With a stellar career that has covered television, theatre and film, Noni Hazlehurst is among Australia's most respected actors. Mother to William and Charlie, Noni has spoken about the joy both home births brought her: "I felt better after those births than I have after anything else. They were profoundly wonderful experiences for me'. An outspoken advocate for the rights of children, she chats to Essential Baby about the constant grief she feels for abused and neglected children and why our society just isn't doing enough.
Noni, you have two sons. What are their ages?
I have two sons - Charlie who is 21 and William who is 15.
A good philosophy I learnt from Play School is that ‘practice makes progress, not perfect’.
What has surprised you the most about motherhood?
The relentless nature of it! The reality is that motherhood from day-to-day is a permanent juggle. I am constantly negotiating with my boys as the rules regularly change, and the older my kids get the harder it gets. That's not to say I would change a thing.
As one of Australia's busiest artists, it appears you've consistently worked. Did you have much time away from work when your boys were young?
No, and primarily because of financial reasons. I'm a freelancer which means you work when it's there.
Before I had children I'd worked in film and stage both locally and internationally but soon realised I couldn't inflict that lifestyle on them, so after my second son William was born I headed into the consistency of TV.
I was on Better Home and Gardens for ten years and it was perfect as it reflected that stage of my life - renovate, potter about the home etc. I did do a few films along the way, but would never be away from the boys for longer than 2 or 3 nights.
We also decided to embrace the semi-rural life when the boys were young which was brilliant as it allowed them physical freedom. We lived in the Blue Mountains and then the hinterland of south east QLD.
As a mother, what are you great at?
Apologising. My parents were never wrong and it drove me nuts. I make sure I am never too proud to apologise to Charlie and William when it is warranted.
A good philosophy I learnt from Play School is that "practice makes progress, not perfect". I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong and I like my children to know when I am.
I'm also good at keeping an eye on their television consumption. There is a lot of rubbish on TV so it's been important to monitor that.
What are you terrible at?
Oh, I just fuss too much and I do it all the time. It drives them crazy. They aren't allowed out the door unless they have eaten breakfast. And I worry too much about them.
What has been one of your best achievements?
I had both my babies at home with a midwife, an assistant and a couple of friends and felt better than I ever had after those births. I think making home births almost impossible now is a retrograde step for women, and I'm appalled by the removal of home birth as a viable option. Having had both boys at home I felt so blessed to be able to have that choice.
Can you tell us what your sons have taught you about yourself over the years?
They've taught me I should be happier about myself. My sons don't expect perfectionism and constantly remind me I should be kinder to myself.
What key differences do you see in your children and the way you were at their age?
The expansion of the media has allowed them to read and get access to so much. They have a broader exposure to various issues earlier on in life.
They also lead a much more sophisticated life than I did. I had a mono-semantic world - my parents didn't go out at all. My kids have been to the Logies, the AFI's, met so many interesting people. Their lives are far wilder than mine was.
You've worked extensively to provide fun and education for thousands of children for many years. Why do you have such passion in this area?
As an actor I constantly look inside myself in order to make people feel. You really need to dig deep and find those raw, honest feelings that you learn to suppress as an adult. Kids just naturally use these feelings and I like that I respond to it.
I am drawn to the honest nature of children. They have purity, their responses don't have agendas, and there is naivety in their answers which I like. If you aren't engaged and truthful when you speak to kids they know.
I also love the fact they have one of the highest bull**** radars around. A 2-year-old can spot a fake far before anyone else, believe me. I love that.
I look at the world and think what a terribly difficult world this must be for children to understand. I worry about children who don't have people to help navigate them through those early years.
Can you tell us why you initially got involved in supporting the charity Barnardos Australia?
I have a constant grief for abused and disadvantage children and have always wanted to lend my support to the issue. It's important that I help highlight we just aren't doing enough as a society to help.
I'd been involved in a number of child welfare agencies before Barnardos but they rang true to me because 90 cents of every dollar actually goes to the charity. Barnardos aims to create new outcomes for neglected children and families and I have seen so many different journeys for kids through their work.
I also became involved in the Barnardos "Mother of the Year" event and was just so moved by the kind of work being done by mums all around Australia every day. We have amazing women in this country and the stories just need to be told. It is frustrating because this is the kind of stuff they should be showing people on TV.
Do you think there is a general lack of awareness in the area of child neglect and abuse in Australia? If so - why?
People forget that child abuse is happening right this very minute to children all over Australia.
It frustrates me that we spend weeks debating issues like UTEGATE, yet the stuff that is happening right in front of us - the stuff that honestly matters - just doesn't get the airtime. It's incredible really.
So we need to keep educating people. We have to ensure people can't disengage or turn themselves away. We have to put the images and information out there until people listen. If we can change one child's story or journey it's worth it.
We've also got to change the process so it's not so hard for people to act. The system makes it difficult to report issues or become involved and we see people thinking 'oh it's just all too hard.' Bureaucracy shouldn't be the barrier to preventing abuse.
But people also have a personal responsibility to help. We have become a selfish society in many ways, focused on the wrong things.
What type of Australia do you want to see in the next ten years?
Firstly, there should be more responsibility surrounding what is on TV and the internet. The images and messages we are broadcasting to our kids require some sort of regulation.
I hope to see tertiary education made free. Currently there is no incentive for disadvantaged kids to aim for higher education when the cost of entry is so high. I had a free education and it's important for kids to know there is one available for them to access.
I fear that as a country we have become just so dumbed down. I really do despair at Australian politics. There is absolute kindergarten behaviour happening and look at what their actions are showing our kids. We need to have governments in place that look beyond 3 years and the next election. Let's look to the Scandinavian countries for some of their social programs.
I hope we have more individuals like Max Johnston from Johnson & Johnson Pacific running our corporations. He has had such a positive influence on helping the work of Barnardos. Max is using his corporate power to help the disadvantaged and has actually said that in times of need corporations should be more generous. These are the type of individuals that give me hope for Australia's future.
Lastly, as a mother, what are the characteristics or qualities you feel proud you've passed onto your sons?
I have passed on an appreciation of beauty in all forms. I have harassed them from when they were young that that beauty can be found anywhere, any day, any time. In nature, in friendships, in conversation.
Secondly, the knowledge that happiness is a state you do reach, but it's impossible to permanently maintain and that is OK. If you are lucky you will experience happiness a few times a day and you should be grateful for those moments.
Thirdly - don't judge a book by its cover. You are no better than anyone else in this world.
I have also taught them that we have absolutely nothing to complain about in life. Just look around and realise how genuinely lucky we are.
Noni Hazlehurst is a Barnardos Ambassador.
Johnson & Johnson Pacific has published a children's book to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their 'No More Tears' product range and will generously donate the proceeds from the sale of this book to Barnardos. The 'Wiggle Giggle Bath Book' celebrates the special bonding moments of the age-old ritual of bath time. It also recognises the special bond parents, grandparents, preschool teachers and other special carers create when they read to babies and toddlers. Buy a copy today and help Barnardos support our children.