A woman of substance

EPITOMISING positive ageing, 78 year old Australian icon of stage, screen and radio Noeline Brown spoke to Have a Go News about the 1960s, her career and getting older.

Noeline’s latest project is the release of the book Living the 1960s which she was approached to write by National Library of Australia’s commissioning editor Susan Hall.

The book provides a colourful social history and contains more than 160 images on what life was really like in 1960s’ Australia told with Noeline’s trademark wit and storyteller’s gift.

“I don’t know if she had read my autobiography Noeline – Longterm Memoir or not, but the decade of the sixties features prominently in my life,” said Noeline.

The 1960s saw many societal changes with better freedoms for people.

Noeline explores many of these in the book. “The positive changes in the 1960s would have to include education, sexual freedom, women’s achievements in the work place and women no longer having to resign from their job if they got married.

“For women we’re pretty close to equal now – just a few pay gaps.

“I love the way male partners do so much more work in the running of a house than they would have done in the sixties,” she said.

After standing twice for state elections in New South Wales and with a strong interest in politics I asked Noeline what she thought were some of the poignant issues now in Australian society.

“Perhaps now there is a deepening divide between the people of privilege and the not-so-well off.

“Immigration always seems to bring out criticism from some quarters but it usually sorts itself out.

“I hope that is the case and I also believe it’s time not to destroy trade unions but for people to actually think about what they have to offer.”

Noeline says that she would like to remind young women that feminism is not a dirty word.

She worries that many of the things we fought for back then are being eroded and that we need to remain vigilant about these issues.

Reflecting on her career Noeline says that her favourite role is usually the one she is currently performing, but over the years she’s had a few that really stand out.

“Barry Creyton wrote a play for the two of us called Double Act which we performed in the 80s.

“The play has since been produced in about 28 countries and in 26 languages around the world. There were only two people in Double Act but Barry and I had to pretend to talk to half a dozen other people and it was a really difficult thing to pull off.

“Another show I loved was Peter Quilter’s Glorious, where I was cast as Florence Foster Jenkins, the worst singer in the world.

“And recently I toured with Darren Gilshenen in Mother and Son, Geoffrey Atherden’s re-working of his TV series of the same name.

“During the 1960s, I was lucky enough to work with the Phillip Theatre in a review called What’s New? with Barry Creyton and again with him at the wonderful Music Hall at Neutral Bay,” she said.

One of the highlights of her career, which developed into a strong personal friendship, was working with the king of television, Graham Kennedy.

“Graham and I met a few times at various show-biz events, but I could always tell he would rather have been somewhere else – he hated crowds.

“I was booked to audition for a new game show in the mid-70s, about the time I was doing The Naked Vicar Show and discovered that Graham was going to be the host of Blankety Blanks, I couldn’t believe my good luck.

“It was during the making of the series that we discovered we liked working together and as my husband Tony Sattler and I had just moved to the Southern Highlands he became a regular weekend guest.

“Eventually he loved the area so much that he moved here himself and we saw much more of him and his animals: Dave the horse and Henry the golden retriever.

“Graham was a good cook and he and I used to swap recipes and jars of jam,” recalls Noeline fondly.

In 2008 the then Labor Government appointed Noeline as Australia’s first Ambassador for Ageing.

At the time she was about 70 years old and thought it was a good idea to accept the position, as she was certainly part of the demographic.

“The job was invitation-driven so I had the opportunity to travel around Australia seeing what older Australians were actually doing with their lives, often post-retirement.

“I was able to let people know that we as a demographic were involved in many valuable activities and not just waiting to go into nursing homes. I promoted older people as a resource, not a liability,” she said.

“I think older people are treated badly by the advertising industry and TV producers, aiming incontinence pads and funeral insurance at a large and might I say, wealthy part of the community.

“I know there are some older people who are doing it tough and who might be ill, but there are many who are independent, educated, healthy and interested in many things and also go to the theatre.

“It’s been a shame the government didn’t keep the program going – this demographic should see itself as a voting force and one to be reckoned with, not a burden,” she said.

Noeline is keen to start another project and says it’s time for her to do another show.

In the meantime she keeps herself busy reading, walking, cooking, entertaining friends of all ages and meeting people with different points of view.

Her advice to people is keep learning.

Living the 1960s by Noeline Brown is published by NLA Publishing and is available for $39.99.