TV

Looking back on A Country Practice with Georgie Parker and Brian Wenzel

“It was a small country town where everyone knew and supported each other”

By Helen Vnuk

Few Australian TV shows have been as loved as A Country Practice was. Twice a week from 1981 to 1993, millions would gather around their TV sets to see what was happening in Wandin Valley.

Stars such as Georgie Parker got their big break there − and Brian Wenzel, now 89, says he still gets people remembering him as Sergeant Frank Gilroy.

"I go into a supermarket and they go, 'Oh, I recognise your voice,'" he says.

"It was a small country town where everyone knew each other and supported each other" - Georgie Parker.
"It was a small country town where everyone knew each other and supported each other" - Georgie Parker.

ACP delivered heartwarming stories, laughs and, of course, tears. The death of young mum Molly Jones (Anne Tenney) from leukaemia in 1985 is possibly Australia's saddest TV moment.

"I think Molly was the most popular character of all, because she was a bit nutty," Brian says.

To Georgie, who won four TV WEEK Logie Awards for her role as nurse Lucy Gardiner, the appeal of the show was simple.

"It was a small country town where everyone knew and supported each other," Georgie, 53, says. "They cared for each other."

Twenty-five years after the Aussie classic ended on Channel Seven, stars Brian and Georgie look back…

ANIMAL CRACKERS

ACP fans will remember Fatso the wombat (below). And most people would have also heard the stories of Fatso biting people on set.

"He bit a few of the crew members, but he never bit me," Brian says. "I remember there was a scene where I had to let him go in the bush. He kept running back to me and leaning against my leg like a pet dog."

Fatso the wombat.
Fatso the wombat.

As for Georgie, she felt lucky she got along so well with Lucy's beloved animal companion.

"Rhett the rooster was very well behaved," she says with a smile. "He wouldn't move unless I moved him. I was quite attached to him."

GOING TOO FAR

There was only one animal Georgie (below with John Tarrant) said no to working with.

"I refused to be in the same shot as the monkey, because the owner had chunks missing out of his face," she recalls. "I just thought, 'I'm not doing that.' I don't think I even held its hand."

Brian got into rows over the script, and reveals he'd "threaten to leave". In particular, he objected to a storyline in which Frank split up with his wife Shirley (Lorrae Desmond).

"The director insisted that Frank drink and smoke cigarettes," he says. "I said, 'He doesn't do that. I do, but the character doesn't.'"

Shirley (Lorrae Desmond) and Frank (Brian).
Shirley (Lorrae Desmond) and Frank (Brian).

LIFELONG BONDS

Many young Aussie actors honed their skills in Wandin Valley, including Matt Day, who played delinquent Luke Ross.

"He drove me mad when he first came," Brian says. "He was so keen to learn."

Matt Day drove Brian "mad" when he first arrived.
Matt Day drove Brian "mad" when he first arrived.

Brian's favourite co-star was Joyce Jacobs, who played busybody Esme Watson.

"She was always totally prepared," he says.

Georgie has fond memories of working with Kate Raison (pictured below, at the 1992 Logies with Georgie and former prime minister Bob Hawke).

"Katie and I lived together for a while," she says. "We still see each other all the time."

Georgie, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and Kate Raison.
Georgie, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and Kate Raison.

HERE COMES THE BRIDE

ACP had plenty of beautiful – but always dramatic – weddings. When Lucy married Matt (John Tarrant), Georgie invited a special guest on set.

"I remember asking my mother to come out and watch it, because at that stage I didn't think I'd ever get married," Georgie explains with a laugh.

"I said, 'Mum, you'd better have a look at this because this might never happen in real life.'"

Fans were thrilled when Matt and Lucy tied the knot in 1990.
Fans were thrilled when Matt and Lucy tied the knot in 1990.

Georgie also got to play a bridesmaid when park ranger Cathy Hayden (Kate Raison) married John Freeman (William McInnes). She remembers the wedding was shot in a national park on a very hot day – and it wasn't comfortable for Kate.

"Because the sun was right overhead, they had to put a foil lighting rig underneath her eyes," Georgie says.

"She was crying, because she had light going directly into her eyeballs. People would think it was emotional. It was brutal."

Lucy acted as Cathy's maid of honour at her low-key ceremony.
Lucy acted as Cathy's maid of honour at her low-key ceremony.

Brian played an important part in Dr Simon Bowen (Grant Dodwell) and Vicky Dean's (Penny Cook) wedding. The bride arrived at the church standing on the back of a ute driven by Frank.

"I was driving," Brian recalls. "I did most of my own stunt driving. I was a good driver."

Simon and Vicky's 1993 wedding was a ratings hit.
Simon and Vicky's 1993 wedding was a ratings hit.

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