from her days as a presenter on Play School, a saying reinforced by her directors, Allan Kendall and Henrietta Clark, that “practice makes progress”.

“Many people have facades or veneers; young children don’t. The perfectionist vibe is harmful; we are all becoming homogenised. My main mission as a presenter is to be as real as possible, which is another reason why I love radio.”

Noni describes herself as happily “bouncing along” career-wise and, when it comes to future opportunities, she is as equally positive.

“I hope to have the chance to direct again. I enjoyed my last experience, directing the full-length ABC drama, The Fish are Safe, which was nominated for an AFI award. But directing isn’t just 24/7, it’s actually 25/8. I’d also like to do more theatre because I love the discipline. And more TV and radio, so I can continue to enjoy an eclectic and stimulating career.”

On a more personal note, she is also hoping, down the track, to explore other cultures.

“I really want to travel – to India, Europe, maybe South America. I just find it hard to say no to the concept of work at the moment. But I would love more ‘me’ time. This might include my family or it might not. Ian and I would also like to try a barge holiday on the canals of Europe, for six months or so.”

So does retirement planning fit into Noni’s future?

“Not at all. I don’t see it as an option. I don’t see work as work, so I have nothing to retire from.”

So how about life planning? Is long-term planning something she attempts to do?

Again she laughs.

“I tend to only plan about a week in advance. But I really should step back and prioritise some of the things I’ve said I would love to do. I tend to live very much in the moment – happily, I have very helpful people who assist with financial decision-making.”

And the sort of legacy Noni would like to leave?

“I would like to be part of a generation which has changed the way people look at old age. One which promotes tolerance, kindness and interest in opinions other than our own. I don’t like the current trend towards adversarial behaviour that we are so often subjected to in politics and the media. You can’t always be wrong and I can’t  always be right. I would love to see more negotiation and tolerance. It would be nice to foster these ideas on radio or television, promoting a kinder, more tolerant society which appreciates the arts, mixing in good news and a celebration of inner beauty. I wouldn’t mind ending up living in an ‘Age of Aquarius’ community called ‘Receding Gums’.

“This would provide great point of difference from most current TV, which, in the early days, was predicted to be a great source of education. It had the power to be incredibly enriching but commercialisation has taken this away.”

She takes great delight in her two sons whom she describes as “incredibly important to me”. She sees William every day and talks with Charlie at least twice a week.

“I tell them I love them every day. Of course we have fights and we always apologise. They can be a potent reminder of how vile I was as an adolescent. I even apologised for this to my late father the other day.”

And what does Noni believe to be the most important thing she has learnt?

“The most powerful thing about being the age I am, is losing the fear of drawing boundaries. I was never taught that I had the right to say ‘That’s not acceptable’. Mum encouraged me to believe that if I wore a nice dress and spoke nicely then everything would be all right. So I inherited an apologetic, self-effacing attitude. One which I quickly recognise when I read it in a script.

“I know now that it’s vital to have a solid core so you can draw a line and say, ‘No, you can’t go past that’ if something is not reasonable.

“My strongest hope is that, for my boys, growing up will mean learning that they have the right to express what they truly think. As long as they remember their manners!”

Interview by Kaye Fallick

Written by Kaye Fallick