ON BEING MRS BLIGH
A PLACE TO CALL HOME’S NONI HAZLEHURST AND ROBERT COLEBY SPILL ON SEASON FOUR
‘Alot of people had no idea that so recently … [being gay] was criminal. You were a criminal. Just as Aboriginal people were flora and fauna,” Noni Hazlehurst, star of the Foxtel series A Place to Call Home says. “It’s just unbelievable what we have hidden about how White Australia came to be dominant. But those days are numbered.”
With the fourth season of A Place to Call Home set to air from Sunday, Hazlehurst says it’s the show’s tackling of homophobia that has struck her most on a personal level.
“I find this current situation where so much money is being spent in order to appease the people whose hearts beat in the 1950s, it’s becoming an international embarrassment,” she says. “So I think the fact we can talk about those issues is really powerful for a series.”
Set in the period following the Second World War, A Place to Call Home evokes a bygone era when class and status were everything, when race, religion and politics were certainly not appropriate dinner table conversation, and when women were firmly squared away in their corsets and chastity belts.
Remove the suited and booted costumes and the shadow of conscription though and the issues the program tackles are just as relevant today as they were in 1954.
“People are the same throughout history. No matter what colour we are or what country we come from, we all have people who we love and terrible circumstances that befall us,” Hazlehurst says. “What’s different now is that we’re not interacting with each other and families are fractured. There’s very little glue that holds us together now. You see it politically, you see it on a personal level, you see emotions being derided as something unnecessary. So I think that one of the joys of this show is that it is unashamedly emotional.”
We last saw Hazlehurst’s character, matriarch Elizabeth Bligh, having a heart attack just meters from where her love interest, Sir Douglas Goddard, stood. The pair were set to travel abroad together, yet as Elizabeth lay gasping for air and clutching her chest, Geoffrey, played by Robert Coleby, believed he’d been stood up, and continued on their journey solo.
“With all these things you never know really where it’s going to lead,” Coleby says. “It all depends on the whim of [the writers].”
Coleby, who’s starred in other TV smashes such as All Saints, McLeod’s Daughters and House of Hancock, does offer up some interesting titbits that may provide food for thought.
“Everybody’s got a secret life in A Place to Call Home and I think Douglas has got one too. There are indications of that. He’s just been petering along but I think it’s probably headed to things becoming really potsy. He’s apparently got this son who died two days before the war ended in Borneo. So who knows, maybe he’ll turn up and something funny happens.”
Both Coleby and Hazlehurst are Gold Coast locals, gravitating towards the hinterland and the tranquil Tallebudgera Valley while filming isn’t taking place in Sydney. Areas such as The Rocks, Warunga, Camden and Lane Cove were chosen as locations to shoot, thanks to their old-world charm.
Each episode’s authentic feel is also thanks to the meticulous costume design.
“There were no elastic waistbands in the 1950s!” Hazlehurst laughs. “When you put everything on, the character’s there. Especially Elizabeth, she’s very matriarchal and formal. And when you put those clothes on there’s no way you’re going to slouch in your seat.
“I find [Elizabeth] such a person of the time; so many secrets, so many layers of protection so many ideas about how to preserve and maintain the status quo.”
Season four will reveal some “dramatic developments, but not dramatic changes.”
“The characters don’t stay still. They do learn from their mistakes. They do try to be better people. Sometimes successfully and other times not,” she says. “There are some happy stories and some sad stories. If I say anymore [our publicist] will kill me. But I do survive!” A Place to Call Home, Sunday, Foxtel
Gold Coasters Noni Hazlehurst and Robert Coleby are the stars of Foxtel's A Place to Call Home.