GE­ORGIE PARKER:

Ge­orgie Parker chats with Sa­man­tha Trenoweth about fall­ing in love, moth­er­hood, and the op­er­a­tion that gave her a new lease on life at 53.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - Ge­orgie PARKER P H OTO G RAP H Y by ALANA LANDSBERRY •STYLING by MAT­TIE C RON AN

fame, fam­ily and fall­ing in love

Ge­orgie Parker talks a lot – she is pos­i­tively ef­fu­sive – but she doesn’t say much about love. Per­haps that’s be­cause she holds close those things that are most pre­cious. When she does speak about love, you stop and take no­tice.

The Weekly team has stolen Ge­orgie away from her fam­ily on this grey and driz­zly Satur­day. Her hus­band, writer Steve Wor­land, and their 17-year-old daugh­ter, Holly, are run­ning er­rands. They mes­sage to say they’re hav­ing a good time, and Ge­orgie smiles.

“You know,” she says, “when I rst met him, I thought, this is a per­son

I could rely on. That was an im­por­tant thing to me at the time and he was the sort of per­son who, if he said he was go­ing to do some­thing, he would do it. If he said he would be some­where, he would be there. There was also a deep kind­ness there, and he was some­one who I felt I could talk to for­ever and ever and ever. He is funny and smart.”

The win­ner of seven Lo­gies (two gold) and star of many of Australia’s most loved tele­vi­sion dra­mas (in­clud­ing A Coun­try Prac­tice, All Saints and Home and Away) has been bound­ing about for the cam­era all morn­ing. A bun­dle of ir­re­press­ible en­ergy, she is one minute leap­ing onto the couch, the next shim­my­ing down the cor­ri­dor to Aretha Franklin.

She and Steve, she says, are “com­pletely dif­fer­ent” in most ways, so opposites do at­tract. “If you were go­ing to com­pare us, I would say he’s the in­tro­vert. But when I go home, I tend to sit and day­dream and plod around and put some mu­sic on. So he’s much more an­i­mated than I am then.” She pon­ders that per­haps that’s be­cause writ­ing is so of­ten a soli­tary pur­suit, “so he needs peo­ple. We bal­ance each other out.”

Com­ing home is al­ways the best part of Ge­orgie’s day. “We tend not to go out,” she ad­mits. “There’s only the three of us and the cat.”

Ge­orgie has set­tled now. She has ar­ranged her­self on a bent­wood chair, with all the grace of the bal­le­rina she one dreamed she’d be­come, and we chat about love and fam­ily and the things that give her joy.

“My fam­ily gives me the most joy – al­ways,” she says, and by that she means Steve and Holly of course, but also her par­ents, Tony and Rose­mary, and her sib­lings, Vicky and Michael.

Ge­orgie grew up in the Syd­ney sub­urb of St Ives, which was then

perched on the very edge of great ex­panses of na­tional park. Al­ways on the go, she danced and played sport and found it al­most im­pos­si­ble to sit still in class.

“I was not that dif­fer­ent from how I am now,” she laughs. “I was what you would prob­a­bly term hy­per­ac­tive. Now they might call me ADHD, but I’m not. I’m a mover. I need to move. I was an avid bal­let dancer and I just charged through my life, with oc­ca­sional bouts of deep day­dream­ing. I was ei­ther very loud or com­pletely silent. The day­dream­ing was where I came up with ideas for char­ac­ters and ideas about life. I ob­served peo­ple a lot. It was just the way I made sense of the world.”

Ge­orgie’s fa­ther was the de­signer of the iconic Aus­tralian Parker Fur­ni­ture, orig­i­nal pieces of which have now be­come both highly cov­etable and col­lectable.

“His work has be­come art,” Ge­orgie says with pride. “He would sit at the TV and get a small piece of pa­per and sketch. My daugh­ter is an artist now and she does sim­i­lar things. Just to pass the time, she sketches – trees, peo­ple, faces – if she was sit­ting here, she would sketch you. But my fa­ther used to sketch ta­bles. He has a very cre­ative mind. He’s turn­ing 89 next May and he’s amaz­ing. I don’t know if he doo­dles any­more but my sis­ter and I would like him to. We’ve bought him a can­vas and some paints.”

Ge­orgie’s mother was a for­mer school teacher. “It was the era when you gave up work to raise a fam­ily,” she ex­plains, “but I think Mum should have gone on be­cause she’s so in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous. She still does adult ed­u­ca­tion classes.”

When it be­came clear that Ge­orgie was hap­pi­est on the stage, her mother also be­came her great­est sup­porter: “She be­lieved in me 100 per cent. Mum drove me to au­di­tions and helped me run lines. She never doubted me for a minute. She just let me be me.”

And Ge­orgie needed her onewoman cheer squad just that lit­tle bit more when, at 13, she was di­ag­nosed with the spinal con­di­tion, sco­l­io­sis.

“That changed a lot of things for me,” Ge­orgie ad­mits. “It changed the way I did things but it didn’t stop me do­ing things. I was a very good ten­nis player and I was very good at softball and all of a sud­den I had to play with my brace on. I had a Bos­ton Brace, which cov­ered my torso. It was made of bre­glass and you har­nessed it up at the back. It’s like ty­ing a rope around a tree to straighten it up as it grows.”

Ge­orgie wore the brace for three years. She was al­lowed to take it off for bal­let classes but the sco­l­io­sis was so se­vere (her spine has a 59 de­gree curve) that she knew she would never be a pro­fes­sional dancer. That was a blow but Ge­orgie char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally made the best of it.

“I had to go into hos­pi­tal ev­ery three months for x-rays and blood tests, so it was quite se­ri­ous, but I didn’t feel any dif­fer­ent. So, in my mind, it was bad but not that bad.

“It was a huge learn­ing curve for me be­cause peo­ple did start to treat me dif­fer­ently. Some peo­ple would talk slowly to me. It was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re spe­cial now.’ And I was like, ‘I can take my brace off but I guess you can’t stop be­ing stupid.’ I did say that to some­one once. It helped that I was a smart-arse too.

“I was very con dent but not in a showy way, and very op­ti­mistic. That’s just the way I came out. I never felt sorry for my­self. In some ways, I think I was for­tu­nate to have an ex­pe­ri­ence like that very early on be­cause it was re­ally like – this is what’s hap­pen­ing now, you can’t go around it, you can’t pre­tend it’s not hap­pen­ing – you’ve just got to grab it and move for­ward. And I was de­ter­mined. I was told I would al­ways need help putting the brace on but I gured out how to do it my­self. I gured out how to make it work for me whilst do­ing what I wanted to do.”

Wear­ing a brace also helped Ge­orgie carve out her own in­di­vid­ual iden­tity beyond the stereo­types that seemed to so deeply af­fect other girls.

“I just never thought of my­self as a girl,” she ad­mits. “I thought, if I rigidly de ne my­self by my gen­der, it’s very lim­it­ing, so I’ll pick and choose [the char­ac­ter­is­tics] I want. I de ned my­self as a hu­man be­ing. I know that sounds weird but it freed me up from feel­ing like I had to t in.

“Be­cause of the brace, I had to wear loose clothes, so I bor­rowed my dad’s shirts and I wore kaf­tanny things.” It made her ap­pear a bit bo­hemian and fash­ion for­ward. “If you’re daggy enough, you get cool. And luck­ily,

I had friends who were in­de­pen­dent enough in their spirit to go, ‘Yeah, we’re do­ing that too.’ I didn’t shave my legs for a long time. Then I gave up the hairs on my legs for Lent. I think, if we freed our­selves up a bit from those gen­der ex­pec­ta­tions – if we just raised peo­ple to be who they are – then we’d get a hap­pier bunch of peo­ple.”

At 18, Ge­orgie au­di­tioned for and scored a cov­eted place in a na­tional theatre com­pany that was part of the El­iz­a­bethan Theatre Trust. Not long after, fund­ing was cut and the com­pany folded but it gave her the courage to get an agent and keep au­di­tion­ing, and grad­u­ally the roles came. In 1988, she scored some ma­jor breaks, in­clud­ing a sup­port­ing part in the fringe comedy fea­ture, Young Ein­stein, and the role of Lucy Gar­diner/Tyler in A Coun­try Prac­tice, which saw her through four years and 266 episodes. She took four months off when Holly was born and oth­er­wise she has been in work pretty con­sis­tently ever since – an im­mense feat in a pre­car­i­ous in­dus­try.

Also at 18, Ge­orgie started dream­ing of be­com­ing a mother. “I al­ways knew I wanted that to hap­pen but it took some time,” she says. “My sis­ter had three chil­dren and I was god­mother to a lot of my friends’ kids, but I had to meet the right guy.”

Holly was born just short of Ge­orgie’s 36th birth­day “and it took a toll on my back,” she ad­mits, “not so much the preg­nancy but after­wards, when ev­ery­thing was loose. I’d al­ways wanted two kids but I just didn’t think I could get my back through it again. Then Steve said, ‘I’m happy with one’. And I think I’ve checked in with Holly ev­ery two years, to make sure it’s al­right with her, and she’s happy. She’s never said, ‘I wish I’d had a sib­ling,’

which I’m happy about be­cause it would have made me feel so bad.”

Ge­orgie didn’t think twice about go­ing back to work after four months. It was right in the mid­dle of her seven-year run as Terri Sul­li­van on All Saints and, well, the show must go on.

“Luck­ily we had the best nanny in the world, who is still a fam­ily friend, Aunty Suze. And I was re­ally lucky that Chan­nel Seven cre­ated a space where she could come to work. Holly would come in, have lunch with me, and if I had some scenes off, we would go for a walk. Even though work took up a lot of time, my pri­or­ity was al­ways my fam­ily, and she knew that.

“I never felt bad about be­ing a work­ing mother be­cause men are not en­cour­aged to feel bad about be­ing work­ing fa­thers. I don’t like the per­cep­tion that women are de ned as work­ing moth­ers but men are never de ned as work­ing fa­thers. Peo­ple would ask, ‘How are you jug­gling it all?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, she does have a fa­ther. We’re do­ing it together.’”

As the mother of a teenager and a woman whose work ne­ces­si­tates spend­ing a bit of time on so­cial me­dia her­self, Ge­orgie says one of the things that con­cerns her to­day is the way women are pres­sured – by men, by other women, by them­selves – into pre­sent­ing them­selves online.

“I don’t think all so­cial me­dia is bad,” she con­cedes. “I just think we haven’t been ed­u­cated in how to use it yet. I think it can be a re­ally good way to stay in touch with peo­ple, but peo­ple will al­ways nd a way to use it that’s in­sult­ing or den­i­grat­ing.

“My daugh­ter isn’t on any so­cial me­dia at the moment be­cause she found it ridicu­lous, and I agree with her. Whilst there’s a bunch of peo­ple who take pic­tures of their trees or their cats, there is also a lot of sex­u­al­is­ing your­self for ap­proval.

The con­stant, pub­lic sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of women does con­cern me, rather than sex­u­al­ity be­ing a pri­vate thing that you share with one per­son. I don’t have to show the world how I feel about my sex­u­al­ity. It’s mine.”

2018 has been an im­mense year for Ge­orgie. Home and Away has cel­e­brated its 30th birth­day, her win­ter break was a dream trip through Switzer­land and Italy, and since her re­turn she’s been im­mersed in re­hearsals for a for­mi­da­ble, fas­ci­nat­ing play. Luna Gale, which opens at the En­sem­ble Theatre in Syd­ney on Septem­ber 12, is an emo­tion­ally com­plex piece about child pro­tec­tion and cus­tody in which Ge­orgie plays a so­cial worker. It’s taught her, she says, about the dif culty of nd­ing per­fect out­comes in an im­per­fect world.

Ge­orgie also had hip re­place­ment surgery in Fe­bru­ary this year.

The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion was slow and some­times painful but the re­sult has been an un­quali ed suc­cess.

“It’s like I have a dif­fer­ent body,” she says with a lit­tle shimmy and a swivel to the left. “I’ve got my body back from hav­ing a ti­ta­nium hip. It was a big op­er­a­tion but four days later, I twisted to the left and I hadn’t been able to do that for 10 years.”

Ge­orgie pulls out her phone to share a se­ries of im­pres­sive shots of the new body in ac­tion at a Pi­lates class. She swims, she does Pi­lates and lifts weights at the gym, not just to keep the body lim­ber but be­cause, as she says, she loves to move.

Clouds are gath­er­ing again across the har­bour as we pack up to leave. Ge­orgie is off to swim laps in the spring rain at a lo­cal open-air pool (she’ll wear a half-wet­suit, she re­as­sures us). After that, she might phone a friend.

“Friend­ships are the most im­por­tant things in the world to me,” she says. “Steve and Holly, my sis­ter, my brother, nieces and neph­ews, my mum and my dad, and those peo­ple in my life who un­der­stand me and I un­der­stand them. Ev­ery day, I try to ring one of them – I try to keep those con­nec­tions alive.”

“Friend­ships are the most im­por­tant things in the world to me.” Ge­orgie says her writer hus­band Steve Wor­land is smart, with a deep kind­ness.

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