“IF I WAS 30 I wouldn’t POSE THIS”

LIKE UN­LIKE SOME FE­MALE LAWYERS, GINA LIANO RE­FUSES TO DRESS DE­MURELY. IN­DEED, SHE VOWS SHE WON’T SPORT HAIRY OR UNBRONZED LEGS EVEN WHEN SHE’S DEAD

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Joe Hildebrand - Pho­tog­ra­phy CAMERON GRAYSON Styling MA­RINA AFONINA Cre­ative di­rec­tion ALEKSAN­DRA BEARE Words PA­TRICK CAR­LYON

Not long ago Gina Liano ap­peared in court, armed with a blaze of green eye shadow and the click of high heels. She con­fronted a hor­ror story: an in­jured in­fant, an accused man and a hope­less mum.

Here, in the fam­ily di­vi­sion of Victoria’s Chil­dren’s Court, Liano the bar­ris­ter is a fix­ture for a daily roll­call of so­ci­ety’s se­cret shame files. She probes the abuses of the most vul­ner­a­ble. Her de­fence from the de­tails is to for­get the names as fast as she can.

Liano, known to most Aus­tralians as the sul­try star of Fox­tel’s The Real House­wives of Mel­bourne, shows no cleav­age in court. No bare shoul­ders or open-toe shoes. She ar­rived here, in ful­fil­ment of a long-held am­bi­tion, well be­fore a TV au­di­ence em­braced her big hair and big­ger at­ti­tude.

She bowed to court­room cus­toms, but was not about to nod to some of its sil­lier tra­di­tions. Most fe­male lawyers seemed be­holden to the boys’ club cul­ture. They deep­ened their voices and pulled back their hair. Liano spot­ted hairy legs which, she vows, hers will never be, even when she’s dead (they’ll be bronzed, too).

Liano would be a woman “be­cause I didn’t know how to be any­thing else”. As an op­pos­ing counsel puts it, she would be a “good lis­tener and a tough fighter”. Liano, as with her other guise in a trash-talk­ing TV show, would be who she was.

A sin­gle mum, she would weigh com­pas­sion against need on the ques­tion of sev­er­ing the bond be­tween child and par­ent. Liano re­calls the 20-year-old woman, in­tel­lec­tu­ally im­paired and liv­ing on the street. “The poor dar­ling, I felt sorry for her, she was quite vi­o­lent and ag­gres­sive,” re­calls Liano. “She wanted her baby back.”

Of late, Liano has ap­peared in court only as her higher pro­file du­ties al­low. Her motto dic­tates how she di­vides her time, and “fail­ing to pre­pare is pre­par­ing to fail”. A clotheshorse, al­ways glad for a spot of “pan­el­beat­ing” (teeth bleach­ing, spray tans, etc), she’s now an em­pire builder, too.

Aus­tralia has two “Gi­nas”: the min­ing mag­nate of Han­cock her­itage, and the lawyer turned pop-cul­tural

diva. This sec­ond Gina has ex­panded the more schol­arly am­bi­tions of her youth. Del­i­cacy and deco­rum de­fine her le­gal work. Her TV work, the re­sult of chance op­por­tu­nity, in­vokes no such ded­i­ca­tion. To­gether, how­ever, the seem­ingly mis­matched strands of Gina Liano have opened a vi­sion that rein­vents how ma­ture women look and be­have.

She has dis­tin­guished her­self from a con­trived coven of potty-mouthed, well-to-do women on

LIANO DE­BUTED ON the big stage aged 47. Her touch­stones are the or­di­nary frac­tures and fears of fam­ily break­down and health scares. Her talk­ing points are bat­tle lines and scar tis­sue.

The week Liano ran the maimed in­fant case, she also did a photo shoot for a jew­ellery range and hosted an on­line char­ity auc­tion for the gar­ments she wore on RHOM. Dur­ing sea­son three of the TV se­ries, she ran a trial dur­ing the day and filmed at night. The case in­volved the sex­ual abuse of a young girl. In­evitably, her day job bled into her TV work. Dur­ing film­ing with Pet­ti­fleur Berenger, a fel­low cast mem­ber whose makeover be­tween sea­sons may have in­cluded the sharp­en­ing of her tongue, Liano bor­rowed from the court­room to of­fer ad­vice. “Raise your ar­gu­ment, not your voice,” she told Berenger.

It had been a dif­fi­cult day, says Liano now. “I re­mem­ber say­ing to pro­duc­tion, ‘Bloody hell, I’ve been run­ning this rape trial. Now I’ve got to sit with Pet­ti­fleur and talk about what her teeth look like…’”

Yet this un­usual col­li­sion of grit­ti­ness and glam­our sits eas­ily with her. She fol­lows no rule book. The 50-year-old spills home truths and chutz­pah that she traces back to her dis­patch of a school bully at the age of 12. Liano is a can­cer sur­vivor and an in­de­pen­dent spirit. If she stands apart from the screech­ing and squawk­ing of RHOM she also finds more in­no­va­tive in­vec­tive.

“You need to snap the f*ck out of it,” she told Berenger ear­lier this year. “I’ve had enough of your in­dulged bull-f*ck­ing-sh*t… you’re gonna cry. And f*ck­ing sulk and carry on…”

The mar­keters leapt on the sell­ing points: both her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and her sec­ond per­fume, launched this month, are called Fear­less. Once crip­pled by post­na­tal bouts of panic, she now turns fear on its head, she says. Fear is her “great mo­ti­va­tor”.

Liano also uses the term fear­less for her cover photo shoot for Stel­lar. The poses – “glam­orous but not raunchy” – fall out­side her comfort zone. But she steels her­self. Af­ter three sea­sons on the small screen, she be­lieves her au­di­ence knows her as a “woman of sub­stance”.

“If I was in my 30s I prob­a­bly wouldn’t do it,” she says of the Stel­lar shoot. “But I’m 50 and, if I do a glam­our shot, I think it can be quite in­spir­ing for women of my age.”

Be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion re­quires no prac­tice. A week af­ter the shoot, Liano sits fur­thest from the door at a restau­rant in the wealthy sub­urb of Toorak. Her bronzed skin ra­di­ates against the col­lec­tive pal­lor.

Her jokes against her­self dent the vam­pire TV cast­ing. A de­lib­er­a­tive choos­ing of words blends with a nat­u­ral warmth. She sparkles and bounces – the rings and ear­rings cer­tainly, but also in a cas­cade of thoughts and words. Here’s some­one who never stops mov­ing, bar the odd “py­jama day” she gifts her­self.

Liano grasps the power of the anec­dote – a planned book will re­count her say­ings, based on her ex­pe­ri­ences. She’s sharp – her one blank stare, over two hours, is in re­sponse to a cheeky query about the blind pur­suit of fame.

Personal as­sis­tant Josh Cu­nial is more than an ac­ces­sory. There’s a shoe and clutch col­lec­tion, she plans more jew­ellery of­fer­ings, as well as an evening wear and skin­care range.

Liano hasn’t given up on a Judge Judy- style pi­lot and will prob­a­bly go back for the fourth sea­son of Real House­wives, a world­wide fran­chise. Her am­bi­tion is naked enough – if Aus­tralia can’t ac­com­mo­date it, she says, she will re­luc­tantly head to the US.

Liano has an un­fair ad­van­tage over other Real House­wives mem­bers. The pro­fane on­screen rants be­lie a more mea­sured ap­proach. She of­fers wel­come equa­nim­ity in what she calls a “dys­func­tional sis­ter­hood”. View­ers rushed to her de­fence when cast mem­bers ganged up against her.

Here, in of­fers of warmth and sup­port, Liano dis­cov­ered the power of the au­di­ence. It “ran my case” on so­cial me­dia, she says, of which she reads ev­ery­thing. Now she is ac­costed by peo­ple seek­ing her help. They reach out (hos­pi­tal vis­its, cries for help), she says, be­cause they feel she will un­der­stand. Their trust can be daunt­ing, she adds, be­cause she is not a trained coun­sel­lor.

The TV role sim­i­larly sounds like work, as though the price and the re­ward are in­ter­twined. “I try not to take on board what is be­ing said about me by the other girls, be­cause I don’t al­ways value their opin­ions,” she says. “I also ques­tion their mo­ti­va­tion for a lot of things and their pur­pose, but I don’t want to be judge­men­tal at the same time.”

If Liano has some­thing to sell, there’s plenty she wants to tell, too. Hers is a life forged by hard­ships, trac­ing back to “ma­niac” nuns at a Catholic board­ing school as a six-year-old. Her par­ents di­vorced when she started

KEEP­ING IT REAL (from top) Gina Liano with sons Chris­tos (left) and Myles; in bar­ris­ter mode; on RHOM with (cen­tre) and Lydia Schi­avello.

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