Far away from the cameras, at her Gold Coast Hinterland home, an hour inland from the busy Queensland tourist strip, there's one thing that fills Aussie screen fave Noni Hazlehurst with happiness, and that's plucking her garden-fresh vegies to use in the kitchen.
"I just love cooking," says the star of A Place To Call Home. "I'll cook a lovely meal every day, even just for me. I love trying different things with seasonal produce and I'm really interested in recipes."
Clearly, there's no place the passionate foodie – adored for her appearance on celebrated shows such as Play School and The Sullivans – would rather be than in the bush.
"My days of city living are really over," Noni says cheerfully. "I'm happy to be there for work, but I do prefer the peace. I like to be woken up by kookaburras rather than sirens these days. I'm on an acre [0.4ha], which is plenty, and it's very, very beautiful here."
With a stellar career spanning more than 40 years, charismatic and candid Noni – who turns 66 this month – is quite rightly regarded as a national treasure. Yet despite all she's accomplished professionally, she's quick to acknowledge her greatest achievement and joy in life are her two boys.
Now all grown up, her sons Charlie, 31, and William, 25, who she had with her former husband, actor John Jarratt, 66 (they've been separated for more than 20 years), are clearly the apple of Noni's eye.
"I was very lucky to be able to have two healthy and normal pregnancies and to have my boys at home. That was an awe-inspiring thing for me to achieve. It was the greatest thing I have ever done," she says.
"My boys and I get on really well now – we didn't always," she adds, laughing. "I used to say to them, 'I just hope I live long enough to see you getting along,' because, with six years apart, there was the odd moment between them, but we all survived."
Only one thing lures Noni away from the pleasures of family and the tranquillity of her rural life – and we mustn't forget her 10-year-old ginger Scottish shorthair cat Puddha – and that's her day job.
Over the years, she's won a new legion of fans the world over playing the formidable matriarch Elizabeth Bligh in the hit show A Place To Call Home.
The captivating lavish period drama, thankfully resurrected by Foxtel after it was axed by Seven in 2014, had a six-series run before it was finally farewelled last year, but it holds a much-loved place in Noni's heart, as she fondly refers to the all-star cast as family.
From day dot Noni had great faith in the production – from the very first script reading, in fact, and a memorable career highlight was when she was the first cast member to be announced back in 2012.
"It's been the most remarkable rollercoaster, going from a successful series that was suddenly dumped to having this massive groundswell of support and Foxtel stepping in," she admits. "But I always knew that it wasn't finished. I just felt it was a beautiful show, and it's been an absolute dream.
"With a solid fan base and having screened in more than 140 countries, we all feel very fortunate. It's a real challenge to keep the standard high and we all worked really hard in our various departments to make sure it was consistently quality programming."
And while her controlling character Elizabeth has carved her way into the hearts of audiences and cemented a place as dominant figure in Australian TV history, it is clearly a world removed from the delightfully warm and vivacious Noni. Although truth be told the happily single star does reveal her alter-ego is nonetheless "part" of her.
"Elizabeth is inside me," she says. "I love the character – she has so many layers that have to be peeled away to get to who she really is. She's certainly been through a lot of changes and development."
As for Noni, in 2016 she was applauded for her show-stealing TV WEEK Logies Hall of Fame acceptance speech, with fans even calling for her to become Australia's next PM! We all fondly remember how the grounded mother-of-two received a standing ovation from the A-list showbiz crowd for calling out racism, sexism and lack of diversity in the television business. "I fear that our hearts are growing cold," she said on stage.
Looking back, Noni admits she's still in shock about the response. "It was a bit of a risk to go down that route, but I thought, 'Well, I probably won't get another forum like this, being a 63-year-old female, so I may as well say something that means something to me,'" she says. "I hope to be able to do something with all the interest that's been shown, because I really think I did strike a chord."
WATCH: Noni is inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2016 TV WEEK Logie Awards. Story continues after video...
And while challenging mindsets and bringing about important changes, Noni's greatest professional achievement thus far has been "having constant work."
"It's a very hard road being an actor in this country, or any country – there's about 90 per cent of us out of work at any one time," says Noni.
"I feel very blessed that I've been offered a whole range of roles so as to be able to show a whole lot of different skills. Also, just to consistently work on things I can feel proud of – that's really important."
So what does the future hold for the bubbly actress? To date she's hosted the new SBS series Every Family Has A Secret and, in exciting news, her one-woman play Mother, about female homelessness, has put the bright lights of Hollywood on her radar.
"I'm applying for a green card with my one-woman show, and taking it to America soon," she revealed in an interview with Stellar magazine.
Noni told the publication she prides herself on remaining grounded.
"Of course I'm ordinary. Who isn't? We're all ordinary people. We may live in extraordinary circumstances, either good or bad," she says, adding she has no intention of slowing down any time soon. "I can't afford to retire. I wouldn't if I could. There are too many things I'd like to do."
And until that next thing gets off the ground, Noni is content residing in her Hinterland haven.
"Gardening is the biggest stress reliever, because it permits you to work with living things. I think that's one of the reasons I live in a semi-rural environment when I can. I find cities very stressful – to me it's not the way human beings are meant to live," she says.
"I'd prefer to be surrounded by greenery, to be able to look out the window and see no houses, hear no cars – that is just a joy."
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Now To LoveDec 05, 2019