It is a warm summer’s day on Tamborine Mountain as The Weekly arrives to photograph one of Australia’s most treasured entertainers, a woman who has been a beloved staple on screens and stage since the 1970s. Certainly, the invitation feels like an honour: this Gold Coast hinterland property has been Noni Hazlehurst’s home for close to 20 years, the tropical garden her favoured happy place.
As she bends to scoop up her cat, 11-year-old ginger Puddah, for introductions, the screech of a black cockatoo punctuates proceedings. Noni’s delighted chuckle at the noisy arrival showcases why the actress chose to descend the mountain only four times in 2020, despite Queensland avoiding the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a wild and crazy place here,” the 67-year-old says, beaming with pleasure while surveying the wealth of nature around us. “We’ve got black cockatoos, white cockatoos, galahs, all sorts of parrots, bush turkeys, frogs, snakes and kookaburras – who wake us up at 4am every morning. We’ve got a land mullet, Komodo dragons, water dragons, bees, a mum and dad duck and baby ducklings. We’ve got everything!”
Like many Australians, Noni struggled to stay positive in 2020. Her acclaimed one-woman play, Mother, came to a sudden halt. Future acting projects were put on hold indefinitely – she’s had just three days of paid work since last March. But the hardest part was being separated through it all from her sons – with eldest Charlie, 32, living in Melbourne, while 26-year-old William is trapped in LA.
“I found it really difficult … It was a shock to realise I was one of the so-called vulnerable elderly,” she says now. “I worried about my children. There were times when I thought, ‘Will I ever see them again?’ I think I spent months in shock. Luckily, I share my house now with a couple who are old friends from Melbourne. It’s two storeys – I’m upstairs, they’re downstairs and we share the living area. I think I would have been a lot more desperate if I’d been on my own all the time.”
Together, the trio has been tending the garden (“one of them is a horticulturalist, which is fantastic”), catching up around the dinner table each evening and finding comfort in simple pleasures – Noni has been knitting, quilting and gleefully experimenting in the kitchen.
“I’ve gained some pandemic weight for sure, but now that it’s warmer I’m in the pool every day, which helps,” she laughs. “I’ve been a hermit really.”
And while the enforced break has seen many of us reflect on the past, that is especially true for Noni. Over two years ago she filmed The End opposite Dame Harriet Walter and Frances O’Connor, as well as dozens of Australia’s best and brightest actors.
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