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A Place To Call Home's Noni Hazlehurst weighs in on the future of Australian drama

'I'm angry that so many talented people have to go overseas to earn a living'

By Tamara Cullen
Upon learning that Aussie period drama A Place To Call Home was coming to its natural end, star Noni Hazlehurst was ready to accept her character's fate. But the veteran actress had one request ahead of her final curtain call.
Noni reveals to TV WEEK she "begged" for her on-screen persona, family matriarch Elizabeth Bligh, to go out with her head held high – rather than six feet under.
"I didn't want her to be killed off," Noni, 65, says. "There are plenty more things a 60-something woman can do than die. They can kill anyone – just not me!"
While Noni is light-hearted as she recalls the conversation, her request was significant. She's long been attempting to break any outdated notions or ideals for women in TV.
She wants all her characters to experience the full range of human emotions.
"The glacier moves slowly, but Australian TV is starting to reflect the multicultural nature of our country," she says of the push for diversity.
"Elizabeth is an interesting character to me and it's important to show that we're not all one thing. We are all complex individuals."
Of course, this isn't the first time Noni has spoken openly about her desire to build strong female characters.
Noni is concerned about the future of Australian drama.
During her induction into the TV WEEK Logies Hall Of Fame in 2016, the actress used her platform to call for change and innovative storytelling.
The thought-provoking speech, which had been weighing on Noni's mind "for weeks", didn't actually come to fruition until the morning of the red-carpet event.
After discussing the contents with her family, she put pen to paper at 7am, before hitting the stage for a rehearsal at 11am.
"My Logies speech was a risk," Noni admits. "But I figured I'd never get a forum like this again so I might as well say something meaningful to me, and plead for some sort of balance – whether it's in news or drama or anything."
"I was just grateful there wasn't a table of men in front of me going, 'Oh, here we go', which could've happened!"
"I wanted people to remember what we're modelling for our children and what we want it to look like. We need to give them inspiration on the screen, so I just went for it. We have to speak up."
Her rousing words were warmly received, but Noni isn't stopping there. She insists there's more work to be done, and it starts with our commitment to homegrown drama.
Since the 1970s, Noni has been a recognisable face in the Australian entertainment industry, with memorable roles in benchmark shows such as The Sullivans, Play School and City Homicide.
However, she says the television landscape has shifted. Noni fears the support for Australian stories is dwindling. And as she prepares to raise another issue she's passionate about, it's a reminder of her dynamism as a person and public figure.
It's as if we'd never left our seats at the 2016 Logie Awards…
"I've had lots of opportunities and have a great legacy from many generations of life in show business – I can do theatre, radio stage and TV – so I'm lucky in that respect," she begins.
"But the industry has evolved too, and not necessarily for the better. I'm deeply concerned about the shrinking opportunities for local drama. The content quotas seem to be getting cut and the sad outcome is seemingly inevitable."
A Place To Call Home co-stars Noni and Marta Dusseldorp.
Noni believes the rise of reality television is forcing local actors to look elsewhere for work – and she's not happy about it.
"I'm angry that so many talented people have to go overseas to earn a living," she explains.
"If you put a question to most people about whether they'd rather see all drama on TV from overseas or locally, they would say local."
She adds: "It's important to tell stories that reflect life as we know it. Reality TV isn't real and doesn't teach you anything about the human condition."
Like her character in A Place To Call Home, Noni clearly isn't afraid to speak her mind. But she also points out she's had to evolve along with the showbiz industry.
"Of course, when I first started out I was a 21-year-old blonde who didn't know that I could say 'stop'," she says.
"But I'm not the person I was then, or even 10 years ago. "I also think you learn something from the characters you play, that you dredge from your inner depths."
After six seasons, the much-loved drama series will be missed by fans. But as the cast and crew close the wrought-iron gates on Ash Park for the final time, Noni says she'll be keeping Elizabeth near to her.
"It's sad to leave, but it's also inevitable on any long-running show," she says.
"I've learnt so much about myself playing Elizabeth – and I've drawn many parallels to myself. You have to redefine yourself in every stage of your life, which is what the characters, and I, have done. It's been an absolute privilege."

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