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Home and Away

"My most important female friendships are here on this set": How the leading ladies of Summer Bay are lifting each other up on International Women's Day

TV WEEK chats to several inspiring Home and Away stars.

By Bella Brennan and Jess Pullar
It's a staple slot in the nightly routines of Australians across the country. An escape into another world - one that's filled with sun, sand and intrigue.
Yes, Home & Away continues to be a prized television spectacle each and every evening - so it's no wonder we look up to the stars of the show who bring the characters we love to life.
Among the soap's many themes is one purer than any other - female friendship.
Of course, Leah and Irene's stalwart companionship has continued to give us the warm fuzzies through the years. And the beautiful sisterhood between Jasmine and Willow is one many of us can relate to - full of ups and downs, though ultimately a reflection of unconditional love and support.
You'll be pleased to know those special on-screen friendships translate off-screen too.
And what better way to delve into the incredible bonds the actresses of Home and Away share than on International Women's Day?
A day to celebrate the power of women - those who raised us, those who bring us up, and those who continue to fight the good fight for gender equality - no matter the barriers.
TV WEEK caught up with Emily Weir (Mackenzie), Sarah Roberts (Willow) and Courtney Miller (Bella) to hear how they're celebrating the empowering day.
The women of Summer Bay are an inspiring bunch. (Instagram)

Emily Weir

TV WEEK: Emily! So glad we could chat to you about the best day in March - what does International Women's Day mean to you?
Emily: Oh it means everything to me. The most valuable and inspiring relationships I have in my life and in the workplace are with other women.
I'm very fortunate in what I do. All the women I work with on and off screen have really nurtured and inspired me - and International Women's Day is an opportunity to celebrate that with those you love and admire.
Can you share any anecdotes about some of the ways your female cast-mates have inspired you?
I've been so lucky that my most important female friendships are on set. I'm close to Sarah Roberts (Willow) and Sophie Dillman (Ziggy) - actually, I know Sophie from Queensland and we went through acting school together, so we've always been close.
And of course the women I really admire on the set are those like Georgie Parker (Roo), Emily Symons (Marylin) and Ada Nicodemou (Leah) - and that's purely because of their attitude towards work and their caring and maternal natures.
They are the most professional, diligent, kind women, and being able to watch them ebb and flow through the workspace and see how they treat each other and carry themselves – that is the most inspirational thing.
I've been a fan of the show since I was a little girl, so being able to meet and work with them closely has gone far beyond my expectations. They're inclusive, strong and intelligent, and they pave the way forward for us youngies.
Emily Weir has found some of her most important female friendships on the set of Home and Away. (Instagram)
How are you and your female cast-mates going to celebrate International Women's Day?
Well, those of us who are on set will definitely all go to lunch or something to celebrate - and we'll all send each other lovely messages.
We love to celebrate things like this - there'll probably be cupcakes in the makeup room too!
Tell us about the males on set too, are they super supportive and uplifting?
We're all one team one dream - it's never a men versus women thing.
The main actors I began working with on the set were Patrick O'Connor (Dean) and Tim Franklin (Colby), and those two men made me feel so extremely comfortable and welcomed and nurtured. They really encouraged me to really do my best work. They're also fellow Queenslanders which is great!
It really is just a family environment on set.
Who is your biggest female inspiration?
The woman in my life who has taught me everything I know is my mother, Christine. I owe everything to her and I'm just so lucky to have such an incredible, strong woman to look up to in her.
"It's a family environment on set," Emily tells us. (Instagram)

Sarah Roberts

TV WEEK: Hi Sarah, happy IWD! What does the day mean to you?
Sarah: The theme of International Women's Day this year is Choose To Challenge. Challenge the identity that society has wrapped around race, challenge the labels that come with gender. Women are so often described as quiet, meek, kind, pretty, daughter, mother, wife… but we are so much more than the stereotypes society has given us and if we challenge them we can turn them into our wings and soar!
Did you know that 33,000 girls are forced to become child brides every day and 132 million girls are not at school and their future is just a balloon that drifts away? Why? We have the chance to challenge that, this year and beyond.
What would you like to teach your future children about being a woman?
I would like to teach my children that you have a choice. You have options as a woman and you can make the world your oyster. You can do it all! You can have it all! Dream BIG. You can be a mother and a wife and still have a successful and flourishing career and be financially stable. Actually, more than financially stable, financially successful.
Then on top of that, still have hopes and dreams and aspirations. Surround yourself with strong positive women who know you deserve this and will help encourage you to get there.
You have such a beautiful relationship with your eight-year-old step-daughter Scout Stewart, can you tell us a bit about your bond?
Scout and I are both very lucky to have each other. She looks up to me as I look up to her. I teach her things and at the same time, she schools me. It's a very special bond that we will never get anywhere else in our lives and we are both very grateful to be sharing this journey together.
"I teach her things and at the same time, she schools me," Sarah says of her step-daughter Scout. (Image: Instagram)
What is the best thing about being a woman in the entertainment industry and what is the hardest?
I'm intrigued by the messiness of being a human, especially a woman. For me as an actress, when we talk about representation, not just racial presentation and culture representation, but female representation.
I remember vividly the lack of watching conflicted women in cinema growing up. There was an arid fear of putting a woman in circumstances where she might not shine or look beautiful. That can be very hard at times in this industry.
The best thing though, about being a woman in this industry and watching it grow, change and evolve is that society is beginning to understand that we too can be ugly and angry and rageful and own all of those emotions and spaces as well. So it's great to see more and more roles become available like this for females.
Knowing you're a role model for young women, what values do you try and live by?
I believe in standing up for yourself and what you believe in but at the same time just because you have an opinion, it doesn't mean you are right. And be kind, it's gangster!
Tell us about the H&A sisterhood & your special bond with your female castmates?
The Home And Away cast and crew really do become your family, so us female castmates become like sisters! There's really a sense of togetherness between the females at work. We stick together and love to have girls' cheese and wine nights to wind down at the end of a busy shooting schedule.
Which female castmates in particular are you closest with?
Sam Frost and I play best friends on screen and so that has bled into real life also. She is such a beautiful human. So kind, caring and funny! She's just an absolute pleasure to be around and knows all my ins and outs so she can make me feel better with just a look.
Emily Symons and I still have a lunch that we have to schedule because I want to pick her brain about something and last year when I was going through a really dark period of my life Ada Nicodemou was there for me. Zoe Ventoura has become a very close friend of mine, we go for walks and matcha lattes at least once a week!
Jasmine and Willow forever: Sam Frost and Sarah Roberts are besties on-screen, and in real life. (Image: Instagram)
And of course the special men in your life who support you, too?
My Dad has always instilled the same beliefs as my Mum has in me. He has taught me to never give up and that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. I was lucky to have such a brilliant brother for 35 years of my life, He was such a high-achiever, which was an inspiration to me and he was also my number one cheerleader. Even though he is not physically with us anymore I can still hear him cheering me on!
My husband [James Stewart] teaches me new things every day. It fascinates me to grow together with him, we challenge each other and learn so much from each other.
How does your H&A character Willow inspire you?
Willow inspires me so much and it's such a privilege to be able to sink my teeth into playing such a firecracker of a woman for the past three-and-a-half years. She goes after what she wants like a bull at a gate and is fiercely loyal when it comes to protecting her friends and family. She has a lot of beautifully strong qualities that I admire but still has a warm vulnerability to her at heart.
Do you two have any similarities?
I would like to say that I have infused the strength that I possess into Willow's character. I am also vulnerable at heart and fiercely loyal when it comes to friends and family. I would do anything for them.
Any female-driven H&A plot lines in recent memory that you're proud of?
I was beyond proud of the storyline Zoe Ventoura and I got to work on when Dr. Alex and Willow fell in love.
Sarah's late brother Karl, who tragically passed away in October 2019 following a 15-year battle with brain cancer, was one of her biggest cheerleaders. (Image: Instagram)

Courtney Miller

Hi Courtney, thanks so much for chatting to TV WEEK. We'd love to know what does International Women's Day symbolises to you?
Courtney: As I've gotten older, I've realised the importance of International Women's Day. For me, it serves as a reminder of how far women have come in their own history.
It helps us celebrate all the past women who fought for the rights that most women of our Western world share freely today. It is also a sad reminder that other women of other cultures don't yet share the freedoms we do.
What do you want to teach the next generation of girls about being a woman and a feminist?
In my opinion, being a feminist has become a little blurry. I am a woman who believes in herself and stands up for her own opinions, I am my own little feminist.
Moreover, women are emotional creatures and throughout history they have been the empaths, the peace-makers and the caretakers. I would like the next generation of girls to know that there is great strength in our "feminine" qualities and that we can be successful with these qualities. My ability to understand emotions is my most beloved trait, it has gotten me to where I am today.
Can you think of any inspirational books, TV shows, movies or podcasts that you've read or listened to lately that celebrate being a woman?
In the last year, I have devoured books and podcasts. I have been going through the difficulties of growing up as a young woman and these resources have helped me tremendously.
I recommend: Anything Brene Brown (Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and Dare To Lead), The Dance Of Anger by Harriet Lerner - an oldie but a goodie, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, Women Don't Owe You Pretty by Florence Given - a great insight into the views of different women, and Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller - not your average dating book.
I have also recently been listening to the podcast Sex with Emily. It offers great understanding (for women and men) into female sexuality and pleasure, a topic still tainted with shame.
Emily's message to her teenage self? ''Be patient, you'll find yourself soon." (Image: TV WEEK/ Are Media Syndication)
So many young fans of the show look up to you. What kind of morals do you try and embrace?
I try to not be afraid of standing up for myself, whether that be openly stating my opinion or confronting someone about a behaviour that over-stepped my boundary. Some weeks it is easy, other weeks I ruminate over every little thing I have said and done.
These fluctuations in emotions and confidence tend to align with our menstrual cycles, meaning they are completely normal. Over the years I have learnt to recognise when I need to "hibernate", sit alone and be kind to myself. This hibernation time is just as important as the times when I feel most confident and head-strong.
What words of advice would you give your teenage self?
Be patient, you'll find yourself soon.
Who is the most inspirational woman in your life and why?
My Mum is my best friend and supporter. We grow together and help each other along the way.
My Grandma is also my Queen. She is the smartest, most hard-working, most loving Grandmother to us 6 grandchildren. Thank you Grandma for being a role model and for giving me such a kind-hearted Dad.
Which women have helped lift you up throughout your career?
Our acting coach at Home And Away, Gen Hegney, is one of the sole reasons I am the woman I am today. She has held all of our hands tight in this tumultuous industry and has loosened her grip when we've needed to grow.
I thank her for helping me grow as a woman in this industry and for passing me onto other strong women, such as my therapist, that have helped me grow even further.

The Home And Away girl gang seems so special…
I couldn't ask for a better sisterhood here at Home And Away. They are my tribe and a sounding board for when I need advice.
We laugh constantly. Whether we are joking with the crew or between ourselves, we never stop laughing. Yes, we often get into trouble.
Which female co-stars do you turn to most?
Emily Weir and Sophie Dillman have been by my side throughout my time on the show. I could not ask for better gal pals but let's not forget Lynne McGranger, she is my hero and very precious to me.
Does does your H&A character Bella shape you in any way?
Bella is a head-strong, do-it-herself young lady. I admire these traits in her. Her "fire" depicts the "fire" for life within me.
Ironically she has taught me to "let-go" and to speak freely. She stands for all the young ladies out there who have been through life's traumas but are still standing strong.

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